Tag Archives: Incarnation

The Glory of God

This is my final post for this year. Thanks for all the conversation in 2011, I look forward to more in 2012 (at least until the world ends).

This picture is one of the graffiti prophet Banksy’s newest. It’s called “Shop till you drop” and they have no idea how he did it. But I sure am glad he did.

So earlier today I went to the mall with our two kids, Eden and Samuel, to do some last minute Christmas shopping. Three days before Christmas, and I was there without Leslie and two kids under the age of 4. We were a train wreck. It’s in moments like this that you realize just how much you need your spouse.

I forgot to bring diapers, bibs, water cups, strollers, basically every single thing that human children need, I forgot. It got so bad that at one point, we were at lunch at the mall Pizza place, and I overheard the woman sitting at the table next to us say, “And that’s why I will never have children.”

I’m not kidding.

There are so many levels of irony about the way we celebrate the Christmas story. God gives up everything to be among us, and we have made greed synonymous with celebrating his sacrifice. God comes in subtle unassuming ways, and we have all but turned Christmas into one big Macy’s day parade.

Now I’m all for Christmas parades and lights and celebrations, and I actually think that Christmas can help form the people of God in ways that help us learn how, and what, to celebrate. But it is possible in the middle of all the glitter to lose sight of exactly what Christmas reveals about God. Continue reading The Glory of God

The Tears of Christmas

It’s been one of those weeks. The kind that come along every now and then in life, where creation seems to be screaming more than groaning.

This week, a child with Leukemia who we’ve prayed and fasted for, has taken a turn for the worse. A friend and co-worker at Highland just had his mother pass away, and for reasons that I am not ready to go into today, Leslie and I spent a good part of this week in a hospital room, grieving our own personal stuff. It’s was just us and the sounds of an occasional intercom and much waiting.

As a pastor, I’ve spent a lot of times in Hospitals, and a few of those times it was due to something personal, sometimes those are great joys and sometimes they are not. This time was not.

I’ve referenced over the past couple of weeks that USA Today said that, on some level, a fourth of Americans battle with depression around Christmas time. It’s when our American expectations for a happy life are amped up and we find the discrepancy between the ideal and the real. So we think about lost dreams and hopes, what our lives could have been, and then we look in the mirror and realize what they have become.

Or maybe it’s for more than that. Maybe this is the first (or fifteenth) Christmas without her. And that inside joke that you always shared together, just isn’t possible any longer. And that table that you’ve shared for a lifetime of celebrations now has an empty chair.

On the front cover of a National newspaper a couple of weeks ago, there was a letter to Santa written by a 10 year old boy. But this letter wasn’t for the latest PSP games, or a new bike. It was for his dad to get a job. The article went on to say that this year more than any other there will be present-less families because there are job-less parents.

I was talking with someone a few days ago about some of the personal stuff that I am going through right now, and as I talked I had this profound realization that perhaps this isn’t actually that bad of timing. If the Jesus story is true, than Christmas is actually the best time to suffer. Sure it might be more difficult because all of the lights and smiles seem to ignore your pain. But the one who we are actually celebrating is the one who knows what Christmas means the best.

God enters the mess. Continue reading The Tears of Christmas

The Next Christians and U2

So I’m on Sabbatical for the next few weeks from preaching. Leslie and I are so thankful for the wisdom of the Highland shepherds to work into every the rythymn of every year a season for rest and long term planning. We’ve spent the last few days with friends and family in Arkansas, swimming in rivers, shooting skeet and riding four wheelers…Yes I know, how very metropolitan of us.

But before this week, on the very first day of my sabbatical I got a chance to go to my first U2 concert. For over a decade I’ve listened to Bono sing about the Kingdom of God in sometimes cryptic and sometimes explicit ways. They are by far my favorite band, and Saturday night reminded me of why.

The faith of U2 has been the topic of a dozen books, and a thousand sermons. Bono has led the world in issues of justice and even said some very prophetic things to the leading powers of the world. He’s been espoused by people like Rick Warren as an authentic Jesus follower, and demonized by more conservative Christians who just couldn’t understand a “secular” rock star singing about Jesus stuff.

But that’s exactly what they are.

We live in such a superficial culture. If you ever doubt that, just TIVO the show Toddlers and Tiara’s one time. And it might be easy to try and write U2 off as one more example. But before the concert began we watched on the big screen statistics about world poverty, deaths from disease/poverty/abortion/war…which is not what you might expect before a rock concert. And yes, they were rock stars. Bono is the best showman I’ve ever seen. But it’s all connected to something larger. Continue reading The Next Christians and U2

Christmas Stories

So this is my last blog for the Year. I plan on unplugging from the world wide web and heading out for some much needed vacation with the family. We are headed to Arkansas to spend time with family, unless you are a robber, in which case, we are staying in Abilene for the entire break.

It’s strange reading the Gospels during the Christmas season. It’s as if every single story that we read demands to be interpreted in light of Bethlehem. And that got me thinking this morning about some of my favorite Jesus stories. What did Christmas originally mean to these people when it happened.

For example…

She was probably a teenager when the birth at Bethlehem happened, but she had no idea what was going on over there, babies are born everyday, and she just happened to live in Samaria. Maybe she was dating someone, or maybe she was already pledged to be married. After all, she was going to have to start early to go through four failed marriages and be working on her fifth serious relationship by the time she would meet Jesus. Life was really going to put her through the ringer. Maybe it was that she would make some bad choices, or maybe she was going to be the victim of bad men. But for whatever reason, by the time Jesus came along she had hit rock bottom. She was alone in every sense that mattered. But he saw her. Up until that point no one knew who Jesus was. He hadn’t told the Kings or dignitaries, but he told her. He gave her life dignity again. Continue reading Christmas Stories

The Solidarity of God

You can keep your Jingle Bells, and Frosty the Snowman’s, I don’t care much for Sleigh Ride’s or having a White Christmas (I do after all live in West Texas). Because my favorite Christmas song of all time has got to be “O Holy Night”

It’s one of the best hymn’s that has ever been written. And while it’s a pity that it only makes an appearance in December, I think I understand why we can only sing it a couple of times a year. It’s too insistent, it  a song that makes too many demands on our life.

“Long Lay the world, in sin and error pining. Till He appeared and the soul felt it’s worth.”

This is a song about the Solidarity of God. About a God who chooses to be among us.

But it’s who he chooses to be among that fascinates me. This is a God who chooses to be among this little nation of peasants, He appears to shepherds and teenagers and fishermen and single mom’s and little kids. That’s who God was with. Continue reading The Solidarity of God

Emmanuel

Late last night I officially finished my Church history class for the semester. It’s a great feeling being done with any class, even good ones. This semester has been difficult for me because, while I have deep hope for the church and what she could be, it’s hard to read about poor decisions made thousands of years ago that still impact us today. All while considering that the decisions we make today could have long term affects as well.

For Example…

A little talked about fact from the World Wars is wardrobe. Probably because there are much more dramatic examples of cruelty or bravery that we can look at. But beneath the rubble and the destruction there was an idea. One that was put on the belt buckles of German Soldiers.

The idea was simply: “Gott Mit Uns” or God with us.

I know a lady who goes to our church who grew up in Nazi Germany. She has stories that are mesmerizing…Her father, at great personal risk, continually told his kids an alternative story to the one that Hitler was spinning. She tells about sitting hunched up in the living room corner listening to the bombs of the allies falling all around them. All while their dad was telling them that God was, in fact, not with the Nazi’s but with their little family.

And that is a lot like the story of Christmas.

There is a danger that being a couple of thousand years away from the story that we can forget how dangerous it really was. But there is a reason that the Angel told Joseph to flee to Egypt right after Jesus was born. Joseph goes from being a simple, pious carpenter to being the Jack Bauer of the New Testament. Because Herod had heard that somebody was saying that there was another king in town.

That God was with someone else.

And so Herod starts an infanticide, just to weed out any threats to his claim to power. Because he knows the danger of that kind of statement. He had been using it for decades. I don’t know of many world rulers, who haven’t used God in one form or another to accomplish either great good or great evil. Even the Stalin’s of the world used religion, just replacing God’s name with their own.

But here is the irony of Immanuel. Because the story of God With Us isn’t always good news. There is an edge of judgement to it as well. Think of Paul in 1 Corinthians 6. He’s explaining to people why they should avoid sexual immorality, and his main point is that God is with you, so you shouldn’t act like that anymore.

That’s a huge statement, and for more than just sex. It means that if God is with us than there are all kinds of implications for what kind of people we should be. From the Crusades cry of “God Wills It” on we’ve had the temptation to take our agenda and use God’s name to approve it.

But this is not the story of Bethlehem.

Go back and read Luke 1 and 2 this week. Notice the different reactions to the announcement that God is with Us. There is real sense in which that kind of announcement disturbs the comfortable and comforts the disturbed. The Hitler’s and Herod’s of the world may try to use God to expand their petty kingdoms. They may exploit and abuse the little people because their power grows unchecked.

But beware of families huddled on the floor, or teenage girls with a baby in their belly.

Because who God is actually with is the surprise.

And that’s Christmas.

Re-Incarnation

I have come to understand that one of the missing pieces of Christian Theology is Re-Incarnation. But before you begin to think I’ve converted to hippie, let me back up and explain what I mean.

Over the past few weeks I have noticed that one of the repeated themes of Christian history, especially after the third century, was debate over the nature of the incarnation. That is, we became adept at arguing over what exactly happened in Bethlehem.

Now there was a ton of different nuances to this discussion, much of the time debates revolved around single Greek words. Some people got upset if a word was used to describe the incarnation that wasn’t used in Scripture. It seems like Creeds were drawn up weekly to defend or define Jesus’ nature. Groups split often, and there was more drama than in the Jackson 5.

All over the Incarnation.

A couple of weeks ago in Nashville, a story ran in the local news about a family named the Hazelips. The tag line for this story was, “Imagine living the perfect life in the suburbs, with a big house, green grass, and a pool. But one Nashville couple still felt empty, so they packed up and moved to one of the highest drug ridden areas of the city.”

They left their upper-middle class life, and moved into the projects. Which is not normally the direction people choose with their lives. You rarely hear a C.E.O. saying the next step after a house in the Hamptons is to finally get that apartment in the projects.

But this family did it. They saw it as a part of following Jesus. And now because of this strange move, the kids of this neighborhood have ice cream on Thursday afternoon’s and movies on Friday nights. The Hazelips have helped some of the adults overcome their addictions.

All because someone chose to move in a downward direction.

One of my good friends made a point recently. He said that much of the time our theology is gnostic. But he doesn’t mean that the way you might think. Gnosticism is the belief that the material is bad, and the spiritual, or non-material is good. It was one of the first heresies. And my friend’s point is not that we necessarily believe that, but that we practice that.

A lot of the time our theology is talked about but not lived out.

It is discussed but not embodied.

Which is what I think part of the problem was with Christian’s trying to describe the incarnation. It had become abstract, a theory. When in fact it was the one part of our Theology that was the most concrete of all. In other words God had put on skin, not theory.

God had laid down his divine prerogatives, he had in the words of Paul, emptied Himself.

And we tried to describe this all while fighting for more power, more influence than the other guys.

Now don’t get me wrong. I recognize that I am in debt to these earlier Christians for wrestling with some pretty tough stuff on describing the birth of Jesus. I am thankful that they had these harder conversations. But this seems to be the one area of Christianity that demands more than just talk.

Because the beauty of the Incarnation is that it didn’t just happen. It happens.

Everytime a follower of Jesus chooses the path of descent. Everytime someone chooses to serve vs. fighting to be served.

That’s re-incarnation. It’s following Jesus in the hardest move of all.

And it can still change the world.

Just ask the Hazelips.