Sunday, December 25, 2005
Her latest novel is entitled Christ the Lord: Out of Egypt. It tells the story of Jesus as a seven year old child in Egypt just as Joseph and his clan decide return to their homeland in Nazarath. The story is narrated by the child Jesus himself and focuses on his gradual journey to self-awareness. Why does he have miraculous powers? Why does he seem to know things a seven-year-old should not know? What was it that happened at Bethlehem of which Joseph and Mary will not talk? Rice powerfully captures both the normal child and the extrodianary being who is Christ as they exist together in a seven-year-old child.
Do I agree with all her choices? She writes as a Catholic, and Rice presupposes (as I do not) Mary's perpetual viginity and explains James as being from Joseph's earlier marriage. In fact, the older James becomes something of a foil that drives some of the tension in the book. And there are stories woven into the novel that come from The Gospel of Thomas, one of the Gnostic gospels. Rice almost appologizes for this in the author's note, but these stories do fit well the flow of the book. But then, if you are writing about Jesus as a seven year old, all the stories are going to be made up!
What isn't fiction is the great care and reverence as Rice handles her story. She is obviously dealing with something she feels is very holy, and so the telling comes across much differently than, for example, Dan Brown in The DaVinci Code or Angels and Demons. In fact, Rice's long and powerful author's note at the end explains why her extensive research led her to reject liberal recastings of the Jesus story and why she came to a very conservative and biblical view. Her title for the series captures her view of the hero of her story perfectly-- Christ the Lord.
Many points in the story touched me, but two more than the others. Tears came to my eyes as Mary finally tells Jesus the details of his birth-- the angelic announcement, the trip to Bethlehem, the manger, the magic. she tells him that he is the son of God-- not as a king or pious man might be; he is the Son of the Most High God.
If that brougth trears, the next brought chills. Later Jesus ponders over the meaning of Mary's revelation, and the power of the novel hits with full force. He says he finally understands why he was born. He reflects on all that that he has seen-- the death of a rebel killed by Romans, the death of his aunt deom a sickness, and the blood of sacrifices he saw in Jerusalem. He concludes that "Everything that is born is born to die." He knows who he is, and he also knows that he was born to die. But he was also born a child. That means that he was born to live and grow and love and learn and serve and experience what it means to be human. The book ends with his prayer, "Father in heaven, I am your child!"
Jesus was indeed born to die, as are each of us. But like Him, we are also born to live and grow and love and serve. And as in the life of Jesus, those two destinies are connected. How we live and grow and serve prepares us for our death. May God bless us all as we follow and serve Christ the Lord.
Saturday, December 24, 2005
- Fruit cake cannot be used as birthday cake!
- You can never combine Christmas and birthdays gifts;
- And you must never wrap a birthday present in Christmas paper!
Things were a little complicated on Jesus’ birthday too. OK, He likely wasn’t literally born on December 25, but there was nothing ordinary about Jesus’ birthday whenever it was.
- He was conceived by God and born of a virgin;
- He was born in a barn and placed in a feed trough;
- And what other baby receives gold, frankincense and myrrh?
There will never be peace on earth and universal goodwill toward men. Two thousand years of human experience have taught that the coming of Jesus into the world did not bring the world total peace. But that was never the angelic announcement in the first place! What the angels announced was, “on earth let there be peace among the people who please God” (Luke 2:14, CEV). We can have peace with God because Jesus allows us to please God. Jesus is our peace. Because He was born, lived, died, and rose again we have peace.
Friday, December 23, 2005
- The fruit cake industry would completely collapse!
- Our boring, uneventful lives would have no stress at all!
- Eggnog would just be a slimy, high cholesterol beverage.
- Santa would just be a strange fat man with poor fashion sense!
- Three words— “No Christmas bonus!”
- Goofy snowmen and reindeer sweater would look even more goofy
- You'd have to spend your own money buying stuff that doesn’t fit.
- We would never wonder if reindeer really know how to fly.
- Your cat would never know the joy of coughing up tinsel!
- Number one reason—without Christmas, there could be no Easter!
Christmas was originally a pagan holiday that Christians appropriated and connected to the birth of Christ. Sometimes this is cited as a reason not to observe the holiday at all, or at least not connect it to Jesus. Actually, I think that was an ingenious move-- keep new converts from reconnecting with their pagan past by connecting their main holiday with Jesus' birth! Brilliant! To avoid the religious significance of Christmas because of its pagan roots is like refusing to see The Chronicles of Narnia because C. S. Lewis was once an atheist! Lewis was converted long before he sent Lucy through the wardrone. And Christmas was converted long ago as well!
The way we choose to observe or not observe the Christmas holidays is entirely optional as long as our desire is to glorify God (Rom 14:5). What is not optional is the story. If this season reconnects you with the special and central nature of that story of Jesus' birth, then that is a good thing indeed. Merry Christmas.
Wednesday, December 21, 2005
Have you ever had a conversation like that? I have. The chiropractor of one of our members visited one Sunday night twenty years ago. We ended up talking for a while, and he finally asked, “What does your church really believe about things.” I was just ramping up to give him a synopsis of our church organization and worship and teachings when he told me that he was Jewish. He had never been to a Christian church of any kind, and he really didn’t know anything about Jesus. What I was about to say became trivia. he wanted the part that matters!
Sometimes we can get hung up on our eloquence and (in our view) superior wisdom. We find ourselves fuming and fussing about things that we know (even if we won't admit it) are not really central to the Christian faith. The more we stress issues that stray from the center of faith, the more WE stray from the center of that faith. We live in a world that is progressively less and less Christian. All around us are people looking for spiritual reality, but they don't know Jesus at all. And they will listen... if we can find the time to stop feuding with other Christians over the minutia of how to do church.
Ken Young has written a song entitled "Make Us One." This song to me is a powerful reminder of both the ncessity of the world to hear the message of Christ and the need we have to proclaim it with one voice. Only when we allow the Spirit of God to make us one will we ever truly have a message for the world.
In this dark and violent world there is a war that rages on
For the hearts of the believers whom the Lord has called as one
We will take our stand together for the glory of the cross
And the walls that have divided us will crumble
As the sound of praise again is heard with one voice!
Holy Spirit, Heavenly Dove; fill our hearts with your heavenly love.
Make us one; make us one--
Like the Father and the Spirit and the Son, make us one
Tuesday, December 20, 2005
- The national Christmas tree has now officially been dubbed a "Holiday Tree."
- A school in Texas asked children to bring white, not red and green, napkins to a holiday party
- Annapolis, Maryland, calls its evergreen boughs and ribbons on public buildings the "Hanging of the Greens," not "Christmas decorations."
- I even heard someone suggest (with tongue in cheek) that Nativity scenes should be called "The Holiday Homeless Family."
What do I think about all of this? I think these people are just behind the times. I was brought up to believe that the right way to approach Christmas was to avoid all religious references. The Bible doesn't authorize a winter festival; we're not commanded to observe Jesus' birthday. So we avoided the religious part of Christmas.. We did not use religious themes in decorations, we chose Christmas cards that featured snow or fireplaces rather than nativity scenes, and we sang about Frosty and Rudolph rather than Jesus. And we never, ever mentioned the birth of Jesus in church during the month of December! In other words, we were politically correct before political correctness was cool!
We meant well. But as our world has gotten more and more secular, I am so glad that we have rethought our view of Christmas. Our children are not going to have nativity plays or sing Christmas carols in school. I'm glad that we are free to let them do both in church. Saying "Merry Christmas," sending Christmas cards with nativity scenes, and finding other ways to honor Jesus during this time of the year says something to people around us. It says that we don't buy into the secularization of the public square. It says that Jesus remains the center of our world all the time, even around the holidays. Merry Christmas!
Friday, December 16, 2005
The question I'm pondering today is "Why did I like the movie so much?" Why do movies like The Passion of the Christ and Chronicles of Narnia create so much interest among Christians? Is it because they create a context in which we can share our faith with others? I can see discussing the movie with an unbelieving friend and saying, "You know the basic plot of the movie HAS been done before..." That is what several Christian marketing companies are banking on; I've gotten several offers of materials to use the movie to advertise the church and the faith. I don't think that is a bad idea.
But I do have to wonder a little if part of the reason that many of us see The Passion and Narnia as such positive things is because they somehow validate faith. Here are two incredibly popular movies (likely two of the best-selling of all time) that are based in different ways on our faith. The popular media is generally pretty negative to Christianity, but here are two cases it at least gives lip service to God. Well isn't that great? Maybe. I do hope that we don't need Hollywood to pat us on the back and tell us that its really OK to be believers after all! Faith has always placed us at odds with the world of the seen. Christianity has always been a counter-culture. Following God always leads us beyond the world, and the world is not going to make it easier to follow Him.
I hope everyone will see The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. I hope there will be those who will indeed have the imagination baptized, to use Lewis' words, and their hearts opened to the story of the true Lion of Judah. I hope that we will all take advantage of any opportunity we have to speak a word to others about Jesus. But let's not expect the world to make this easy for us. That is not going to happen!
Thursday, December 15, 2005
Yancey suggests that we see ourselves as amphibians living in two environments, one physical and the other spiritual, at the same time. One of these comes easily; the other requires constant concentration. In the world of the physical, we breathe without thinking about and notice our neighbor’s new red sports car… without much thought. On the other hand, it takes great concentration to also notice and respond to things that are much more important— the homeless person beside the road with the hand-painted sign or the single mother with a disabled child who lives down the street. Quoting from Yancey—
At the heart of the Christian view of reality is the stark belief that two worlds coexist on planet Earth, constantly interacting and sometimes colliding, with human beings playing a central role in that drama. Somehow I must come to terms with that point of view and allow it to shape my everyday life. Faith is being “certain of what we do not see,” says the book of Hebrews, bringing the two worlds together.
Spiritual living takes much more concentration and hard work than living a life focused only on the here and how. This life comes easy. We don’t need any prodding to tell us we’re hungry and need food. But when we choose to live a spiritual life, that is harder. We have to focus harder and search harder. We have to focus. The invisible world is much harder to see. And when we search for it, we become out of step with those around us whose only focus in the seen reality. Paul saw that spiritual reality, and thus he could say “From now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view” (2 Cor 5:16). That is a lot easier to say that it is to live, but then we have to keep our focus!
Tuesday, December 13, 2005
1 My heart is not proud, O Lord, my eyes are not haughty;
I do not concern myself with great matters
or things too wonderful for me.
2 But I have stilled and quieted my soul; like a weaned child with its mother,
like a weaned child is my soul within me.
, put your hope in the Lord both now and forevermore. Israel
The above is the Psalms portion of our daily Bible reading for today. It is also a reminder that God calls us to come to him in humility and quietness. David says that he comes to God with neither a proud heart nor haughty eyes; he does not presume to an ambition that is beyond him. He rather rests with God as a weaned child who rests against his or her mother not because of hunger pains but simply out of a desire to be near her. There are times when nothing satisfies a child except to be near Mommy. David was that he was that quieted child nuzzling up near to God. Only God supplies real hope; only God can truly calm our souls.
It is no accident that this psalm is numbered among the “Songs of Ascents,” those psalms which Israel sang as pilgrims on the way to worship. This psalm prepared the way for worship by reminding the worshipper that God is always God. We don’t supply anything that God needs by the fervor or format of our worship. We don’t secure our place before God through the precision or passion of our beliefs. We are rather children who rest and rely on God to provide for us what we can never provide for ourselves. All we can do in response is to love God back as best we can.
The next time that we are tempted to think we are righteous because we are right, we need to think of this little Psalm. If we depend on ourselves to figure everything out, we will be disappointed. And we will never know the security of resting everything in God.
Friday, December 09, 2005
Opening tonight at a theater near you is Disney’s blockbuster The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. The movie is based on a children’s book about four schoolchildren who pass through a magic wardrobe into the land of Narnia. There they have many adventures as they battle the White Witch who has usurped power and oppressed the strange inhabitants of the land. And there they meet Aslan the Lion, the rightful ruler of Narnia. Aslan defeats the White Witch only after giving his life to atone for the treachery of one of the children... and then returning to life. If that story line seems a little familiar, it is supposed to be.
The seven-book series The Chronicles of Narnia was written by C. S. Lewis, one of the most prolific and influential Christian writers of the 20th century. In books like Mere Christianity, Lewis presented a rational defense and explanation of the Christian faith. His books that had a great impact on his generation, and they continue to influence many today. The Chronicles of Narnia was intended by Lewis as a "suppositional story" as in "suppose the Son of God had come to another world." In this story, Aslan does not represent some messiah-like figure; he represents the Christ who dies for the guilty and rises again to defeat evil. Lewis saw the Narnia tales as a way to "baptize the imagination" to prepare the way for the gospel story. Narnia is a fanciful place filled with many strange creature and events, but you’ll recognize the plot!
I am curious to see what Disney does with Lewis' book. I recently re-read The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe to refresh my memory of the story. I’m really looking forward to seeing the movie.
Update: I saw it last night, and it was wonderful! Not only did it not try to remove the metaphor, it even added a few! (After the dramatic battle in which Aslan kills the White Witch, he turns to Peter and says, "It is finished!" Not in Lewis' book, but it seems like I have heard that before somewhere). I guess the most lavish praise I can give it is that Lynn loved it, and the last fantasy movie she liked was The Wizard of Oz! See the movie!
Thursday, December 08, 2005
This is the worst kind of legalism! Why? Because it is the kind of which we are guilty! Our tradition teaches us that it would be wrong to have a woman give a report or have a chorus concert during church. So we have a closing prayer (technically ending the service) and then have the report or the concert. Do we really think God in heaven looks down on us and says, "Hey, wait just a minute there... Oh, that's OK; you had a closing prayer!). Come on!
The real point of legalism is the comfort of the legalist! It lets us do what we want to do and feel holy at the same time. It lets us hang onto tradition (which almost never has real connection with scripture) while getting around it when it becomes a bit too restrictive and unhandy. When our focus is on the heart and mind of God, we are much less likely to play those kids of games.
It's OK if a machine turns on Sabbath lightsd just so long as a person doesn’t do it? So maybe if we just had a player piano... Nah!
Tuesday, December 06, 2005
How horrible to go through life always feeling guilty and never feeling forgiven. How hard it must be to think that you must do enough in order to be forgiven, but then at the same time you know that you haven’t done enough and can’t do enough. How frustrating it is to work and work hoping to reach the point when you feel you have done enough… but never really getting there.
But it is shallow to go through life feeling no obligation to God’s grace. No, we can never earn grace through obedience. But if we truly understand the gift of grace, then we are placed under a tremendous obligation. In 1 Corinthians 15:10, Paul says, “But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace to me was not without effect. No, I worked harder than all of them—yet not I, but the grace of God that was with me.” Paul clearly understood the obligation of grace. He understood that not only does grace lead us to work for God, but it is grace that works through us. Do we view grace in terms of obligation? Or do we rather see it excusing us from serious service? We might want to go back and seriously study some of those grace passages again!
Friday, December 02, 2005
Several things struck me about the feature, but what hit me the hardest was the emphasis given at Fairfax to small groups. Several interviews with Fairfax members gave powerful testimony to the way small groups had impacted their lives and walk with the Lord. One new member said, "This church, and especially this small group, they complete me...I’m an almost 40-year-old divorced woman, and I’m whole here." Another new member observed, "They’re very good about encouraging you to get into a small group. People introduce themselves and one of the first things they say is, ‘Are you in a small group? Do you want to come to ours?’”
The church at Fairfax is very mobile and transient. Like Denbigh, a large percentage of their membership is in military and goverment service. Like Denbigh (and even more so), their members live miles distant from one another. In a setting like that, small groups give people a place to quickly plug in and belong. According to the article, about half of the 1,000 people who worship at Fairfax on Sunday mornings also participate in the small group program; the goal of the elders is to increase that number to closer to 75 percent.
Small groups are not just an alternative to traditional Sunday night services. They are a way to connect people in a world that has become disconnected. May God use our Body Life small groups to bring us closer together and closer to Him.
Thursday, December 01, 2005
For many in our culture, a credit card seems to be getting pretty close to the meaning of life! This is the time of year when we really start racking up the cha-chings on our credit cards doing our Christmas shopping. (We'll reflect more on this in January when the bills start coming due!) But our purpose in life certainly isn't credit cards. Our purpose is not the accumulations of possessions, relationships, or experiences. God makes it clear through Isaiah that we were created for God's glory.
Bring my sons from afar and my daughters from the ends of the earth— everyone who is called by my name, whom I created for my glory, whom I formed and made. (Isaiah 43:6-7)
Our purpose in life is to bring glory and honor to the God who loves us and who saves us. Paul tells us that we have been "called according to his purpose" (Romans 8:28). That purpose is to live in relationship to God and share that relationship with others. There are many ways in which we bring God glory-- worship, service to others and the church, sharing our faith, and so on. But our main purpose in life is to bring God glory.
Are we living daily so as to fulfill our purpose?