“At once the angel was joined by a huge angelic choir singing God’s praises: Glory to God in the heavenly heights, peace to all men and women on earth who please him.” — Luke 2:13–14, The Message
This the fourth week of Advent is when we light the Angel’s candle which points us to peace. Peace is what was proclaimed by the these messengers from heaven as they glorified God at the announcement of the birth of Jesus. This same Jesus would, in a few years say, “Blessed are the peacemakers for they shall be called sons of God.”
We live in a tumultuous world. The news is filled with pain and suffering and death. There are wars and rumors of wars. The very creation itself seems to be at unrest as earthquakes and tsunamis and hurricanes are regular occurrences. When you look at your social media it is much the same only more personal. There is little in our world that points toward peace.
Peace is the message that the follower of Jesus proclaims. In Ephesians 6 we are told to put on the shoes of peace to help us stand firm. This message of peace is foundational to who we are. Yet, we live in this time when to be a peacemaker or to cry out for peace is considered weakness.
As we make the final dash toward Christmas morning, perhaps your life is like mine, lacking in some peace. We have a great deal of shopping left. Which means that we have even more wrapping left. The list of to-dos only seems to grow and grow. The kids are home from school so there are extra people around. There are more demands on time and energy than seems possible.
Recently I’ve been thinking about Jesus’ stories about people missing out on things because they were too distracted. They weren’t ready because of all the stuff going on around them and they simply missed it.
How much of Christmas do we miss because we aren’t at peace?
Have you ever had that experience where someone made a promise to you and then they came through? What did you feel like? What if that promise came years and years earlier and was fulfilled when you were least expecting it? You would probably be filled with utter joy.
This is what the third week of Advent is all about.
The third week is when we light the “Shepherds Candle” which represents joy. Could you imagine being one of the young shepherds that evening? For your whole life you’ve heard the stories of Messiah coming from your father and grandfather. Now you’re out there trying to stay warm while you watch over your family’s flock, this thing that you do every night.
The skies explode in light and angels appear telling you that Messiah has come and where to find him! Your heart is bursting with excitement and you run.
When you get there, you find it exactly as the angels say it would be.
Overwhelming joy and proclamation.
On this this the third week of advent, we light the third candle, the pink one because light has overcome darkness.
Do you share the joy of the shepherds? A joy that demands proclamation that the Messiah has come?
This might tap your “joyful” muscle…
THE WAR ON CHRISTMAS
Did you know that there was a “War on Christmas”?
Seriously, there’s a “War on Christmas”.
It’s occurring in most churches. It breaks out in many hearts this time of year. Christmas is when we go out and buy friends and family lots of gifts. We spend lots of money on things people don’t need and some don’t even really want. A few of us even go to church on Christmas Eve and that makes us feel spiritual about spending all that money.
When you look around at everything that we are inundated with every single day it’s clear what Christmas is all about. It’s about giving and receiving stuff.
The war that is happening is happening in each heart. Some are uncomfortable with the battle that is happening in their heart and so they look for an enemy on the outside. That’s when some go to “war” with the “world”. Bemoaning the fact that “Christmas” parties at schools have become “Holiday” parties or that “Christmas” is written as “Xmas”. They think this is the “War on Christmas”.
The real war on Christmas is what happens in our hearts every day throughout the year. We are at war with our own selfish and self-centered hearts. We battle within and it makes us uncomfortable. We don’t like to feel that way. When we are faced with those realities we can do one of two things. We can either embrace them, confess, and repent or we can stuff them and project.
Based on what I see in the media and news, I think most of us are stuffing and projecting.
The War on Christmas is not being perpetrated by “those” people, whomever they are. It is being perpetrated by us, whomever “us” may be. Our own hearts are at war with themselves.
The War on Christmas is real. It’s just not being fought where you think it is.
Originally published on December 11, 2014
COMING IN HUMILITY
The second candle we light in Advent is the “Bethlehem Candle.” It is the reminder of how the Bread of Life came to the House of Bread in humility. Jesus, King of the Universe, did not come to the world by way of power or exceptionalism but by humility. He was born in a hole carved from the side of a rock and his cradle was a hay filled trough.
This King of glory was completely ordinary.
This second week of Advent we consider the ordinariness of the glorious King. A helpless baby born to a young girl on the outskirts of a small town. He was nothing special to the unassuming eye. He was just a baby.
The King of glory was a just a baby.
The King of glory was poor.
The King of glory was nothing to behold.
The King of glory would have been considered to have little worth.
What do we do with such a King? How do we respond? How does this challenge us as we move forward into Bethlehem week?
We live in a world, not unlike the world Jesus was born into, where class and status mean more than just about anything else. We battle for status within the realm of social media, our neighborhoods, our jobs, our schools. Our lives are a constant attempt of “one upping” another.
Humility is something we run from.
What might it look like for me to embrace humility this week? I have been thinking about this for a few days and I’ve come up with something simple. In a conversation, choose to say, “You’re right” or “I don’t know” or “You’ve given me something to think about.” These little phrases begin to move us toward humility.
Humility is something that we have to actively choose to practice in our lives. It is not something that comes to us naturally. It will take work. We will be uncomfortable.
Sort of like lying in a hay filled manger…
IF YOUR FIRST INSTINCT IS TO USE A TRAGEDY TO FURTHER YOUR POLITICAL PREFERENCES THERE’S A GOOD…
If your first instinct is to use a tragedy to further your political preferences there’s a good chance you’re part of the problem.
KIND OR NICE?
Sunday night at our gathering we were spending time in Ephesians 4. During our conversation it struck me again how important it is for us to understand the difference between being “kind” and being “nice.”
Verse 32 says, “Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.”
Paul doesn’t command us to be “nice.” He commands us to be “kind.” This distinction is very important for our relationships. This command to be kind ties back to verse 15, “Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ…”
Kindness differs with niceness by the inclusion of truth. Kindness can be hard and can potentially cause pain.
I asked the congregation what they thought was the difference between being nice and being kind. My son said this, “If your friend’s hair is messed up, the nice thing is to say, ‘Your hair is fine.’ But, the kind thing to say is, ‘Bruh, you need to fix that.’”
Do you see the difference?
If we are going to be kind to one another it means that we must speak the “truth in love” to one another.
We live in an age of “niceness”. Being kind is a foreign concept because kindness may cause offense and causing offense is a great sin in our culture. Sadly, because we are trading kindness for niceness, we are losing much. Many decry the extended adolescence of our culture. This exists in large part due to our loss of kindness.
Because we are no longer kind, speaking the truth in love, we have stunted the maturation of a generation.
“Nice” is not something to sought after. “Kind” is. Kind is loving. Nice is self-serving.
Which do you desire? Do you want people to be “nice” to you or would you rather have people be kind?
THE DAY IS COMING!
Many people love Christmas. There’s a radio station in Detroit that has been playing Christmas tunes 24/7 for a few weeks. Christmas is nostalgic and beautiful. It tells the story of God the Son being born in humility to save the world.
Christmas is great.
But I love Advent!
There is something special about the building excitement and anticipation of the season. The Christian new year begins with the first Sunday of Advent, not with Christmas. This communicates something intriguing about our faith.
Advent plunges us into the already/not yet of our faith.
Yesterday was the first Sunday of Advent, it is represented by the “Prophecy” candle. We read the following Scripture,
“Behold, the days are coming, declares the LORD, when I will fulfill the promise I made to the house of Israel and the house of Judah. In those days and at that time I will cause a righteous Branch to spring up for David, and he shall execute justice and righteousness in the land. In those days Judah will be saved, and Jerusalem will dwell securely. And this is the name by which it will be called: ‘The LORD is our righteousness.’
(Jeremiah 33:14–16 ESV)
I am struck by, “the days are coming”. There is a certainty in what the Lord says. There is no doubt about the coming of the “righteous Branch.” King Jesus is coming. We can bank on it.
We live in a time when promises are not often fulfilled. The leaders of our governments tell us things and make promises all the time. But, they do not fulfill them. God’s promises, on the other hand, are sure. There is no doubt.
The first Sunday in Advent is the time when we are reminded of the promise of a savior and how God the father made good on that promise. It is also the Sunday that allows us to renew our faith in the hope of the Return of the King!
The Christian life is one of great tensions. Grace and truth. Mercy and justice. We live in the tension of these great ideas and concepts. Many of our theological debates center on which side is to have priority.
In Ephesians 4:17–32 we see that this tension goes beyond belief. The very actions of the Christ follower is a life in tension. In this section Paul admonishes believers to “put off” their old selves and “put on” the new self. What is fascinating is that the new self is in some ways the old held in tension.
Verses 26 and 27 say this,
Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and give no opportunity to the devil.
(Ephesians 4:26–27 ESV)
We often think of anger as being inherently sinful. How can anger be OK? Aren’t we supposed to be nice? You can’t really be both can you? This tension of “be angry and do not sin” is an example of the inherent tension in the Christian life. There is a way to be angry and holy.
The key here is, “do not let the sun go down on your anger.” The tension is that of forgiveness. When we hold on to our anger too long it becomes sin and gives “opportunity to the devil.”
Anger apart from grace and forgiveness is not holy, but sin.
Paul summarizes this idea in verse 32,
Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.
(Ephesians 4:32 ESV)
Notice that Paul says “be kind” and not “be nice.” This is an important distinction. Kindness is imbued with truth. A good physician is not nice, he is kind. A nice physician will put your comfort above your well-being. A kind physician will always place your well-being above your comfort.
Kindness is a tension of truth and grace.
Are you willing to live in tension?
QUIET IN A LOUD WORLD
If you’re like me, silence is uncomfortable. Sometimes it is almost unbearable.
When I studied in college I needed noise, so the TV was always on. When I was in grad school, I needed noise, so I studied at the coffee shop.
Now that I’m a pastor, I feel like I need the quiet. But I really struggle with knowing how to be quiet and embrace silence.
These words from Eugene Peterson really struck me this morning,[embed][twitter.com/PetersonD...](https://twitter.com/PetersonDaily/status/668765698257231872)[/embed]
How do you experience quiet?
Most of us are aware that sports, while supposedly an honorable contest of skills, is often anything but. WWE, for example, is a well-orchestrated show. And they’re just the most obvious about it. Well fixing matches is nothing new. The very first known bribery contract was found in a papyrus dated from the year 267 CE, which was salvaged from Oxyrhynchus, Egypt in 1905. The transcription has been recently deciphered, and as expected the content is quite licentious.
The papyrus details the ‘arrangement’ between two young wrestlers Nicantinous and Demetrius for a grand bout that was to take place in the city of Antinoopolis along the Nile bank. According to the evidence, Demetrius openly agrees to lose the match for a handy bribe of 3,800 drachmas (which was oddly close to the price for buying a donkey)!
Man, I feel like this needs to be an ESPN 30 for 30!
BELIEVE US WHEN WE SAY WE’RE HURTING
“The stigma surrounding mental health boils down to one thing: that if pain can’t be measured or seen, it doesn’t exist. People believe that illnesses that cannot be detected with medical equipment can do no harm. But that one dangerous concept has a variety of stealthy disguises.
‘Smile! Others have it worse.’
‘Your life is great!’
‘But you always seem so happy.’
‘If you ignore it, it will go away.’
Sentences filled with salt for our wounds.”
- Sammy Nickalls, “Believe Us When We Say We’re Hurting”