Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Karl Barth and the Love of God

Karl Barth is arguably one of the most influential Christian theologians of the 20th century. His Church Dogmatics has influenced professors all over the world. His sermons have blessed the church for decades.

In 1962, toward the end of his life, someone asked Barth to sum up the millions of words he had written about God. He replied quickly and simply: “Jesus loves me this I know, for the Bible tells me so.” A great Christian thinker thought that a children’s song about the love of Jesus best described his complex theology.

The love of Jesus has a way of doing that. It sums up the complexities of life and gives us a reference point for navigating the complexities of life.  Many of us learned John 3:16 as a kid: “For God so loved the world that he gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him shall not perish but have eternal life.” Over our lives, we keep coming back to it over and over again. It has a way of anchoring us and directing us, even when things get complicated.

As you continue to navigate all the festivities of the holidays, remember what sums it all up. Everything about Christmas boils down to the love that God has for the world. It is a love that will anchor you. It is a love that will direct you. It is the love that inspired the very first Christmas.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Paul and the Joy of Christmas

At the beginning of 2 Corinthians, the Apostle Paul describes ministry in a wonderful way. Paul describes the work of he and other church leaders in terms of encouraging joy. Paul writes, “Not that we have lordship over your faith, but are helpers of your joy…” Paul understands his ministry to the church as being a helper of joy.

Christians understand joy to be a satisfaction found in Jesus Christ. This satisfaction runs deeper than happiness or sadness. It keeps us and sustains us during the ups and downs of life. It gives us a sense of well being regardless of the circumstances around us.

We have an incredible opportunity to be a helper of that kind of joy this holiday season. During this time of the year, people sing, “Joy to the World.” Folks talk about the joys of dinner parties and gift exchanges. We can encourage people to find a joy that goes beyond this festive time of the year. We can encourage folks to find joy in the very reason for this festive time of year.

As you continue to navigate the holiday season, be a helper of joy. Point people to the soul satisfying goodness of Jesus. Tell folks how great Jesus is. Share about what the Lord has done in your life. As you do, you will grow in your own joy. You will also see that Jesus Christ is joy to the world indeed.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Baby Jesus: Breaker of Bad Traditions

There is a great legend about a new minister and his congregation. The new minister led his congregation in prayer and half the congregation stood. The other half remained seated. Both groups insisted that their way of praying was the correct tradition in their congregation. The disagreement carried on until folks were screaming and yelling at each other, leaving the minister confused about what to do.

Afterward, the young minister contacted the congregation’s 99-year-old founder. The young minister asked the old minister, “Did the congregation stand for prayer at the beginning? Is that the tradition?” The elder minister said, “No.” The young minister responded by asking, “So the true tradition is staying seated during prayer?” The founder said, “No, that isn’t it either.” The young minister became frustrated: “What do you mean? I need to know the true tradition. Half the people stand and shout, insisting they are right.  The other half sit and scream, saying they are right.” The elder minister smiled at the younger minister and said, “Ah yes, that is the true tradition of the congregation.”

Many of us have been a part of such a tradition. Conflict, discord, and disfunction is in our DNA.  We can trace that tradition all the way back to Cain and Able.  Hostility is one of the oldest human traditions.

On the very first Christmas, Jesus Christ, arrived to break such traditions. In the Luke 2, the heavenly angels announce how Jesus undermines the human tradition of hostility. The angels say, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.” In Jesus, there is a way for God's people to live in peace.

As you go about your holiday season, start a new Christmas tradition. Promote peace on earth and good will toward people.  Take time to set relationships right this holiday season. Seek forgiveness where you need to seek forgiveness. Forgive those who have wronged you.  As you do, you will find blessings in the Christian tradition of peace. You will also experience a blessing that the Prince of Peace offers His people through Christmas.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

The Christmas Fire Fighter

I heard a great story about a fire fighter who refused to get swept up in the drama surrounding emergencies that his truck responded to. The fire fighter would meet people who were (understandably) distraught and overwhelmed by crises. He’d tell them, “This is an emergency for you, but it is not an emergency for my team. We successfully remedy situations like this every day. We are here to bring order to the chaos.”

In a way, that attitude illustrates how God approached crises in the world at Christmas. Sin and death were an indeed emergency for humanity, but not for Jesus. He came to bring order to our chaos – not get swept up in it.

The Gospel of Luke describes it well. God sends angels announcing the birth of the Son of God. The first thing they tell Zechariah, Mary and the Shepherds is this: “fear not,” (Luke 1:13,30; 2:10). In other words, “This is an emergency for you, but it is not an emergency for God. God is in control and God has come to bring order to the chaos.”

As you begin the Christmas season, remember that Jesus is not a part of all the emergencies that pop up around the holidays. In fact, Jesus is here, offering hope and peace and joy and love to His people. As you remember that, you will find meaning in the holidays that runs far deeper than busy calendars and complicated family dynamics. You will also find a God who extinguishes the figurative fires of the holiday season.