If only that three-way handshake meant the answer to the Christmas song!November 29th, 2007
If only that three-way handshake meant the answer to the Christmas song! How many times has the world witnessed the leaders of Israel, the Palestinian people and the United States clasp hands in a renewed pledge to seek peace in the Holy Land. Three nations, three religions, one prayer. Still unanswered.
From Annapolis, Maryland, the Associated Press reported yet another agreement this week: “Sealing their pledge with an awkward handshake, Israeli and Palestinian leaders resolved Tuesday to immediately restart moribund peace talks. President Bush said he will devote himself to ending the six-decade conflict in the 14 months he has left in office” (South Bend Tribune 11-28-07).
Political, ethnic and religious differences aside, who wouldn’t pray for peace in the Middle East? After all, the angels high in that Bethlehem midnight sang out the promise at the birth of Jesus, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, goodwill toward all” (Luke 2:14). Certainly those of us who believe the Christmas story could lead the way in praying for peace in that troubled region, couldn’t we? And not just because we have loved ones, as Karen and I and thousands of other families do, serving in the military in far away Iraq (or Afghanistan or Kosovo or Korea) this Christmas. But simply because the Christ Child was born (in the Middle East) that there might indeed be peace on earth one day. Couldn’t that day come now?
Believing it could, I’d like to invite you to join me in praying for peace this season of Christ’s birth. Would you be willing to add the Middle East to your early morning prayer list? And pray for the political leaders of that region. Pray for the spiritual leaders, too. Pray for the suffering, the frightened, the angry, the disenfranchised. Pray for the leaders of our own governments. Pray the song of the angels, that the Gift of Christmas might yet bring His peace to our lands in this lifetime. Wouldn’t it make a peace-difference if morning by morning we all clasped hands in prayer with the only One who can yet fulfill six decades of handshakes and bring His peace on earth, goodwill toward all?
While the angels still sing, let us pray.
I’m reading Nathaniel Philbrick’s award-winning new book, MayflowerNovember 20th, 2007
I’m reading Nathaniel Philbrick’s award-winning new book, Mayflower, an “electrifying new history” of America’s “most sacred national myth”—the voyage of the Mayflower and the settlement of the Plymouth Colony. Blending the dispassion of an historian with the dramatic flair of a story-teller, this account is the most detailed and gripping Pilgrim chronicle I have read.
After their torturous voyage across the gale-whipped Atlantic on the “tween” deck (the space between the topside deck above and the cargo hold below), the Mayflower’s human cargo of 102 passengers, half of them Puritan the other half adventurers and crew, landed on Cape Cod in frigid November weather (the “small ice age” of North America still gripping the continent). Philbrick’s account of their ill-prepared splashing ashore the mainland in wet and frozen clothing on December 23, the subsequent two harrowing weeks to construct their first building (a twenty-foot square “common house),” the deadly onslaught of a winter even more bitter with so many falling ill or dying that only six of the decimated colony were strong enough to care for the sick, the late night and unmarked burials to hide from any native spies the dwindling of the Pilgrim band—you cannot help but read this narrative with an almost sacred awe. By spring fifty-two of the 102 Mayflower passengers were dead.
“We think of the Pilgrims as resilient adventurers upheld by unwavering religious faith, but they were also human beings in the midst of what was, and continues to be, one of the most difficult emotional challenges a person can face: immigration and exile” (p 76).
Three hundred eighty-seven years later, here we are, sons and daughters of immigrants from the world-over, ourselves on a voyage this Thanksgiving weekend, occupying the “tween” deck between the past and the future, exiles in a foreign land, “strangers and pilgrims on the earth” (Hebrews 11:13).
And what shall be our spirit? Gratitude and thanksgiving have been the lessons perennially drawn from the Pilgrim story (even though, in fact, the “first” harvest celebration the autumn of 1621 was more akin to an English fall festival than an Anglican or Separatist worship service). But as I read their story again what strikes me most is the dogged determination to be faithful to the vision that launched their movement. No matter the contrary odds, the devastating price, these were a people not unlike the heroes of Hebrews 11, who “having seen [the promises] from afar off were assured of them.” They did not turn back.
And neither must we. “Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith” (Hebrews 12:1 NIV). For in Christ the Promised Land is assured.
The Pilgrims lived with that sense of “the chosen.” Three hundred eighty-seven years later, so must we. After all, it may not be long now to “crossing over.”
“‘People I associate with are looking at me like, are you guys crazy?’”November 9th, 2007
“‘People I associate with are looking at me like, are you guys crazy?’” That was school committee chairman John Coyne’s comment when a measure he opposed was approved by a 7-2 vote of the Portland (Maine) School Committee (South Bend Tribune 10-19-07). Why did that vote make the national headlines a few weeks ago? Because it was a decision to allow children as young as eleven years of age to obtain birth control pills at a middle-school health center. News indeed!
In defense of the King Middle School, it should be noted that school officials maintain that only five of the school’s 510 students would have qualified for birth control under the program last year. And the policy does require that students have parental permission to use the health center at the school (although the students would not have to tell their parents that they were seeking birth control).
But all of that aside, dispensing contraceptives for children as young as eleven years of age is surely a social commentary on our times, is it not? Is this where “the land of the free” is destined? Does the early onset of puberty mean that we must keep revising our sexual health policies downward in order to accommodate younger and younger children?
But then, is anybody really that surprised it has come to this? Didn’t the ancient prophet warn, “They sow the wind, and reap the whirlwind” (Hosea 8:7)? After decades of prime time sex on America’s channels and screens of entertainment, are we surprised that our kids finally got the message? That unbridled sex is not only the acceptable, but the preferred norm for our society? Who can blame eleven year olds for thinking, “If my body can do it, I might as well do it”? We have reaped the whirlwind.
In the words of Christian philosopher Francis Schaeffer, How then shall we live? Or shall the community of Christ sow the same sexual winds and reap the same night-after whirlwind? Our series, “The Chosen,” moves now to the heart of the dark game plan on the borders of the Promised Land: play the sex card.
But the good news is Christ offers us a winning hand! And he does so with the profound declaration that our bodies “were bought at a price,” the crimson currency of “his own blood” (I Cor 6:19, 20; Acts 20:28). Clearly, having emptied heaven’s treasury to redeem not only our souls but our bodies at the cross, it is in God’s own interest to protect his investment in us and to spare us sexual defeat. All of his power to protect all of our purity—ours for the asking. How could the headlines be better?
Was this some sort of Halloween joke?November 2nd, 2007
Was this some sort of Halloween joke? The headline caught my eye: “Hunter shot by his dog.” You’ve got to be kidding! No, the Des Moines, Iowa, story turns out to be very true, painfully true. Jim Harris, 39, was out hunting last weekend on the opening day of pheasant season. As he and his canine buddy were moving through the brush, Harris stopped, laid down his shot gun, and you can guess the rest. “Man’s best friend” accidentally stepped on the shotgun, tripped the trigger, and at close range pumped 100-120 pellets into Harris’ calf. The good news is that Jim is recovering from surgery in good condition, except for a very sore four-inch circle on his calf.
“Hunter shot by his dog.” Some things in life are just plain backwards at times, aren’t they?
Take this headline from the upper room the night before Jesus was crucified. There in the orange glow of those flickering torches, Jesus turns to his closest companions and friends on earth and declares, “’You did not choose Me, but I chose you’” (John 15:16).
But we get that headline backwards sometimes, don’t we? It’s easy to get to thinking that all this talk about “the chosen” must mean that people with enough spiritual smarts will make the right choice and settle in with the right God and the right theology and the right lifestyle. If only everybody else would just do the same (so the subliminal thinking goes). But Jesus’ quiet assertion that night is that such thinking is backwards. The choice that matters most isn’t my choice or your choice—it’s clearly his choice. “I chose you.”
Oswald Chambers, in his classic My Utmost for His Highest, drives home the point: “Keep that note of greatness in your creed. It is not that you have got God, but that He has got you” (299).
Good news for all the times you and I mess up our choices, foul up our resolutions and just plain get it all backwards. “You did not choose Me, but I chose you.” Which means that you’ve been chosen by the only One in the universe who knows how to make a perfect choice. Which, of course, doesn’t make you or me perfect. But it does reverse the headline of salvation’s focus from imperfect us to perfect Him.
And in anybody’s book, that would surely make God, not dog, our “very best friend.”