Saturday, January 19, 2019

Seeing the Winemaker

Did you hear the one about Jesus turning water into wine?  Jesus’ mother asks him to help save a groom from the embarrassment (and potential lawsuits from disgruntled guests!) for running out of wine before the party was over. Jesus, in a quiet, hardly-noticed way, provides. (John 2:1-11)

Modern ears, rendered skeptical by science, hear that story and respond,  ‘Really? This sounds just like some ancient Greek myth about their god of wine.’  

But, in our less skeptical moments; in our more faith-filled moments, I wonder if we want this story to be true. We want to see it as the new reality, because deep down, we dare to dream and hope that there will be a day when none will be in want, when all will be invited to the Party. (You should stop here and read Amos 9:13-14)

Jesus is at the party, and he is just doing that which God does every year, but in a super-sped up way.  We see it with every glass of wine, but, like the guests at that wedding in Cana, we don’t see the Maker. So, if when you read about Jesus turning water into wine your response is ‘balderdash’, perhaps the problem lies not in the story but in your eyes.


“God creates the vine and teaches it to draw up water by its roots and, with the aid of the sun, to turn that water into a juice which will ferment and take on certain qualities. Thus every year, from Noah’s time till ours, God turns water into wine.  That, men fail to see. Either like the Pagans they refer the process to some finite spirit, Bacchus or Dionysus: or else, like the moderns, they attribute real and ultimate causality to the chemical and other material phenomena which are all that our senses can discover in it. But when Christ at Cana makes water into wine, the mask is off’ (John 5:19). The miracle has only half its effect if it only convinces us that Christ is God: it will have its full effect if whenever we see a vineyard or drink a glass of wine we remember that here works He who sat at the wedding party in Cana.”

C.S. Lewis, “Miracles,” God in the Dock (Eerdmans: 1970)

Saturday, January 12, 2019

When The World Is Too Much With You

In the human effort to manage time we created calendars. We mark off time by days, months, years.  Thus we created an annual rite of turning the page to a ‘new year.’  It is an artificial creation, the new year, but one we all agree upon. For most of the ‘new year’s’ of my life I have been happy for it to arrive. It gives me reason to feel like ‘this year will be different’. Personally or professionally or relationally.

But this ‘new year’ was different.  My mind couldn’t get to thinking positive thoughts because the stock market had just suffered its worst December in like forever; the government was partially shutdown with no end in sight as the children who govern us play games with our lives; the threats to world stability in the Middle East were growing. Some ‘Happy New Year’, my mind persuaded me to lament.  My thoughts were caught up with William Wordsworth’s sonnet’s first lines:
The world is too much with us; late and soon,
Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers;—
Little we see in Nature that is ours;
We have given our hearts away, a sordid boon!
…We are out of tune. Great God!

And then another word came to me, a word I credit to the Spirit.  “In every situation, by prayer and petition.” I looked up Philippians 4:6. The formula for overcoming my anxiety was right before my eyes.  Now I pray for our nation and our world because that is the only thing I can control in the midst of the mess.  I cannot alter the stock market. I cannot negotiate an end to the longest shutdown in U.S. history. All I can do is change my focus.  I can offer thanksgiving to God for God’s faithfulness; I can offer petitions in prayers for sanity and stability. I can do what I can to get the world back into ‘tune’, so the notes sound like they should.  I can stop giving my heart away.  I can focus less on ‘getting and spending’ and more on seeing in Nature that which is ours.

I can overcome my anxiety about this new year by giving time back to God, and receiving from God the eternity on the other side of the window.

Saturday, December 22, 2018

God Loves Scrooge

God loves Scrooge, mean miser that he is.  People struggle to love Scrooge because it is so hard to love someone we do not like. But God loves Scrooge just like he is.

God knows that inside the ‘mean miser Scrooge’ is the ‘happy generous Scrooge’.  That’s who God loves, the Scrooge inside, because God can see the Scrooge inside even when Scrooge cannot see who he can be. Until one day he does see who he can be, and then people see the real Scrooge. That’s why people should love Scrooge too. Love him and then maybe one day you can like him too.

So, to the Scrooge, ‘the bad you’, in all of us, hear the good news of Christmas: you don’t have to change for God to love you. God knows who you can be, and God is going to love the real you until you become the real you.

If only perfect people could come to the Manger and hold the Baby, well then, the Baby would be mighty lonely and cold on Christmas Eve.

This Christmas Eve God invites the Skeptics, the Doubters, the ‘Not-yet-Believers’, the ‘I’m-too-Busy’, the ‘I-Have-Other-Plans’, the ‘I-Hate-Hypocrites’, the Scrooges lurking in all of us.  You are all, each and every one of us, invited to hold the Baby.  Be careful though: you know what happens when you hold a baby.  The baby doesn’t change. You do.

And that is the meaning of Christmas too.

“But the man who is not afraid to admit everything that he sees to be wrong with himself, and yet recognizes that he may be the object of God’s love precisely because of his shortcomings, can begin to be sincere. His sincerity is based on confidence, not in his own illusions about himself, but in the endless, unfailing mercy of God.”
-Thomas Merton, No Man Is an Island (Source: inward/outward Together)

Merry Christmas!

Saturday, December 15, 2018

Mighty Warrior, Prince of Peace

Desmond Doss wouldn’t carry a rifle.  That didn’t define his life. What defined him was what, or who he would carry.

As Desmond Doss and the troops of the 77th Infantry Division fought to secure Hacksaw Ridge, recently made famous again by the movie, they came up against seemingly insurmountable odds. One night, with his wounded friends calling out for help, while the enemy kept up its barrage, Desmond Doss ran back into the battlefield. He was on a mission to save those wounded soldiers. He carried the first one to safety, lowering him on a rope down the escarpment to the beach below. Then he prayed to his God that he might be mighty enough to save just one more. And he did. Seventy-five times, seventy-five lives saved by this one soldier who would not carry a weapon, but who would carry his friends.  In the end, Desmond Doss is transformed in the eyes of his superiors from one mentally unfit to serve to a hero who earns the rarely awarded Medal of Honor.

As we celebrate the Third Sunday of Advent, Joy Sunday, we find that God has a title, ‘Mighty Warrior’. (Zephaniah 3:17) Is this the Messiah whose coming again we await? Don’t we celebrate the Messiah who is the Prince of Peace? Is the Mighty Warrior also the Prince of Peace?

The picture painted by the whole of Scripture is textured with beautiful, multi-layered images of Messiah. When we take in the full picture we understand why we need a ‘Christ’.

The human race, the earth, the universe itself, is at war.  The war against sin and sins. The war against evil. The war against complacency in the face of hate and prejudice.  We are in a war, full of daily battles against so many demons of so many varieties.  We long for peace, a peace that will finally result in joy.

How do we ultimately find joy? We, wounded soldiers all, are carried by a Mighty Warrior to the shores of Peace. And when we are safely there, the prophet gives us one more picture which stirs our souls: The Mighty Warrior ‘will rejoice over you with singing.’  Joy, joy, joy. The Mighty Warrior, the Prince of Peace, sings with joy over you, his redeemed.

Saturday, December 8, 2018

Jesus Meets Satan in the Capitol

If you visit the Illinois State Capitol you will see the encounter between Jesus and Satan. It is, of course, an encounter of symbols.  Representing Jesus: a Christmas Tree and holly. Representing Satan: a statue depicting a snake wrapped around an arm holding an apple.  The intended meaning of the symbol is displayed on a sign which reads: “”Knowledge is the greatest gift.” (source: Madeline Holcombe 

What fascinates me about this story is that the Satanic Temple, which sponsors the statue, claims on its’ website, "We do not promote a belief in a personal Satan…To embrace the name Satan is to embrace rational inquiry removed from supernaturalism and archaic tradition-based superstitions."  In other words, Satan isn’t a person; ‘Satan’ is an ‘idea’ or a ‘belief’ that denies the personhood of Jesus Christ. If Satan isn’t a real person, then neither is Jesus. The symbols, in the minds of the Satanic Temple members, represent a battle, then, of knowledge versus superstition.  Christmas, they would say, is a myth created by the superstitious for the entertainment of the ignorant.

When boiled down to its essence, Christmastide is a series of symbols celebrating the gift of God’s Son to save a doubting, dying world.  Meanwhile, the ‘world’ not only denies Jesus is God but in fact sees the whole “Christmas” season as ‘archaic tradition-based superstitions.’  Christmas: ’tis the season for a good economy fueled by the duped, they say.

Much of the world is happy to celebrate the concepts of  ‘peace, joy, love and hope’. Even the members of the Satanic Temple embrace the "struggle for justice" and believe people should "strive to act with compassion and empathy toward all creatures," according to its website. The question is whether the world waits this season for a real person.

What makes the members of the Church of Jesus Christ different from the members of the Satanic Temple? “Come and worship, come and worship, worship________, the newborn king.”

Fill in the blank.

Saturday, December 1, 2018

"Hold On For One More Day"

I am not sure if I should admit this publicly: I am a huge fan of the 1990’s ‘girl band’, Wilson Phillips. I love their close harmonies, and how they sing like they ‘believe it’.

My car radio service allows me to ‘tag’ songs that I want to switch to whenever they come on. (An expensive indulgence, but I am a commuter, so give me a break.)  One song I tagged is “Hold On” by Wilson Phillips.  You may find me zooming along on Hwy. 23 demonstratively urging myself and the world to believe that ‘things’ll go your way’.  As I was in the recovery mode from one recent rendition I started thinking about the background of this song, and how appropriate the song is for an Advent tune. Stay with me here.  

December, when the church celebrates anticipation by waiting in darkness for the light to appear, is a time when many suffer from depression.  I have experienced this myself. The demands of the season in terms of year-end work and family events; the off-the-chart expectations that everyone will miraculously become nice and friendly on Christmas Eve and Day; this is a formula for mild depression hitting lots of people.  It’s just too much.

So, here is my suggestion: memorize this lyric. When you are standing in line at the register; when you are chasing children to get ready for the holiday events; when you are struggling with how to pay for all of those presents you want to buy; just sing this line: “Don’t you know? Don’t you know things can change?...Hold on for one more day.”

Seriously, Chynna Phillips explains in Chicken Soup for the Soul, The Story Behind the Song, that this song was born out of her own efforts to ‘stay sober’. She explains she was ‘at a crossroads’, where she could stay on a path in which her life would fall apart, or she could find the courage and strength to change direction. But first, she just needed to ‘hold on for one more day’, to get to tomorrow. This song became a #1 Hit because of its message of Advent Hope:  Your life can change. Just hold on, friend, for one more day; things will go your way.

Your Hope is on the way.

Saturday, November 17, 2018

Hunting Silence

Maybe I will need to take up hunting. I am not a hunter, not because I oppose it, but because there are other things I prefer to fill the “hunting hours” of my life.  But many hunters I know tell me that as they take up their places today in their favorite trees the true success of the hunt has already happened…they have found silence.  The leaves fall. The critters crunch the underbrush. Peace is found in the quiet of the woods.  Now, what happens in the deer hunting cabin may be less quiet, but that is another story.

I have a friend who wrote a book about the mystery of what happens in the cabin ‘up north’, and in the surrounding woods.  Dreams of Hidden Forest, by Ronald R. Strahl, tells a story which brings out the joy of finding a respite from the hurried life as one explores the relationship of all of trees and deer and bears and, oh yes, hunters, past and present.  One of my takeaways is that often the time spent hunting is as much a time of meditation as it is anything else. 

Simon and Garfunkel wondered about these Sounds of Silence, when the air is filled with “people talking without speaking/people hearing without listening.”  Prophetic words, don’t you think? Do we avoid silence because we need to make sound to prove our worth, to give life meaning? Or, do we fear silence, because of what we might hear in those sounds of silence. For people who pray, the constant challenge is not telling God what we want or need to say, but rather listening in the silence for God’s reply.  We fear the answer, perhaps.  We cannot fathom the silence of a God who speaks only when the time is right and when we can hear. So, we keep on talking, filling the silence with sound.  Thus my challenge to you: Find a silent place, and quietly mediate there for five minutes on this verse from Lynn Unger’s poem, Boundaries.

Listen. Every molecule is humming
its particular pitch.
Of course you are a symphony.
Whose tune do you think
the planets are singing
as they dance?