Now heres an unorthodox Christmas time blessing...

Thinking today of King Jesus who came to bring good news to the poor. Of Mary whose Magnificat exulted in the God who is near to the lowly. Of how easy it is to sadly not be "with" the poor as Jesus said his people would be.

Benediction (Franciscan Blessing):
May God bless you with discomfort...
at easy answers, hard hearts,
half-truths, and superficial relationships.
May God bless you so that you may live
from deep within your heart
where God's Spirit dwells.
May God bless you with anger...
at injustice, oppression,
and exploitation of people.
May God bless you so that you may
work for justice, freedom, and peace.
May God bless you with tears...
to shed for those who suffer from pain,
rejection, starvation and war.
May God bless you so that you
may reach out your hand
to comfort them and turn their pain into joy.
And may God bless you with
enough foolishness
to believe that you can make a difference
in this world, in your neighborhood,
so that you will courageously try
what you don't think you can do, but,
in Jesus Christ you'll have all the strength necessary.
May God bless you to fearlessly
speak out about injustice,
unjust laws, corrupt politicians,
unjust and cruel treatment of prisoners,
and senseless wars,
genocides, starvations, and poverty that is so pervasive.
May God bless you that you remember
we are all called
to continue God's redemptive work
of love and healing
in God's place, in and through God's name,
in God's Spirit, continually creating
and breathing new life and grace
into everything and everyone we touch.

He took our shame and came to redeem us in our scandal

This morning while reading the genealogy of Jesus found in Matthew 1:1-17, I was freshly struck by the faithfulness of God to his promise and the redemption of God through our scandal.

In Genesis 12, we find the account of an ancient encounter between Abram and the Creator God. God makes a covenant with Abram, changes his name, promises to give him descendants as numerous as the stars which will bring blessing to all nations on earth.

In 2 Samuel 7, we find the account of another ancient encounter between King David and the Creator God, whom we now know in the narrative is the LORD, the God of Abraham, Isaach and Jacob. Here, God makes another covenant with David, promising to uphold the throne of David, upon which he will one day set a King who will reign forever.

And here we have in Matthew's genealogy, the linking of these promises fulfilled 42 generations later in the birth of Jesus of Nazareth, who came to bring the gospel of the kingdom of God to all nations and who is crowned King of Kings through his victorious incarnation, sacrifice, resurrection and ascension.

To quote Mary in her Magnificat: God was faithful to Abraham and is to his offspring forever.

Then, there's redemption. Oh, his redemption! Our scandal, sin and shame are never too great for his redeeming grace. Woven through the genealogy like a scarlet thread are stories of everyday scandal which God redeemed for His Story.

Just to name a few: there's Judah who had an affair with his son's daughter, Tamar, and yet God includes their illegitimate son, Perez, in the very lineage of the incarnation of the God-man. There's Ruth, who was a Moabite (i.e. foreigner, exile, non-Jew), and she was the grandmother of King David himself! And let's not forget the most infamous playboy - King David himself, who had an affair with his neighbor's wife, Bathsheeba, and then had her husband killed in battle to avoid an awkward confrontation. And their son, Solomon, maintained the throne of David.

In these and countless other stories in the grand narrative of Scripture - and the people of God - we find God's redeeming fingerprints all over our sin, our shame and our scandal. He can and does take our mess to re-make something beautiful, permanent and reflective of his most excellent and glorious character.

God is redeemer of our scandal.

May our faithful, redeeming God draw us nearer to his heart as we reflect on the advent of King Jesus this season.

What were my memorable books of 2016?

I don't read nearly as much these days. Or maybe not as much as I'd prefer in some idealistic (unreal) world where I get to spend a few hours a day soaking up good literature.

Mostly, I'm reading Goodnight, Gorilla, There's a Rumble in the Jungle or Fancy Nancy. (Let's be honest. I actually like children's literature.) And at bedtime, Anna has fallen in love with (routine?) my narration of homegrown stories. (In case you're wondering, I'm a terrible storyteller. I wish I were that dad whose stories inspire her to one day look back and marvel at the whimsical, imaginative stories I cooked up at bedtime, but alas, probably not. I'm learning slowly, though, at least about what kind of story she will likely enjoy.)

But in the margins of here and there, I have found time for a sampling of books in 2016. Here are some memorable ones:

More of Less, Joshua Becker

A helpful guide on minimizing excess (possessions) so you can focus on what's most important: relationships.

Chasing Francis, Ian Morgan Cron

Thoroughly enjoyed (and was deeply challenged by) this fresh take on St. Francis' life through the lens of a modern day evangelical pastor pilgrim from Connecticut.

You Are What You Love, James K.A. Smith

In between a front and back cover, I found a book which scratched an itch for reflection on cultural exegesis, ecclesiology, discipleship, eschatology and spiritual formation. I like this guy.

Proverbs: Wisdom that Works, Raymond C. Ortlund, Jr.

Great guide through the main themes of the practical side of God's wisdom for living. Highly recommend this for any interested reader of Proverbs.

Reversed Thunder: The Revelation of John and the Praying Imagination, Eugene Peterson

Not a commentary, but rather a poetic reflection upon the potent apocalyptic epistle which has much to say for today's church. Should we expect anything less from Peterson. His chapter on the Word/Logos was particularly memorable.

You Can Pray, Tim Chester

There are so many books on prayer, yet this one encouraged me toward prayer  maybe more than any I've read. He presents a good Trinitarian, gospel-centered framework for nudging us into Abba's presence.

The Selfish Giant, Oscar Wilde

It was an innocuous selection from the library at the time, but this version of an old tale grabbed my heart one unsuspecting morning while reading to Anna on the couch. I adore how the giant's cold, miserly heart is softened and ultimately set free by the children and one particularly sacrificial child.

Working on a Family Vision and Mission Statement

Words matter. We are bombarded with messages every day. We have to be proactive to guard our hearts and transform our thinking to truth and purpose each day.

I want to be proactive to help guide our family in the way of Jesus. So, I've been slowly crafting a vision and mission statement for our family which we can post in our home to remind us of who God is, what he's done, who we are and what we are to do as a result. 

This exercise has been inspired by: 1) Deuteronomy 6, where Moses instructs God's covenant people to write the word of God on the walls and door frames of their homes and to talk about his instruction when at the table, when lying down and when walking along the road (i.e. all times, in every place!) and 2) The book What's Best Next

The vision we lean into:
Joyfully abiding in Christ for the good of the world

The mission of daily living:
A gospel anchored family who

Worships in all areas of life
Welcomes the stranger
Withholds nothing of resources entrusted to us
Witnesses to the good news of the kingdom
Works with creativity and collaboration rather than consumerism and criticism
Waits expectantly for the return of King Jesus

Another RSVP this Christmas season? Advent beckons

It's the most wonderful time of the year. For me, at least, it typically is.

I truly enjoy this Christmas season full of festive cheer: hanging lights on the fir tree, unpacking the ornaments and memories from a dusty Christmas bin, chestnuts roasting on an open fire, making snow angels, sipping egg nog, watching Home Alone, wrapping gifts. Christmas!

As I grow older, though, my eyes are obtaining new lenses to see the gorge that often lies between Christmas and Advent.

Though the wider culture doesn't use the term "Christmas" any more, in view of the diverse beliefs represented in Western culture, Christmas still stands a monolithic tree whose branches reach wide in the culture. We've built an entire consumer mindset as well as a strong dose of nostalgia from this festive season of giving, having transgressed a two-thousand millennia wide boundary water from the banks of Bethlehem's stable. For many, Christmas - or "the holidays" - is a wonderfully warm cup of cocoa that soothes the frozen tundra of our aching souls.

Under the spreading branches and delicious fruits of this Western Christmas experience (though it's not fun for all - many have painful memories at this season when they long for family members who have passed or grieve an inability to give presents to children), the roots of this season, however, can be unmistakably traced to nothing less than the history-altering Advent of the God-child upon planet earth. God made himself nothing and bore our pain so that we might wear the crown of his joy. You can't make up a script like that!

Advent is a focused time for believers in Christ to remember his first coming and wait longingly for his second coming. I feel the ache this year as much as ever.

How long, O Lord? How long will I wrestle with a body and mind which don't often agree with my heart and soul? How long will the poor suffer? How long will your earth be bludgeoned by capitalism? How long will your name be dishonored? How long will division, hatred, persecution and warfare continue to leak seemingly unchecked? How long will mothers and children have to flee their homes with empty bellies?

So, as it turns out, this isn't always the most wonderful time of the year. When I read about the catastrophic conditions in northern Nigeria or about Syrian refugees or bombings in Pakistan or the marginalization of the vulnerable in our own land or even as I feel the pain of relational division right in front of me or the apathy that sneaks up on me, I cry out with the beloved Christmas hymn: "In His name, all oppression shall cease"...but how long, O Lord?

Even still, hope is alive and well. Joy marches triumphantly. The kingdom of light advances. A new and glorious morn has dawned.

So, this Christmas season I invite you to hear another invitation. In addition to the RSVPs for holiday work parties, Christmas cookie baking parties and Christmas eve dinner parties, consider sending an RSVP for the grand Advent banquet when Christ comes to make permanent his good reign upon the earth and permanently make good upon his proclamation of good news for the poor. And join in the song of creation to welcome his coming and participate with him in praying for his kingdom to come upon this earth.

Here are some Scriptural meditations which can fill you with longing for Christ and his good-news-kingdom this Advent season:

Psalm 146:5-10(ESV)

Blessed is he whose help is the God of Jacob,
    whose hope is in the Lord his God,
who made heaven and earth,
    the sea, and all that is in them,
who keeps faith forever;
    who executes justice for the oppressed,
    who gives food to the hungry.
The Lord sets the prisoners free;
    the Lord opens the eyes of the blind.
The Lord lifts up those who are bowed down;
    the Lord loves the righteous.
The Lord watches over the sojourners;
    he upholds the widow and the fatherless,
    but the way of the wicked he brings to ruin.
The Lord will reign forever,
    your God, O Zion, to all generations.
Praise the Lord!

Isaiah 35(ESV)

The wilderness and the dry land shall be glad;
    the desert shall rejoice and blossom like the crocus;
it shall blossom abundantly
    and rejoice with joy and singing.
The glory of Lebanon shall be given to it,
    the majesty of Carmel and Sharon.
They shall see the glory of the Lord,
    the majesty of our God.
Strengthen the weak hands,
    and make firm the feeble knees.
Say to those who have an anxious heart,
    “Be strong; fear not!
Behold, your God
    will come with vengeance,
with the recompense of God.
    He will come and save you.
Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened,
    and the ears of the deaf unstopped;
then shall the lame man leap like a deer,
    and the tongue of the mute sing for joy.
For waters break forth in the wilderness,
    and streams in the desert;
the burning sand shall become a pool,
    and the thirsty ground springs of water;
in the haunt of jackals, where they lie down,
    the grass shall become reeds and rushes.
And a highway shall be there,
    and it shall be called the Way of Holiness;
the unclean shall not pass over it.
    It shall belong to those who walk on the way;
    even if they are fools, they shall not go astray.
No lion shall be there,
    nor shall any ravenous beast come up on it;
they shall not be found there,
    but the redeemed shall walk there.
And the ransomed of the Lord shall return
    and come to Zion with singing;
everlasting joy shall be upon their heads;
    they shall obtain gladness and joy,
    and sorrow and sighing shall flee away.

Luke 1:46-55(ESV)

And Mary said,
“My soul magnifies the Lord,
    and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
for he has looked on the humble estate of his servant.
    For behold, from now on all generations will call me blessed;
for he who is mighty has done great things for me,
    and holy is his name.
And his mercy is for those who fear him
    from generation to generation.
He has shown strength with his arm;
    he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts;
he has brought down the mighty from their thrones
    and exalted those of humble estate;
he has filled the hungry with good things,
    and the rich he has sent away empty.
He has helped his servant Israel,
    in remembrance of his mercy,
as he spoke to our fathers,
    to Abraham and to his offspring forever.”

Revelation 22:12-17 (ESV) 

“Behold, I am coming soon, bringing my recompense with me, to repay each one for what he has done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end.”
Blessed are those who wash their robes, so that they may have the right to the tree of life and that they may enter the city by the gates. Outside are the dogs and sorcerers and the sexually immoral and murderers and idolaters, and everyone who loves and practices falsehood.
“I, Jesus, have sent my angel to testify to you about these things for the churches. I am the root and the descendant of David, the bright morning star.”
The Spirit and the Bride say, “Come.” And let the one who hears say, “Come.” And let the one who is thirsty come; let the one who desires take the water of life without price.

Today's Awakening - With malice toward none, with charity for all

“With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation's wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan, to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations. President Lincoln’s Second Inaugural Address
“How are you doing today?” she asked with a smile. “Not great,” I replied in haste, opting for honesty over pleasantry. “I’m sad and angry,” I told the woman on my way to work.

Like many of you, I awoke today in disbelief. How could *this* man be our President elect? How could our country – the great US of A, land of liberty and justice for all - knowingly choose a man who unashamedly propagates racism, xenophobia, sexism, isolationism, greed, fear and disregard for the stewardship of this planet? What will we say to our children? I grieve with my friends and neighbors in this country who are minorities, immigrants, refugees and oppressed. I am genuinely sad today that the color of your skin or your nation of origin divides us today in this land. (And, yes, I know that some of you who put a checkmark next to Trump's name on your ballot, did so with sadness.)

How far we’ve strayed from Lincoln’s vision for America today, it appears. That said, we must press onward, heeding Lincoln’s 19th century word to his land.

So, to all among the #neverTrump base, do not give Trump and his supporters the satisfaction of returning the same divisive behavior and hurtful rhetoric to those we disagree with. Let’s not vilify. Let’s be part of bridging the gap, not wedging it further apart. Turn your emotion into humble, collaborative, prayerful action for the benefit of your neighbor. Seek to understand. Listen. Love trumps hate.

I once read a book by author James KA Smith (You Are What You Love) in which he says that apocalyptic literature – such as the final and important book of the Bible, Revelation – acts as set of louvre blinds. If you slant them the other direction, you get a new revealing of light. Today, sort of feels like that to me (I’m not saying this is “the Apocalypse”, i.e. the American pop culture’s abuse of that ancient word). As Christians, we find ourselves in a moment of awakening, a moment where a letter like Revelation calls out to us to look anew at the culture around us and to freshly attach to the hope of our Resurrected Lord. The dominant images of the empire (blue or red) need to be challenged and replaced with a new imagination fixed upon the values of God's in-breaking kingdom of mercy and justice for the least of these.

Today, I am reminded of the enduring Story of the counter-cultural, subversive God who used his power to run toward us while we were enemies, far from home. Through the incarnation, Jesus submitted to the Father and took the downward road of humility. He wept over the death of friends. He wept over the waywardness of Israel. He stopped and showed compassion to women, foreigners, children and the materially poor who were oppressed, worn thin and needy. He LOVED his enemies and prayed for those who despised him. He surrendered his life to the empire’s tool of death. And he conquered the empire. He is LORD, not Caesar.

So, today as my American blood boils and my hunger for justice for the poor is stirred and my heart laments for election of a shameful man, my hope is yet nudged further up and further in toward the kingdom that never ends, to the First and the Last, the triune God who was, who is and who is to come, the true Prince of Peace who created the nations, the King who will return to this earth to reign with his worshippers, to the Bridgegroom who will dine with his bride composed of the least of these and the poor in spirit from every tribe, tongue and people group.

Poetically, today’s Psalm (82) sang a bright song of truth and hope amid my morning’s pain and chaos. If we did not have hope in a God of mercy and justice like this, what hope would we really have on this earth? Certainly, not in a “ruler” who will fade away in just a few years!

A psalm of Asaph.

God presides over heaven’s court;
    he pronounces judgment on the heavenly beings:
“How long will you hand down unjust decisions
    by favoring the wicked? Interlude
“Give justice to the poor and the orphan;
    uphold the rights of the oppressed and the destitute.
Rescue the poor and helpless;
    deliver them from the grasp of evil people.
But these oppressors know nothing;
    they are so ignorant!
They wander about in darkness,
    while the whole world is shaken to the core.
I say, ‘You are gods;
    you are all children of the Most High.
But you will die like mere mortals
    and fall like every other ruler.’”
Rise up, O God, and judge the earth,
    for all the nations belong to you.

Do I have enough?

When you drive a maroon Toyota Sienna, you see maroon Toyota Siennas. It's as if there are no other models on the road - they’re everywhere!

The past few weeks, a theme has caught my eye everywhere I gaze: podcasts, songs, books, Scripture, tweets. 

What is that theme? Generally speaking: materialism, consumerism, earthly treasures, the dangers of greed and the Christian's responsibility and privilege of caring for the poor and vulnerable.

An overlooked literary piece on this subject is Jonathan Edward's The Duty of Charity to the Poor. It is a powerful, thorough exposition of the Christian foundations for sharing bountifully with those who are materially poor. His words stung my stingy heart and he has laid out a noteworthy prophetic word for today's western church which finds itself in an increasingly materialistic landscape with a large chasm between the wealthy and the poor, the safe and the vulnerable.

This morning, as I opened to Psalm 71, I read about the character of a wise and just king. Solomon or David did not manifest these qualities to the fullest, but Jesus has and does! What does the psalm invoke most clearly? That a good king is one who cares for the poor and needy. And as sons and daughters of this King, we are called to display the goodness of his kingdom. Or take Psalm 68 from earlier this week which tells me that our God is Father to the fatherless and a protector of widows.

What about me? Do generosity and compassion for the materially poor and vulnerable characterize my life? Am I more focused on laying up treasures on earth than with caring for the stranger, the sick, the naked, the homeless (Matt. 25)? Am I simply a product of my age – one who is defined as a sum of my consumer choices rather than by the weak and oppressed ones whom I love and serve? 

To come back to the title of this post: Do I live as if I truly believe I have enough in Christ, so much in fact that I have a joyful, bountiful spirit of abundance toward others? Where does that bountiful heart come from? Only from a meditation upon the radical gospel of Jesus Christ and the indwelling of his Holy Spirit who empowers the sons and daughters of the King to carry other's burdens thus "fulfilling the law of Christ." (Gal. 6) The first disciples of Jesus Christ "had all things in common" (Acts 2:42) and Paul advocated that no one would have too much, but rather equity out to prevail in the church (2 Corinthians 8).

There’s a beautiful piece composed by Bach titled Ich habe genug which he wrote based upon the words from Luke’s gospel when Simeon held the Christ child in his arms and declared “I have enough.” That sentiment sums up the Christian’s faith, does it not? I have enough in Christ. I am satisfied in Him. He is my living water, my bread from heaven, my breath, my redemption, my resurrection, my hope, my joy.

Do I live with this “I have enough” spirit, or am I too easily turned to the Siren’s call of possessions, comfort, prestige and power?

Take care, Jesus says. Take care and be on guard against every form of greed, for man’s life does not consistent in the abundance of his possessions. How tragic to be rich in the world and yet fail to be rich in God, Jesus warns. (Luke 12)

What good does it do a man to gain the world and yet forfeit his very soul? (Luke 9)

How do we begin to spin a tapestry of generosity toward the poor and oppressed? By his grace alone. One day at a time. By prayer and trust in God's sovereign care over us. Looking for opportunities to practice generosity. Whether with my time as my two daughters ask for it. Or with my neighbor who is feeling chatty. Or with the stranger on the sidewalk asking for help. Or with the immigrant at the post office in need of assistance. Or with the refugees abroad trapped in dehumanizing camps. 

I have enough!

How can we live in Yesterday, Today & Tomorrow?

Consider this insightful meditation on time by Pascal:
"We do not rest satisfied with the present. We anticipate the future as too slow in coming, as if in order to hasten its course; or we recall the past, to stop its too rapid flight. So imprudent are we that we wander in the times which are not ours, and do not think of the only one which belongs to us; and so idle are we that we dream of those times which are no more, and thoughtlessly overlook that which alone exists. For the present is generally painful to us. We conceal it from our sight, because it troubles us; and if it be delightful to us, we regret to see it pass away. We try to sustain it by the future, and think of arranging matters which are not in our power, for a time which we have no certainty of reaching.[Pg 50]Let each one examine his thoughts, and he will find them all occupied with the past and the future. We scarcely ever think of the present; and if we think of it, it is only to take light from it to arrange the future. The present is never our end. The past and the present are our means; the future alone is our end.[78] So we never live, but we hope to live; and, as we are always preparing to be happy, it is inevitable we should never be so." Blaise Pascal, Pensees 
We search the past, present and future for the means by which we can be happy - and a lot of anxious thought is expended in that arduous journey.

Rightly learning from the past, preparing for the future and living in the present affords the only opportunity to for joy - more enduring than happiness.

In the present we discover the simple and profound gifts we take for granted: breath, a beating heart, sunshine, the laughter of a child, the fragrance of fresh herbs. But not only does the present afford the opportunity to increase in gratitude, it also is a gateway to reduced anxiety over the unavoidable challenges of life as a human.

Jesus, the supreme sagacious one from whom Pascal draws his wisdom, taught us not to worry about tomorrow. Today has enough troubles, he said. The lillies and sparrows do not worry about clothing and food and our heavenly Father cares for them. How much more will he care for us - his very image bearers!

How much trouble have I caused my soul over worrying about the future, forgetting the lessons of the past and missing out on the gifts of the present moment.

We humans are truly unique creatures on this planet. As God's image bearers, we are able to live outside of time, as we think about the past, present and future, yet we are embodied only in the present. We have the oft-resented or misunderstood dignity of freedom which weighs heavy upon us.

Only by union with Christ will we be able to bear this mantle with grace and responsibility, to lean into the future with determined and righteous planning, to glean absolute truths from the ancient paths and to inhabit the present moment with gratitude and peace under the gracious, watchful care of our abundant Father who loves us more than we can imagine.