Monday, December 24, 2012


God does just fine with nobodies from nowhere who have nothing. That is part of the subversive message of Christmas. Here’s Mary, a teenaged bride-to-be from a derided small town who is about to fall in line to do her duty—to become who the culture tells her she should be. Aside from being especially sharp, aware, and spiritually hungry, she doesn’t have much to offer. She doesn’t have a lot of buying power or leadership potential, not even any star quality. “I am the Lord’s servant,” she tells the angel when he reveals God’s crazy plan. “May it be to me according to your word.” Right answer.

God does just fine with nobodies from nowhere who have nothing. The world’s powers don’t do fine with that. They need you to stand in lines. They need you to want. But the message of Christmas is that God comes to nobodies. God comes to the middle of nowhere. God comes to those who have nothing. God comes and he fills the hungry with good things and sends the rich away empty. He confuses the proud and lifts up the humble. He notices the lowly while turning his back to the powerful.

We can posture and preen and puff up, but God comes to who we really are. God doesn’t come to the image we carefully craft or to our military might, to our X-factor or our super-power or our perfectly-marketed product. God comes to our stark nakedness and our deep lack, to what's hiding behind all the production value.

It’s his coming that defines us—nothing else. No matter who we are or what path we follow, his coming defines us. That’s the message of Christmas that can get lost in the glitter and lights and even well-intended festivities. A light came shooting through the darkness, and the darkness was left reeling in confusion and defeat. Governments and celebrities and trends rise and fall.  We rise and fall. But who would notice a baby lying in a feeding trough?

Because not only does God come to nobodies from nowhere who have nothing; God came as a nobody from nowhere with nothing. That is how the world is saved.

Monday, December 17, 2012

As My Daughter Sits in Her First-Grade Classroom...

I have a knot in my gut right now. I’m still sort of constantly on the verge of tears, haunted by my imagined images of children being gunned down by a maniac with an assault weapon, not one with less than three bullet wounds…some with up to eleven—children my daughter’s age, sitting in their first-grade classrooms like my daughter is right now. Hence the knot.

No one knows what to do. We ask where God was. We blame the culture and government for sending God away. We decry guns. We defend guns. We refrain from lighting our Advent candles. We light those candles all the more intently. We dig in. We give up. And my daughter sits in her classroom.

Last night my daughter was one of the angels singing Silent Night in our church’s Christmas event. She stood, flanked by a number of other children, in her white robe and glittering wings. Under Christmas-light stars, among craft-store clouds, her wide eyes twinkled as she strained to get the words right…”what’s a ‘round yon virgin’?”

It’s hard to find answers when we don’t even know what the question is. That’s what has us grasping at everything...anything. We just want to protect our kids. And there’s a larger innocence that we want to protect. But it’s long gone. We didn’t lose it last Friday. We were just reminded that it’s gone, reminded that it’s dark outside. And it’s our flailing in the dark that has us so troubled. And no gun or government or even good intentions can overcome the dark. But we fear being swallowed. We are not as strong as we think we are. We fear.

So here I sit, knot in my gut and tears just under the surface, wanting nothing more than to cover my daughter, to cover her class and her school, to cover all the children. Let them come unto me! But there’s only so much I can do, only so much we can do, because it’s dark outside. And the darkness is beyond us—all around us, inside us, yet out of our reach. “Sleep in heavenly pe-eace…” And my daughter sits in her first-grade classroom. “Sleep in heavenly peace.”

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

...The Journey Continues

...continued from The Journey of a Lifetime

As we move from darkness to light, from sight to faith, and from wandering to direction, a strange thing happens. Instead of looking to the horizon for the coming King, we turn and see that he has been journeying with us the whole way.

He filled in the Valley. He taught us care and compassion and showed us that God is a God of Promise. He brought us into the light and made us Hopeful.

He brought down the Mountains. He exercised authority, often in miraculous ways, and showed us that God is a God of Power. He showed himself faithful and made us Humble.

He straightened and smoothed the Crooked Road. He freed us from slavery to sin, raised us from death to life, and showed us a God of Purpose. He directed us to the Father and made us Holy.

But the quest is just beginning. Advent is the beginning of a new year, new adventures, about which we presently have no idea. Be sure, we are on a journey no matter what. In light or in darkness, by sight or by faith, haphazard or purposeful, on we march. We follow one king or another, building one kingdom or another, the barren wilderness of our lives flooded and blooming or cracked and dying.

And the quest continues as we—people of Hope, Humility, and Holiness following after the God of Promise, Power, and Purpose—become so like our King that others can’t help but join us. We sing songs of King and kingdom around the banquet table, feasting on bread and wine—on flesh and blood. We don the armor of God, take in hand the sword of the Spirit, and we set out on our winter campaign, ever onward…until all flesh shall see the salvation of our God.

Monday, December 10, 2012

The Journey of a Lifetime

A voice of one calling: "In the wilderness prepare the way for the LORD; make straight in the desert a highway for our God!"
~Isaiah 40:3 

I'm excited about the upcoming release of The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey. One of the reasons I'm attracted to such stories is that I love adventure…or at least the idea of adventure. For many of us, our lives seem tired and predictable. We long to put on armor, take up a sword, and set out on a quest. What we fail to realize is that this is exactly what the Christian life is…and the quest begins at Advent.

From the prophet Isaiah and on through generations, John the Baptizer picks up the call to adventure: “The King is coming to expand his kingdom into the barren wilderness of your lives. Get ready!”

And so the quest begins…the quest to ready our inner and outer world for the coming King.

We come to The Shadow Valley. It is deep and lonely. The sun rises late and sets early. It is easy to despair here, to give up on the best and settle for whatever we can get our groping hands on. But the call is for the Valley to be filled. And what do we fill it with? Hope. As the Valley is filled with hope we move from darkness to light. No longer settling for just anything, we hold out for the best of things. The light begins to show us that there is something more…the King will bring it.

Next we move to  Eye Mountain. It is cool and sunny and from the summit we can see for miles. We see all kinds of possibilities, good and bad. We begin to calculate all we could possess. We begin to fear the obstacles we see. We begin to look for higher mountains so we can see more. But the call is for the mountains to be brought low. And what will bring those mountains down? Humility. As the mountains are leveled by humility we move from sight to faith. No longer distracted by all of life’s good and bad potentialities, by greener pastures and higher peaks, we focus on the path before us. Walking by faith allows for whatever might lie on the path, meeting what comes our way…the King will command it.

Then we come to The Crooked Road. We are going one way, then we are going another. The path becomes rocky so we think we might head off in a new direction, on a new path altogether. Perhaps this new path is the quest we should’ve been on all along. But the call comes to make the crooked path straight and the rough way smooth. And what can straighten and smooth this road? Holiness. Not a vain attempt at following a list of do’s and don’ts, but a focus, a movement from wandering to direction. No longer looking for easier paths and different quests, we dig in with determination to continue on the journey of our lives. The straight, directed path allows us to make progress into the deeper country of our quest…the King will guide it.

As we move from darkness to light, from sight to faith, and from wandering to direction, a strange thing happens... to be continued

Friday, December 7, 2012

Painting the Dream

I dream my painting; then I paint my dream.  
~Vincent van Gogh

Vincent van Gogh, who wrote and lived these words, is one of my favorite painters.  He had a way of actually painting the air, of painting the energy and life of God’s creation rather than just painting a wheat field or a night sky. Whenever I’m privileged to be in a museum that is displaying his paintings, I spend long moments leaning in and backing up and marveling at the way van Gogh so intentionally caked on thick swirls of brilliant color. He was not tentative in his art—when van Gogh painted something, he meant it!

This idea of dreaming the painting, and then painting the dream is somewhat like what the church is about. Each week we act out our worship in symbols, attempting in scripture and song and sacrament to move from shadow into the light of the Living God—we dream the painting.
But as we dream the painting together, a strange thing begins to happen: we actually begin to paint the dream. In worshipping this God, his marred likeness begins to be restored in us. Then we go out and live it, showing the world the energy and life of God. Like the caked on, swirling paint of van Gogh, we begin to show the un-showable. Who thought they would ever see the air? Yet there it is, right there on van Gogh’s canvas. And who thought they would ever see God? Yet there he is, right there in your life of mercy and love.

Advent and Christmas are examples of dreaming and painting. Advent is the time when we are dreaming—watching, waiting, hoping. And early on Christmas morning we see that Savior, that King of heaven and earth the world dreamed of for so many generations, being born “unto us” in flesh and bone and laid in a feeding trough, the bread of heaven served up for the world...just as the angels proclaimed to the shepherds on a dreamlike Starry Night. The people who walked in darkness begin to see a great light. The Sun of Righteousness begins to rise with healing in his wings. And the dreamers who dreamed with God begin to paint the dream.

My Friend Thomas

I met Thomas when we ditched school together. We were 16, and my friend Scott and I had planned to skip out after homeroom and take Scott’s ...