Up and Doing

So, have you made any resolutions for the New Year? I have. This year I’ll be giving extra effort to rebuilding broken relationships in my life. I want to do what I can to fix the fractures.

We’ll see how it goes. Only God knows what’ll happen in such circumstances. I just know I want to try to give it more attention, maybe be more deliberate in reaching out.

Making New Year’s resolutions gets a bad rap. It was F.M. Knowles who said, “He who breaks a resolution is a weakling. He who makes one is a fool.” I disagree. I don’t think it’s foolish. In fact, if you don’t already make resolutions, I’d encourage you to give it a try. You’d be amazed at how making resolutions helps to give focus in other parts of life. It helps to identify a destination of betterment and then to aim for it, even if only to get closer. That’s not a bad thing. From a biblical perspective, it can be considered “training in righteousness” (2 Timothy 3:16). In that sense, I suppose rather than being a fan of Knowles, I’m more of a Henry Wadsworth Longfellow kind of guy. Observing life, and in one sense, simply desiring to go about living in a way that tries to move goodness forward, Longfellow said, “Let us then be up and doing, with a heart for any fate; still achieving, still pursuing, learn to labor and to wait.”

I like that.

From the vantage point of Christianity, to be up and doing with a heart for any fate—learning to labor and to wait—certainly has resonating potential. We’re active in the world around us. We’re up and doing in ways that reveal a pursuing of faithfulness to Christ. With that, we learn to labor at certain times and we learn to wait during others. This is trust. And in the end, come what may—any fate, any and all results—we’re already comfortable with the fact that these are God’s to determine. We hold to the simple conviction that He will work for the good of those who love Him, and He will use our efforts (which are empowered by the Holy Spirit), even what we believe to be our extreme inabilities, to be a light to others to see His glory.

I like that, too.

And so I’ve made some resolutions. I told you one. I have another one, but I’ll keep that one to myself. Either way, with both I want to be up and doing to accomplish something beyond myself for others, and as I do this, my prayer is that I’ll be ready for any fate in each and every situation. I trust that God will handle the results. I just want to be faithful.

If you decide to do the same in the New Year, I pray that the Lord will bless you in your efforts. Know that I’ll be rooting for you. And know that if you don’t fully accomplish whatever it is you’re setting out to accomplish—at least not as you might interpret the word “accomplish”—by the power of the Holy Spirit at work in you for eyes set on Christ and a heart seeking faithfulness to Him, rest assured that God will use you to move His love a little further along in a world in such desperate need of receiving it. I guarantee this will happen even if you never see it.

With that, blessings to you in Christ, and have a wonderful New Year!

Tonight is the Night

Tonight is the night.

The whole concept of this night is beyond our ability to comprehend. There was an inbreaking between worlds. Yes, God is always with us. But tonight God became man.

Immanuel, God with us. Logos, the Word made flesh.

Tonight the divine Creator was born into human history as “us”—into the places we go, into the burdens of need that we own, into the whole of our existence. He became one of us in order to save all of us.

The inbreaking was signaled by an angel—a messenger—nine months prior to this night, as the timeline would go. The hymn joyfully embellishes, the angel came “with wings of drifted snow and eyes of flame.” He spoke to a young, unmarried girl in Nazareth, a virgin. Calling her by name, he said, “Mary, you have found favor with God. You will bear a son. His name will be Jesus. He will be the Son of the Most High.”

Luke’s Gospel tells us that Mary was troubled by the visitation. And rightly so. The appearance of an angel means one of two things. It means either the promise of deliverance, or a word of judgment ending in destruction. And so, as it must be when an angel has revealed his presence in order to bring good news, “Don’t be afraid,” he speaks kindly. The inbreaking he reveals will not lead to our death, but rather will set into motion the final stages of the plan to win our salvation through the death and resurrection of the child conceived in her womb.

Her child is the answer to the Sin problem.

Tonight is the night. It has finally happened. Angels have announced it, this time to the shepherds, telling them they needn’t be frightened by this otherworldly visitation. Jesus has come. He’s wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger. He’s little. He has tiny fingers and toes. He has attentive eyes of love for His mother, Mary, and for His adoptive father, Joseph. He hears their voices when they sing hushed lullabies to Him in the crude feeding trough. He has begun as we began. And yet, He is Christ the Lord. He is the perfect inbreaking of God. This won’t be visible to the human eyes in these first few moments. In fact, His birth was just as painfully messy as any birth before or after. The condition of His context—a manger—something that is far less than grand.

But still, He begins as we begin, and yet, He is without sin. The inbreaking of the only One who can save us is finitely located here—right here as a sinless infant squirming in His lowly crib—opening and closing His eyes for the first time amidst the human experience, seeing and being all that it means to be us.

This little One will grow. He will live perfectly according to the Law. He will do the things that only God can do. He will raise the dead with a word, whispering into the ears of corpses and returning them to life. He will touch the lame and they will be in right measure again. He will preach the Good News of forgiveness to all and the sorrowful hearts of His listeners will be restored.

He will lean into the ferocious headwinds of a world spinning into undoneness and He will turn it back on its axis.

A new axis will be anchored into the earth’s frame. It will be a center post that makes everything right, tall and mounted at the top of Golgotha. The baby you see here in the manger, He will be the man pinned there. No matter where you’ve been or what you’ve done, His pain will win your freedom. No matter how long you’ve been away, His outstretched arms of suffering are a welcoming into His embrace of perfect love. His tears will wash away your sorrow. His cry, “It is finished!” will be the moment when the steely underpinnings in the frame of Sin and Death begin to groan, buckle, and collapse.

Tonight is the night.

“Fear not,” the angels are repeating. Go and see. Go to the place where the Lord promises to be. Do as the others in your Christian family. Gather at the manger with the excitement of little ones overwhelmed by the joy of a newborn brother. Lift to your tiptoes. Peek between the shoulders and around the heads of your Christian siblings to get a glimpse of the One who is your redemption. He will be there. He’ll be in the absolution spoken. He’ll be in the preaching of the Christmas Gospel. He’ll be in the Sacrament of His body and blood given and shed for you for the forgiveness of sins.

Tonight is the night. Don’t miss it. Go to church. You’ll certainly be welcomed. You’ll most certainly be blessed, because the divine One born in Bethlehem will be there.

In Him you’ll know the truest joy behind the words “Merry Christmas.”

President Trump, The Apostles’ Creed, and a Promotional Christmas Video from a “Christian” Church

A fellow member of my congregation shared with me the following promotional Christmas video from a local church. Take a look.

A fun piece, I suppose. The production quality is certainly above reproach. They put a lot of work into it, you have to give them that. As a tool for communicating their identity as a church to the unbelieving world around them—that is, who they are and what they hold most dear—by way of the skillful grip of song, the video ponders the deepest of loves at Christmas, which we learn is, first, whether or not Santa loves the individual, and if so, will he deign to allow Rudolph to lead the rest of the reindeer to one’s house with something other than coal. And second, the individual sharing this message has braved Black Friday to fill his Chevy with things that he truly wants with the hope that the approaching Christmas-tide sleigh will be equally full.

I don’t exactly have the verbal dexterity to communicate this beautiful Gospel quite like the performer in the video, so I’ll just share the lyrics here:

“Santa, do you love me? And are you riding on a sleigh full of gifts to my chimney ’cuz I want them…”

That’s the well-crafted and easily discernible point at the center of this song of outreach to the community on behalf of a Christian church. You won’t get anymore than that.

There was something else—something incredibly brief—in the video that stirred a bit of confusion, though. For one reason or another, and for only a second or two, the video drifted into a more enigmatic arena, saying, “Pastor got loud in the sermon, talkin’ ’bout a dude who had a baby with a virgin.” For the whole two minutes and sixteen seconds of the video, it was the only of its kind, and I guess I’m wondering why it was there. It didn’t really seem to fit. Although, as a Christian myself, I say “Whew! I’m glad they sprinkled that in there.” If they hadn’t, we might’ve missed a subtle truth that helps to portray what pastors do from pulpits—which is being loud and shouting at people, sermonizing and shoving stuff down listeners’ throats, stuff that none of us wants to hear. At least they were honest about that particular impression. And then that little piece about the non-descript dude impregnating a virgin, well, I’m not really sure what that means. Is that God? Is it Joseph? Who knows. Personally, my guess is that the performer just needed to fill some space and the line fit the rhyme scheme.

Eh-hem… Let me clear the sarcasm from my throat and shifts gears a little.

Did you watch the Bush funeral? I did. Lots of people pointed out that President Trump didn’t recite the Apostles’ Creed along with the rest of the congregation? Did you hear or see anything from the Christians on social media about it? I sure did. “Deeds not creeds,” I’ve seen and heard from multiple sources. “The church doesn’t need creeds!”

I like Trump. I think he does what he does for a reason. I don’t know why he didn’t speak the Creed along with everyone else. He didn’t say. My guess is he was exhausted from hearing people prattle on during the service about this and that, and so when the Creed came along, he’d already drifted away into world-shaping concerns. But to those Christian who observed him and thought he was due a virtual-high-five, I have but one response.

Puke.

For those in the church getting yanked into the “Deeds not creeds!” riptide that may or may not have resulted from President Trump’s silence at the Bush funeral, I’ll say, be careful. Videos like the one shared above are what happen when anything goes and there are no definable contours to the faith you confess.

Yes, there are those who just go through the motions. I get that point. Some believe that such repetitive staleness is a constricting enemy of free-flowing religion from the heart.

Well, whatever. Let me ask you…

How’d you learn the alphabet? Repetition. How’d you manage to keep the letters in order? By way of a creedally-structured alphabet song, I’ll bet. How’d you learn how to speak? By being repeatedly immersed in the order and repetition of language. How’d you learn how to dress yourself? Repetition and order. I only see the crazy people wearing their underwear on the outside of their pants. How’d you learn anything of value in your life? Well, whatever it was, I’d be willing to bet repetition and order played a part.

I get the premise of “deeds not creeds,” but still, I’d urge folks to be honest. Even the churches with no creeds have the people among them who just go through the motions. Every church has those people. Instead, keep in mind there’s a huge distinction to be made between repetition born of “traditionalism” and repetition in service to “tradition.” Traditionalism is, for the sake of a definition, the dead faith of the living. It represents a somnolent faith. It is to do for the sake of doing and nothing more. And I dare say that it’s the traditionalists, the ones who can’t see the value in tradition, who get bored by the substantive things and want to go off the sure path to things unknown. They’re the ones who lead the churches into mushy religiosity.

Tradition is different. It is the living faith of the dead. It is a carrying on of the past into the future. It is an unbroken gathering of the one true faith spread across the generations and throughout the world. Time means very little to tradition because it is unbound by it. Tradition stands in place to say that the truths of the faith aren’t ours to change because they don’t belong to us alone. Tradition isn’t a bending reed in the winds of culture. It’s a tree with endless rings in its core. Tradition is a binding thing that maintains identity for the whole and belongs to the whole.

“Why do we put an angel on the top of the tree at Christmas time, dad?”

“Well, Susie, because that angel means something to us. It has been in our family for a long time. Putting it on top of the tree is a tradition. I did it. Grandpa’s family did it. His dad’s family did it, and his dad before him did it. When we do this, we’re sort of, well, joining with the ones who’ve gone before us. We’re showing that we’re a family, and that even though some may be gone, we’re still in this together.”

There’s a reason the holy Christian church throughout the ages has subscribed to the Apostles’, Nicene, and Athanasian creeds. Creeds help to set the boundaries, and they stand in stark contrast to bad theologies that are more than capable of wiping out entire populations of faith in a single generation. The creeds bear no “non-descript dudes” that leave questions about who’s doing what. Who is the virgin? It’s Mary. How’d she get pregnant? The Holy Spirit. What child is she bearing? The Son of God, Jesus Christ, who suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried, and then then He rose again from the dead. For what reason did this happen? To save the world from sin, which includes me!

Creeds help to prevent confusion in these things, making sure the message remains crystal clear.

And for the record, “Deeds not creeds” is a creed. It is a confession of what you believe, albeit a maxim made from little less thought than what mindful Christianity has produced.

On another front of the same discussion, for the Christians in the political sphere doing all they can to say President Trump set a good example by refusing to speak the Creed, I’d urge you to consider that you’re speaking out of both sides of your mouth, especially when you clamor for unity around a party platform. The party platform is the party’s creed. Even further, I’d encourage folks to take a quick stroll through history. It is an observable datum that the beginning of the demise of any society or subset organization and its affirmed morality begins with the destruction of its creeds. When you see the citizens dismantling or simply disregarding the statements of the convictions and the language (the precisely selected words) that communicate those convictions, you’re watching a group lose both its identity and its way forward. They’re heading into treacherous waters. As the lines become blurry, eventually they dissipate and disappear. With that, if you can’t locate the border of what you know to be objectively true or untrue, you may find yourself standing on foreign soil.

To close, you should also know that the church that made this video is the same one in which one of their church leaders told one of mine as he and his family were observing that there weren’t any crosses in the place that the reason they don’t have any crosses is because the cross is a disgustingly off-putting image. Go figure. Paul said “We preach Christ crucified!” When that message is disgustingly off-putting, you may have a problem with the so-called personal, free-flowing religion emerging from your heart. My recommendation: Try one of the three ecumenical creeds. It’ll help.

Just a thought for you to stir into your eggnog and sip this Christmas.