The joy of Christmas

Dear friends,

A gentle reminder for those of you who celebrate Christmas. After the giving and receiving and eating and joking and fellowship and fun are over, please pause to reflect that the joy you experienced is but a drop in the bucket compared to the good things which are to come.

Remember that the joy of Christmas is Jesus. Not just an ordinary man but the incarnate God Almighty who came to right all wrongs, lift all burdens, heal all wounds, satisfy all hunger and deliver all who are oppressed.

In the words of the Christmas hymn by Christina Rossetti,

“What can I give him, poor as I am?

If I were a shepherd, I would bring a lamb.

If I were a wise man, I would do my part.

What I can I give him, give my heart.”

It is in giving that we receive, in righting wrongs that we are justified, lifting the burdens of others that we are relieved of our own, tending to the sick that we are healed, feeding the hungry that we are fed ourselves, and in delivering the oppressed that we are delivered. Go, and carry the Incarnate God in your hearts and do good in the world.

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The Virtue of Honesty

The greatest virtue of all is love. By it the entire cosmos will be changed. Yet there is another virtue that is prerequisite to love, and in that sense, more essential. That virtue is honesty.

Where there is a dishonest heart, Love is at best a mere sentiment and at worst, hypocrisy.

It is essential to be honest both with our neighbors and especially ourselves. Honesty is not mere recitation of fact. That is what the Greeks called truth. Honesty is more subtle. We speak of brute honesty, but that is not always what the virtue of honesty requires.

Honesty is in covenant with love and they temper one another. To speak honestly is both to love truth and to love ones neighbor. Yet, in point of fact, ones neighbor is more important than simple facts. So when we speak, we must first consider our neighbor. What is best for them? How would we wish to be treated if our positions were reversed? The answer to that question is the honest and loving one. We should not speak to our neighbors harm if he is innocent. Nor should we shrink back from justice when it is needed. But in general dealings, we should temper our words with kindness.

Facts are not always kind. But facts are not the measure of honesty. Honesty has an eye to our neighbor’s good. When we speak ill of them with the intent of casting shadow on them, even if we speak only the facts, we are not being honest. Honesty requires that we speak the facts as they are truly in proper relationship to our neighbor. Any other use of facts constitutes dishonesty.

This is called speaking the truth in love; love being that overarching motivation to seek the good of others even to our own loss.

Suppose a man has lived a life of failure. Whether by his own fault or not, he has arrived at a place where he believes the world would be better without him. The pragmatist will look at this man’s life and be hard pressed to disagree with him. Surely, he will reason, this man has been a blight to society and the world would be better off without him in it. Is the pragmatist correct? Perhaps. But though he is factual, he is not honest. Honesty remembers that every one of us has different gifts, abilities, capabilities, capacity for learning, ability to reason, etc… Further, honesty remembers that an individual does not gain his worth from society, but is intrinsically dignified as a human being. Thus in no way can the honest man assent to the judgment of the pragmatist. That failure of a man can be reformed, or taught, and honesty acknowledges this.

Now, this is a mere example not intended to speak to every possible scenario. I simply wish to illustrate that brute facts do not constitute honesty.

Think before you speak. Speak the truth in love. Be honest with yourself and each other.

Rich in Poverty

The poor you will always have with you, but you will not always have me. – Matthew 26:11

We all know who the poor are. It's obvious. We see them every day. Many of us actually fit the bill for being poor.

This passage from Matthew's Gospel is a troubling one. The context is the story of Mary, sister of Martha and Lazarus, breaking open an expensive bottle of perfume and anointing Jesus' feet. The disciples grumbled saying, "This was expensive perfume. Why wasn't it sold and the money given to the poor?"

Jesus, though, saw things a bit differently. Mary was in poverty. She probably spent all she had to purchase the perfume so she could anoint Jesus' feet with it. In the kingdom of God, there is nothing more precious, more valuable, than the full self giving of oneself, in love, to God. Remember the time Jesus and his disciples were in the temple observing people giving their tithes? They saw both rich and poor giving money, but it was of the poor woman who gave all she had that Jesus said, "This woman has given more than anyone else. They gave out of their wealth, but she has given out of her poverty." The same principle applies here with Mary. Not only would it have been cruel to take the heart offered gift from Mary and give it to someone else, but it would be an insult to her poverty and sincerity in her self giving.

Jesus did not take what she did lightly. He was not glorifying in himself. Rather, he showed the utmost humility in receiving from a woman in poverty. He was not above her. He did not set himself as superior to her and her gift. He graciously received it.

The "poor" in the original quote are not merely those of financial poverty, but anyone who is in great need. Whether it be ignorance, addiction, entitlement, or whatever, these are people who are in deep and desperate need. We often think of them as victims of their own foolishness. And perhaps they are, but that does not eliminate their present situation.

As Christians, we are to condemn NO ONE. We are to love all. We are to pray for our enemies (and not in the sense of asking God to 'get them' or 'make them like us'), bless those who curse us and give sustenance to any who are in need of it.

The world is full of poverty of all sorts. We have not been called to eradicate it, as it will never happen, but we are called to love, to feed, to give.

How to Fix the Border Problem

d0dcf869247f0494e7f38adab27e2b241112136037-500x338Christians in the United States of America, are you concerned about our borders? Are you concerned about the de-christianization of America?

I have words for you.

Psalm 146.

It is not the duty of the US government to protect and defend Christianity. There is no official religion of these United States and, indeed, separation of Church and State are written into the warp and woof of who we are as a nation. All religions have a place here under our government, and each has the very same rights and privilege as our own: the free exercise of religion.

Do you want a Christian nation? It will never, indeed cannot, happen under our current Constitution. Do you want people to be Christians? Then start with yourself and begin living like Jesus. Stop your dogmatism. Stop the arrogance. Stop with the superiority complex. Start feeding and caring for the poor. Start loving the outcast, the disenfranchised, the minorities. Start treating all as human beings who bear the dignity of God’s image. Stop telling others how to live. Instead, show them a better way by living it yourself. You cannot legislate religion.

You who depend on the US government to “save” this “christian” nation, go and read Psalm 146. Our hope is in the name of the Lord our God, not in presidents or congressmen/women. God cares not a whit for your concerns about immigration. He does care how you treat those immigrants. You want to recapture our nation for Christ? Be captured by him yourself, first. Ours is not a kingdom of this world. We do not win elections. We do not vote in this kingdom. We do not swear allegiance to any king, emperor, president or prime minister. We belong to Christ! We do not use the government to foster our own ends.

If you want to capture America for Jesus, it must be done one person at a time through our own faithful living out of the gospel. Any other worldly method cannot and will not ever be blessed by God.

Here, for your convenience, is Psalm 146. Read, mark, learn and inwardly digest it. This and this alone is the answer to our problems. America hasn’t failed, Christians have failed to honor their Lord through living holy and righteous lives.

146 Hallelujah!
Praise the Lord, O my soul!
2 I will praise the Lord while I live;
I will sing praises to my God while I have my being.
3 Do not trust in princes,
In [c]mortal man, in whom there is no salvation.
4 His spirit departs, he returns to [d]the earth;
In that very day his thoughts perish.
5 How blessed is he whose help is the God of Jacob,
Whose hope is in the Lord his God,
6 Who made heaven and earth,
The sea and all that is in them;
Who keeps [e]faith forever;
7 Who executes justice for the oppressed;
Who gives food to the hungry.
The Lord sets the prisoners free.
8 The Lord opens the eyes of the blind;
The Lord raises up those who are bowed down;
The Lord loves the righteous;
9 The Lord [f]protects the [g]strangers;
He [h]supports the fatherless and the widow,
But He [i]thwarts the way of the wicked.
10 The Lord will reign forever,
Your God, O Zion, to all generations.
Hallelujah!

The Beastly Priest

There once was a priest
who was a little beast
His name was Daniel Brown.
Hellfire and damnation
was what he preached
in the church in the center of town.
Women would swoon
in the warm afternoon
when the heat of the hellfire was hot
Ol’ Daniel would bellow
and scare all his fellows
til repentance they had got.
The little ones cried
and the elderly died
under the hand of the beastly priest.
At judgement I”m sure
he’ll come out like manure
Because he didn’t care in the least.
When the graves open up
and the carrion birds sup
When Armageddon is nigh
Then Father Brown
will stroll into town
to watch all humanity die.
Some call him “Scratch”
others, after a match,
call him Lucifer because of his smell
But the truth, dark and sordid
Is Farther Brown always courted
The devil in his preaching of Hell.
The moral is this
you cannot achieve bliss
by threatening people with fear
For fear leads to dying
and eternal sighing
in the place where nothing is dear.
If you’re going to preach
then season your speech
with mercy and grace and love.
For this is the way
that in the end will pay
with everlasting joy up above.

The Truest Hope for Mankind

nativity-sceneThose who know me, know I take my faith very seriously.
Those who know me, know I try not to take life too seriously.
Those who know me, know I have a warped sense of humor.
Those who know me, know i am no prude or puritan.

On this Christmas night, 2015, what that means is I am again in wonder and awe that the Almighty God became human. I am not so confident in myself that I claim to comprehend what it means. My best guess is that the Incarnate God, Jesus Christ, revealed himself as human being, born in the most humble way possible, to demonstrate to us what “impresses” God. In a world full of “christians” who believe that there are a few lucky souls who will make it to heaven, with the hellish destination being the primary one for most of humanity, I find myself thinking they must be joking. God, who knows nothing but absolute bliss, perfect happiness and everlasting joy, all in Himself, with no need for anything or anyone else, THIS God, became a creature who poops, pees, eats, sleeps and does everything a creature does. He humbled himself in order to send a few us to heaven? LOL! If God is going to do a work, he does it to its fullest. He doesn’t cut corners. He never fails. He didn’t come to save a few, he came to save us all! He defeated hell and death! He holds the keys to them both! Keys are for opening locks. He opens the gates of hell and of the grave so that those who are in them can be freed.

Are you in hell? Are you dying? He holds your keys. Someday, in this life or the next, you will be freed. Freed to be all you ever dreamed and hoped for and so much more that you cannot begin to imagine it.

Jesus shows us the way. Follow him. There is no hell he cannot rescue you from. No death so thorough, you cannot be raised. Follow him. Imitate him. Do what he did. Live as he lived. Trust him.

Jesus Christ, the incarnate Word and Logos of God, the truest Hope for mankind.

A Few Thoughts on God and Jesus

NT Wright makes a comment along the lines of, ‘If our notions of God and Jesus don’t match up then we need to reevaluate our understanding of God in terms of Jesus.’ I think it’s safe to say the Church has for too long isolated it’s theology proper from it’s Christology. We do not worship God AND Jesus, we worship the God who became incarnate AS Jesus.

Seems to me that the Holy Spirit has often been given a bad wrap historically; consigning Him to his own corner consisting of the miraculous, the ethereal, the mystical etc.., while in fact what he does is “show” us Jesus. “To know Christ, to make Him known”…this is, imo, the essence of a vibrant living Christianity. I’m certain I fall on the mystical side of things in saying all of this. But, really, we truly know Jesus, even if darkly, quite apart from the Bible and history. We know him in the here and now through word and sacrament, yes, but also and perhaps primarily, through prayer and meditation and simple good living in faithful dependence on Him.