Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Snow Globe or Emmanuel?

Tomlin's 'Glory in the Highest' blaring, Christmas Tree lights twinkling, Pennsylvania Dutch Eggnog on hand - I am beginning to unwind for a quick Christmas break after a breathtaking year. To be honest, at times it has been like a blow to the solar plexis, at others it has been like a mountaineer gulping for air at high altitude, and still others it has been like children gasping in wide -eyed wonder at God's glory and goodness. Breathtaking, all the same.

I have one more message to preach before we take a week to drive up to Seattle to visit some dear friends. It's for our Christmas Eve service. The theme is 'Be still and know.' Peace is certainly one of God's gifts to us in Christ at Christmas. "For to us a child is born, to us a Son is given... He shall be called the Prince of Peace...of the increase of His government and peace there shall be no end."
I don't think that the absence of conflict is the peace that God offers though. He does not offer us Utopia, Zen or Suburban Bliss. The gospel is not like one of those Snow Globes, where a perfect world is preserved inside a perspex bubble, and shaking only produces snowflakes.
"In this world you will have trouble, but take courage I have overcome the world." God gives us the gift of Peace through the Incarnation. Jesus, Emmanuel, God with us, sharing in our flesh, and in our shaking worlds. With us in our trouble, anxiety and sorrow. He offers us the peace of friendship with a perfect King, and the taste of an eternal Kingdom that is increasing no end.

May His peace cause you to gasp in wonder, and breathe a deep sigh of relief, all at the same time.
Happy Christmas.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Invictus Conflictus

While its still fresh in my mind, I want to make a few comments on the Clint Eastwood epic about Nelson Mandela and the 1995 Rugby World Cup.
First, I thought the movie captured the moment with remarkable empathy and accuracy.
The memories flooded back. It was the day of my 23rd birthday. Our friends who gathered in the Mack's living room that winter afternoon to watch the final, had very little idea that the game would be a momentous milestone in our nations' redemptive history. I must admit to being a little cynical back then that a game could change a nation. In retrospect, I think it did. The legal ending of apartheid was relationally sealed that day in the stadium, on street corners and in pubs as black and white embraced in joy. Thankyou, Mr. Eastwood for capturing the essence of that day beautifully.
Second, massive respect to Morgan Freeman for capturing Madiba's character magnificently - accent, inflection, gesture, and most of all formidable grace. Not so much for Matt Damon and his Bok rugby team I don't think. I found them all little bit underwhelming. In fact, I thought the interplay between Madiba's bodyguards was far more insightful than that of the rugby team, but that's not really my point.

My point is that I feel a bit conflicted overall about the message of movie.

On the one hand, it left me freshly and deeply grateful for God's mercy in raising up a man of peace, who humbly turned the other cheek to his oppressors, and whose example turned a nation bent on revenge, back toward one another. A man dares to put Jesus words into action and a nation is rescued from a bloody revolution. Inspiring, for sure. Miracle, no doubt.

On the other hand, the 'Invictus' theme felt a little hollow to me. The title was taken from a poem by William Henley, which sustained Mandela during his years on Robben Island, and which he gave to Pienaar the South African captain for similar inspiration in leading his team to victory.
It means 'unconquerable'. The poem ends with these often quoted words. "I am the master of my own destiny, I am the captain of my soul.'

So what does Clint Eastwood want us to believe about Madiba?
Was he a courageous, gracious leader who forgave because he had been forgiven, or a chest-thumping, inconquerable hero who mastered his own destiny?
From my vista, there has always been a meekness about his formidable strength.
He has never come across as unconquerable. On the contrary, there has always been a dignified dependence about him.
Not to mention the fact that he often acknowledged his reliance upon God for his strength.
So, Mr. Eastwood, thank you for re-telling a magnificent story, but I don't think 'Invictus' tells the truth about the secret behind Madiba's remarkable character.
"I am the captain of my soul?"
I think Madiba knew who his Captain was.
As I said, Invictus Conflictus.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

pro-life prodigal

A dude in his early twenties came and asked me if he could thank God publicly, last night at our prayer meeting. I'd never met him before, and I don't normally give the mic to strangers, but he didn't want to prophesy, so I I thought, "How much harm could thanking God do?" and handed him the mic.

He tells of his reconnection with his biological mom on face book a year or so ago. She fell pregnant with him about 20 years ago as a 17 year old. Resisting the pressure to abort her child, she gives him up for adoption and loses touch with him. 20 years later they find each other on face book. She is now married, with two children and her family are a part of our church. His first real connection with his biological mom and her family, is on thanksgiving weekend. They bring him to church. He responds to the gospel, having walked away from God as a young teen. God meets with him profoundly. He finds forgiveness. There is life and joy in his eyes as he speaks.He is not faking.

And I am overwhelmed by the reconciling power of the gospel. A son to his mother. A son to his Father.
And then I am struck by the courage of a desperate, pregnant 17 year old girl all those years ago, who gave her baby son the power to choose life.