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Friday, January 12, 2018

Faith That Moves Mountains

     Truly I tell you, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed,  you can say to this mountain, “Move from here to there,” and it will move.  Nothing will be impossible for you.
-Matthew 17:20 (NIV)


Jalandhar Nayak seems like a very determined guy.
     The 45-year-old father of three was basically just missing his three sons, who are students at a residential school in a town that’s about 10 km from the tiny, remote village in the eastern Indian state of Orissa in which he lives. That’s just a little over 6 miles, but the walk between the school and their home would take the sons three hours because they had to cross five hills. They couldn’t come home very often because of the difficult walk. No one seemed very interested in building a road to Mr. Nayak’s village; they don’t even have water or electricity. So Jalandhar started working on a road himself. 
     For the last two years, every morning he has taken his tools — a pickaxe and a crowbar — and headed out to work on his road. Two years of breaking rocks, leveling ground, moving boulders. Slowly but surely, his road started to take shape. One kilometer. Two. Day after day, hour after hour he worked on his road. Like I said, Jalandhar seems like a very determined guy. 
     His determination, in fact, finally caught the eye of someone in the town’s government, who contacted him to say they would finish the road. They’re really impressed with his work. They say it’s good enough for a car to travel on. They’re even going to pay Jalandhar for the work he’s done.
     They should, since he’s finished 8 km of road. Over half.
     I love my son, but I don’t think I could build a road to his school. (In fairness, it is about 500 miles away…) Jalandhar’s determination and hard work are impressive and inspiring. He’s apparently also asking the town to run water and electricity out to his village. 
     No word on whether he’s a plumber or electrician as well.
   Jesus famously told his disciples that if they had even the tiniest amount of faith, they’d be able to move a mountain. I don’t know about you, but that’s one of the toughest statements in the Bible to me. Jesus seems to be saying — no, he explicitly says — that if a believer has any faith at all then impossible things should become commonplace. Move a mountain? Done. That’s tough for me, I have to admit. A little flashier than Jesus normally is. It claims too much, it seems to me. Makes him sound like a TV preacher.
     There’s probably a good chance that Jesus thinks of moving a mountain because of a vision in Zechariah 14:4, where God stands on a mountain near Jerusalem and it splits apart to give the Israelites an escape route from their enemies. That doesn’t really help me though; in fact, to imagine that faith gives us the power to do something that only God can do is even harder to believe. 
     I think, though, that I might have figured out the problem. 
     The problem is that I’m working with a bad definition of faith. I’m thinking of faith as some inner quality that gives a person superpowers — maybe like the X-factor in the X-Men comics. Get your faith charged up enough and you’ll be able to do impossible things. Jalandhar Nayak, however, reminds me that faith isn’t like that at all.
     Faith is what makes you get up every morning and grab your pick.
     There’s a scene in The Last Jedi where Luke Skywalker is training Rey. He asks her what she thinks the Force is, and she says it’s a power that Jedi use to do impossible things. Luke tells her that “everything [she] just said is wrong.” He tells her instead to reach out, to feel the Force. It isn’t something a person uses to do amazing things; it’s there, and you can either recognize it or not. The point is that Rey has misunderstood the Force as a power that’s within herself that she can learn to use to her own advantage. But it’s really a power that’s all around her, that’s already at work, that she can learn to know and lean on. 
     The reason we struggle with Jesus’ words is that we forget that faith isn’t about ourselves at all, that if we only have faith in ourselves we’ll sooner or later disappoint ourselves — and everyone else too. Your faith isn’t supposed to be in your pick, or in the strength and skill with which you swing it, but in the God who's coming the other way to meet up with you. That’s the reason you get up every morning and grab your pick. God is coming, and you can bet that he’ll meet you at lot further than halfway along the road. 
     That’s the kind of faith that enables a woman to get up every morning and care for her husband as Alzheimer’s inexorably takes him away from her. It’s the kind of faith that strengthens a couple to care for their autistic child, though they know the usual expressions of love between child and parents will be few and far between. It’s the kind of faith that inhabits a missionary far from home, a writer casting his words out into the world, a hurt wife offering forgiveness to her husband without knowing where it might come from. It’s the kind of faith that allows regular people face their own deaths with bravery and hope. Faith makes us believe that the impossible is possible because God is already at work, and that if we’ll just get to work too we’ll see him directly. We have to get to work on the road, but the job isn’t ours alone.
     Faith is the trust that you can keep going, working, digging, praying, speaking, hoping — because God never stops. Faith is what opens our eyes and hearts to his possibilities.
     I don’t know all the mountains your path will cross. I don’t know what obstacles you’ll have to overcome in your life. There will be some, I’m fairly sure of that. They’ll be significant. And when you come to them, when it’s time for you to start chipping away at them, please remember the hope you have: that God is just there on the other side. That he’s chipping away at them too. That soon there’ll be a road where that mountain once was. 
     How can I be so sure? Well, that is the good news: that God moves mountains for his children. In Christ, at the cost of his own life, he went to work to carve out a place for us through sin, sorrow, pain, and death. What mountain is so large, what hill so steep, that a God like that will not level it for us if that’s what it takes?
     You’re not Jalandhar Nayak. You’re the town. God is Jalandhar Nayak.
     So grab your pick and get to work. 
     God’s already started.

     

Friday, January 5, 2018

Sheltered from God's Wrath?

  This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.
-1 John 4:9-10 (NIV)


You might have missed it, but Thomas Monson, president of the Mormon church, died this past week.
     Maybe, like me, you couldn’t have named the president of the Mormon church. Maybe you didn’t even know they were led by a president at all. I know very little about Monson — only what a quick Google search can tell me. While anyone who climbs to the top of an organization like the Mormon church will have his share of detractors, he was, by most accounts, a kind, gentle, loving person who led the church to concentrate more on outreach to the poor. 
     In all honesty, I wouldn’t have spent much time thinking about Thomas Monson except for something a college friend posted about him. In his post, he compared Monson’s New York Times obituary with Hugh Hefner’s, the founder of Playboy who died in just a few months ago. I think my friend intended to compare the coverage of the deaths of these two men. But someone commented on his post:

“That's the legacy we can expect the world to notice. Sadly despite living very different lives both these men have faced a harsh judgment with nothing to stand between them and God's wrath.”

     Now, I have to acknowledge that there are some significant differences between Mormon theology and historic, orthodox (with a lower-case “o”) Christian theology. Some make the case that Mormons are not Christian in any real sense (though Mormons themselves do claim faith in Christ as the source of salvation). In saying what I’m going to say next, I don’t want to try to plaster over the real differences that exist between Mormons and other churches. 
     That said, I feel the need to say this: to claim that a man who has given his life to the service of his church and the poor stands under the same judgment as a man who gave his life to hedonism and the objectification of women is to misrepresent God and/or to misunderstand the gospel. I didn’t know Thomas Monson or Hugh Hefner, but if their body of work doesn’t suggest to you that answering to God might be a very different experience for the two of them then I don’t really know what to say to you. 
     Yes, I know that good deeds don’t save us. I understand that we are saved by grace, through faith. But faith isn’t a perfect understanding of vital doctrine, and if we’re not saved by good deeds, neither are we saved by perfect knowledge. While I might consider some of what Thomas Monson believes to be incorrect, and maybe even a little ridiculous, that doesn’t mean my track to God is inside his. 
     My friend’s commenter has a problem, I think, that is epidemic to many brands of Christianity. He sees the gospel as a collection of propositions that a person must understand and agree with in order to be saved. What I mean is, he and others like him think that the only thing keeping us from God’s wrath and judgment is a series of propositions that must be believed. The specifics of those propositions might differ from group to group and person to person, but they all have to do with what Jesus did on the cross and how a person comes to benefit from it. 
     My friend’s commenter seems to believe that Thomas Monson’s perceived deficiencies in understanding what Jesus did and how a person receives the benefits of it put him in a position similar to Hefner’s before God: with nothing to shelter him from God’s unmitigated wrath.
     That term — “the wrath of God” — gets thrown around a lot in some churches. So does the idea that Jesus’ death resolves and pacifies God’s wrath against sinners. It’s in one of my favorite songs, in fact:

 “…’til on that cross, as Jesus died, the wrath of God was satisfied…”


     Like I said, I like that song a lot. I just don’t think that line is completely biblical. 
     It’s trying to be, and so are folks who believe it. I understand where it’s coming from. It’s based on four New Testament texts (Hebrews 2:17, 1 John 2:2, Romans 3:25, and the text above, 1 John 4:9-10) that use a word that describes Jesus’ death as “an atoning sacrifice” or “a propitiation,” depending on your translation. And the translation makes all the difference because it’s one of those New Testament words that is sometimes translated based on what you already believe.
     It’s true that the word can be used in the sense of “propitiation” in Greek translations of the Old Testament. It can rightly be said that sacrifices in ancient Israel turned away God’s wrath. In the New Testament, though, the word morphs in meaning. You can see that if you take a step back and ask, “Who’s doing the propitiating, who is pacifying God’s wrath?” 
     Others have made the case more elegantly than I can, but here’s the thing: to translate the word as “propitiation” — that is, to say that Jesus’ death pacifies God’s wrath — God would have to be the recipient of that action. In none of the texts that use that word is God the recipient. In fact, in two of them God is explicitly the one doing the propitiating. He loves us by sending his Son, whose death atones for our sins. But not by turning away the wrath of an angry God. In fact, what God does in Christ he does specifically out of his love.
     “So what?” you’re asking. (I hear you.) So…Jesus didn’t come as the one who “stands between” human beings and a wrathful God who otherwise would destroy us. He came at the instigation of a loving God who would save us. That’s an important distinction. God is not pre-inclined to destroy us, our only salvation being the sacrificial love of Jesus. God comes to us from love, and out of that love sends Jesus as a sacrifice that reconciles us to himself and redeems us from the power of sin and death so that we can share his life with him.
     So…when a believer in Christ contemplates standing before God, it’s not in the hope that our good deeds, religious piety, or doctrinal correctness will be enough to turn away God’s anger toward us. It’s with the faith that God is for us, that he loves us so much that he has given his Son for us, and that whatever shortcomings there are in our lives are overcome by his sacrifice.

     I’ll put mine in the same work of God in Jesus that Thomas Monson apparently trusted.

Friday, December 29, 2017

New

       …If anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!
-2 Corinthians 5:17 (TNIV)


New. New stuff. If you’re anything like me, you know something about newness this time of year. New clothes, crisp and fresh and stylish. New gadgets, shiny and exciting. Stuff still wrapped in plastic or nestled in tissue, books with bindings unbroken and spines uncreased. 
     New is potential unfaded by time and wear. New is expectation. New is beauty. New is possibility. What is new replaces what is worn-out, ineffective, inoperative. Our culture loves what is new. New technology. New possessions. New homes. New clothes. New cars. Hey, today you can even have a new you if you find the right plastic surgeon to erase the marks passing years leave behind and replace or enhance body parts you don’t care for as they are. We long for the new because on some level we believe it will bring us fulfillment and happiness. We’ll be regarded as successful, admired by others, and feel good about ourselves if only we can have what is new.
     But “there is nothing new under the sun,” says the teacher. Whoever wrote that had obviously experienced the disillusionment that we feel when we first realize that newness doesn’t last. The luster wears off of our shiniest new gadgets and toys. This year’s new clothes are old ones next year (or the year after that). Excitement about new stuff gives way to familiarity, which eventually, almost inevitably, gives way to contempt. 
     New, it turns out, doesn’t deliver.
     That shouldn’t be surprising when we think about it. Whatever I may have that’s new, I am still me. I can decorate the outside with stylish new clothes, but down inside is the same old me with the same old problems and struggles and sins. I can go out and find a new wife, but I’ll bring into that relationship the same old me who contributed to the problems of the marriage I bailed out on. I can get a new job, buy a new home, move to a new city – but none of that makes me new. I’m the same old me. 
     If you doubt it, ask yourself in a month or so how different all the new stuff you’ve received over the last few days has really left you. By that time, the credit card bills will have come in the mail. All the new stuff you have will have begun to lose some of its shine. That will be a good time for you to ask yourself some questions. Start with whether or not you’re really any happier than you were before. Then go on to ask yourself how what you’ve received makes you a better person. Are your problems gone? Is your character improved? Is the guilt you carry for past wrongs relieved? 
     New is not what the church is known for. We are old. We are tradition. We’re considered by some to be irrelevant and outmoded, holding to an outdated morality and an out-of-fashion worldview. By definition, we are a community who find our identity in an “old, old story” that dates from a world that no longer exists. But in that old, old story is a paradox that we ourselves often fail to see, because it’s the story of God’s breaking into our world in a way that has implications for as long as human history remains. “If anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come. The old has gone, the new is here!” 
     The old, old story of Jesus makes the astounding claim that in Christ, God has remade his creation. Whenever someone puts his or her trust in Jesus, so the story goes, God acts in that person’s life just as dramatically as he did at the beginning of time. Just as surely as God said “let there be light” and dawn broke for the first time, in Jesus God speaks light and the dawn of a new day into the life of a believer as well. Jesus spoke of a new covenant, a new arrangement with God, sealed by his death. He told his followers to look forward to “the renewal of all things.” Paul writes of believers living a “new life,” raised from the dead with Jesus in the glory of God. He promised that in Jesus our minds are renewed, that we are renewed inwardly day by day, that we are “made new in the attitude of [our] minds.” The Bible speaks of a “new birth” that comes through Jesus and of a “new self” that we can choose to put on because of what Christ has done. And we’re reminded, as followers of Jesus, that instead of being too preoccupied with this world “we are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth.”
     The language is hardly ambiguous. The claim of the story of Jesus is not that once upon a time, long ago, a man named Jesus lived and taught and had influence and died. The claim of the story is that in Jesus Christ God has made everything new, that he has re-created the heavens and the earth and that he has even re-created us. The old, old story tells us that our history no longer has to tyrannize us. That our sins no longer define us. That our anxieties no longer imprison us. That death and evil no longer have the last word. The old, old story reveals to us that, stunningly, the world as we know it is fading away and that because of Jesus it will one day be replaced by a new heaven and new earth, that sin and death and pain and fear will disappear from creation forever, and that God will complete his project of making everything new.
     So here we are, surrounded by all our new stuff. Anticipating a New Year. Caught somewhere between Christmas and the New Creation, between Christ’s coming in a Bethlehem stable and his coming in glory, bringing with him the renewal of all things. The old, old story reminds us that in Christ we are given the privilege of experiencing a new creation. We have been graced with a foretaste of life in Christ, enjoying his presence, illuminated by his glory, living for his purposes, trusting in his promises. It turns out that there is indeed something new under the sun – or maybe more accurately, under the Son. 
     Our salvation is not in a New Year, no matter how successful we may be at keeping our resolutions. It’s not in new stuff. It’s not a new situation, or a new relationship, or a new hobby, or a new look. Our only hope for salvation is that the God who created us and the world in which we live might step in to undo the damage we’ve done to our world, our fellow human beings, and ourselves. And the fact is that he has. In Jesus, he has.
     The old has gone. The new is here. 

     

Thursday, December 14, 2017

Spoilers

            Praise be to the Lord, the God of Israel, 
because he has come to his people and redeemed them. 
  He has raised up a horn of salvation for us 
in the house of his servant David 
  (as he said through his holy prophets of long ago), 
  salvation from our enemies 
and from the hand of all who hate us…
-Luke 1:68-71 (NIV)



As I write this, I’m a few hours away from seeing Star Wars: The Last Jedi. Some of you are shrugging your shoulders right about now. You know what Star Wars is, of course. You’ve probably seen at least some of the movies and know something about the major characters. You may have noticed the subtle advertising campaign for the newest chapter in the series. (Plastered everywhere human eyes can see and tied into every piece of merchandise human beings might consider buying.) But you’re frankly a little tired of the hype and can’t imagine fighting opening-night crowds to go see it. You’ll catch it in a few weeks or maybe even wait until you can stream it or something.
     If that’s you, there’s something you’re going to want to consider: spoilers.
     Starting tomorrow, they’re going to be everywhere. There’s an embargo in place right now: journalists can write reviews, but only if they’re spoiler-free. Those who break this sacred rule and are caught will, I guess, not be invited back to advance screenings of future films. So spoilers are hard to find right now. But that embargo ends tonight or tomorrow with the official release of the film, and that means plot points will be up for discussion everywhere.  You might see something mentioned in a review, or overhear a major twist in casual conversation. After tonight, you may find it hard to go into a showing of The Last Jedi without at least some advance knowledge of how it’s going to go. 
     Some people don’t mind spoilers, though. I myself have been known to occasionally read the plot synopsis of a movie on Wikipedia before I see the movie, or read a film’s novelization before going to the theater. What you may give up in surprise, you get back in a larger understanding of the movie from the beginning. You know what to expect. You aren’t at the mercy of every little plot twist that puts the heroes in jeopardy.  You see the bigger picture. And there’s joy instead of anxiety in watching the director, crew, and actors bring a well-told story to its conclusion, even if you already know that conclusion.
     I know not everyone feels that way. But I think Luke, the guy who wrote the Gospel that bears his name, might have been a fan of spoilers.
     He embeds them, after all, in his earliest mentions of Jesus. Take Zechariah’s prophecy in Luke 1:68-79, called by some the Benedictus (for its first word in Latin). The song is as full of spoilers as a movie reviewer with a caffeine buzz banging out a review on opening night.
     Zechariah begins by blessing God, praising him, for what he has already done. For context, keep in mind that his son, John the Baptist, has literally just been born. Jesus’ birth is still a few months away. There’s no cross or resurrection for three decades. Yet Zechariah begins by talking about God’s salvation as an accomplished fact.
     Look at the tenses of the verbs. “He has come.”  “Redeemed.” “He has raised up a horn of salvation.” We westerners with our very linear ideas about time and our misunderstanding of prophecy tend to think that Zechariah is predicting salvation. But that’s not really what’s happening. He isn’t predicting as much as he is proclaiming salvation. It’s a spoiler: God is worshipped because in the coming of Christ Zechariah sees salvation. He believes that the story has been written, and everything that happens next is just going according to script. Knowing the ending and the main beats of the story completely changes the way he sees everything else. 
     As Zechariah spoke those words, he lived under the thumb of the Roman Empire. There was a foreigner sitting on the throne of David. When he went to serve in the temple he undoubtedly passed Roman soldiers in the streets of Jerusalem. There had even been times when the Romans had marched their standards right into the temple precincts themselves. His taxes went to Rome, and his religious freedom depended largely on Roman generosity. “Salvation from [his] enemies and from the hand of all who hate [Israel]” might have seemed very far away. Yet, for Zechariah, it was coming just as sure has his son had been born, just as sure as the baby his wife’s relative was carrying was coming. He had been given the chance to see how the story goes and knowing that changed everything.
     It even helped him see the prophecies he had heard all his life in a different light. They were about this!
     Maybe a spoiler would help you this Christmas too. Maybe you know what it is to live under someone’s thumb. When you go to church, when you worship, right there with you is grief, loss, fear, bitterness, and death. Maybe you live in constant pain, or in financial turmoil, or in a broken marriage. All of that is real, and it all hurts, and it isn’t to be minimized or ignored. You’ve been waiting for God to act, to save you, to heal, forgive, restore, renew, and you’re starting to wonder if your salvation is ever coming.
     Well, it isn’t coming. As sure as that baby Mary was carrying all those years ago was born, your salvation has come. I know it doesn’t always feel that way, but that’s the reason the story goes like it does. The birth of Jesus is the only testimony we need that God has come to his people and redeemed them, that he’s brought salvation to us. The struggles and hardships that we live with, the darkness of the world around us, even the sin in our hearts doesn’t change the story. And whatever else we might live through, to live our lives according to that story is to receive God’s salvation.  
     So, maybe, knowing how the story goes will help us have a larger understanding of events of our lives. Maybe the spoiler of Christmas will help us to know what to expect. Maybe it will help us to recall that we aren’t at the mercy of every little plot twist. Maybe it will help us live by the bigger picture. And maybe it will help us find some joy instead of anxiety in watching and being a part of God weaving our stories into the larger one, and together bringing it to the conclusion that he’s had in mind since before we even existed.

     See? Spoilers aren’t always a bad thing. 

Friday, December 8, 2017

Building Around Christmas

     Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock.
-Matthew 7:24-25 (NIV)


Realtors in Keerbergen, Belgium, selling residences in a new apartment building will have an extra perk to market, especially to occupants of the top floors. Light. Lots of light. Especially after dark.
     The architect of the building consulted municipal authorities in Keerbergen two years ago to have a streetlight relocated from the site of the new building. But the city has dragged its feet, and so the architect (who wants to remain anonymous) was forced into a creative solution. As his building started to rise, he decided to build around the streetlight. Photos show that the masonry on the facade of the building has been “notched” to allow for the presence of the light. "We could not wait, the administrative sluggishness of the municipality in this case has been shocking,” the anonymous architect explained. 
     He promises, though, that the strange solution will only be temporary. As soon as the streetlight is moved, he’ll have his contractor go back and fix the “notch”. For the moment, though, it looks pretty strange.
     Christmas is a time that we “build around” things in our lives. Traditions, habits, unexpected events, celebrations, obligations; at Christmas we adapt our lives to them all. It’s just a given that we have to do decorating and shopping, that we’ll get together with friends, family, and colleagues at various times, that we’ll have to do some cooking or cleaning or traveling that we don’t normally do. It isn’t always convenient. Sometimes we don’t even enjoy all of it. But it’s all a part of life this time of year, and so we adjust our calendars, budgets, and attitudes accordingly. After all: Christmas will be gone soon enough. It will pass to memory and things will get back to normal. At least until next year, when we’ll build around Christmas again. It might be awkward and strange, but it’s just temporary.
     Of course, Mary never had that illusion, did she?
     Her life changed forever because of what happened two thousand years ago. Pregnant out of wedlock, married to a man who knew he wasn’t the father of her baby, chosen to give birth to the long-awaited king of Israel. “You who are highly favored,” the angel had called her. And maybe she was highly favored, but it probably didn’t quite feel that way from the jump. “He has brought down rulers from their thrones / but has lifted up the humble,” she would say. “He has filled the hungry with good things / but has sent the rich away empty.” And, of course, that’s great news for the humble and hungry. For the rulers, for the wealthy, it’s terrible news. Not something that’s easy for them to build around. 
     No wonder, then, that the old man in the temple had warned her: “This child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be spoken against, so that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed. And a sword will pierce your own soul too.” 
     That first Christmas, for Mary, wasn’t something easily built around. Jesus, for her, was a beginning of course. But he was also an end to the ease and comfort of believing that she could live a life that was ordinary and inconsequential to all except those closest to her. Her son wasn’t just a baby. He was a Savior, and he was a sign, and his life and death would change the world but would pierce her like a sword too. No way he would fit neatly into whatever life she may have envisioned for herself.
     Amazingly, she still called herself the Lord’s servant. “May your word to me be fulfilled,” that’s what she said.
     The same with Joseph. The same with the disciples a few years later, hiding in a top floor apartment when their crucified teacher was suddenly standing in front of them saying something about sending them as he had been sent. With the other disciple a few years after that, picking himself up off the road to Damascus to go stumbling blindly to the house of someone who might be able to help him make sense of what Jesus had said. They knew their lives would never be the same again, would never belong only to them again. There wasn’t a minor alteration they could make in the facade of their lives to accommodate what God was doing by sending Jesus to them. They would have to tear down everything and rebuild on him.
     On the other hand, Herod knew that too. He knew he couldn’t build around this newborn king. But he tried to uproot him. Same with the Pharisees, the scribes, the religious establishment. If he was who he said he was and if what he said was true, they couldn’t make him fit neatly. That’s why they conspired to get rid of him. It really wasn’t surprising at all given the things he did and said.
      Sometimes, folks meet Jesus and want to change their lives for him. Others want to marginalize him, hold him at arm’s length, or incorporate some version of him into their lives as they already are. And some will believe they can just do away with him. 
     It’s funny: hardly anyone in our world has a problem with non-specific “religion.” Even a semi-private, polite, intellectual faith is unlikely to raise many eyebrows, to say nothing of voices. But the more specific you get about Jesus in our world, the more likely someone is to get hostile, to take offense, to do what they can to marginalize you and your faith. And you have to wonder if maybe that reaction to Jesus comes from some consciousness that he’s never content for a person to just build around him. All these centuries later, he’s still “a sign to be spoken against, so that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed.” If you don’t cherry-pick what he says and does, he is intentionally polarizing. Take him seriously, and you’ll either tear down your life and rebuild it on him or you’ll push him away completely. 
     It’s also funny that even people who check the “Christian” box on a form, some who are even found in church on a semi-regular to regular basis, have in reality just sort of decided to build around him. Or, at least, around an idea of him. Just like anyone else, we can tell ourselves — and even really believe — that with just a minor surface adjustment to our lives he’ll fit neatly, with very little effect on what’s behind the facade. Examples could be multiplied, but you don’t need them. You know it’s true. If you’re like me, you know it from experience.
     And what I hope we can be reminded of by the familiar Christmas story this year is that it doesn’t really work that way. The One who came from the “overshadowing” of God into human life can’t be expected to stay in the shadows himself. The one who inverts the values of our world like he does can’t be expected to leave our own values untouched. The one who comes so that the thoughts of many will be revealed can’t be expected to leave our own thoughts shrouded. And if he is a sword that pierces hearts, why would we expect our hearts to be left alone?
     If you’re trying to build your life around Jesus, the way we all try to make room for Christmas traditions this time of year, you’re going to be frustrated. Don’t just make room in your life for him for the moment. He wants to dismantle your life and build it on him.

     May we, too, be the Lord’s servants.

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