Love Your Enemies

Do yourself a favor and click on over to Donald Miller's recent blog entry on Loving Your Enemies.  If nothing else, watch the video he has there.  It's especially appropriate given all the time we've been spending together in Jesus' Sermon on the Mount.  We only have a few lessons left and I'm feeling sad about that right now.  I'm not sure where we're going next, but I need to decide.  Any thoughts? I think a lot of you would really like Miller's book Blue Like Jazz if you haven't already read it.

People Get Ready

12From the days of John the Baptist until now, the kingdom of heaven has been forcefully advancing…(Matthew 11) Sometimes American pop culture is able to transcend itself.  Last night’s episode of American Idol is an excellent example.  The evening’s theme was “Inspirational Songs.”  Crystal Bowersox, held by most to be the frontrunner for season 9, put down her guitar and served up this cover of “People Get Ready.”  More after the jump: I never stopped to listen to this song or consider how it will preach.  Had Jesus preached in a modern setting, it wouldn’t have been surprising to hear him use this train metaphor for the Kingdom of God.  Check out some of the lyrics:
People get ready, there's a train a comin' You don't need no baggage, you just get on board All you need is faith to hear the diesels hummin' Don't need no ticket, you just thank the Lord
How many of us are still struggling to understand that last sentence?  Still trying to buy a ticket, and all we have to do is jump on with a thankful heart. But be warned.  This message does have a bit of a sharp edge:
There ain't no room for the hopeless sinner Who would hurt all mankind just to save his own Have pity on those whose chances grow thinner For there's no hiding place against the Kingdom's throne
I think the key word here is hopeless.  Hopeless, not because God refuses to help, but hopeless because we refuse to be comforted.  That’s what’s behind Jesus’ invitation: “Repent for the Kingdom of God is near.” It’s also behind his exasperation: 37O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing (Matthew 23).” Today, let’s be willing.  Let’s stop searching our pockets for a ticket we can’t buy anyway and just jump on… I would be remiss if I didn’t throw in a link to Curtis Mayfield singing this one, too.  After all, it was his song first. A more qualified historian could speak to this song’s importance to the Civil Rights Movement.  Since Mayfield, dozens of artists have done their own versions. (I’ll spare you the Bob Dylan cover.  You’re welcome.)

More Good News

Two of the books I was reading in preparation for Sunday's message are Brennan Manning's The Ragamuffin Gospel and Henri Nouwen's Life of the Beloved.  Even though I read a lot from both of them, the only thing I ended up using from either one was that quote from Julian of Norwich.  But both books are amazing and well worth the read.  Both are liberating in their bold declaration of God's love for us.  Here are a couple of quotes for you to sit with. From Brennan Manning:
The Word we study has to be the Word we pray.  My personal experience of the relentless tenderness of God came not from exegetes, theologians, and spiritual writers, but from sitting still in the presence of the living Word and beseeching Him to help me understand with my head and heart His written Word.
And from Henri Nouwen:
Aren't you, like me, hoping that some person, thing, or event will come along to give you that final feeling of inner well-being you desire?  Don't you often hope: "May this book, idea, course, trip, job, country, or relationship fulfill my deepest desire?  But as long as you are waiting for that mysterious moment you will go on running helter-skelter, always anxious and restless, always lustful and angry, never fully satisfied... Well, you and I don't have to kill ourselves.  We are the Beloved.  We are intimately loved long before our parents, teachers, spouses, children and friends loved or wounded us.  That's the truth of our lives.  That's the truth I want you to claim for yourself.  That's the truth spoken by the voice that says, "You are my beloved."
I hope you are still coming to grips with the truth that nothing can separate you from the love of God.

Grace & Peace

Grace and peace be yours in abundance through the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord. (2 Peter 1:2) In cased you missed it (or forgot), last week I made a case for extending our celebration of Christmas past December 25th.  The idea was that we are in better shape now to celebrate the true meaning of Christmas, since we're not as easily preoccupied with getting and giving and buying and decorating and planning, etc.  In keeping with that, I thought I'd share with you a Christmas story that also provides a springboard for this morning's message. In a recent article for Christian Standard magazine, Brian Lowery recounts his visit to the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem.  His expectations for the trip were low, having heard that it was something of a disappointment.  After waiting in line for hours, he descended the steps that lead underneath the church into the cave that is purported to be the birthplace of Christ.  He recalls how unexpectedly moved he was to be singing "O Holy Night" and "O Little Town of Bethlehem" there in that church.  There he was, praying for peace in a church that had been a cause of great division among Christians.  Look at what he says: "As we left, I passed by all the pilgrims yet again. Some were from Germany, Poland, or Italy and others from England, Spain, or China. They, too, sang and prayed. Anger and violence wrestled about in all our worlds, but in that moment we had all come together in Bethlehem to worship and celebrate the Prince of Peace who, if anything, was working shalom into the folds of our lives as he will until the day he returns to work it into all things, once-for-all." It's that word shalom that leaps out at me.  Shalom is the Jewish word for peace, but as we shall see this morning, it means much more than just the absence of conflict. In the opening statement of his "second" letter, Peter includes a greeting with a prayer for "grace and peace."  In one sense, it's just a greeting-like saying "Dear _____, I hope you're doing well."  But there's more to it than that.  As we prepare to spend some time reflecting on the verse that will be our theme for the year (2 Peter 1:3), it is clear to me that the grace and peace of knowing God are crucial to seeing just how he is able to meet all of our needs. So this morning, I'm praying with Peter that grace and peace will be yours through your knowledge of God.  I'm assuming that's one of the reasons that you're here.  My prayer is that you will find it.