Here are a few highlights of things missed over the Thanksgiving weekend:
- What issues should the Christian care about? Recent college grads expanding Christian concerns – beyond abortion or First Amendment rights – to immigration [New York Times, On Religion - Evangelical, and Young, and Active in New Area]. “[The Lord] executes justice for the fatherless and the widow, and loves the sojourner, giving him food and clothing. Love the sojourner, therefore, for you were sojourners in the land of Egypt.” (Exodus 10:17-18, ESV).
- Will we ever have a president of hope? We’ve replaced one President of disappointment with another and we’re disappointed: “The most disappointed people I meet are under thirty, the generation who made the Obama campaign a movement in its early primary months. They spent their entire adult lives under the worst president of our lifetime, they loved Obama because he was new and inspiring, and they felt that replacing the former with the latter would be a national deliverance.” [The New Yorker, Obama's Troubles: Interesting Times]. When we make God our leader and the focus of our moral compass, we place our hope in the one thing that does not disappoint. “Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.” (Deuteronomy 6:4-5, ESV).
- Are the times a-changin? Bob Dylan – born again Christian convert from Judaism in the 1970s – has a new Christmas album out and the proceeds benefit hunger-relief and homeless organizations [New York Times, Arts, Briefly - Dylan on the Record About Christmas]. The Lord condemns those who do not care for the poor: “For three transgressions of Israel, and for four, I will not revoke the punishment, because they sell the righteous for silver, and the needy for a pair of shoes – they that trample the head of the poor into the dust of the earth, and turn aside the way of the afflicted.” (Amos 2:6, ESV).
Do you seek for things that are not lost? In a few weeks, I’ll arrive to my parents’ home in Florida and, upon seeing my mom’s car in the driveway, I’ll walk in the door and call out, “Mom, where are you?” Although I haven’t lost her, I want to see her face and hug her.
Similarly, although God is not lost, the Chronicler promises us:
If you seek [the Lord], he will be found by you. v. 9, NIV.
Seeking the Lord means seeking his presence, to see his face. In a sense, we’re always in the presence of the Lord since he’s omnipresent and has covenanted with his people. In another sense, however, we’re not always in the presence of the Lord, which is why the Bible continually calls us to seek his presence always (see Psalm 105:4).
We are called to do so because there are seasons in which we give no thought to the Lord – when we do not put our trust in him or recognize his beautiful and incomparable value. Since we are always at risk of falling into this mindset, we must continue to set our minds and hearts to seek the Lord (see 1 Chronicles 22:19).
How do we do this? We seek him through the things around us (see Psalm 19). The heavens declare of the glory of God. He reveals himself through his word. We see him in the evidences of grace in other people. At The Park Forum, one of the ways by which we seek the Lord is through the news – considering how God is working all over the world through a biblical lens.
As the Chronicler promises us, when we see him, we find him. And he is our greatest reward. When we have him, we have everything.
Every Thanksgiving, I travel to Connecticut to be with my family in the Northeast. They’re not my real family, but they’re my friend Kate’s family. Since my family lives in Florida, Kate’s family takes me in year after year and welcomes me at their dinner table. Therefore, although I am physically far away from my childhood home, my heart is full of child-like joy as I consider my thankfulness for having this family.
Her family truly practices the command we read today:
Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling. v. 9, NIV.
As I think about how to obey this command myself, however, I stumble. For it’s easier for someone in Connecticut to offer hospitality than it is for a New Yorker – with a matchbox apartment. Right?
I don’t think so.
When I return to my home in New York City, I’ll walk into my tiny one bedroom apartment. When I arrive, it will be empty because my new roommate – who sleeps on an air mattress in our one bedroom as she looks for a job – will still be with her family in Miami. On Tuesday, however, our apartment will be filled with our urban family, i.e., our small group Bible study that meets in our home. Twelve of us will pack inside the den/kitchen/dining room, as we sit on wooden folding chairs and consider the Word of God.
Practicing hospitality is one of the most joyful things that we do. I don’t say this to brag, but rather to offer hope and creativity. I often hear New Yorkers say that they would offer hospitality if they had more space or a dining room table (etc.), but the words of Peter don’t give caveats for excuses not to practice hospitality.
Rather he offers motivation. For the practicing of hospitality is actually an example of how to carry out the verse just prior to this command, which reads:
Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins. v. 8, NIV.
To practice hospitality without grumbling, therefore, is to love one another deeply. And we should care about loving one another deeply because it covers over a multitude of our sins.
How can you practice hospitality and, thereby, cover over a multitude of sins?
When someone makes a promise and then delays in keeping it, sometimes it’s hard to continue believing that they will. I think of engaged friends who delay in setting the date – they wonder whether they will actually get married. I think of my promises to my mom that I would clean my room “by Friday” and then, on Thursday, I had touched nothing – she questioned whether I would keep my promise and then nag me until I did.
God made a promise to King David – that his son would build a house for the Lord and that his kingdom would reign forever. In Chronicles 22, David tells his son Solomon of this promise (see 2 Samuel 7):
My son, I had it in my heart to build a house for the name of the Lord my God. But the word of the Lord came to me, saying: “Behold, a son shall be born to you … He shall build a house for my name. He shall be my son, and I will be his father, and I will establish his royal throne in Israel forever.” ESV.
Yet, Solomon died and his throne was not forever. Did God not keep His promise to David?
Almost one thousand years later, an angel named Gabriel visited a virgin named Mary. He said to her:
Behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son and you shall call his name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High; and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob for ever, and of his kingdom there will be no end. Luke 1:31-33, ESV.
God keeps His promises. And we should be slow to indict Him before He does. For Peter writes:
But do not overlook this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day. The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness …” 2 Peter 3:8-9a, ESV.
What promises are you thankful for today? For what promises do you await? Trust the Lord that He has a plan – even if it may seem a long way off to you – and it is better than anything you could ever ask for or imagine.
New York is the city where dreams are made, where anything is possible. It’s the city where profit is celebrated. So it’s not really that surprising that someone has turned charity into a profit-making enterprise. For example, yesterday, The New York Times’ City Room blog posted an article exposing the United Homeless Organization (UHO) as a fraud.
There are a few lessons to be gleaned from this debacle. The first is, judge a tree by its fruit. Jesus said, regarding false prophets,
“…every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus, by their fruit you will recognize them.” Matthew 7:16.
The UHO set-up typically featured an obnoxious man or woman on a street corner, yelling at passerby to donate their change to the homeless. This New Yorker at least (and I’m sure I’m not the only one who felt this way) saw this as “bad fruit” and so I never donated. I am a bit biased though, because my parents founded an organization that serves the poor and not only have never profited off of their work, but have suffered and sacrificed in order to do so. There are many other organizations that really do help the homeless in tangible ways. You can see the fruit of their work and judge for yourselves, whether they are worth your money, time or energy.
The second lesson is that as Christians we have been commanded to give to the poor. In fact, Jesus laid down a challenge in Luke 12, saying “Sell your possessions and give to the poor.” (Luke 12:33) Since our true treasure is in heaven, giving to the poor now shouldn’t be a hardship. Whether or not you were scammed or manipulated by the UHO, the fact that you gave because you cared, is precious to God.
Finally, in Deuteronomy, God promises that “vengeance is [his] and recompense.” (Deuteronomy 32:35) God will “judge the world with justice” (Acts 17:31) and he will judge the perpetrators of this fraud. In the meantime, let’s not “tire in doing good,” (2 Thessalonians 3:13) especially during this holiday season when so many are in so much need.
What is the purpose of the Christian life? To find the answer, we don’t need to go out and buy a New York Times bestseller or travel the world while discovering new food, new prayer and new love. Rather, we need look no further than today’s reading: 1 Peter 2.
Peter writes that the Christian life is basically a PR campaign to proclaim the renown of the Lord:
But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. v. 9, ESV.
But this calling begs – how do we spread the Lord’s fame? Peter offers two ways to do so.
First, we make Christ the passion and love of our heart. Peter writes: “Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul.” v. 11, ESV. If our hearts aren’t centered on the Lord, then we have no fuel to function. Remember Proverbs 4:23: “Keep your heart with all vigilance, for from it flow the springs of life.” ESV.
Second, as an outgrowth of our love for the Lord, our deeds should declare the good work of God and his marvelous character. Peter writes: “Keep your conduct among the Gentiles honorable, so that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation.” v. 12, ESV.
Let us be zealous for good deeds that flow from our love for God. Rather than dreaming of mere comfort and safety, let us dream of different and creative ways that we can make a name for the glory of God and show all His excellencies.
Are you brave or safe?
Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous! Do not tremble or be dismayed, for the LORD your God is with you wherever you go. (Joshua 1:9, ESV).
We don’t wake up one day and we’re all of a sudden brave. Rather, we train to be brave. Every day. Just like a gymnast.
On November 7, I attended the wedding of two good friends – Nikki Stelma and Chris Knott-Craig [New York Times - wedding announcement]. When the couple met a few years ago at a wedding in Oklahoma, Nikki lived in New York City and Chris lived in Birmingham. The long distance between them, however, was no impediment to their courtship. They started a series of long and intense telephone conversations to get to know one another. Over the phone, they discovered the deep parts of one another – their faith, their family, and their hopes and dreams. Eventually, Nikki explained, “[They] decided to become boyfriend and girlfriend over the phone and [they'd] never even held hands.”
When Chris decided to move to New York, I can imagine how excited Nikki was to have Chris in the City and how excited Chris was to be near Nikki – even though they barely knew one another and even though Chris moved up here in faith without a job.
In 1 Peter 1, we read:
Though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory, obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls. v. 8-9, ESV.
Right now, in our relationship with the Lord, we’re like the long-distance version of Nikki and Chris. We have letters from the Lord (the Bible) and we have relationships with His people (the church), but we’re not in the same city with Him yet. And, like Nikki and Chris, we’re so excited – with “joy that is expressible and filled with glory” – for this long-distance relationship to be over and see our Lord face-to-face.
How would you describe your longing for the Lord – with joy inexpressible or with anticipation muted?
So much of human existence can be explained with reference to that ancient story told in Genesis 2 and 3.
Last week, Nadal Hassan murdered 13 fellow soldiers at Ft. Hood. TIME magazine (The Fort Hood Killer: Terrified…or Terrorist?) reports, “About six months ago, authorities discovered a Web posting in which the writer, “NidalHasan,” compared suicide bombers to soldiers who throw themselves on grenades to save their colleagues.” Although he used a gun instead of a bomb, Hasan saw himself as a suicide bomber who was doing good. He committed an evil act. He murdered 13 people. 19 children lost their parents due to his actions. And yet, in his mind, he was doing a good thing.
His actions take us back to the Garden, when Adam and Eve eat the forbidden fruit. The serpent tells them, “For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil” (Genesis 3:5). Nidal Hasan wanted to be like God, to hold the lives of other people in his own hands. He wanted to know good and evil by himself. He redefined good and evil according to his own terms, rather than referring to God’s law as his standard. And, as with Adam and Eve’s choice way back when, the consequences of Hasan’s actions were so grievous it is almost unspeakable.