A new year

Repentance is a big hairy word that few particularly like.  It carries a lot of baggage with it. It’s a word that’s been used as a battering ram on folks’ hearts, when really it was intended as an invitation.  To repent, simply put, is to change, literally, to turn around.  It’s to admit you’ve been headed in the wrong direction, and to turn around to head in the right direction, God’s direction, following God’s directions.

Repentance isn’t about what we can do.  It’s about what we can’t do, not alone.

Take a list of New Year’s resolutions, for instance, and remove the silly stuff and promises we’ll break before we even get the kids back to school. Take those away until the list includes what really matters:  the practice of our faith, our health, our relationships.  The things on any list, the things we might really need to change, are things we can’t change, not alone.

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It’s Wednesday.  Leaves are falling from the tree outside my office window.  They come down in bunches with every swift breeze.  When not falling, the leaves still on the branches shimmer with a quality of light that is beautiful.  

Yet, the day is unsettled for me and for many.  There’s some fear in the air this week, alongside a waft of meanness from another direction.  Fear is a natural and appropriate response to threat, especially when it’s our children who are threatened.  We can’t make fear our dwelling place, though; fear makes us stupid.  Fear makes us hard.  There is nothing beautiful in fear.

At the end of a phone conversation a few moments ago, a friend prayed for peace.  “For shalom,” she prayed, “we ask You, God.”

Shalom is the Hebrew word for peace.  It’s the word God uses to offer a blessing upon His people:  “The Lord bless you and keep you;  the Lord make his face to shine upon you, and be gracious to you;  the Lord lift up his countenance upon you, and give you peace.” (Numbers 6:26-27)

Shalom is the word used by the psalmist to describe the arrival of salvation when God’s glory dwells in the land:  Steadfast love and faithfulness will meet; righteousness and peace will kiss each other.” (Psalm 85:10)

Finally and most powerfully for me on this windy day, shalom is the Name given to the coming Messiah:  “For a child has been born for us, a son given to us; authority rests upon his shoulders; and he is named Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” (Isaiah 9:6)

Thanksgiving is near, and Christmas is around the corner.  We’ll be celebrating the birth of this Prince of Peace again very soon.  

The Prince of Peace speaks into our fears.  In fact, before Jesus is even born, the stories tell of the angel Gabriel having to tell just about everyone not to fear.  Zechariah, Mary, and Joseph all hear, “Do not be afraid.” All wonder why, but all obey.

At the birth of Christ, when the promise made by Isaiah was fulfilled, a new reality came into being, a reality in which the world for all its brokenness can no longer bring us ultimate harm.  

No police force, no government, no armory, can promise us such perfect security.  Only Christ can and does.  

Tomorrow is Thursday, a new day.  Today’s wind brought warmer temperatures, almost 80 degrees is forecast in mid-November.  More leaves will fall.  And we will, by God’s grace, let go of our fear and choose peace.

What’s right with American Christianity: Bethany

Bethany is 22 years old, a college graduate, and (welcome to adulthood!) she is underemployed. So, as she was lamenting her underemployment one day over Chinese food, I wondered aloud, “Why don’t you come on the mission trip with us?”

She said yes.

The insurance company didn’t squawk about her being under 25 (thank you, Jesus!), and the dates worked out with her boss. On July 8, off she drove with one of two vans full of youth to Los Angeles, California, where she did her small part with rest of us to serve the homeless there.

I crabbed at her a little bit. She didn’t mind (too much). The youth crabbed at her a lot. Sorry, Bethany, I forgot to warn you that they’d start treating you like, well, a parent.   I thank God she was there the evening she kept her calm with a recalcitrant youth when I was ready to book the kid a flight home. These are the great gifts adult leaders offer one another on such trips.

Beth has lots of questions about the faith and probably even a few doubts, but, here’s the thing: she hasn’t given up looking for the answers. What more powerful witness to the youth than a young adult who hasn’t given up on Jesus? I can’t think of one.

Lots of things are wrong with American Christianity, but a lot of things are right, and Bethany is one of them.

Here’s the group in a parking garage at the Santa Monica Pier. Look closely at the young woman kneeling at the bottom of the picture. That’s Bethany, pretending to lick Zac Efron’s nipple. Gotta love it.

zac efron