“The Road Goes on Forever, and the Party Never Ends”

I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.John 13:34, NRSV

There’s nothing like a quote from the famous Robert Earl Keen song to set the tone for a post, and you can’t lose when reinforcing it with the beloved New Commandment. So what do these two very different snippets have to do with one another? Follow me!

After Epiphany closed the Christmas season this past Sunday, I have been reflecting on the major Christian holy days and how celebrating them should impact us today. These days honor various aspects of Jesus’ life and ministry, so it would make sense for there to be some application for his disciples beyond just remembering what happened 2,000 years ago. So far, I’ve discerned one major reason for keeping these holy days (all of them) sacred in our lives.

They are all happening, all the time.

I know that sounds like some “new age” stuff, but it’s true. The Exodus, the mystery of the Incarnation, the crucifixion, the resurrection, the ascension, and the coming of the Holy Spirit are all realities here and now, in this life, in this moment. And they should be, otherwise we run the risk of denying the true power of these events for the sake of some mere, lame commemoration.

Each of us knows the difficulty of changing our lives for the better, of growing in relationship with God and moving from sin to life (Exodus). We know what it is to marvel at, question, or even deny the idea of a God that would take on flesh for us (Incarnation), even if it it shows indirectly as a questioning of our own value. All people know the reality of suffering and death (Crucifixion), and the importance of hope and restoration in the midst of it, ultimately leading to victory (Resurrection and Ascension). We know what it is to be inspired, and to be filled with the drive to use our gifts for the betterment of the world (Pentecost).

The problem comes when we fail to see the life of Christ in our own and vice versa. We get too caught up in the “Crucifixion” moments to remember what hope feels like. We are too consumed with our victories and comfort to remember that suffering is still a reality for many that we have a responsibility to ease.

We lose compassion for one another when we forget that all of us are sinners on the road to the promised land. Perhaps most tragically, when we lose sight of the Incarnation, we fail to recognize all others as brothers and sisters for whom God took on human flesh and died. When we limit these realities to seasons and days, we lose sight of the fact that they indeed are realities.

Christ lived with eternity in mind. He loved with eternity in mind. In eternity, everything echoes at once, without regard for day, year, or time. If we are to love as he does, we also must keep eternity in mind, letting these holy realities shape our daily lives.

It is my prayer that you will join me in living this new year in light of the reality of Christ’s life. May we all remember who we are, who God is, and what responsibilities come with that identity. Above all, whatever situation rings true for you right now, I pray that you will know how loved and valued you really are.

Peace be with you!

Focus, Please

May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope. — Romans 15:13, RSVCE

We had our weekly Bible study at the church last night, and we managed to finish our study of Revelation. I love studying the Revelation to John, though many people are put off by its intense and foreign metaphors and imagery. It took me a long time to crack it open and appreciate the depth and meaning behind each passage, and the most important lesson I learned from Revelation, which translates to the entire Bible, is to be careful not to miss the forest for the trees.

We as 21st Century humans tend to get lost in the details. With Revelation, all of the gore, death, plagues, and judgments snag onto us, and we end up so worried about the who’s, what’s, and when’s that we forget what the letter was designed to convey. By the same token, while I may post a lot of stuff about what it means to think, act, and live according to the faith, it can sometimes be easy for me or my readers to forget the underlying truth that serves as the foundation of the Scriptures and traditions of the Church.

Paul sums this truth up wonderfully in his letter to the Romans when he offers up the short blessing at the top of this post. For all his theological explorations, moral exhortations, and apologetic explanations, Paul brings his readers back to center by invoking a blessing from God that perfectly describes the intent of the entire Gospel. God seeks to give us “joy and peace in believing,” that through our Christian faith we might receive the presence of the Holy Spirit which fuels us with real, substantive hope.

Faith in Christ is not designed to fill you with guilt or a sense of responsibility for solving all of the world’s problems. It’s true, Christian religion should produce works in us that help channel God’s grace to others and transform the world for the better. We should be made humble enough to recognize our sinful nature, calling upon God to restore to us the Divine image He always meant for us to have. The purpose of all of this, however, is to provide believers with a sense of joy and peace.

We are to be filled with joy knowing that we are all fearfully and wonderfully made. Each of us is here on purpose, and we are redeemed by the love of a God in Whose eyes we are worth dying for. A sense of peace should fill us at the knowledge that God has already overcome the negative powers of this world, and they are just slow to catch on. We no longer have to stand in the fear of death which makes us act sinfully. Rather, we are free to recklessly love each other as Christ did for us.

Finally, there is hope. You may have noticed that I added the words “real” and “substantive” to the word “hope” earlier, and this is because we have had hope peddled to us in very shallow and insulting ways for a long time. We’ve been promised health, security, and happiness if we just looked a certain way, feared certain people, or had a certain amount of guns. False gospels preach that God will always be on our side if we but “plant that thousand dollar seed” in some scoundrel’s televised ministry. All of this is garbage, and a mockery of what hope actually is.

Real hope is something that fuels your life. It takes root in your soul and is unshakable. It enables you to think, speak, and act in ways you never thought you could. Hope is the belief that what we see is not the end, and that a better reality is coming and is already here.

I plan to write more stuff that gets into the “nitty-gritty.” After all, details are fairly important. What’s more important, however, is that we remember the point of it all. God’s will is that you and I live our lives with true joy and peace, and that our faith in Him might spark hope in us. This hope is rooted in our identity as beloved children of God, the love of that God that defeated the grave, and the understanding that the best is yet to come.

Peace be with you!