Although Romans is aptly seen as Paul's greatest theological statement, I think of it as his ode to God's unequaled love. Some see today's text as affirmation of the doctrine of predestination, that each of us comes into this world with a predetermined pattern of destiny. Such an interpretation denies grace and God's very character.
I had been building a relationship with an acquaintance in our city, but hit a stone wall when I urged him to accept Christ. Without animosity he explained: “I've watched churches all my life and notice you fight over all kinds of ideas and doctrines. I can't see myself becoming part of a religion that always seems to be fighting while claiming to represent God's love.”
No nonsense! This is Paul's clear statement to a young man serving Christ in a very difficult situation. But don't hurry through the words as though they only apply to a pastor, because we are all challenged by God's grace to live as his ministers in our circumstances.
Through the years I have admired many people for their hard choices, integrity, accomplishments or sacrifices. None of my heroes have been perfect, but they share one characteristic: each one has made a key choice that empowered them to make the world a better for someone else, often at great personal expense. What would you be willing to give up to help someone find the life-changing grace of God?
Today is THE day! Hallelujah! From your facial expression, although you are at church, you look stressed, exhausted and not in a “hallelujah” mood. You have gotten beyond the Thanksgiving family gathering, the Macy's parade, decorating the house, buying the gifts, keeping a schedule of all the school-church-community events, volunteering at the holiday pantry, getting out the Christmas cards and cooking! That sleepy little town of Bethlehem sounds alluring. Merry Christmas! Celebrate!
Please don't misunderstand me. The Christmas story is not a childhood fantasy, a concocted mixture of a little prince who grows up in poverty, is rescued from obscurity to become a handsome king and lives happily ever after. Childhood doesn't last forever and happiness will not be found in any fantasy of power or wealth.
We have just gone through a grueling election, now followed by shock, despair, joy and questions. What next? Will this change produce positive solutions for rank and file people, world tensions and the future? What about all those campaign promises and threats?
In the magnificence of Salisbury Cathedral of England I discovered a quiet little side chapel that contains the martyrs’ candle. It is a place where you can meditate on the lives of all those who have been killed because of their faith in Jesus Christ. At the altar there is a large candle, but instead of a glass cylinder shielding it there is a spiral of barbed wire to which are attached various symbols of violence, warfare and suffering.
As a young child my anticipation intensified as the time approached to go to my grandparents in Chicago for Christmas. Grandmother's unusual nativity scene included a lot more than most. It included sheep, cows, chickens, ducks, kittens, and puppies alongside the familiar camels and donkey. I would lay on my stomach and rearrange the figures that surrounded baby Jesus. That was my introduction to the magic called Christmas.
Forgive my sports metaphor, but last night as I write this, the Chicago Cubs won the World Series after 108 years. That's a long time and a lot of disappointments for Cub fans to hold on to hope, but the dream came true!