Archive for November, 2011

More on Thanksgiving

November 30th, 2011 No comments

I wrote about thankfulness a while back, but I hadn’t seen this piece from the New York Times about the health benefits associated with gratitude:

Compared with a control group, the people keeping the gratitude journal were more optimistic and felt happier. They reported fewer physical problems and spent more time working out.

Further benefits were observed in a study of polio survivors and other people with neuromuscular problems. The ones who kept a gratitude journal reported feeling happier and more optimistic than those in a control group, and these reports were corroborated by observations from their spouses. These grateful people also fell asleep more quickly at night, slept longer and woke up feeling more refreshed.

Think about that: the Bible tells you to do something that will make you more optimistic and feel happier, that will help you get to sleep quicker, sleep longer, and wake up feeling more refreshed!

That’s in the Bible! It’s not just about drudgery imposed on us by a mean-spirited cosmic killjoy. In fact, it’s almost like our heavenly Father knows how to give good gifts.

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Something Wonderful: Hallelujah

November 29th, 2011 No comments

Here is something really special: the choir of King’s College, Cambridge, with a live performance of the Hallelujah Chorus from Handel’s Messiah. A good way to spend four minutes.

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Christmas Joy

November 28th, 2011 No comments

Make a joyful noise to God, all the earth;
sing the glory of his name;
give to him glorious praise. …
Come and see what God has done:
he is awesome in his deeds among mortals.
  —Psalm 66:1-2, 5

Christmas is all about joy. The angel told the shepherds not to be afraid, because he brought “good news of great joy for all the people” (Luke 2:10).

Even for non-believers, Christmas is a happy time. People give each other gifts. They spend time just thinking about their loved ones, and what sort of gift would be appropriate. They sing songs they love and eat food that’s probably not what the doctor would recommend.

For believers, Christmas is even more joyous. It’s a celebration of the fact that God loves us. God, who knows better than anyone just how unloveable we can be, loves us anyway–and Christmas is the proof. We know that God loves us, because instead of cutting us loose and walking away, he sent Jesus to save us.

That is the fact that makes all the difference. We still have problems, and sometimes our problems can seem almost overwhelming. But God loves us, and that knowledge enables us to face every other challenge with confidence. “If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all–how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?” (Romans 8:31-32)

The fact of Christmas is definitive proof that, no matter who (or what) is against us, God is and always will be “for us.”

It’s easy to forget that. That’s why people began celebrating Christmas. (There’s nothing in the Bible that tells us to do so.) But people wanted to remind themselves every year about this “good news for all the people.”

Do you know someone who might have forgotten that? Someone whose circumstances are so tough that they might think God isn’t for them? Perhaps someone who hasn’t attended church in so long that they’ve forgotten it? Or maybe you know someone who could just use an opportunity to enjoy themselves, hearing the familiar story and singing Christmas carols.

This Christmas, we’re going to have worship services where we can celebrate this “good news of great joy for all the people.” All the people–that means those of us who attend church all the time, and people who don’t.


I’ll be preaching a series called “Ornaments.” It will take a fresh look at all the familiar parts of the Christmas story. My prayer is that it will be like that moment when you take down the box of Christmas decorations, and smile as you see the one that brings back a special memory.

We’re going to sing all the favorite Christmas carols. If you’ve ever shopped at a department store or a grocery store in November, you’ll know the songs we’ll be singing this December.

This year, even the calendar is cooperating with us. Christmas falls on a Sunday, so if you aren’t able to join us for our Christmas Eve service, join us on Christmas morning instead!

And do bring a friend. The Psalmist invites us to “come and see what God has done.” This is the right time to do it: studies tell us that people are never more willing to accept an invitation to church than at Christmastime. So let’s invite them to join our celebration!

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Happy Thanksgiving!

November 21st, 2011 No comments

Do not worry about anything, but in everything
by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving
let your requests be made known to God.
—Philippians 4:6

In November, we make a point to do what Paul tells us in Philippians we should all the time: be thankful. Some of us are thankful all month, but almost everyone can be thankful for an hour or two on Thanksgiving Day.

I’ve written before how we are so blessed as a society and (almost all of us) as individuals that thankfulness is typically as easy as paying attention. So for example, the week I write this, I’m getting over a nasty cold. That hasn’t been a lot of fun, but I can be thankful it’s just a cold. I’m thankful my job lets me adjust my schedule and work from home. I have access to medicine, and, if I need one, a doctor.

Another example: someone cut Margo off in traffic, causing a lot of damage to both her car and Margo’s. But nobody was hurt! There are accidents on Highway 62 all the time, and a lot of them involve injury or even death. We can be thankful this wasn’t one of them. There were several witnesses who waited nearly an hour so they could make a statement to the police. A Southern California Edison crew was working nearby, and they moved a vehicle in front of the accident scene, so its blinking yellow light would alert oncoming traffic to watch out. And we have insurance. Even when things go badly, there are usually things you can be thankful for.

But not always. There are some things, and some circumstances, where even Pollyanna herself would find it hard to be thankful.

Psalm 105 and 106 are very instructive for times like that, when your circumstances are so bad that, try as you might, you simply can’t find anything to be thankful about. They begin, like Paul, exhorting us to thanksgiving.

O give thanks to the Lord, call on his name.
 make known his deeds among the peoples
Sing to him, sing praises to him;
 tell of all his wonderful works.

In those psalms, the Psalmist turns his attention from his circumstances to the history of Israel. He focuses on the grace and mercy that God has historically shown to his people, when they were delivered from captivity in Egypt:

… Then Israel came to Egypt;
Jacob lived as an alien in the land of Ham.
And the Lord made his people very fruitful
 and made them stronger than their foes …
He sent his servant Moses, and Aaron, whom he had chosen
They performed his signs among them,
 and miracles in the land of Ham…

Psalm 106 is similar, describing God’s subsequent faithfulness to Israel during the 40 years they were in the wilderness.

The story of deliverance from bondage in Egypt and God’s provision in the wilderness was something every child would have learned at a young age. When they’d tried, and there was nothing about their circumstances to be thankful for, they could think instead about God: how God loved them and intervened to liberate them and meet their needs.

What’s your favorite Bible story? For example, mine is the story of the Prodigal Son. It reminds me that no matter how horribly I have rebelled against God, he still loves me, and still runs to welcome me when I am still far off. If my circumstances are so bad I can be thankful for nothing else, I can be thankful for that much.

What can you be thankful for this year? I hope you are able to tick off things to be thankful for as quickly as you can think of your circumstances. But if not, think about your favorite Bible story, like the Israelites did when they sang Psalm 105 and 106. Those Bible stories remind us what God is like, and if there’s nothing else to be thankful for, at
least we have that much.

Happy thanksgiving!

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Kristof on Human Trafficking

November 17th, 2011 No comments

Nicholas Kristof has another column about the awful reality of human trafficking. (Reader discretion advised.)

So for those of you doubtful that “modern slavery” really is an issue for the new international agenda, think of Srey Pov—and multiply her by millions. If what such girls experience isn’t slavery, that word has no meaning. It’s time for a 21st-century abolitionist movement in the U.S. and around the world.

I agree. I don’t know how to solve that problem, but I like the work that Gary Haugen is doing at International Justice Mission. If you’re looking for an unconventional Christmas present, or a charity to support before the year-end, consider them.

(Via Alex Tabarrok at Marginal Revolution, who sadly concurs with that “millions” factor in Kristof’s article.)

Chi Rho

November 16th, 2011 No comments

Here’s a symbol you often see in churches:

Santa Maria in Trastevere

and in cemeteries:

Chi Rho alpha omega

The symbol is a sort of monogram or shorthand meaning “Christ,” and is formed from the first two letters of that word in Greek (“ΧΡΙΣΤΟ&#x03A3″). Those first two letters are, respectively, Chi (Χ) and Rho (Ρ).

The letter Chi is pronounced “key” or “khee.” It is a “ch” sound, as in chorus or charisma or the Scottish loch. Rho normally represents an “r” sound, except at the beginning of a word. There, Greek expects a breathy sort of sound, which is indicated with an “h” and is why English has hard-to-spell words like “rhythm” and “rhapsody” and “rhinoceros.”

This symbol is (very imaginatively) called the “Chi Rho,” from the two Greek letters from which it is formed. As the 2nd picture shows, the “Chi Rho” symbol often appears with two other Greek letters, the “Alpha” (Α) and the “Omega” (Ω) used to describe Jesus in Revelation 1:8. Although it’s made of two disctinct letters, the “Chi Rho” is a symbol in its own right, and has its own Unicode value and everything! (U+2627, &#x2627)

Anyway, I mention it because we’re headed into what is now often called the “Holiday Season.” On the increasingly rare occasions when the name of the holiday appears, it is written as “X-mas” rather than “Christmas.”

I’ve known people who got all bent out of shape over the “X” in “X-mas” as if it were somehow demeaning to Christ to use an abbreviation. But as these ancient monograms show, the “Chi” (along with the “Rho”) is actually an perfectly legitimate symbol for Christ. There’s nothing demeaning about it. But call it “Khee-mas” instead of “eks-mas” if you want to be an egghead about it!