No Easy Hope

In September of 1915, one year into the First World War, eighteen-year-old John Kipling (known as Jack) died during the Battle of the Loos.  Grieving his son's death, British author and poet Rudyard Kipling wrote his poem, "My Boy Jack."  It begins:
"Have you news of my boy Jack?"
Not this tide.
"When d'you think that he'll come back?"

Jack never came back.  His death was among many and it was the result of a war that his father felt was worth fighting.

Exactly one year prior to Jack's wartime death, Rudyard composed a poem entitled, "For All We Have and Are."  In verse, Kipling speaks to the dignity and necessity of facing war; of standing for family, nation and freedom.  Hear his poetic word here in part.

For all we have and are,
For all our children’s fate,
Stand up and take the war.
The Hun is at the gate!
Our world has passed away
In wantonness o’erthrown.
There is nothing left to-day
But steel and fire and stone!
Though all we knew depart,
The old Commandments stand—
“In courage keep your heart,
In strength lift up your hand.”
No easy hope or lies
Shall bring us to our goal,
But iron sacrifice
Of body, will, and soul.
There is but one task for all—
One life for each to give.
What stands if Freedom fall?
Who dies if England live?

I can't help but wonder if the gifted poet's words from September, 1914, played in his head in September, 1915.  He stated with conviction that:

For all we have and are,
For all our children’s fate,
Stand up and take the war.
Then his child's fate led to a grave.  His boy Jack died for his nation, England . . .  for family, nation and freedom. 

Listen to the theme.  A father who recognizes the perilous situation in which his nation stands, advocates for the war effort - a war effort in which his son engages.  In fact, the father used his influence to ensure that his son received a commission in the war.  In other words, the father sent his son into the war.

Does that sound familiar?

On Christmas Eve, we will pause in the midst of holiday chaos to celebrate a birthday - the Lord's birthday.

Everyone's birth is unique.  Babies are born in hospitals, homes, and cars that hit too many red lights.  Parents hold their newborns close and, if they call on the Divine, pray for their child's safety and health.  A proud father soon thereafter puffs out his chest and parades his daughter before all who will attend (and even a few who care not to).  A thankful mother soon thereafter feels a healthy sense of pride that that child is her son.

Jesus' birth was likewise unique.  Yes, it took place in an unlikely location - a manger.  And, yes, the first visitors were daunted heaven-struck shepherds.  But those facts are not the most interesting examples of his birth's uniqueness.  Even the fact that his mother birthed a child without having known a man - while certainly, interesting - is not, I believe, the most astounding piece.  Rather, the most interesting (indeed startling) aspect of Jesus' birth is the fact that, as Paul wrote in Philippians 2 . . .


More Stuff

He spoke in extremes.

"No man can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to one, and despise the other. Ye cannot serve God and mammon"(Matthew 6:24). 
No wiggle room there!  The Lord Jesus chose the Aramaic word “mammon” in reference to riches because the word’s root is associated with the act of trusting.  His message is clear.  Each person who would follow in the Jesus Way cannot simultaneously trust in God (the Provider) and riches (the stuff on earth). 

You and I, however, live in the world of Black Friday, zero % interest loans, endless credit card offers, and the American Dream.  Considering that stores opened before the Thanksgiving turkey meal was digested, most of us find it difficult to count our blessings without doing the math to figure how soon we can buy and therefore count higher.  

It is time to trust in Who rather than What.

I delight in knowing that I will join with my church family on December 24th to sing praises to God for His gift of Jesus. 

I look forward to ripping wrapping paper and reaching into my gingerbread man-adorned stocking. 

I smile in anticipation of watching my daughter and sons bolt down the stairs on the 25th. 

I pray that my wife likes what I picked out. 

Eagerness for Christmas, however, should not overshadow Advent.  The season of Advent helps us to avoid the trap of mammon.  It helps us focus on what really matters - to trust the only One worth serving. 

December 2nd marked the first Sunday of a four-week observance of Advent (a coming). 

Christian believers look forward to that day which the Apostle Paul referred to as “the blessed hope – the glorious appearing” (Titus 2:13).  On that day the great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, will appear. 

While Christmas reminds us of Jesus’ first arrival, Advent declares the promise of His return - His second arrival.  Christmas without Advent is a reflection on an historical event alone.  Advent, while allowing time to look back, draws our attention forward so that we can look forward to God coming to set all things right. 

No matter how much we buy, even if everything in our shopping bag is 40% off, we will tire of the gifts sooner than we think.  How many shoes do you really need?  How many rifles does it really take to bag next year’s game?  Do you really just have to have the newest iPhone?  If you must, go ahead and buy it.  But don’t count on any purchase to bring you happiness. 

I am no Grinch.  I will buy and open as you do.  Yet, I sure hope that I will remember to count my blessings before I do and not pout if the number, as it increases, does not include that certain “must have.”  Join me, won’t you? 


The Highest Love

Three hundred and ten years ago, Issac Watts penned the lyrics to the still-oft-sung hymn, "When I Survey The Wondrous Cross."  In one verse, Wells wrote . . .
Were this whole realm of nature mine

That were a present far too small

Love so amazing, so divine

Demands my soul, my life, my all

Love so amazing!

Two blogs ago I focused on the need and value of platonic love.  Last week, the focus was on romantic love.  Today I write of Divine Love, the highest love of all.  Watts was willing to give up "the whole realm" for love.  All other loves flow from God's love.

We love because he first loved us.
1 John 4:19 (NIV)
Because of Jesus, His followers live on a two-way road of love -- God's love toward us and ours toward Him.  While His love is perfect, ours is flawed; yet, He receives it nonetheless.

Two days ago, the Christian Season of Advent began.  Advent celebrates anticipation.  Advent observers imagine the anticipation of those BC "waiters" upon the arrival of the Messiah and imagine with equal anticipation His AD return.  He will return with love at the ready.  He, as Creator and Savior, will welcome His followers home.

While we wait, we anticipate and we (if we are doing as we should) love as He first loved us.  That kind of love begins with worship.  To love God is to worship God. 

During this season of Advent, determine to love God through worship.  How?  I share some suggestions.
1. Attend a worship service.
2. Read Luke, chapter two.
3. Read Colossians, chapter one.
4. Read 2 Peter, chapter three.
5. Listen to (and sing along with) songs of worship.
6. Drive to a spot of beauty and thank God for His craftsmanship.
7. Thank God for helping you through your difficult time.
8. Write a "thank you" note to God.

See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are!
1 John 3:1a (NIV)