True Thanksgiving

This past Sunday our senior pastor gave a very helpful sermon on "Jesus in Our Celebrations." In anticipation of the Thanksgiving holiday, he closed his message with an illustration of the 17th century German hymnwriter Martin Rinkart, who composed the famous Thanksgiving hymn, "Now Thank We All Our God." Apparently, this pastor-hymnwriter wrote the hymn during the Black Plague and the 30 Years' War. The point, we were told, was to give thanks to God despite our circumstances, knowing that God was indeed good to us no matter what.

After the service, I was approached by a church member leading in tow at least 7 Sudanese "Lost Children" who are refugees connected to our congregation. I had the privilege of praying for them after the service and then one of the men remarked to me: "I really liked the pastor's point about giving thanks in all circumstances. That's a good lesson. That's what I want to do." Considering all he'd been through, the horrible atrocities and the violent uprooting from his country, I was moved to tears. If he can give thanks despite the human rights violations, the terrible injustice, his separation from friends and family, so can we. His sincerity and spiritual focus were staggering. What an example and challenge he gave me. Now thank we all our God, indeed.

Help Wanted: Savior

For many in our country, the feelings of hope surrounding the election of Barack Obama were palpable. Who will forget the shining faces of old and young, black and white, Asian and others, who gathered at Grant Park in Chicago on Election Night? Surely, this hope (audacious or not!) was sharpened by the grave circumstances surrounding the election: Americans were sobered and scared by plunging, catastrophic Dow industrial averages, wholescale destruction among lenders, as well as an automotive industry brought to its knees. Add to these things two simultaneous wars against global jihad, the challenges of climate change, and hope in these circumstances has a desperate tinge to it. More than ever, Americans want a leader to rescue them, to deliver them from these threats and re-establish peace, prosperity, and security. Would it be too much of a stretch to say that in Obama, some (consciously or not) are looking for a Savior?

"Desperate times call for desperate measures." They also call for talented leaders. But talented or not, there's a limit to what leaders can deliver, particularly in these times. I'm all for audacious hope; I'm deeply encouraged by the promise of Obama's leadership. However, I know that beneath these hopes and longings for a leader to deliver us lies something much more ancient and profound. You see, our challenging times only reveal certain aspects of a much more desperate predicament: we are living in a world under siege by enemies, not greedy corporate executives or wild-eyed religious fanatics, but enemies of the human race which afflict it in every way--in sickness and disease, in poverty and injustice, in drought and famine, in war and holocaust, in abuse and torture and unspeakable brutality. We have needed a deliverer ever since we were evicted east of Eden. Obama can't be our Savior; neither could Churchill or FDR or Jack or Bobby Kennedy. The problems are too profound; the crisis too desperate. These moments of vulnerability we're feeling today are teachable moments for us: these recent crises have knocked us off our high horse. We realize now just how fragile our American dreams are--and along with them, our lifestyle of privilege and expectation.

Some of you familiar with the Bible will recall the story of Israel's deep desire for a king amidst some turbulent, uncertain times. Granted, they always had the Lord to lead them as their king, but they wanted something more tangible, more tactical. They wanted a tall, strong leader--broad shouldered and handsome; Saul, in this case, was their man. And the Lord warned them against it. The rest would be history--tragedy, really. Saul didn't deliver and, on the balance, neither did Kings David or Solomon. Only one coming King could meet the need, the one born in Bethlehem. It's this coming King we may lean our hopes upon. His kingdom is without end and his reign will rid us of those greatest afflictions.

As we move into the season of Advent (and this Sunday, November 23 is Christ the King Sunday!), may we use the hope and longing we feel so powerfully in our country now, to steer us to this King who will not fail.

Praying for Our President-Elect

First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings should be made for everyone, for kings and all who are in high positions, so that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and dignity. This is right and is acceptable in the sight of God our Saviour, who desires everyone to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.
Paul's First Letter to Timothy

Regardless of your political persuasion, last night was an historic occasion. As a nation, we've just elected a new young leader and the first African-American president in our history. It seems Obama's campaign was won on the promise of change and a new way of doing politics. He now faces some of the most daunting circumstances of any new president. As Christians, we're always called to pray for our leaders. Perhaps now more than ever, I feel that need to pray God's wisdom be given Obama beyond his years and experience. To pray for discernment in appointing cabinet officials and key leaders. To pray for a sense of timeliness and insight in setting priorities. To pray for his physical health and safety--and that of his family. The burden of leadership can be crushing, and never more than in the current circumstances. So, if you're a praying person, would you join me in lifting Barack Obama before the throne of grace? Scripture commands it and the circumstances necessitate it. Thanks.