San Diego Winter Confrence

Josh and I will be at the San Diego winter confrence all week with 800 something students from the pacific southwest, including 10-12 students from SF State. Please be praying that the Lord would work powerfully this week and create a major "shift" (our theme this year) in their lives and perspective because of their interactions with Christ.

Also, if you want to watch the main sessions live (featuring amazing speakers) go to

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The Story of Silent Night

The story of the hymn Silent Night was on the radio today and it made me cry, both tears of joy and anger. During WWI, in 1914 on Christmas Day, a temporary truce was called on the battlefields between the German and British armies and enemy soldiers came together to give gifts and care for the dead who previously were in limbo in No Man’s Land between the trenches. As they came together they sang the only Christmas song both sides knew, Silent Night, a hymn written nearly 100 years before in Austria where it was unknown for years except for the small town in the Alps where it was written until a visiting organ maker got a hold of the sheet music and gave it to a traveling family minstrel group (think the Von Trap family in The Sound of Music) who began to sing the song as they traveled Europe. Eventually the song grew in popularity was translated from German to English and today remains one of the most beloved of all Christmas hymns.

So why the tears this morning? As I drove and listened to a particularly quiet, haunting version sung by Sinead O’Connor, I thought of what a beautiful picture of Christ entering the world the story of the Christmas day truce and the soldiers singing together is. In the midst of war, death, horror, untold pain, courage, cowardice, mud, grime, filth, no man’s land and trenches, there was a moment of peace, where Christ was exalted by soldiers who had no reason to worship and sing other than being alive. This moment of clarity in the midst of such evil, death and darkness is a wonderful picture of what the birth of Jesus was and is to a world ravaged by sin and death. The joy of the birth of Christ of course, is that he grew up and went on to live the life we never could and defeated death and evil on the cross; the birth is the decisive moment of God entering into the world, putting his plan in motion. A plan that involved God himself suffering, experiencing a fallen world, God himself having people die for His sake (the young boys murdered by Herod after the rumor of the coming King reached him) before He died for all creation’s. It would be akin to the generals who were leading the insanity of WWI entering into those trenches, seeing No Man’s Land and experiencing the suffering and death there. Of course those generals were the problem not the solution but you get the point. The joy of the birth of Jesus is that He is Emmanuel, God with us in the midst of it all.
What angered me to tears when I heard the story this morning was the tragedy that after they sang together and exchanged gifts, after Christmas was over, the war continued, death marched on and hundreds of thousands more were lost due to the evil, prideful, nationalistic, sinful stubbornness of a few men sitting comfortably in their chateaus and castles. The same awful men who condemned the Christmas Truce treasonous. Of course I am simplifying things a bit but even the complicated truth is just as insane and stupid. What angers me is why evil like that exists in a world where I believe, sin and death are already defeated, the outcome is final but the game is still going on so to speak. I wish I understood, I wish I had an answer but I don’t and I come to a fork in the road, a decision I have to make: either I reject Jesus and choose to believe such evil is a part of human life that will never change or be defeated or I surrender my ignorance and frustration to Jesus and choose to follow Him with all I am and hold on to the hope He promised, that one day He will rid the world finally and decisively of all the ravages of sin and heal a fallen creation. For me the character of Jesus wins out, the evidence of his astounding faithfulness in my life, the moments I have seen his restorative healing love trump evil cause me to trust in him, like a child trusts his father when He says one day the hope promised will come to be final. It doesn’t change the anger that wells up when injustice is allowed to triumph over justice but it causes me to trust God’s ultimate justice is coming, in His timing, to rid the world of evil and that He is God with us now, in the midst. That is the hope of Christmas, the joy of Jesus, the future hope promised to us.
*As a small footnote, such faith and trust in God’s ultimate justice shouldn’t lead to an escapist (and in my opinion very American evangelical) mentality of screw the world lets just focus on heaven. The whole point of such a future hope is that we would reflect Jesus in the here and now and allow the Holy Spirit to work through us to bring the future into the presence, to bring the hope, message, and active love of Jesus into the world around us. I realize I am just repeating a theme I often repeat on this blog but when I see on TV that you can buy an American flag colored Christmas tree with a freaking CROSS in the middle of it I get kind of depressed and feel the need to reiterate it.
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Zechariah in the Christmas Story

This past weekend I had the pleasure of seeing The King’s Speech, a movie about King George the 6th of England and the relationship he had with his speech therapist. The movie is incredible, and if Colin Firth and Geoffrey Rush don’t win Oscars for their respective performances I am no judge of good acting (which I am not, I am a missionary not an actor). Anyway, the movie tells the story of King George’s battle with a lifelong stutter and how he eventually finds his voice at the time when his country needs a pillar of strength and courage to look to as they plunged headlong into war with Hitler’s Germany.

So what does this have to do with Christmas? Well the story of Bertie, as King George is called in the film, reminded me somewhat of Zechariah’s story in the Gospel of Luke and it got me thinking of that often lost portion of the Advent.

The story of Zechariah is a story of helplessness. To be helpless is a fault in our world, a characteristic reserved for children. In fact, the entirety of our modern education system is really devoted to unmaking our helplessness and furthering our independence as individuals. To experience true, humbling helplessness can be somewhat of a shock. And yet the Bible is very clear in its insistence that we are indeed in desperate need of help from our God who loves us.

Nowhere is this more poignantly realized than in Luke’s Christmas story. From Mary to Joseph to Zechariah to Elizabeth to the infant Jesus himself, each character in one form or another displays a wonderful lack of control and a desperate dependence on the Lord and his faithfulness. For Zechariah, the father of John the Baptist, the story begins with a visit from Gabriel, the arch-angel. Zechariah is a priest who loved God and obeyed his commandments blamelessly, and yet his life has already been marked by the helplessness of being unable to become a father. How humbling and heartbreaking an experience it must be for a husband and wife who want to make the transition to loving father and mother but are unable to. As Zechariah and Elizabeth’s age increased so did the murmurs of their family, neighbors, town and society. Zechariah was a man with no heir, no child to carry on his legacy and family. How hard it must have been on his faith that the God who the Psalms promise “will give you the desires of your heart” had not and had left him and his wife barren. It is a testament to Zechariah’s faith that he continued to dutifully love and obey God in spite of this.
So imagine his audacity when he is visited by Gabriel who, speaking on behalf of God, promises a child. Imagine the pain that reestablished itself in Zechariah’s heart, the wounds which were reopened as he heard this promise and simultaneously recalled moment after moment of bitter disappointment, of dashed hopes and of angry pleas to God seemingly unheard. You can almost hear the defeat in his voice as he remembers time after time when he felt deep in his soul Elizabeth was pregnant, only to have those feelings give way to the crushing reality that she was not. “How shall I know this,” he whispers, barely audible, “I am an old man and my wife is past child bearing age.”

And Gabriel responds, “I am Gabriel, I stand in the presence of the perfect, holy and good God.” Its interesting that Gabriel, in the midst of Zechariah’s pain and doubt affirms the greatness of God, something Zechariah, a priest no less, needed to be reminded of in that moment. And then Zechariah’s mouth is shut and Gabriel tells him, you will see the goodness of God, the wonderful plan he has laid out for you all along. Watch only and do not protest as the Lord takes one of the darkest, most painful corners of your existence and turns it into joy and gladness. “Many will rejoice,” Gabriel says, “your community will look at Elizabeth, see your son, and be themselves reminded of the wonder and glory of God.” And Zechariah is left silent, helplessly awaiting the fulfillment of a promised hope again. How constantly he must have wondered in his silence, if God would really come through this time. His helplessness before the Lord would have increased each day as his hope and fear grew. As Elizabeth began to show, his heart would have leapt, ‘could this really be?’

But in all the days leading up to the birth of his son, never did he experience the depth and completeness of his utter dependence on God like the day his son was born. As he saw his son for the first time, as he held him close how Zechariah’s heart must have pounded and how helpless he must have felt before the glory of God, his awe complete, his dependence pure, his faith void of doubt, his pride destroyed, his fears vanquished, his hopes fully realized, he stood before his God completely and utterly helpless and did the only thing one could do in the moment; he found his voice again and praised the King of Kings.
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