What Others Say

Mr. Tinsley, thank you for your well-written and insightful article about Luther.
I shared it with my children during family worship. It lifted us up.
Warmly, Kari.

Monday, December 31, 2012

New Beginnings

As with every other New Year, this is a week of celebration, in spite of a dysfunctional congress and the "fiscal cliff."  Many will make the trek to New York to watch the ball drop in Times Square. Most of us will gather with family and friends to welcome 2013 and the beginning of a new year.

New beginnings are exciting: weddings with candles and flowers, beautiful bridesmaids, handsome groomsmen, laughter, toasts and dancing with the bride; the birth of a baby wrapped in blankets, showered with gifts; graduations with speeches about dreams and possibilities followed by posed photos that will hang on living room walls; a new job; a new home. Starting anew stirs our juices.

New beginnings are filled with excitement, optimism, and hope as well as fear, doubt and worry. Weddings are fun, but making a marriage can be hard work. Babies are cute, but raising a child can be difficult. Graduation marks a significant achievement, but, finding a job and advancing in a chosen career can be daunting.

We cannot predict our future. Not all newlyweds who leave the marriage altar showered with rice, petals and birdseed will experience a life-long relationship of love and fulfillment. Not all babies will grow to maturity surviving the pitfalls of drugs and violence. Not all graduates find career positions that fulfill their dreams. But, we are all called to something new, something significant.

God always calls us forward into new beginnings. He is always starting something new. He beckons us to leave the old and familiar to follow Him on a journey of discovery into places we have never been. He encourages us to calm our fears and exchange our doubts for faith. He challenges us to trust in Him for a better future and a better day.

When God called Abraham, He called him from his familiar home to follow Him into a strange land. God promised, “I will bless you … and you shall be a blessing.” (Genesis 12:2). Abraham’s step of faith to follow God into a new beginning changed history.

To Isaiah, God said, "Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past. See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the desert and streams in the wasteland.” (Isa. 43:18-19). Paul wrote, “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone. The new has come.” 2 Cor. 5:17).

If our minds are open to new things, and our hearts are open to faith, 2013 can be the start of something special.

Monday, December 24, 2012

Sunrise Seasonthe

I sat in the pre-dawn dark, watched the gathering glow in the east and heard the first bird break the stillness with song. Soon others joined in the gathering light until they filled the air with a chorus celebrating the break of day. It was as if the birds had waited through the long hours of darkness wondering if the sun would return, and, once it did, they were delirious with joy.

We sometimes feel that way, when the darkness closes in on us, as it has this Christmas season with the slaughter of innocent children in Connecticut. We sometimes wonder, as the birds seem to do, if the dawn of light and goodness will ever again dispel the darkness of violence and pain.

I have watched the sun rise over the snow-covered hills of Minnesota, painting the landscape with crimson and gold, its light sparking like diamonds on ice covered limbs. I have watched the sun stain the eastern horizon with purple and gray before penetrating the breaking clouds with shafts of gold. I have watched the day dawn over the mountains of Montana and Switzerland. I have seen it transform the sea into pink and purple waves. I watched the sunrise on the first day of the new millennium, bursting above the horizon as a brilliant ball of light in a clear blue sky.

The sunrise is the perfect symbol for God’s intervention into our world.

When Jesus’ cousin, John, was born, his father, Zechariah understood the importance of his son’s birth. For nine months he had reflected on the angel’s announcement to him in the temple that he would have a son in his old age. He had been mute throughout Elizabeth’s pregnancy. But when John was born, his tongue was loosed and he burst into praise. He said, “And you, my child, will be called a prophet of the Most High; for you will go on before the Lord to prepare the way for him, to give his people the knowledge of salvation through the forgiveness of their sins, because of the tender mercy of our God, by which the rising sun will come to us from heaven to shine on those living in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the path of peace.” (Luke 1:76-79).

In every generation, those who have faith have seen the sunrise of God. Darkness cannot conquer it. Corrie Ten Boom and Dietrich Bonhoffer saw it during the dark days of Hitler’s holocaust. Louis Zamparini discovered it after surviving the Japanese POW camps. Rachel Scott and Cassie Bernall bore witness to it during the massacre at Columbine. The Amish of Lancaster County, Pennsylvania gave testimony to it after their daughters were gunned down in a one-room school. And thousands have borne witness this week in Connecticut to that light that refuses to be extinguished.

This is what John meant when he wrote, “In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. … The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.” (John 1:4-14).

Monday, December 17, 2012

Connecticut Christmas

Before last week a “Connecticut Christmas” would have conjured up Christmas card images: flocked evergreens, multicolored lights glistening on snow-covered streets, children sledding in the park, smoke curling from chimneys where families gather around the warm glow of the fireplace. But today, after the tragic slaughter of innocent children, a “Connecticut Christmas” leaves us chilled and confused.

As the news broke, I found myself not wanting to listen, not wanting to be disturbed by the painful images and stories. But the awful events seep their way into our consciousness. I found myself watching little children singing Christmas carols at church on Sunday and thinking about those who died in Newtown. I cannot stop thinking about the families with presents already wrapped underneath the tree and no little hands to unwrap them. I can’t help putting myself in the place of mothers and fathers whose pain is too deep for words. I find myself wanting to weep, wishing that this kind of evil were not present in the world, wishing that the innocent did not suffer, that injustice and violence did not exist. I found myself asking how God could let something like this happen.

As I thought about these things I was reminded that we have made Christmas into an escape filled with fantastic fairy tales complete with elves and flying reindeer. We have created a nativity filled with serenity and peace. But the actual birth of Jesus was anything but serene and peaceful. Mary and Joseph were in Bethlehem to pay taxes, thrown into unfamiliar surroundings with no place to stay. The stable was a last resort. And evil was already stalking the baby that Mary bore. What we are feeling in the wake of Connecticut is not far removed from what was felt in Bethlehem.

The Magi who came seeking the newborn King unwittingly tipped Herod off to his birth. After they refused to report his birth, Herod sent his death squad to kill him. Matthew wrote, “When Herod realized that he had been outwitted by the Magi, he was furious, and he gave orders to kill all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity who were two years old and under, in accordance with the time he had learned from the Magi. Then what was said through the prophet Jeremiah was fulfilled: “A voice is heard in Ramah, weeping and great mourning, Rachel weeping for her children and refusing to be comforted, because they are no more.” (Matthew 2:16-18).

Being warned in a dream that the child Jesus was in danger, Joseph fled with Mary and the baby and went into hiding. But before he left the region, they visited Jerusalem where the prophet Simeon predicted what was to come. “This child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be spoken against, so that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed. And a sword will pierce your own soul too.” (Luke 2:34-35).

The power of that first Christmas is found in the fact that God embraced the confusing cruelty of our world. It was in the midst of evil, pain and suffering that Jesus was born. It was precisely because of the senseless evil in this world that God sent His Son. He came to give His own innocent life as a ransom for our sins. He conquered death by His resurrection and one day He will remove the evil from this world by His return.

Monday, December 10, 2012

The Question in the Manger

Last week my aunt, a devout believer in her 80s, asked me if there will be animals in Heaven. Perhaps it is a good question to ask during this season when live nativity scenes spring up in every town complete with donkeys, goats, sheep, cows and camels. If live animals were important to the birth of Christ, maybe they will be important in Heaven.

Dietrich Bonhoffer, the twentieth century theologian and martyr, once counseled a ten-year-old boy whose German Shepherd died. The boy was distraught. He asked Bonhoffer if his dog would be in Heaven. Bonhoffer said, “I quickly made up my mind and said to him: ‘Look, God created human beings and also animals, and I’m sure he also loves animals. And I believe that with God it is such that all who loved each other on earth – genuinely loved each other – will remain together with God …”

Man, of course, was made in God’s image. God breathed into us the breath of life and we became a living soul. But God’s love for all creatures in his creation is abundantly clear. When God made the world and all that is in it, he included the animal kingdom. After He had divided the light from darkness, brought form out of chaos and fashioned the continents and oceans, He filled the earth with living things: fish, birds and beasts (in that order). Before man ever walked the earth, when the world was as He planned it to be, “God saw that it was good.”

After sin entered the world, mankind sank deeper into selfishness, deceit, violence, murder and rebellion against the Creator. When God’s judgment could be postponed no longer, He sent a catastrophic flood. But God showed his love for man and beast by providing a means of escape through Noah’s ark. God instructed Noah, “You are to bring into the ark two of all living creatures, male and female, to keep them alive with you. Two of every kind of bird, of every kind of animal and of every kind of creature that moves along the ground will come to you to be kept alive. You are to take every kind of food that is to be eaten and store it away as food for you and for them.” (Genesis 6:19-21). God’s love for all living things was further reflected in Jesus’ statement that not one sparrow falls to the ground outside the Father’s care.

Looking forward to the day when the Messiah’s Kingdom would replace our world, Isaiah wrote: “The wolf will live with the lamb, the leopard will lie down with the goat, the calf and the lion and the yearling together; and a little child will lead them. The cow will feed with the bear, their young will lie down together, and the lion will eat straw like the ox. … They will neither harm nor destroy on all my holy mountain, for the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the LORD as the waters cover the sea.” (Isaiah 11:6-9).

If God so loved us that he blessed us with the companionship and service of animals on earth and chose them to surround the birth of His Son, would He withhold His love from us in Heaven by depriving us of these creatures who shared our mortal joys and sorrows? Is it possible that having demonstrated his glory in the beauty and balance of nature in this world that the new heaven and the new earth would be limited to men and angels?

Monday, December 3, 2012

Kingdom Trailers

Last week we finally made it to see Spielberg’s movie, “Lincoln.” After reading a number of Lincoln biographies, including Sandburg’s “Lincoln,” William Hernden’s original “Life of Lincoln” and the book upon which this movie is based, Doris Kearns Goodwins’ “Team of Rivals,” I have to say that this movie gives the best representation of our sixteenth president. It is a must see.

As usual, Jackie and I arrived early for the show and settled into our seats to watch the trailers of other movies soon to be released. The theater was fairly full, enough that we could hear the whispers and comments of those around us. As each trailer played across the screen we could hear people muttering to one another, “We have to see that one,” or “That’s not for us.” In two minutes we were all making up our minds about other movies we might or might not like to view.

The Australian writer, Michael Frost, argues that Christians and churches are like movie trailers for the Kingdom. We are to live in such a way that when others see us they say, “I want to be a part of that,” or ”I wish the world was like that.” This is what Jesus meant when he said, “Let your light so shine that men may see your good works and glorify your Father who is in heaven.”

Whether we like it or not, our churches and our lives are being viewed like movie trailers by others. When non-believers look at our churches and our lives, they are whispering to themselves and to one another saying, “I’ll have to check that out,” or, “I wouldn’t want to be part of that.”

Jesus presented the clearest preview of the Kingdom. He invited others to look at his life to see what the Kingdom looks like. He said, “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” (Luke 4:18-21).

The early followers of Jesus practiced Kingdom living in such a way that others were drawn to them and to their churches. This is why the Christian faith exploded in the first three centuries. People saw previews of the Kingdom practiced in the churches and the lives of believers, and they wanted to be part of it.

This is also the reason Christianity is stumbling in our day. Too often churches and Christians are selfish and self-centered, fighting among themselves and with others for dominance and control. When others see this, like patrons at a theater, they whisper to themselves, “That’s not for me.”

Every church and every believer must live in such a way that others see God’s Kingdom on earth as it is in heaven. This is what Paul meant when he said, “But thanks be to God, who … manifests through us the sweet aroma of the knowledge of Him in every place. For we are a fragrance of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing.” (2 Cor. 2:14-15).