I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day


I heard the bells on Christmas day
Their old familiar carols play;
In music sweet the tones repeat,
“There’s peace on earth, good will to men.”
I thought how, as the day had come,
The belfries of all Christendom
Had rolled along th’ unbroken song
Of peace on earth, good will to men.
And in despair I bowed my head:
“There is no peace on earth,” I said,
“For hate is strong, and mocks the song
Of peace on earth, good will to men.”
Then pealed the bells more loud and deep:
“God is not dead, nor does He sleep,
For Christ is here; His Spirit near
Brings peace on earth, good will to men.”
*When men repent and turn from sin
The Prince of Peace then enters in,
And grace imparts within their hearts
His peace on earth, good will to men.
O souls amid earth’s busy strife,
The Word of God is light and life;
Oh, hear His voice, make Him your choice,
Hail peace on earth, good will to men.
Then happy, singing on your way,
Your world will change from night to day;
Your heart will feel the message real,
Of peace on earth, good will to men.

Words by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, with alterations and *additional text by Harlan D. Sorrell.

Some Christmas Carols are the joyous outpouring of Christmas cheer, filled with the laughter of wonder of the season.  Others are forged in pain and doubt that has been turned to the light of hope and renewal.  Such is the story behind this hymn. http://suvcw.org/mollus/art005.ht

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The famous American poet, H. W. Longfellow had lost his wife in a tragic fire just three years before he nearly lost his son in the horrors of the Civil War.  When his son was severely wounded in battle, Longfellow went to the military hospital, and, when he could, he transported his son home, knowing the journey would be painful and the outcome might not be a happy one.  (His son lived, but never recovered fully– see the article above.)
As he sat with his wounded son over the Christmas season, he could hear the bustle and chatter, and the bells ringing from the church steeples, announcing the good news of Christmas.  As his pain and bitterness churned, he wrote about it, and about how his heart was turned from bitterness to hope. (See the original poem here:   https://www.hymnsandcarolsofchristmas.com/Poetry/christmas_bells.htm

Photo of C. A. Longfellow

Christmas is a time of warmth and good cheer for many–the ringing of bells, the singing of merry tunes, the tinsel and glitter of decorations–but for others, it is a time of deep soul-searching.  “My life is a mess.  I have suffered greatly.  There is no Peace On Earth!”  Yet, the hope and promise of Christmas rings out greater than the darkness and the blast of gunfire, the angry outcries and the weeping of those in grief.

How can this be?

Christmas reminds us that our circumstances, though very real and very painful, are confined to this time and space.  They are temporary– not in the sense that we will forget our pain or loss– but that we can still experience hope and joy  and healing in their midst.  “The Wrong shall fail”–there will still be evil in the world, injustice, hunger, abuse, sickness–wrong will still exist, but it does not have the power to define us, to enslave us and take away our ability to do good.  “The Right, prevail”–God’s promise of Messiah (among several hundred other prophetic promises!) has been fulfilled.  God is Faithful.  God’s word endures.  God’s Justice Will Be Done, and there will be “Peace on Earth, Good Will to Men.”

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Christmas also reminds us that it is just in those very small things– the tolling of bells, being able to hug your child,  to share memories of loved ones who are no longer here, being grateful for small gifts, giving a word of encouragement–that hope and joy are spread like ripples of water and echoes of sound.  Christ’s birth was humble, but it was heralded with the hosts of angels from the highest heavens. 

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My prayer today is that we would listen for the true message of Christmas, and that we would echo and repeat the message– even if it seems that we are being drowned out by sirens and protests, or silenced by those who are hurting and cannot hear the sweetness in the music of the season.

Surprise!

Have you ever been the “victim” of a surprise party?  Maybe you sensed that something was “up”, but you were still shocked and elated to see old friends or family all wanting to wish you well on (or near) your birthday, anniversary, wedding, retirement, or even “just because”.  Even is you “catch on” or if someone “spoils” the surprise, it can be a wonderful celebration.  (Or, on occasion, a disaster.)

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Have you ever been on the planning side of a surprise party?  Several years ago, we threw a surprise birthday/retirement party for my father.  It required several months of planning.  We invited cousins from out of town, co-workers, neighbors, and old friends.  We gathered old pictures and momentos to display, ordered cake and balloons, and tried to keep the excitement under wraps, lest my father guess our intentions.  All the details fell together, except we couldn’t figure out how to get him to the party without guessing.  Dad was a genius at “sussing out” secrets and surprises, and also at setting them up.  We wanted to turn the tables and give him the best surprise of his life.

 

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Just less than a week before the party, my aunt (my mom’s sister) died in a car accident.  The funeral was arranged for the same day as Dad’s celebration.  We suddenly had to wrestle with a decision– to cancel or to forge ahead.  With so many coming from out of town, we decided to stick with the original plan.  It would be difficult– my aunt’s funeral was scheduled earlier in the day, and there would be about an hour to drive from one event to the other.  Dad was certainly surprised–already dressed in his best suit, he drove from a funeral in one town to a party in his honor 20 miles away.  From flowers and tears to laughter and cake..it was a day unlike any other.  The first several minutes were surreal and jarring.  But it was also cathartic.  As difficult as the day was, we honored both my father and my aunt.  Being surrounded by family and friends, some of whom joined us for both events, became a healing and encouraging experience.
It was not the surprise we expected–certainly not the surprise we had planned.

Several years later, (in fact, after my father had passed away) we planned another surprise party– this time for my mother.  Mom had, of course, been part of the planning (as well as the trauma) of the first event.  As with the first party, we invited family from out of town, ordered cake and balloons, gathered photos and memorabilia, and wondered how to get her to the event without suspicion.  All went as planned, and we had a wonderful time.  Mom was delightfully surprised, and even more so for having been through the experience of the prior party.

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What does any of this have to do with prayer?
Well…we prayed for both parties.  We prayed that all would go well, that Dad and Mom in their turn would be surprised, that guests would arrive safely, and that the parties would both please and honor the recipient.

But, far more, the two parties offer an illustration of God’s grace in the area of knowledge and foreknowledge.  “If I had only known…” is a common phrase, and one that we could readily apply to the Dad’s party.  But if we had known the end from the beginning, would we have changed our plans?  When we say that we want to know the future, we’re generally asking to know a specific outcome of a specific event– without considering the greater consequences and impact of that outcome.  When we pray, we generally pray for a specific outcome, again without knowing the full consequences.  What seems like a disastrous outcome to us may be God’s way of preparing us for an unexpected blessing.  God doesn’t send bad gifts– disasters come (and God allows them in His sovereignty)–but He doesn’t send disaster and pain to mock us or ruin our lives.  Instead, in the midst of tragedy, He gives us unexpected strength, comfort, and sometimes, even joy.

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If we had known that Dad’s party would be shadowed; that my aunt would be so suddenly gone, we might have given in to despair and bitterness.  And though the party brought unexpected comfort, it did nothing to erase the overall grief of my aunt’s passing.  But we learned so many things that day.  We were reminded that our time with Dad was precious– that life itself is precious– in a solemn and powerful way.  We were able to receive comfort from unexpected sources.  We would not have shared our tragedy in such a public way with those who did not even know my aunt.  But circumstances forced us to do so, and in the process, we were able to continue to honor her in the celebration.

If we had known all that would happen at Dad’s party, and not seen it through, we might never have risked planning a party for Mom.  If we knew in advance all the joys and tragedies we would face, we would never learn how to trust God for the next step in life.  Even more, we would live in constant dread of looming tragedies and negate all the joy of discovery and wonder.  We might not be driven to take risks if we already knew their outcome, and we might not learn from our mistakes if we already knew their consequences…and because our lives are so short, we might only see the short-term consequences, and never see the ultimate outcome.

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God is above and beyond time– He is the creator of all things, including time.  He has decreed for us a beginning and an end to life on earth, and He has decreed that we should life our lives with a certain amount of suspense– of not knowing what the future holds.  It holds both triumph and tragedy– trial and temptation.  Life is filled with surprises– catastrophes, ecstatic joy, and “a-ha” moments–as well as peacefully uneventful moments to reflect and enjoy.

As we pray today, we can be thankful that God’s knowledge is perfect, and that His power is sufficient to hold us in the midst of shock, lift us in the midst of tragedy, and surprise us with joy along the way.  And we can ask Him to grant us the wisdom to trust Him fully when we don’t see the end from the beginning.. or from the middle of the storm.

Blinded By the Light

A few months ago, I went to the theater to see the movie “Paul, the Apostle of Christ.”  It was an excellent movie, not the least because I found so much of it relevant to what is happening in the world today.  The movie was centered around Paul’s time in prison in Rome; the upheaval and persecution facing the early church, and the looming certainty that Paul would be martyred and his words and leadership sorely missed.  The church in Rome was facing division– some were militantly opposed to the corruption in Rome under Nero, and wanted to form a rebellion.  Others wanted to flee Rome in hope of supporting outlying churches, starting new churches, or just finding a safer haven.  Still others were losing hope and wanted to give up or hide.

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The movie also covered (in a series of flashbacks) scenes of Paul’s earlier life.  I don’t want to spoil the movie for anyone who hasn’t seen it, but this part of Paul’s life is covered in the Bible, so I will stick to the facts presented there, rather than the drama from the screen…

Saul of Tarsus was both a Jew and a Roman citizen by birth.  He had studied God’s word intensely his whole life, and became a Pharisee.  He had studied under some of the greatest scholars of his age–in today’s world, he would have been one of the greatest legal minds of our time– a superstar in the arena of law, philosophy, and logic.  Of all the people in Jerusalem and throughout the Jewish world, Paul KNEW right from wrong.  He KNEW the words of God, the laws of God, the traditions of God’s people.  The result of all that knowledge was an obsession with wiping out those people (Jews, especially, but also Gentiles) who followed Jesus of Nazareth and “The Way.”  Saul was a man filled with righteous anger, and a zeal to have everyone conform to what was “right.”   He was a man of power and influence– a man to be feared and respected.  In his letters, we can still see some of that intensity and the way he has of arguing both sides to their logical ends.  But something happened to Saul..something that changed his entire future, including his name.

Paul, the Apostle of Christ, was still a Jew and a Roman citizen.  He was the same man who had studied vigorously and knew the laws of Moses and God’s words through the centuries written by prophets and historians and psalmists.  But the Paul we see in scripture, while still bearing the intensity of his youth, is a man of gratitude and peace.  Here is a man who works steadily with his hands for honest but meager wages compared to what he might have made as a Pharisee.  He is a man who boldly faces down even Peter and James in Jerusalem, but who nevertheless takes orders from a council made up of former fishermen and tradesmen.  Paul undergoes flogging, arrests, prison, cold, hardship, physical pain, poverty, and disgrace with the kind of stoic acceptance, and even joy, that makes him a great hero of the early church.  Never once does he return to the anger that drove him to persecute others who did not agree with him.  Instead, he is willing to be the victim of persecution at the hands of those he used to serve.

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I was scrolling through Facebook the other night, and I chanced upon posts from two women I know.  Both are about the same age, both mothers of five children, and both are practicing Christians.  The first woman was posting about two recent difficulties faced by her family, and how God had been faithful and gracious in spite of a huge loss and a tense situation that could have turned into another tragedy.  She spoke of God’s answers to prayer, and how their family was reminded of God’s goodness as people came alongside at just the right moment, and the loss was not as great as it might have been.  I was inspired and encouraged by the way she saw God’s love, and gave credit to all who had helped them.

The second woman spoke in vicious tones about how she would not associate with certain Christians who hold political and social views she sees as hateful.  She cursed fellow followers of Christ for being “anti-Jesus,” and condemned several of her early teachers and pastors.  I read her remarks with great sadness, because I remember her as a younger woman, eagerly memorizing scripture and being a loving and encouraging example to others.  I also read her remarks with pain, because I think she includes me in the “hateful” group based solely on the type of church I attend.

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It is not my place to say that one woman is a “better” Christian than the other– on another day, their FB posts might cause me to think very differently.  And God sees more than just what we post on FB or say in passing conversation–He knows our every thought and motive.  So I want to be careful–these women, though similar in some superficial ways, lead very different lives and have very different experiences of following God.  But I saw in their posts two ways of “seeing” Christ.

When Saul of Tarsus, in his anger and zeal, traveled toward Damascus intending to kill people he may have never met, he was already a crusader for Jehovah– ready to mete out justice against anyone who didn’t meet his standards.  He KNEW all about God.  He knew what it took to be righteous.

But when he actually encountered Christ– he was knocked off his horse, blinded and overwhelmed by a vision.  And when Christ spoke to him, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?” (Acts 9:4), Saul didn’t recognize the voice of the very God he so proudly served.  Saul remained blinded for three days, but his vision was never the same again.

As Paul, he became a man of prayer– his letters are filled with prayers for the well-being and spiritual growth of those he misses and longs to see.  They overflow with doxologies and prayers of worship for the Savior he loves and serves with gladness.  He can’t stop talking about God’s goodness– to him, to Israel throughout the centuries, and to the Gentiles who now have access to the throne of Grace.  He still has harsh things to say to some of the followers who “don’t get it.”   To those who want to compromise with sin or go back to legalism.  But he pleads with them; he doesn’t throw stones.

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It can be very frustrating in today’s world and in our society to see Christians who have very different ideas about worship styles, ways of interacting with others, even ways of living out the words of Christ.  Sometimes, it seems that fellow Christians are blind to the needs of the poor, or the sins of their friends, or the hypocrisy in their lifestyle.  I think scripture gives us a clear directive:

Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when there is the log in your own eye? Hypocrite! First get rid of the log in your own eye; then you will see well enough to deal with the speck in your friend’s eye.

Matthew 7:3-5 (English Standard Version)

We should not rush to condemnation, name-calling, and finger-pointing.  Instead, we should do a “vision” test and see if we are looking and acting in love or in self-righteous hypocrisy.

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God doesn’t want us to be blinded by the light of our own knowledge and self-righteousness.  Instead, He wants us to walk in the light of His Word–His Word made flesh!  May we live in the light of Paul’s example of prayer, loving correction, and running the good race.

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When Sorrows Like Sea-Billows Roll..

My mother and I shared a wonderful morning shopping and enjoying the spring weather.  We both arrived home, only to be greeted with the news that one of our extended family members had died in an accident.  Just the day before, another member of our family had passed on at age 94.  Both of them left a legacy of faith, hope, joy, and kindness that leaves us grateful, but grieving their loss.

And it is a loss– even though both of them were Christians, even though we have the great hope of being reunited with them in Heaven, even though both of them led full lives–they were unique on this earth, and everything that made them special and irreplaceable to friends and family is now absent; a gaping, aching hole, lined with teasing flashes of memories, echoes of laughter, and unanswered questions.

Some days, the hits just keep coming– an unexpected expense, a misunderstanding at work, a fender-bender during the commute, a plumbing nightmare, a migraine, the phone call with bad news.  Each new pain rolls over us, throwing us off balance, and trying to drag us under.

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“Even so, it is well with my soul.”  The story of this favorite hymn has been told many times, but it bears repeating. ( It Is Will With My Soul. wikipedia.org )  The author of these words had lost everything– his only son had died; shortly afterward, he lost almost all his money and property in the Great Chicago Fire of 1871.  A friend, knowing of his troubles invited him to bring his family to England for an evangelistic campaign.  Mr. Spafford (the above-mentioned author of the hymn) had to stay behind and sent his wife and four daughters ahead.  Their ship, the Ville du Havre, was struck by another vessel and sank.  All four of the daughters were drowned, and only his wife survived to send him news of the tragedy.  As he made the heartbreaking voyage to rejoin his wife, he passed the place where his daughters had most likely gone down.  At that moment, Mr. Spafford felt a welling of peace and hope beyond human understanding, which led him to pen the words that have given comfort to so many in the years since:

When peace, like a river, attendeth my way,
When sorrows like sea billows roll;
Whatever my lot, thou hast taught me to say,
It is well, it is well with my soul.

Nothing can prepare us for the sorrows that sweep over us at unexpected moments.  Nothing can stop them, and though we know they will come, no one knows how high they will rise, or when they will crest and break around us.  No one except the one who set the boundaries of the sea, the one who has walked on its waters, and the one who can calm the storm.

God doesn’t remove the sorrows or tragedies from our life or prevent them from washing around and over us.  But for those who trust in him, there is a promise that we will not be consumed. We may be in a storm-tossed boat in the middle of a raging sea, but at our faintest cry, Jesus will walk on choppy waves to be by our side and bring comfort.  He will teach us to be in awe of him as he commands the winds and waves to obey him.  He will teach us to trust him in the good times and the bad.  He will teach us to say, “It is well with my soul!”

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Surprise!

The world is full of surprises– some good, some bad.  Open your mailbox on any given day, or walk down the street…you are bound to see something unexpected.  You may get a bill you forgot about, or run into an old friend.  There are surprises in the weather patterns, in traffic patterns, in relationships, in jobs, all around our houses and neighborhoods, in world events.  Some are shocking, some delightful, and any of them can change our days or even our lives.

We like pleasant surprises; we fear the unpleasant ones.  But most of us don’t pray for them.  We pray for miracles–healing and rescue and transformation–pleasant outcomes that we hope for or imagine.  We pray for ease and comfort, or wisdom and strength to face the bad times.  But we don’t ask God to surprise us.

Why don’t I ask God to awe me?  Dazzle me?  Surprise me?  Sometimes I fear that he might surprise me with what my past actions deserve.  More often, I simply want to stay in the comfort and simplicity of what I already know.  I don’t want to be delighted; I just want to be entertained.

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One thing I know, but I need to be reminded:  God does not give bad surprises.  He does not send ANYTHING into my life that can’t be used for my good and his glory.  The world will send tragedy and I will have to face the consequences of Sin– mine and others’.  I may be unfairly treated at work; I may be struck by a drunk driver and paralyzed.  I may face difficult losses, and inexplicable circumstances.  And the mistake is to see these as “surprises” from God.  God never promised a pain-free, problem-free life in this world, but he surprises us with the kind of gifts that overcome and even confound our tragic circumstances– the power to forgive, to be joyful, to have peace, and share love.

John 16:33 English Standard Version (ESV)

33 I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.”

Matthew 7:9-11 New International Version (NIV)

“Which of you, if your son asks for bread, will give him a stone? 10 Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? 11 If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!

The road ahead is full of surprises–that’s a great reason to pray.  God loves to surprise us with good things– that’s another great reason to pray for them!

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Prayers in the Pendulum

I’m late in posting an entry today– it’s been a day of swinging in the pendulum.  Not in a personal sense, but in praying for friends and family.

We all have “pendulum” days (or weeks, or even hours)– times where we are carried, pushed, swung, or banged about by life’s circumstances.  Moments where time stands still– sometimes in astonishing joy, and sometimes in soul–stomping grief.  Then comes the rush of being pulled by forces beyond our control– up, and down, across, and through the arc.  I’ve been hearing from friends all day, sharing those moments, and asking for prayer.  In the space of an hour, I’ve prayed for those who have just lost loved ones– a mother, a sister, a son– and those who are celebrating– an engagement, a birthday, a new home.  I’ve prayed for those whose lives are in the balance– in ICUs and in the womb.  Cancer, anniversaries, new puppies, pneumonia, a new job, a vacation, a car accident…

When we pray for others, we share those joys and heartaches– together, we swing through the arc of tragedy and triumph, even if we don’t all feel the full impact.  We become like the balls on the pendulum swing; absorbing and sharing laughter and tears not fully our own. But by doing so, we provide both energy and equilibrium.  Shared joys are multiplied; shared pain becomes bearable.  Prayer breaks through the isolation or the intensity of the moment, and keeps us grounded, or keeps us from shattering.   It reminds us that even in these defining and refining moments, life is not static.  And the momentum pulses through us in our connectedness.

Yet prayer goes one step further– it brings triumph and tragedy to the God who is above, beyond, around, and amidst the circumstances, the chaos, and the emotional highs and lows.  Our voices, raised together in laughter or grief, exasperation or anticipation, ascend to the one who came and lived and laughed and cried among us– to Jesus, whose arms are fully extended to embrace us wherever we are on the pendulum.

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In This World You Will Have Trouble…

When will the violence end?  How long, O Lord, must we wait for justice?  Why did you allow this to happen?

I was overwhelmed yesterday– news of yet another violent shooting at a school, followed by angry rants and follow-up tidbits of information– the name of the shooter (his full ,, three-part name, with corrected spellings, etc.), his family history, educational history, social history, medical and mental health history, recent FB posts, criminal record, and so much more.  I saw reports naming his state legislators and how much money they have received from the NRA. There were statistics about the school, and its security measures– other schools, and how many school shootings there have been so far this year.  Reports about AR-15 rifles and other guns–how many are sold each year, how many are used in violent crimes, and which states and countries have the toughest gun control laws–with differing sets of statistics, opinions, and conclusions.  And, once again, I have seen quotes and posts, and accusations posted by people like me– ordinary people living hundreds of miles from the scene, who never met either the shooter or his victims, and, in most cases, have no personal connection with the horrors faced by these students, teachers, guards, and their families.

Senseless violence, natural disasters, sudden tragic circumstances, still have the power to shock us, overwhelm us, shake our confidence, our composure, our beliefs.  Most of us want to believe that we live in a predictable world, a safe and orderly world, a world that has been tamed, and groomed, and civilized.  And we don’t want those beliefs shattered with the truth– life is unpredictable, filled with tragedy, evil, and danger, and it will end in death.  I’m not saying this as a cynic or a pessimist– life is also wonderful, filled with love, laughter, achievement, delight, and eternally precious.  But why are we so deeply disturbed to face the truth about our troubled world?

I believe it is due, in part, to the recognition that this is a fallen world.  It was not made for evil and tragedy and death, but every tragedy reminds us that the whole earth groans for restoration to what it was always meant to be.  The echo of Eden, and the hope of Heaven live in us, and the reality of our lost state cannot be denied when tragedy strikes.  The pleasant facade of the triumph of reason and humanity cracks, and we are forced to see that evil resides next door, down the street, across town, perhaps even in our own hearts and minds.

I love the movie “The Princess Bride” (ask any of my friends–I can quote whole scenes!), but when I first saw it in the theater, there was one line that struck me like a punch in the stomach.  The Dread Pirate Roberts (a.k.a. Westley) kidnaps/rescues Buttercup from her original captors, and after she tells him of the pain and desolation of losing her true love, he doesn’t comfort her by revealing that he is, indeed, her own sweet love, still alive and well.  Instead he says, “Life is pain, highness.  Anyone who tells you differently is selling something.”   Wha-what?!   What kind of lover, when confronted by that kind of tragic outpouring, says something so callous?  To quote another line from the movie, “Why don’t you give me a nice paper cut and pour lemon juice on it?”  But Westley is not heartless.  The line is memorable, both because it is jarring in its context, and because we recognize that it holds a truth.  Anyone who tells you that this life will be free of pain and suffering IS selling something.  In the movie, Humperdink is “selling” the idea that he is going to make Buttercup a princess and marry her, and they will live happily ever after; all the while planning to kill her.  In today’s world, there are people trying to sell us ideas– that they “have it all figured out”; that truth and justice and morality  and even a person’s worth and value are all relative; that God doesn’t exist or that he doesn’t care; that evil is a figment of our imagination, or that human institutions can create a perfect society and “save” the planet from other human activities and institutions.

Jesus tells us in John 16:33 that in this world, we will have trials, trouble, tribulation, and/or suffering (depending on which version you read).  Not because God doesn’t care; not because he is incapable of stopping tragedies, but because we (humankind) have turned away from God, and the consequence of our rebellion is tragedy and death.  He doesn’t tell us this because he is callous or insensitive or cynical.  In fact, in the next phrase, he tells us to take heart, and to be of good cheer, for he has overcome the world.  HE has overcome the world, and in doing so, he has given us hope, and peace, and strength– not to avoid or deny tragedy, but to overcome it, and to triumph over it.

How does this relate to the pursuit of prayer?  Prayer is not a magic panacea in times of trouble–  it isn’t a chocolate-coated miracle pill.  Prayer (and sharing thoughts and prayers with those who are suffering) doesn’t make the suffering disappear– it doesn’t lessen the horror or the evil of an event, and it doesn’t guarantee that future hate, violence, injustice, or tragedy will disappear or even diminish.   But prayer reminds us that evil will not always triumph; that it need not overwhelm us, paralyze us, or defeat us.  I believe it can bring us from being “mostly dead” in despair, fruitless rage, divisive finger-pointing and fault-finding, “inconceivable” arguments, vengeful fantasies, and conceited self-indulgence, back to abundant life in Christ, and renewed courage to do what is kind and loving, even in the face of evil.  Prayer should also restore our focus on what is good, and noble, and true, so that we can be equipped to fight for what is right, instead of just ranting against what is wrong.

Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.– Philippians 4:8

I pray, in the wake of this newest tragedy, that God would show me where I am wrong in my thoughts and actions toward Him and toward others; that he would surround those who are suffering pain and loss, giving them comfort, strength and renewed purpose in the days ahead; that he would lead us to have the tough ocnversations, and take the right steps to bring renewal, restoration, hope, and healing to our communities and our land; and finally, that we would listen to, and acknowledge the truth, and take heart as we focus on the One who has overcome the world.

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