- 2018Jan 20
"For God has not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind" - II Timothy 1:7
If you believe all you see on social media or cable news, you may be under the impression that the world is on the verge of implosion. That we have finally tipped the balance where climate change, politics and the Illuminati will finally destroy society once and for all as we spiral into anarchy and oblivion of our own making. But once you put down your phone, take a deep breath, and let your brain rest a moment, you will likely realize that the times we live in are not really unprecedented. In fact....this is all pretty normal.
From ancient times the world has generally been in a state of chaos: empires rise and fall, universal justice has never been established, and road rage has been going on since the first autos hit the highways. This is not the first US government shutdown, and it is surely not going to be the last.
There truly is nothing new under the sun. So why are we all living in a mad frenzy?
My wife is reading the classic novel 1984 right now, and so I have also been thinking about the themes of totalitarian government, oligarchal collectivism, and manipulated information (Yep, I'm a nerd). In 1984, each day starts with the "Two-Minutes Hate". This involves gathering everyone together to view the 'enemy of the people' on a telescreen, then the people proceed to scream and yell and convulse and lash out in irrational hate towards the enemy throughout the two minutes. It is never clear if the enemy even really exists.
Every time I login to social media I feel like I am living through Two Minutes Hate. There is a constant war of words, a line of combatants taking sides in a battle that only exists because twitter tells us it exists. Issues that only rile us up because facebook tells us we should be riled up. Headlines are manipulated, hashtags are manipulated, facts are manipulated. We lash out angrily at the people on 'the other side', who we know only as an avatar picture.
We make decisions and base our conversations on trending hashtags, without ever considering that someone behind a computer is telling us what is trending, deciding what today's debate should be about. We are all being told what matters, what to argue about and what to hate each other about.
Yet, unlike 1984, no one is force feeding us information and we have access to facts whenever we want them. We are generally just too lazy to look beyond whatever is trending. Then we find ourselves caught up in some ridiculous argument that doesn't even matter - be it in our conversations or in our social media interactions. We eventually start to live in fear, and then we start to live in hate.
But all the screaming in the world will not solve any problems. All the hate will not solve problems. What will solve problems is the love, power and sound mind we find in Christ. When we base our interactions on a firm foundation of truth, compassion, empathy, and a willingness to be ridiculed without engaging, we will find a peace and a joy to survive this crazy world we live in. Which is not easy work.
Yes, some of these topics can involve us directly: jobs and lives are affected by these trending issues of the day. We can't control what is trending, and we can't control all the world throws at us, and we have to remember that this too, shall pass. What we CAN control is how we address others: in love and truth or in hate-filled ranting against 'the enemy'.
At least that's the way I see it.
- 2017Dec 18
The most fascinating place in Bethlehem has to be the church of the Nativity. The church is built atop the cave which is believed to be where Mary and Joseph ended up when there was no room in the inn, and where Jesus the Messiah was born all those years ago. The history of that is pretty solid - the site was attested to in writing by the mid-100's, and has never truly been contested.
To enter the church, one has to enter through 'the door of humility'. This door was clearly much larger at one time, and was walled in to it's current smaller size during the Ottoman period. It is a small door (only about four feet tall) that requires one to bow upon entering. There are a few reasons why this door was made so much smaller: one is to keep anyone from riding in on a horse, which apparently was a problem at certain points in history, and another is to require that anyone entering this special place to bow in humility before the One who humbled himself for us. The door leads to a second door, then into the church itself.
The altar of the church is built directly on top of the grotto, or cave, where Jesus was born. To the western observer, the first sight of this place of a humble birth doesn't appear to very humble. Gold plated walls, icons and centuries-old ornamentation give it a feel that one may not have expected. Incense and red and green ornaments are prominent here, and the site is shared by three Christian denominations — the Greek Orthodox Church, the Armenian Church and the Roman Catholic Church. Each group 'takes turns' holding services in the main sanctuary and underneath the altar at the grotto itself.
During our visit, the church was undergoing a renovation, and so scaffolding, ladders and tarps were just another element of this unfamiliar decor. A church that has been around for centuries does need some work on occasion, and any work requires all three of the above groups to agree on what will be done and when. We all know how church committees can go, especially when three ancient groups are involved, so no work has been done on this building since 1479. It's long overdue.
We made our way behind the altar to the stairs leading down to the grotto, and area of the manger where it is likely Jesus was laid. When we reached the stairs, we were sharply barked at by this priest guarding the area, and it was confirmed that we weren't going to descend these stairs today. It was an odd experience at the birthplace of Jesus.
It may have been for the better. As you can see from the pictures below, there is not much left of what was once a humble cave that held animals or a manger bed. The entire area has been built over and the manger itself is no longer there - it was taken to be stored in the Vatican years ago, but the spot where it once was is marked off with a silver star. We did wander around to the other side, and were able to walk far enough down the stairs to get a glimpse of the Catholic service that was going on there. The entire area is marked by stars, representative of the Star in the East that marked the place where He was born.
Below is a picture (not mine) of what the spot where Christ was born looks like today, and what we would have seen had we walked all the way down. It is historic, but not at all what one would expect if you were hoping to see it untouched and looking like it did centuries ago. To me, it kind of loses a little bit of the wonder...
In spite of this looking nothing like the cave where Jesus was born, there is a sense of amazement that this is indeed the spot where it happened - the spot where Heaven and Earth collided in the form of a newborn baby boy. Stay tuned for part 3!
Let's keep the conversation going! Connect on Twitter and on Facebook! Also, be sure to get a copy of my latest book, A Journey to Bethlehem: Inspiring Thoughts for Christmas and Hope for the New Year. Available in paperback and kindle.
- 2017Dec 15
Every December our thoughts turn to Bethlehem. But what was Bethlehem really like? What is it like today? Sometimes I imagine there is a light dusting of new fallen snow, sometimes it is rough-hewn desert, with only the occasional palm tree to be found. I have been to this Bethlehem many times in my imagination, but was fortunate enough to actually go to the city of Bethlehem last year.
I looked upon the place Jesus was born, and the hallowed spot where history was forever altered so many centuries ago. It was not the quiet, peaceful serene place I had envisioned, no stable filled with hay, and no shepherds in the fields nearby. It was not the Bethlehem of 2,000 years ago, However, there remains a unique feel to Bethlehem. Having seen centuries of shifting politics and shifting sands, there remains a special sense of holiness lingering in the air simply because of the history of the place, and the almost tangible remembrance of those who have spent parts of their lives here.
This December I'd like to share some of the sights of Bethlehem with you. It truly is an extraordinary place for so many reasons. Today, I'll start with the city itself. Bethlehem was the home of Ruth and Boaz, the birthplace of King Saul and King David, the birthplace of Jesus the Messiah, and it's significance cannot be underestimated. However, the political landscape of Bethlehem today is tricky.
Atop the building in the following picture flies the Palestinian flag. Palestine is not a nation, but the area ultimately falls under Israeli jurisdiction. However, the day-to-day affairs of Bethlehem are governed by the Palestinian authority, and as such our Jewish guide did not enter the area, but handed us over to a Arab Christian guide. Just one example of the complex politics of the area. That said, at no point in Israel did I ever feel 'unsafe'. In fact, I felt as safe as I ever have anywhere.
Across the street is the Bethlehem Peace Center. And from the peace center hangs a large portrait of Mahmoud Abbas, the current leader of the Palestinian government. No offense to Mr. Abbas, but it was a reminder to me that this contested land has had many rulers: the Assyrians, the Greeks, the Romans the British and the Jordanians are just a few. I was reminded that the kingdoms of this world are temporary, and will someday give way to the Kingdom of our God, and the only true peace we will ever find comes from the Prince of Peace, born just a few yards away so many years ago.
The exterior of the Church of the Nativity is unassuming, which is fitting considering the humble birth of the Prince of Peace whom it honors. The entryway requires bending down, some say in order to enter the church in humility before the King who was born in that place so many centuries ago.
In part two we will head inside the church itself and I'll tell a little bit about my experience there. Stay tuned!