Scene 1: Elijah is on Mount Carmel (1 Kings 18:16-39). The prophet has declared a test. He and the prophets of Baal will each erect an altar and call to their respective gods. The one who sets the altar on fire will be revealed as the one true God (1 Kings 18:24).
The Mount Grace Priory in North Yorkshire is one of England’s best-preserved medieval monasteries. For hundreds of years, Carthusian monks lived there in solitude, devoting themselves to prayer. The priory’s ruins are impressive, but a more modern monument caught my attention on a recent visit to the site.
The news came on Christmas Eve. My wife put down the phone, walked into the bedroom, and burst into tears. We were living in Australia then and had been visiting family in Brisbane, but after the call we decided we needed some time alone. So we packed our bags and started the 12-hour drive home to Sydney. That phone call put an exclamation point on a 2010 full of broken dreams.
Were the angels surprised when God sketched out the universe? Surely they were—as surprised as when they saw the first bird take flight and the first humans blink their eyes. As surprised as when they watched God Himself sew garments to cover the fallen humans’ shame (Genesis 1:1–2:25, Genesis 3:21).
“Our Father in heaven,” Jesus taught us to pray, “may Your name be kept holy” (Matthew 6:9). We affirm today that Your name, Yahweh, already is holy because it describes You—pure, perfect, far removed from evil, error, and corruption.
It’s likely we’ve read Jesus’ Beatitudes as a list of virtues— attitudes and actions that He wants us to pursue. So, we think, He wants us to be humble (Matthew 5:5), merciful (Matthew 5:7), pure in heart (Matthew 5:8), and peaceful (Matthew 5:9).
Each year, thousands of people change their names. Some of these changes reflect a deep desire for a new life. “I changed my name and it changed me,” wrote singer Alina Simone in The New York Times. “When I think back to my old self, I think of an entirely different person, not altogether likable,” she reflects. That old person, Alina Vilenkin, was put aside. Alina Simone formed a band, tried new things, and poured her “best self” into her new name.
In Clint Eastwood’s movie Gran Torino, Walt Kowalski is a cranky Korean War vet disgusted by the gangs now running his neighborhood. He gets to know Thao, a teenager living next door, after catching him trying to steal his Gran Torino car—an act forced onto the young man by a local gang.
Jenny” grew up in a home where both parents engaged in extramarital affairs and were prone to violence. In this setting, Jenny soon became emotionally and physically neglected—and vulnerable to others.
In many parts of the world, it’s an amazing time to be a Christian. Most of us can walk down the street and find a church to join. If none interests us, we can go online and download our favorite preacher’s sermons in minutes. Hours and hours of biblical teaching for free. And Scripture! Most of us can read the Bible in our own language and in many different versions. We can buy it in softcover, red-letter, and slim-line formats. We can read it, listen to it, or watch it dramatized. Bible commentaries and devotional iPhone apps are ours for the downloading.
Pain. We take pills to ease it, hold prayer meetings to heal it, develop strategies to avoid it, and think up philosophies to explain it. We rarely, however, consider suffering as part of God’s plan for our lives.
A few years ago some young men stole my car. They crashed it, damaging it beyond repair, and I was never compensated for it. I even had to pay to have the car towed away from the crash site! By rights, those thieves should have replaced what they stole.