Duke Chapel in Christmas Dress

I darkened the doorstep of the Duke Chapel today expectant to see greenery, poinsettias, and bows. Sure enough, I saw greenery, poinsettias, and bows.

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A peek into the nave from the narthex revealed masses of poinsettias near the front (chancel).

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A panoramic view of the nave: Duke Chapel is a “cross-shaped church” with a long isle down the middle and perpendicular sections near the front that are called transepts. In this photo, the nativity is on the back wall of the left transept and is framed in pine garland.

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My favorite ‘ornament’ was the Advent wreath. For those unfamiliar with the Advent wreath (suspended from the ceiling in this picture), it is comprised of five candles. Four of the candles (often purplish in color) are lit one each week leading up to Christmas. The white candle in the middle is the Christ Candle, which is usually lit on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day.

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The circular evergreen upon which the candles rest represents the eternity of God.

Also on display in the Duke Chapel until December 30th is a collection of nine paintings by Robyn Sand Anderson that explores the visual interpretation of scared choral music.

Thoughts for Holy Week 2016

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This may seem shockingly liturgical coming from a Protestant, evangelical, Baptist type, but I have found the season of Lent to be a sobering period of reflection leading up to Easter. Every day, I’ve been listening to a podcast of Bible readings and commentary that together are methodically unfolding the events of Jesus’ betrayal, mock trials, crucifixion, death, burial and resurrection—all of which were to bring about His sacrifice (death in our place) for the forgiveness of our sins. Providentially, these Lenten reflections have coincided with a verse-by-verse lecture series on the book of Ecclesiastes. These two studies may seem disconnected; but in fact they are not—Jesus, himself, said that all Scripture testifies of Him. (John 5:39)

Ecclesiastes contrasts the earthly, human wisdom “under the sun” with the revealed wisdom of God. It does so by addressing the timeless question, “What is the purpose and meaning of life?”

Is it knowledge? Is it pleasure? Is it work? Is it greatness? Is it wealth? Is it service to others?

One by one, The Teacher, (most definitely King Solomon near the end of his reign), concludes that all of these pursuits are vain and utterly meaningless—a chasing after the wind.

Indeed, when we (honestly) assess this life “under the sun,” we recognize that life is not always a bed of roses…or a perpetual sunny day ride. Life is hard; it seems futile. Day turns to night, turns to day, turns to night, and so on…and then we will die. Just like the generations before us, and just like the generations after us if the Lord tarries.

Through the lens of worldly wisdom and reason, God seems fickle: He rewards some and denies others. He sends sunshine and refreshing rain, yet He also sends scorching heat and destructive storms. In both the natural world and the world order, there is beauty but there is also violence, death, and chaos. It’s utterly meaningless, futile. Vanity.

Rather depressing, n’est-ce pas?

So then, what is meaning? What is meaningful?

Just as the reader is drowning in the despairing reality of life “under the sun,” Solomon supplies the answer: The end of the matter (the meaning of life) is to “Fear God and keep His commandments, for this is the whole duty of man.” (Ecclesiastes 12:13)

Fear God. Keep His commandments. Put another way, when we have a proper relationship with God, we have met our purpose. The “meaning” is not a what; the “meaning” is a Who. And the Who is the Lord Jesus Christ.

Consider this: The Word, (which translated from the Greek means logic, reason, or meaning), became flesh and dwelt among us. (John 1:14)  The “Word” in the Bible is another name for Christ (Jesus). Beyond space and time—“above the sun” so to speak—the second Person of the trinity (Christ) came “under the sun” and became a human being. He lived in all ways tempted as we are, yet did not sin. (Hebrews 4:15)  Instead, He was crucified for our sins, was buried, and rose again on the third day.

This Word, this Living Word, is the center and meaning of all human life. All of life can only be seen and interpreted rightly in light of who He is. He is the way, the truth and the life, and no one has the relationship with God that Solomon describes in Ecclesiastes except through Him. (John 14:6)  Our entire existence is in reference to Jesus Christ—and we are either with Him or we are against Him. (John 1:14)  I pray that you are with Him!

For those who are with Him, this contrasting wisdom “under the Son” changes our perspective entirely: We see God reveal himself in the person of Jesus, and we see that God is not fickle! He is completely steadfast in His faithfulness. Jesus died on the cross for our sins, and that work on our behalf is permanent and eternal!

Does the day still turn to night, turn to day, turn to night…and then we die? Yes. But this reality is seen differently when we trust that Christ is sufficient for us. Acknowledging Christ for the forgiveness of our sins results in a relationship with God, and that relationship, which begins in this life, continues forever—for all eternity.

In light of this new perspective—this position in Christ—consider then how the wisdom of God defeats the wisdom “under the sun”: Although we will die and generations after us will eventually forget us, Christ remembers those who have faith in Him. (A timely example is the thief on the cross in Luke 23:39-43 , who asked the Lord to remember him when He came into His kingdom. Jesus’ response was “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise.” Christ remembers!)

Furthermore, any greatness we achieve, when we view and live life according to God’s wisdom, is now accomplished to further Christ’s kingdom—to bring glory to the “King of Kings” who wore a crown of thorns on behalf of sinful mankind.

Any service we do for others is not vain and worthless, if done in humility and love, knowing that “whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.” (Matthew 25:40)

Any pleasure, which in this world doesn’t satisfy for long, now becomes a cause for thanksgiving to God, the giver of all good things. (James 1:17)  …But the greatest cause for thanksgiving will be celebrated this coming Sunday when believers everywhere proclaim of Christ: “He is risen. He is risen, indeed!”

Join With All Nature

Hello, World! It would seem that I’ve been living under a rock since early January, doing very little writing. (Let’s see if I can still string a few sentences together!)

I hope that you’ve been weathering winter well. Here in central North Carolina, we’ve had some snow and ice, the latter of which always makes things more interesting. Despite the weather (or because of it), I was able to capture the Duke Gardens blanketed in snow.

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The Virtue Peace Pond at Duke Gardens is always a tranquil sight. (Note the splash of orange-red to the right, where construction in the nearby Spring Woodlands Garden is underway. How exciting!)

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The snow and ice have since melted (and it’s in the 60’s as I write this post!), but it was a mere 24 degrees last Saturday morning when I took this photo of a cute little warbler fluffing its feathers to retain body heat and keep out the cold. — Blomquist Garden of Native Plants at Duke Gardens

A verse from an old favorite comes to mind when I consider the subtle wonder of a tiny bird carefully designed to dwell in “summer and winter and springtime and harvest”–a witness in nature to God’s great faithfulness, mercy and love.[1]


“Great is Thy Faithfulness”; Thomas Obediah Chisholm (1866-1960)

 

Hope

Christmas Day has come and gone. While some are still observing the 12 Days of Christmas, many people are looking to the New Year and to new resolutions for health, happiness, and prosperity.

Whether you are lingering over the Christmas Season, looking to the future, or both, may the “spirit of Christmas”—Christ among us and Christ for us, for the forgiveness of our sins—be the source of your hope as 2015 fades into the sunset and 2016 dawns.

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Public art at the New Hope Church Road Trailhead Park along the American Tobacco Trail in Cary, North Carolina.

May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit. –Romans 15:13