Tuesday, November 29, 2011

My Pastoral Advent Letter to the Armenians

Editor's Note: As you may know, for the past few months I've been serving in an interim pastoral capacity at the The Armenian Evangelical Church of Greater Chicagoland. Recently the leaders there asked me to write the annual Christmas letter to their mailing list. Here's your sneak peek, minus the fancy formating and stationary:
For unto you is born this day...
A Savior Luke 2:11

Krisdos dznav yev haydnetsav; tsezee, mezee Medz Avedis!
(Christ is born and revealed; Good News to you and to us)

Dear brothers and sisters,

As I write this, people are being pepper-sprayed in a Walmart, fighting over discounted Christmas merchandise; nations are at war; the global economy is reeling with uncertain direction; homeless families wonder where they will sleep; hardworking women and men find their jobs do not cover their needs; and even Christians find themselves at odds over petty differences that leave feelings bruised and relationships torn.

Does it seem strange to celebrate Christmas amidst such times? Do you find it a struggle to come to church and worship God because you, yourself, are under great pressure and stress? Whether you’ve been overwhelmed by a busy life or buried in unfortunate problems, I hope you’ll read this entire letter and consider my invitation to rediscover the gift God has for you in his Son and in his people this holiday season.

Christmas is a holiday that, like the Armenian people, is born of persecution and suffering, but when properly understood and embraced fills the soul with wonder and joy. You know I’m not talking about the commercialized counterfeit that calls itself Christmas. I am talking about the birth of the Child whose family was forced to go to Bethlehem by an oppressive regime and who had to be whisked away before soldiers brought a blood bath of innocents at his birthplace. Even the religious leaders of that day, who knew enough about where to find Jesus to have joined the wise men in welcoming the Child, used their knowledge instead to tip off the murderers!

A Savior From What?

Like Moses, whose parents were oppressed by a tyrant who ordered parents to drown their own children, so Jesus was drawn from the same depths of his people’s oppression in order to deliver all who would follow him. Moses lifted his staff when backed against the Red Sea, opening a way through the very waters Pharaoh would have drowned him in. But Jesus put his back (bloodied from scourging) against the rough-hewn wood of Calvary’s cross, opening heaven itself for us so that all his followers (that’s you and me) might enter with him into Heaven’s Most Holy Place.

Christmas is about this gift! But it is also about God’s deliverance being found in the midst of our own suffering as God overturns the world order. If you’re not used to thinking of Christmas this way, consider what Jesus’ holy mother said the nativity meant:

His mercy extends to those who fear him,
from generation to generation.
He has performed mighty deeds with his arm;
he has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts.
He has brought down rulers from their thrones
but has lifted up the humble.
He has filled the hungry with good things
but has sent the rich away empty.
- Luke 1:50-53
The Gospels tell us those who abandoned Christ amidst suffering and crisis are the ones who missed the most amazing opportunities to see God at work! It’s my prayer you will not be counted among them, but will draw all that much closer to your Savior--the Lord born in the manger of his people’s troubles--with us who gather each week at The Armenian Evangelical Church, where even now the Root of Jesse and the seeds of revival are already sprouting!

Now is the time to discover and rediscover the wonders of Christmas as they relate to the real world--your world! As the saying goes: The Wise Still Seek Him! We look forward to seeking him with YOU!

“O Come, All Ye Faithful!”

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

Pastor Dave Leigh

Sunday, November 20, 2011

So Near, Yet So Far: Thoughts on The Kingdom of God and Politics - by Dave Leigh

Lonely Walk:
photograph by
Arash Karimi
Some say that my believing in global warming makes me a liberal. To me, it just makes me rational.

Some say that believing abortion is usually wrong makes me a conservative. To me, it just makes me concerned about the life of another human being.

Some say that if I believe a nation that possesses the technology and resources to give the best medical care possible to all its citizens should do so, then I’m a socialist. I say it just makes me compassionate and desirous of living in a just and merciful world.

Some say if I believe in personal property and an economic system that rewards hard work, intellect, and resourcefulness, I am a capitalist. To me, it just makes common sense that a society will not excel without personal incentives.

Why do liberals and conservatives both insist on demonizing someone for taking a single position, as if that position forces one into this or that camp? What if the principles of truth, justice, and humanity force us to come to all these conclusions? Namely, that:
  • God made us caretakers of his creation and therefore doesn’t want us to pollute it into oblivion.
  • We should cherish all life, even the life of our enemies and a life developing in the womb.
  • Like the good Samaritan we, as a society, should take care of each other’s wounds and medical needs.
  • People have a right to property and to earning wealth in reward for their labor, but with this comes a responsibility to show mercy, compassion, and justice toward those who are less fortunate and/or oppressed.
  • All people have the right to be respected as human beings and to live free of hatred and oppression, regardless of things like their race, creed, nationality, ethnicity, sex, gender, familial status, or orientation.
In other words, what if I should desire to see my nation and all nations surrender to, and advance, the Kingdom of God? What if I truly don’t want to confess Caesar as Lord, but rather the Lord as Lord? For political parties to pick and choose between these kingdom principles--and thereby force us to do the same--do they not attempt to divide truth and pit righteousness against itself? Has reason become divided and turned against reason? Can we really select which forms of compassion we prefer, and form parties that exclude the compassion and principles of truth we’d rather ignore?

The more I think about all this, the more I wonder at our political landscape and the less it surprises me that it has become dominated by craziness, paranoia, and extremes.

What if the Kingdom of God is not the exclusive domain of Christendom, Judaism, Islam, or any other world religion or philosophy? What if it is neither Democrat nor Republican? What if it is not the proprietary property of any nation or human institution? What if, rather, it is has to do solely with the person and teachings of the Lord Jesus Christ, who bears little resemblance to those who claim to represent him?

What if all people of all faiths and philosophies would come to seriously wrestle with and live out those teachings in how they establish their communities and even their governments, their personal relationships, and even the relations between nations?

What if the Kingdom of God were that simple? What then would become of our political parties, our nationalisms--and our craziness?

Hmmm. Is it possible? Could it really be that close to the noses on our faces?
"As you go, proclaim this message: ‘The kingdom of heaven has come near.’ Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse those who have leprosy, drive out demons. Freely you have received; freely give."  -  Jesus (Matthew 10:7-8)