Zeal in the Manger

“Of the increase of his government and peace there will be no end.” – Isaiah 9:1


This prophecy of the coming Messiah, written 700 years before Jesus was born, foretold of a special child that would grow so strong the entire government would “rest on his shoulders.”  This Anointed One would be called “Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Eternal Father, Prince of Peace” (vs 6).  That sweet little baby in the manger would grow up to preside over a powerful kingdom that is continually growing and getting stronger.


If that’s true then why does the church seem to be in decline?  Church growth in the U.S. isn’t even keeping up with the birth rate.  According to the magazine Christianity Today, 70% of America’s youth will leave the church by the time they are 22. 


In a New York Times editorial this week, Ross Douthat reflects on the role and influence of the church in America in the context of the holidays.  Read it here.  He reviews two books, one of which sounds really interesting, “To Change the World” by David Hunter.  Douthat writes:


Having popularized the term “culture war” two decades ago, Hunter now argues that the “war” footing has led American Christians into a cul-de-sac. It has encouraged both conservative and liberal believers to frame their mission primarily in terms of conflict, and to express themselves almost exclusively in the “language of loss, disappointment, anger, antipathy, resentment and desire for conquest.”


Thanks in part to this bunker mentality, American Christianity has become what Hunter calls a “weak culture” — one that mobilizes but doesn’t convert, alienates rather than seduces, and looks backward toward a lost past instead of forward to a vibrant future. In spite of their numerical strength and reserves of social capital, he argues, the Christian churches are mainly influential only in the “peripheral areas” of our common life. In the commanding heights of culture, Christianity punches way below its weight. [i]


The quote that jumps out at me, and why I will be putting this book on my Amazon.com wish list, is how the church now “looks backward toward a lost past instead of forward to a vibrant future.”


As believers, we believe.  We hope for the best in the truest sense of the word hope.  Bill Johnson defines this potent word as “joyful expectation of the good.”  The best days are still ahead of us.  Hope for them.


From my perch in Southeast Asia, it’s not hard for me to hope.  The reason is I get to see some very amazing things that God is doing, right smack dab in the world’s largest Isl*mic nation.  Just this week I heard a story form my city that blew my socks off (wanna hear it? email me).  If God can move like that here, He can move anywhere.


There are other signs of hope even in my beloved home country.  I’ve got a friend named Jeremy Story who is leading the charge to stir prayer on college campuses in the U.S.  See his website.  I love his stories.  When I see the zeal of leaders like this, outmanned and outgunned yet still moving forward into the battle, my heart is encouraged.


But the most encouraging fact that anchors my hope is the zeal of God to accomplish His own purposes.  Back in that ancient prophecy of Isaiah, after his jaw dropping prediction of how the Messiah would reign and all He would do, it tells us how in the world all this is going to happen:


“The zeal of the Lord of hosts will accomplish this” (vs 7).


Our future is indeed vibrant.  God’s zeal is the most powerful substance in the universe.  He is moving and will move even greater in the days to come.  Don’t underestimate that tender baby in the manger.



Turning 40

By Mike O’Quin (on his 40th Birthday)


When I was in my pre-teens, the pop group Air Supply was burning up the American charts with their string of love ballads.  I remember listening to their albums (the black vinyl kind, before CD’s) in my big sister’s room and I thought she was so lucky to get to go to their concert when they came to town.  She went with her boyfriend and they probably waved a lighter in the air along with thousands of fans while the Australian duo sang “All Out of Love” and “Here I Am (just when I thought I was over you).”  I didn’t get to go.  I was too young.


I’m not too young now.  I turn 40 today.  And on this monumental day I’m thinking about Air Supply again.  A few years back they came to town for another concert, but this time it was in Surabaya, Indonesia.  I was living there at the time, and as I saw the promotional billboards around the congested metropolis, I thought to myself, “Ah, man, I gotta see Air Supply!  How old are those dudes now?”


I pitched the idea to my wife and some friends and they agreed. “Ah, man, we gotta see Air Supply!”  And then they added, “How old are those dudes now?”


So we purchased our tickets and arrived at the Shangri-la Hotel ballroom with the expectation of a night of magical nostalgia.  Graham Russell and Russell Hitchcock delivered.  Though definitely older, they still belted out their ballads with syrupy gusto.  Sometimes they couldn’t quite hit the very high notes at the end, and the younger base player had to step in and finish out their songs, but overall they still had it.  As far as I could tell they didn’t need oxygen tanks for their own air supply.


As I sat there in the grinning and slightly swaying audience, along with my wife, our newborn son and our friends, I kept thinking to myself, don’t these guys get sick of these songs?  I mean, how many times can someone sing “Two Less Lonely People in the World” without throwing up?   Night after night, in thousands of venues around the globe, they gather the 80’s faithful and stir up those old memories from the skating rink glory days.  Same twelve songs every single night for decades.


Apparently they are very bored of those same old songs.  As the lead singer crooned his way down the aisle that night, looking over the crowd of Asian faces, he noticed a clump of white faces and our cute little baby.  He was in the middle of singing, “All Out of Love,” and stopped right in the middle of his lyrics to chat with us (I’m not making this up):


Russell Hitchcock (singing): “I wish I could carry your smile in my heart/For times when my heart feel so low… (then suddenly talking)…Hi there, what a cute baby.  Where are you guys from?”


Me (stunned): “Oh, uh, hi.  Nice to meet you.  This is Jordan.  And we’re, uh, from Texas.”


Russell (while his partner picked up the rest of the tune):  “Oh really?  I love the states!  I have a house in Los Angeles.”


Me: “Oh great.  We’re enjoying the show.”


Russell: “Thanks.  Nice to meet you.”


Me: “Nice to meet you, too.”


Russell (singing again): “I ‘m all out of love, what am I without you /I can’t be too late to say that I was so wrong…”


So, yes, they are definitely, positively bored of their songs.  Willing to chat with just about anybody to get out of singing them.  But they have to keep singing them, because the paying fans demand them.  They tried to play some of their new stuff but nobody cared.  Everyone wanted to hear the oldies.  Everyone wanted to go back into those old memories and couple skate again.  Now I’m not really sure if those hundreds of Indonesians in attendance that evening ever couple skated but they sure had all of those songs memorized.


The great thing about walking with Jesus is that He makes all things new.[i]   He is looking toward the future with faith.  With Him you get hope, which I’ve heard defined as “the joyful expectation of the good.”[ii]  Good things are in store for you.  New things.  You don’t have to look to the past and keep trudging up the same tired songs.  He puts a new song in your mouth.[iii]


So I’m not depressed on my 40th birthday.  Why?  Because I’m not all out of love.  I’ve got the blessings of Jesus overflowing in my life and His song in my heart.  Future’s so bright, I gotta wear shades, to quote another 80’s band.[iv]


So my question to you is, are you feeling it too?  Does the feeling seem oh so right?  Oh, what are thinking of?  What are you thinking of? (forgive my corny lyrical ending and post your thoughts below).  


— Mike O’Quin, author of Java Wake and Growing Desperate

[i] Revelation 21:5

[ii] Sermon by Bill Johnson, I forget the title, sorry

[iii] Psalm 40:3

[iv] Timbuk3