a prisoner of hope


i’ve been a prisoner to a lot of different things. and people, in a sense.

i’ve been a prisoner to acceptance and validation.
a prisoner to performance and accolades.
a prisoner to your perception of me.
i’ve been a prisoner to ideals and dreams. some have come to fruition. many have not.
i’m usually a prisoner to my past, my sins and shortcomings.
a prisoner to fear. loneliness. never being good enough.
and a prisoner to not feeling loveable.

but i have never been a prisoner of hope.

hope has always been a faithful friend. someone i can come back to whenever i have nowhere else to turn. and in a sense, hope oftentimes is all we have left.

but i don’t want hope to be simply my friend.
i want to be its prisoner.
i want to be unable to escape hope’s reality.
to have it chained around my ankle, carrying it wherever i may limp.

hope is more than a wish. it’s more than a dream that things will get better someday.
it’s an assurance. a promise. a place to hang your hat.
as real as any prison cell.
except this prison is filled with light.
and laughter.
and joy.
and something unswerving, like an anchor.

being a prisoner of hope sets me free.

“return to the stronghold, O prisoners of hope…”
zechariah 9:12

#10) hope

hopeanybody who knows me know that i love good Christmas music.

(nothing by Mariah Carey. or The Carpenters. that’s not good.)

but my favorite song this holiday season has been a song that is not holiday-ish in nature at all.

it’s called “Say Something” by a band named A Great Big World.

(to understand where i want to go with this post, watch/listen to the end.)

in the words of one of my favorite theologians, “i’m not a smart man,” but it seems this song is about a man who is waiting for his lover to say something that will change their relationship forever. if she doesn’t say it, he has to give up.

and so he implores her…say something.

this is a song about hope.

even until the very end of the song, he holds on to the hope that she will say something. throughout the song, the chorus goes: “say something, i’m giving up on you.”

but at the end, the last words of the song are “say something.” there is no “i’m giving up on you.” he holds on to hope until the very end.

i am not trying to over-spiritualize anything, but i wonder if this is how people felt as they waited on God. He had made some great promises about the coming of a King…a Savior…One who would save God’s people.

but He had been quiet for lots of years. nearly 400 of them.

say something.

and then, seemingly out of nowhere, there are rumblings under the surface. a baby is born to an old woman who would grow up to prepare the way for the Lord.

a young, poor, peasant teenager grows a baby inside her womb without ever being intimate with a man.

and an angel appears to lowly shepherds, with the glory of God Himself shining around, and makes this announcement: “I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people.”

God said something.

hope makes the wait worth it.

#9) Christmas card, part 2: infanticide

heroda few days ago, i mentioned that you will probably never see a baby-eating dragon on the front of a Christmas card. and yet, it’s right there in the pages of the Bible.

you know what else you won’t see on a card this year?


that is the killing of newborn infants.

and that’s exactly what happened at the first Christmas.

what an incredible story. here are the highlights:

there is a Roman appointed “king of the Jews” named Herod.
he heard of another king born in his realm.
the magi told him.
they wondered, “where is the one who has been born king of the Jews?”
this probably pissed Herod off. old kings don’t like it when new kings are born.
he was disturbed.
he told the magi to find this baby and let him know so he could go and worship.
but Herod never intended to worship the newborn king.
he intended to kill the newborn king.
God warned the magi to go home another way and avoid Herod.
and since Herod couldn’t kill the one baby boy
he would kill all the baby boys.
it became known as “the massacre of the innocents.”

it was also a massacre of the innocence.

and it revealed (again) the world’s need for a Savior.

and while you will most likely never see infanticide coming from Hallmark anytime soon…they do depict well that a Savior was indeed given.

a baby boy.
who survived death once.
to grow up and defeat it again.

#8) Christmas card, part 1: a baby-eating dragon

dragoni am calling these next two posts “things you won’t likely see on a Christmas card anytime soon.”

(in the interest of full disclosure, i think i remember reading something by Max Lucado about Christmas cards you won’t likely see soon. it stuck with me.)

our first installment: a baby-eating dragon.

in the book of Revelation, the author John has a vision. he sees a woman, pregnant and crying out in the pain of childbirth. he also sees an enormous red dragon with seven heads. the dragon was standing in front of the woman.

the dragon’s intention: to devour the baby the moment he was born.

terrifying. and not something likely to be printed by Hallmark anytime soon.

it’s just not very…oh, i don’t know…Christmas-y.

it reminds us, once again, of the stark reality of Jesus’ birth. it was not sterile. it was not pretty. it was not always Christmas card material.

there were forces against him from the beginning. forces that understood the cosmic fate that hung in the balance. forces that were ready to wage war.

so, how does John’s vision end?

well, the dragon with ten heads stands by, as the baby is born. ten mouths poised to devour the child. as the baby arrives, John notes he “will rule all nations” and then is snatched up and away from the jaws of the hungry enemy. the child is taken up to God and his throne.

the simple point? the Christ-child is victorious. his enemy loses.

that sounds like a Christmas card i would buy.

#7) baby boy

crying“but little Lord Jesus, no crying he makes.”

in a word, i can tell you how i feel about this Christmas song lyric:


it makes me cringe. the only lyric i can’t stand more comes from the hymn “in the garden.” i can’t even bring myself to type it here. (but you can try to guess in the comments!)

i hate to be all grinch-y, but i’m sure the little Lord Jesus…he cried. a lot.

all human babies cry. especially when they are firstborn. in fact, it’s one of the first signs doctors look and listen for. if the baby cries, it’s a good sign the child is healthy.

the last four days, all of my babies have been puking. and pooping. and other flu-related activities. as frustrating and gross as it is, sickness is essentially a reminder to us that we are, indeed, human.

there are other reminders of our human-ness.
hunger and thirst.
and yes…even crying.

if we lose these things, we lose what makes us human.

and if we aren’t careful, we strip the little Lord Jesus of his humanity. basic theology teaches us that Jesus was fully God and fully human. we seem to grasp the God part…but seem to forget the human part. but it’s so important.

all of those things i listed as reminders of our humanity…Jesus experienced those things. he had fears and sadness. he got tired. he experienced hunger and thirst. and he wept.

so, this Christmas season, don’t lose the “baby boy” in Jesus’ birth. he did all the things baby boys do.

and that includes making a racket in the middle of the “silent night.”

#6) joy

Imagefor the last few years, i’ve been playing with an idea. what would it look like for followers of Jesus to throw a huge party for one simple reason: simply to celebrate?

spare no expense. get dressed up. go dancing. eat great food. drink wine that doesn’t come from a box and doesn’t have a screw-off top.

just because.
just because joy is good enough reason to celebrate.
and everyone is welcome to share in the joy.
young. old. rich. poor. happy. sad. single. married. with children or without.

what a great story for a hurting world. “we have something to celebrate! we have a special kind of joy!”

last night, i got pretty darn close to seeing this idea realized. our church threw a Christmas celebration aptly titled “unspeakable joyfest.” it was everything a party should be:

adults dressed up
kids running and jumping and playing
songs of the season
a great spread of food
good company

at one point, after the kids had re-enacted the birth of Christ and we were singing a few Christmas carols, i looked around. i realized i was sitting at a huge table, all by myself. and that sweeping feeling of joy, the one so familiar at Christmas time, covered me like a blanket. i could physically see joy. all was well in my little world. it was a holy moment. it was a moment of unspeakable joy.

when Jesus was born, the angels spoke these words to the trembling shepherds:

“Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord.” (Luke 2:10-11)

the coming of joy coincides with the coming of Christ.
and not just some joy…”great joy.”
and not just some people…”all the people.”

that includes you. and me. and the world.
joy to the world.

#5) silent night

Imagegrowing up, “Silent Night” was always one of my favorite Christmas songs. especially the Mannheim Steamroller version. at the end of the song, it felt like you were on top of a mountain on the night Christ was born, looking down, taking in all the holiness. and then, there are some sleigh bells jingling in the distance…i always felt like that was a subversive nod to Santa.

listen to it here.

the problem is, i don’t feel as though the night Christ was born was all that silent.

actually, i wonder if he was even born at night. Luke 2 says he was born…and placed in a manger…because there was no guest room available for him. but it doesn’t say this occurred at night.

it does go on to say there were angels close by keeping watch over their flocks…at night. (Luke 2:8) and then the angel makes this declaration: “Today, in the town of David, a Savior has been born to you.” (2:11)

the baby had been born “today.”

now, day or night, it doesn’t really matter. i’m sure, either way, it wasn’t a silent night…what with all the racket the one angel was making. and then he was joined by “a great company of the heavenly host.” (2:13)

nothing silent about that.

however, i like to think that sometime in the day or night, God blessed Mary and Joseph with a few silent moments with their baby. before the angels. before the shepherds. before the first diaper blowouts. there were moments.
silent moments.
moments where there is nobody else.
no nurses or doctors or family members.
just mom.
and dad.
and baby.
and God.

those moments are what turn silent (or not so silent) nights in to holy nights.

#4) Joseph, part 2

Imagei have a one year old baby.
she doesn’t like to sleep in her crib.
so, she sleeps in the same bed as her mother and i.
and when she wakes up, she screams. a lot.
and i get frustrated.
sometimes i hold her.
and she fights back. screaming louder.
sometimes i just let her wail.
sometimes i try to sleep through it.

i remember the day she was born.
i stood by, helpless as my wife labored.
there was blood. and amniotic fluid.
and, as with all of my other children…there was a constant fear and a constant prayer.
i was always, always afraid something bad would happen.
either to Keri. or to my baby. or both.
i have those kinds of fears.
i couldn’t do much. doctors and nurses did most of the work.
except for ice chips.
i could do the ice chips.
and hold her hand.
and thank God when our baby was born healthy and safe.

and it made all future screaming fits from the little one worth it.

imagine what Joseph felt like on the night his son was born.
helpless. afraid.
there was blood. and screaming.
i’m sure he offered a hand to squeeze.
it’s all he could do.
i’m also sure he sighed deeply when the baby had arrived safely.
sleeping in his mother’s arms.

and later on. when Jesus wouldn’t sleep through the night.
or He woke up screaming.
and Joseph was at the end of his wit.
and nothing seemed to soothe the child.
i’m sure he thought back to that night…the night the baby was born.
and he reminded himself
that it’s all worth it.

#3) Joseph, part 1

Imagethis time of year, Joseph gets a lot of love. we don’t really talk much about the earthly father of Christ from January to November…but here, in the last month of the year, we remember the role Joseph played in the Christmas drama.

the fact Joseph gets the most PR at Christmas might be due to the fact that he only really appears in the Bible when Jesus is born. outside of the birth accounts, Joseph is noticeably absent from the pages of my Bible. i don’t know…but i am suspecting he might have died when Jesus was still young.

but, you will notice he very much is on the scene when Jesus makes his way in to the world. in those few short pages, we see two amazing qualities of his man.

1) his character. 

Joseph found out his fiance, Mary, was pregnant. but he also knew the baby wasn’t his. that’s a dilemma. in Matthew 1 it says that Joseph was a righteous man, faithful to the law. the law stated Mary was an adulteress and should be publicly stoned. yet, Joseph “did not want to expose her to public disgrace.” (Matthew 1:19) he would break of his engagement quietly.

extraordinary. at the time, Joseph did not know the baby Mary was carrying was from God. he only knew she was pregnant and the baby wasn’t his. instead of destroying Mary…and the baby…he wanted to shield her from further disgrace. that’s classy, man.

2) his obedience.

after Joseph finds out from the angel that the baby Mary carries is the Holy Spirit’s work, his faithfulness is put to the test.

the angel tells Joseph to take Mary home to be his wife.
his response: “[Joseph] did what the angel of the Lord commanded him…” (Matthew 1:24)

the angel appears again, after Jesus is born, and tells Joseph to flee to Egypt with Mary to save the boy’s life.
his response: “so [Joseph] got up, took the child and his mother during the night and left for Egypt…” (Matthew 2:14)

once more, the angel appears and gives Joseph the green light to head back home.
his response: “so [Joseph] got up, took the child and his mother and went to the land of Israel.” (Matthew 2:21)

unwavering obedience. no matter where or how or when…if God told Joseph to go, he went. no questions asked.

Joseph was the real deal. we sing lots of songs this time of year about Mary…but we need to take notice of Joseph. his character and his obedience are more than admirable. they are qualities that make the man.

tomorrow, i want to spend more time talking about Joseph. while i long to be a man of character and obedience like Joseph…it turns out the two of us have other things in common.

#2) fear

Imagethree times in the first two chapters of the gospel of Luke, we see this phrase:

“do not be afraid.”

each time this phrase is uttered, it’s by an angel who has appeared to an unsuspecting player in the Christmas drama.

the angel Gabriel approaches Zechariah in the temple to inform him a son will be born to him in his old age. Gabriel’s first words to Zechariah:

“do not be afraid.”

six months later, Gabriel makes the trip to Nazareth to inform the teenage peasant girl, who happened to be a virgin, that she would give birth to a king. Gabriel’s first words to Mary:

“do not be afraid.”

nine months after that, an angel appears to shepherds living in nearby fields, minding their own business. the angel shone with the glory of God and said these words:

“do not be afraid.”

now, you won’t see this depicted on any of the Christmas cards you receive this year…but it’s obvious from the story: the appearance of an angel invoked great fear. these were not chubby, cute angels with rosy cheeks who look like ridiculously happy toddlers in bath robes.

nope. that kind of angel doesn’t scare anyone.

the angels that appeared to Zechariah, Mary, and the shepherds were the kind of angels that scared you before they even told you why they were visiting. did you notice that? these angels don’t tell you anything about unplanned pregnancies or kings being born until after they assure you: “do not be afraid.”

this is a good word to start off this Christmas season. this story reminds us that what was happening was very, very serious. this wasn’t just a feel-good cartoon. God’s plan to save the world was being set into motion. so He sent His best warrior-messengers. and these angels struck fear in to the hearts of good people.

but these angels, speaking for God, were quick to remind Zechariah, Mary, the shepherds…and now us…to not be afraid. and as they heed the command, the story unfolds.