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Stewarding Our Pealing Appeal By Jon Lewis

The Message Amind Divergent Messages

Recently, I watched two movies. The first was I Heard the Bells, the story of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow and what led him to write that famous poem after the tragic death of his wife and, subsequently, his son’s Civil War injury. The second movie was The Polar Express, a fanciful, animated tale of children traveling to the North Pole to determine whether Santa Claus is honest. Both films had a Christmas bell as a critical theme, but that is where their similarity ends.

For the boy protagonist in The Polar Express, the main point of the bell he received as a gift from Santa was to remind him to believe—presumably in himself, in Santa, in imagination, in anything. In the Longfellow movie, there is also a call to think, but instead, in something specific—in the reality of God and His ultimate goodness.

This Christmas season, I find the contrast between these two themes more descriptive than ever of the tension in the world around me. Of course, that tension is nothing new. We’ve all seen countless billboards, posters, or Christmas cards reminding us of the “reason for the season” or that “wise men still seek Him.” But the contrast between these movie themes has added a new layer of significance for me about how we should live and lead in our contemporary world this Christmas.

Cultural Competition

Longfellow’s wife, Fanny Appleton, used to tell her children that the ringing bells they heard on Christmas represented the “voice of the church.” I’m sure Longfellow had that thought in mind when his poem described his contemporary world impacted by the Civil War:

Then, from each black, accursed mouth, the cannon thundered in the South,

And with the sound, the carols drowned

Of peace on earth, goodwill to men!

And in despair, I bowed my head; “There is no peace on earth,” I said;

“For hate is strong, and mocks the song

Of peace on earth, goodwill to men!

I can’t think of more poignant words to describe what we all face today since we are surrounded everywhere by attempts to drown out the valid life-giving message of Christmas—from vitriolic hate speech to intentional counterfeit Christmas messages encouraging belief in anything except God and the Babe in the manger.

That is why Longfellow’s last stanza is equally poignant, speaking directly to the response those of us as the “voice of the church” should be making in the world today:

Then pealed the bells more loud and deep: “God is not dead, nor doth He sleep,

The Wrong shall fail, the Right prevail,

With peace on earth, goodwill to men.”

Finding a More Compelling Way

The challenge that I am feeling this Christmas is one I leave with you: If we and those we lead are indeed the only “voice of the church” people might hear, how should we be stewarding our bell-ringing proclamations so that they are indeed “more loud and deep”? I am sure it does NOT mean yelling our gospel proclamations more loudly and obnoxiously just so people might hear us over the din of other social, political, or religious messages. Instead, it means finding ways to make our “pealing” more appealing! Perhaps our messages will ring loudest in the minds of those around us through our quiet, humble, and even silent expressions of genuine hope, peace, joy, and love.

Come to think of it, that is exactly how God did it, too—quietly slipping into a noisy, mixed-up world as an unobtrusive baby in a stable manner and humbly creating the greatest impact on mankind’s history. It was one that truly does declare. . .

Peace on earth, goodwill to men.

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Jon Lewis is a Senior Associate for Partnership Advancement with OC International and focuses on encouraging global Christian leaders toward greater ministry effectiveness. With over 40 years of experience, he also served as an MAF mission pilot in Africa and CEO of Partners International.


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