Dec 20, 2012

Christmas: Anything But Serene, Gentle, and Nice...And Thank God for That!

We like to think of peaceful scenes of love, shepherds, angels at Christmas.

The whole scene is so serene, so peaceful.

Shirley Guthrie reminds us in his book, Christian Doctrine: 

The Christmas story is anything but the sentimental, harmless, once-a-year occasion for a "Christmas Spirit" that lasts only a few days before we return to the "facts" of the "real world." Christmas is the story of a radical invasion of God into the kind of real world where we live all year long -- a world where there is political unrest and injustice, poverty, hatred, jealousy, and both fear and longing that things could be different. (p.235)

While things may have seemed serene and genteel in the manger, there was something else going on in the heavenly realms.

Christmas was God's declaration to the Prince of Darkness that his time had come to an end.

John Eldridge says in his book Waking the Dead:

The birth of Christ was an act of war, an invasion. The enemy knew it and tried to kill Him as a babe (Matt. 2:13)...War is not just one among many themes in the Bible. It is the backdrop for the whole story, the context for everything else. God is at war. He is trampling out the vineyards where the grapes of wrath are stored. And what is He fighting for? Our freedom and restoration: the glory of God is man fully alive. (p.16)

For those who know all too well what it means to be trampled under foot, to be oppressed by evil and darkness, what's needed is the destruction and the shattering of evil and darkness.

That's Christmas!

For those of us still reeling from the unspeakable evil that occurred in Connecticut, indeed the promise of this child to be born is indeed a word of strong comfort.

Listen again to the promise of Christmas:
"For as in the day of Midian's defeat, you have shattered the yoke that burdens them, the bar across their shoulders, the rod of their oppressor. Every warrior's boot used in battle and every garment rolled in blood will be destined for burning, will be fuel for the fire. For to us a child is born, to us a son is given..." Isaiah 9:4-6a.

Dec 19, 2012

Calvin Was Wrong...I Think

John Calvin said in the Institutes, "Wherever we see the Word of God purely preached and heard, and the sacraments administered according to Christ's institution, there, it is not to be doubted, a church of God exists."

The Scots Confession says, "Since the earliest days of the Reformation, Reformed Christians have marked the presence of the true Church wherever:

  • the Word of God is truly preached and heard,
  • the Sacraments are rightly administered, and 
  • ecclesiastical discipline is uprightly ministered.
Both are incomplete understandings of the church. 


I know. I'm just a regular guy. Who do I think I am to say that John Calvin and the Scots Confession were wrong? 

In my genuinely humble opinion, as I see it, the problem with both Calvin and the Scot's Confession is that both of these understandings of the church assume Christendom. They both assume a world where people are already a part of the church. Such that, what is necessary for a healthy church is good maintenance and order of the church

The problem is that's not the world I live in. I live in a world where the majority of the people are not part of the church. I live in a missionary context, where most of the people in the world need to come to know Christ as Lord and Savior and become part of the church.

Calvin and the Scot's Confession's definition of the church point inward. Their definitions have to do with institutional maintenance and order. There is no mention of the outward expressions of the church and her missional imperative to make disciples of all nations and to establish God's kingdom here on earth as it is in heaven.

Calvin and the Notes of the Reformed Church only tell half the story of the church.

Calvin and the Scot's Confession's definition of the true church are inadequate understandings of the church. 

Yes. I really did just say humbly as I can, of course.

Dec 18, 2012

Where Was God in Connecticut?...Sermon from Sunday

I don't normally post my sermons on the blog but have been asked by a few people for the text of the sermon. Since I don't use a manuscript, the best I can do is to point folks to the audio.

To listen to the sermon, click on the word sermon and it will take you to the LCOP sermon page.

May God continue to bring healing to those who are hurting.

May we continue to choose the way of love, forgiveness, and peace and join God in fighting back against evil.

God bless!

James <><

Dec 17, 2012

Paul Harvey...The Christ of Christmas

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Paul Harvey, the master story teller, shares the following regarding the Christ of Christmas.

There was once a man who didn't believe in God, and he didn't hesitate to let others know how he felt about religion and religious holidays, like Christmas. His wife, however, did believe, and she raised their children to also have faith in God and Jesus, despite his disparaging comments.

One snowy Christmas Eve, his wife was taking their children to a Christmas Eve service in the farm community in which they lived. She asked him to come, but, as always, he refused.

"That story is nonsense!" he said.  "Why would God lower Himself to come to Earth as a man? That's ridiculous!"  

So she and the children left, and he stayed home.

A while later, the winds grew stronger and the snow turned into a blizzard. As the man looked out the window, all he saw was a blinding snowstorm. He sat down to relax before the fire for the evening.  Then he heard a loud thump. Something had hit the window. Then another thump.  He looked out, but couldn't see more than a few feet. When the snow let up a little, he ventured outside to see what could have been beating on his window. In the field near his house he saw a flock of wild geese.

Apparently they had been flying south for the winter when they got caught in the snowstorm and couldn't go on. They were lost and stranded on his farm, with no food or shelter. They just flapped their wings and flew around the field in low circles, blindly and aimlessly. A couple of them had flown into his window, it seemed.

The man felt sorry for the geese and wanted to help them. The barn would be a great place for them to stay, he thought. It's warm and safe; surely they could spend the night and wait out the storm. So he walked over to the barn and opened the doors wide, then watched and waited, hoping they would notice the open barn and go inside. But the silly geese just fluttered around aimlessly and didn't seem to notice the barn or realize what it could mean for them.

The man tried to get their attention, but that just seemed to scare them and they moved further away. He went into the house and came with some bread, broke it up, and made a breadcrumb trail leading to the barn. They still didn't catch on.

Now he was getting frustrated. He got behind them and tried to shoo them toward the barn, but they only got more scared and scattered in every direction except toward the barn. Nothing he did could get them to go into the barn where they would be warm and safe.  

"Why don't they follow me?!" he exclaimed. "Can't they see this is the only place where they can survive the storm?"

He thought for a moment and realized that they just wouldn't follow a human. "If only I were a goose, then I could save them," he said out loud. Then he had an idea. He went into barn, got one of his own geese, and carried it in his arms as he circled around behind the flock of wild geese. He then released it. His goose flew through the flock and straight into the barn – and one by one the other geese followed it to safety.

He stood silently for a moment as the words he had spoken a few minutes earlier replayed in his mind: "If only I were a goose, then I could save them!" Then he thought about what he had said to his wife earlier. "Why would God want to be like us? That's ridiculous!" Suddenly it all made sense. That is what God had done. We were like the geese – blind, lost, perishing. God had His Son become like us so He could show us the way and save us. That was the meaning of Christmas, he realized.

As the winds and blinding snow died down, his soul became quiet and pondered this wonderful thought. Suddenly he understood what Christmas was all about, why Christ had come. Years of doubt and disbelief vanished like the passing storm. He fell to his knees in the snow, and prayed his first prayer: "Thank You, God, for coming in human form to get me out of the storm!"

Now you know the rest of the story.

Merry Christmas!

Dec 12, 2012

Advent Reflections...Too Humane for a Savior?

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Advent reflections...

Malcolm Muggeridge observed that in our day, with family-planning clinics offering convenient ways to correct "mistakes" that might disgrace a family name, "It is, in point of fact, extremely improbable, under existing conditions, that Jesus would have been permitted to be born at all. 

"Mary's pregnancy, in poor circumstances, and with the father unknown, would have been an obvious case for an abortion; and her talk of having conceived as a result of the intervention of the Holy Ghost would have pointed to the need for psychiatric treatment, and made the case for terminating her pregnancy even stronger. 

"Thus our generation, needing a Savior more, perhaps, than any that has ever existed, would be too humane to allow one to be born" 

Yancey, "Jesus I Never Knew", p.32.

Dec 11, 2012

Advent Reflections: 9 Months Pregnant, 80 Mile Journey on Foot from Nazareth to Bethlehem. What Were Mary and Joseph Thinking?

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This post was first published in December of 2010. 

I've noticed that it's been getting a ton of hits is after all the Season of Advent. May this repost be a blessing to many.

Advent Blessings!

"In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world...And everyone went to his own town to register. So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David..." (Luke 2:1-4).

These are the opening words to the birth narrative of Jesus in Luke.

The distance between Nazareth to Bethlehem is about 70 miles as the crow flies. It would have been at least an 80 mile journey by foot on the dirt roads.

A typical caravan traveled about 20 miles a day. That would have made this journey a four day journey. However, Mary was in her last trimester of her pregnancy when they went on this journey. 

Tradition says that Mary rode on a donkey while Joseph walked. The Bible never mentions a donkey, but for Mary's sake, I hope there was a donkey for her.

I have four children. My wife and I have experienced four births. My wife is a pretty tough lady. She gave birth to all four children naturally and without pain medication. I know...crazy. I pleaded with the doctors to give her some pain meds but my voice doesn't count in the birth room.

Even though my wife is a tough lady, we would have never thought about going on a journey like the one Mary and Joseph took.
  • Mary would have been on the back of a donkey, while fully pregnant, for 5-7 days.
  • There were no rest stops along the way, no fast food places to stop and eat, no motels or hotels. They would have slept on the hard ground, make do with the food they were carrying, and it would have been pretty darn cold.
And the craziest thing is, while it was totally necessary for Joseph to make this journey, it was completely unnecessary for Mary to do so. Women were not required to show up for the census. Only men were counted. 

So the question has to be asked, "What the heck were Mary and Joseph thinking when they went on this journey together? What possessed them to make to take Mary along?"

Ahh...We forget what it's like to live in a small town, and we cannot forget about the controversial circumstances around Mary's pregnancy.
  • Sure Mary. An angel appeared. 
  • Sure Mary. I'm sure the three months while you disappeared while engaged to Joseph had nothing to do with you showing up pregnant.
You see, the spontaneous whispers that would erupt whenever people saw Mary and Joseph, the finger pointing, and the downright rude comments that were made about them were worse than the thought of a week long journey on foot to Bethlehem. Mary couldn't imagine staying in Nazareth by herself without Joseph there to protect her and shield her. 

Mary insisted on going.

And so was fulfilled what was promised through the prophets: "But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for out of you will come a ruler who will be the shepherd of my people Israel" (Matthew 2:6).

God uses even gossip and cruelty of the smalltown folk of Nazareth to fulfill his promise to send to us a Savior. There is nothing that can stop God from loving us.

That's the story of Christmas.

Merry Christmas!

Dec 10, 2012

Do You Know "WHERE" You Are Leading?

"Leadership is about going somewhere - if you and your people don't know where you are going, your leadership doesn't matter. "
- Ken Blanchard

Alice in Wonderland came to a fork in the road in her search for a way out of Wonderland.

Alice asks the Chesire Cat, "Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?'

"That depends a good deal on where you want to get to," the cat replied.

Alice replied that she really did not much care.

The smiling cat told Alice in no uncertain terms, "Then it doesn't matter which way you go."

Do you know "WHERE" you are leading?

Dec 1, 2012

Conservative Evangelicals...Liberal Progressives...Who's Right? Who's Wrong?

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"We know that we have come to know him if we obey his commands. The man who says, 'I know him,' but does not do what he commands is a liar, and the truth is not in him. But if anyone obeys his word, God's love is truly made complete in him. This is how we know we are in him. Whoever claims to live in him must walk as Jesus did." (1 John 2:3-6)

Conservative evangelicals read passages like this and point the accusing finger at the liberals to accuse the liberals of not obeying God's commands. "This is exactly what's wrong with the liberals," the evangelicals say. "If they would just take God's commands and word seriously, their lives would reflect God's holiness."

Liberals read passages like this and point the accusing finger at the conservatives and accuse the conservatives of not obeying the commands of Jesus. "This is exactly what's wrong with the conservative evangelicals. If they would just obey God's commands to love and welcome, their lives would reflect more of Jesus' love for people."

So who's right?

Who's wrong?

Perhaps, it's really not about who's pointing fingers at whom.

Perhaps, the truth is that the Word points it's finger at us - all of us conservatives and liberals and everyone in between - to challenge us to love and welcome all people as Jesus, and challenging us to keep God's laws so that we can be found pure and holy.

It is the Word that judges us.

It is the Word that challenges us.

It is the Word that transforms us so that we can walk as Jesus walked.

We all need to be more like Jesus.

We all need to be judged, challenged, and transformed by the power of the Word of God.