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Approaching Christmas

December 6, 2011 Leave a comment

Approaching Christmas

Our culture has this odd approach to Christmas nowadays.  There’s political correctness being argued in every corner.  Mass consumerism is rampant.  As the numbers of separated families continue to rise, arguments over who gets who for the big morning abound.  I just had a young teenage lady in my office in tears wondering how she can make everyone in her ‘two homes’ happy.  There are even expectations for families who consider themselves healthy.  There are traditions to uphold.  There are certain cookies to bake.  Budgets are stretched while kids hand catalogs with circled wishes to their parents.  It seems to me that Christmas is full of pressure.  Do you ever feel like that?  Do you now feel like that?

A couple years ago I jumped into an argument of ‘posts’ with person who doesn’t believe in God.  Christmas was just a day off to him.  He was and I assume still is a thought writer…a blogger.  His approach then was to criticize all Christians for using Christmas trees and outside lights.  We were not living up to our true traditional worship.  He saw Christians caught up as much as anyone else in the consumerism of the day.  He also believed that Christmas should not be a national holiday nor should schools, hospitals, government buildings, or city parks show anything that would help someone celebrate the season…because the base holiday of the season is Christmas.

I asked him if, because I put up a tree or outside lights, that I love Jesus less.  He answered that he didn’t mean people like me.  That was funny.  I also asked him if my show of joy for the season should be private or public.  He said that I should be respectful of other beliefs and carefully trod what I say so not to offend.  His joy for not believing was very public, but he was very against Christmas being public.  His contention was that because it is religious, it should be private, personal and quietly held.  Wow.  More pressure on us believers.  I’m sure you’ve heard and seen similar things in the news or your workplace.  He did get me thinking though about how people really see my celebration.

Is this an article to argue (voice raised here), “Our Rights as American Citizens!”?  No, not at all.  I’m simply writing for my own reasons.  I’m finding that it feels like I’m in the middle of a tornado watching all the expectations, political correctness, busyness, things to do and buy fly around me in whirlwind fashion.  Something inside me wonders … as Christians, do we really celebrate the new born king?

Luke 1:46-55 records a song.  It’s Mary’s song she sang while talking with her cousin Elizabeth, mother of John the Baptist.  The NIV translates the Mary’s Merry Christmas greeting as, “My soul glorifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my savior.”  Luke 2:14 records the shepherds crying out their holiday greeting as, “Glory to God in the highest…”  It’s later recorded in the same chapter that the shepherds went and told everyone they saw about what they were blessed to witness….and all were amazed (2:17).  I’m wondering if we’re so far removed from the history of what really happened that we’ve lost the real joy.  By ‘real joy’ I mean that we now have a way to Heaven.  Are we allowing the frustrations and pressures and consumerism and expectations and political correctness to steal away the joy that Mary and the shepherds once had?  Can we still have that same joy?  Can we have the same joy that caused Simeon to say, “…you can now dismiss your servant in peace…” after seeing the baby Jesus?  Can we still have the joy that caused the shepherds to tell…key word is tell…many people about their joy?

Are lights and trees ok?  Is Santa ok?  Are children’s Christmas lists ok?  Are big ham dinners with homemade cookies and hot chocolate ok?  Let’s say that I’ve had a change of heart.  I love that stuff.  Lots of people do.  Many celebrate the season not really knowing why the season is celebrated.  However, do I, in the midst of hanging outdoor wreaths and wrapping presents, proclaim glory to the promised king?  I guess it comes down to this.  If people see me celebrate, but all they see are the tree lights or the shirt tie that plays “Little Drummer Boy” or the antlers that fit on my dog’s head, then I’m off base.  As a believer, I’m a priest carrying the promise of salvation to the world (1 Peter 2:9).  What better time do we have to celebrate publicly with smiles and joy?  This is the time we can celebrate as a church family, worldwide, that our savior was born.  We have forgiveness!

So, I don’t write this for those who don’t believe.  I write this for me, a believer, who sometimes gets stuck in the rut of the “holidays” and forgets that I’ve been both privileged and entrusted with a message that truly is the best news anyone has ever received.  It’s not mine to keep.  It’s His story…for me to give away.

 

Oh come let us adore Him,

ed

 

PS – Just thinking out loud here.  On Easter Sunday many Christians greet each other with “He is risen!” to which the response, “He is risen indeed!” is given.  Let’s start something new just for the sake of newness and as a reminder.  How about, “He has been born!”  “He has been born indeed!”  : 0 )

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Getting Dunked

January 7, 2011 Leave a comment

Having an allergic reaction to something…I’m stoked up on Benedryl right now…so I have no idea if this will have the normal 100’s of spelling errors or 1000’s.  🙂

We’re going to jump right into this one.  The coming of Jesus ushered in a whole new season in the timeline of history.  It was talked about all through the Old Testament.  Malachi calls it the Great Day of the Lord.  In my estimation, he may have very well called it the Greatest day of the Lord.  It was the day Jesus became priest and king over a new Kingdom being born.

In the Old Testament, a priest could only go before God after ceremonially washing…a baptism of sorts (Numbers 19:7-9, Exodus 19:5-15).  It was a picture of coming clean before entering the presence of God.  God instructed his people (His chosen Priesthood) to clean up before coming before Him.  He instructed His priests of the O.T. to wash and be patient for a time before coming before Him…He is Holy.  We are not.

Does water wash away sin?  No.  There is nothing magical in water.  It is the act of being obedient to what God asks that takes away sin.  Other than that, I can’t explain it.  As Forest Gump wisely said, “And that’s all I have to say about that.”

Jesus chose to be baptized.  He was becoming our Priest…The Priest of priests.  He carried the Good News from the Father to us so that we might carry it and give it away as well.  We are therefore…priests (1 Peter 2:5, Numbers 19:7-9).  We need to walk the same path as the priests before us.  As Jesus put it, ““Let it be so now; it is proper for us to do this to fulfill all righteousness” (Matthew 3:15).   As we are baptized, we are fulfilling the prophesies of the O.T.  Way cool!  You’re baptism was talked about thousands of years ago!

So what is the Great Day?  It is the day when God’s Kingdom was established with a new High Priest…Jesus.  It is also the day you enter that Kingdom as a priest of the Gospel of our Savior Jesus Christ.  Baptism is a picture of getting “cleaned up” as you come before God to serve His Son the King.  It is a picture of a crossing-over.  You are making your mark before men.  It’s something to put on the calendar.  It’s a picture of you putting away, actually putting to death..killing and burying the old self and having the NEW person rise (Romans 6:4).  God then creates something new in us.  Again, does the water do that?  No, God does all this through our obedience to do something radical for Him.

Wow, you might be asking, “Am I that important?”  Yes, you are that important in the Kingdom.  God calls you to be a priest.  You’re not just a church service attendee anymore.  You’re not just a “member” of your local church family.  You are part of God’s Kingdom.  You now carry the holiest of all things, the truth of salvation.  You…as you go through your day are a priest!  You’re not just the lady who works in a cubicle.  You are a cubicle working priest in the Kingdom.  You’re not just a student.  You’re a student and a priest under the direction of the creator of the universe.  If that doesn’t “WoW” you I’m not sure what else can.  You are in the Kingdom led by a person that died and then came back to life.  You are in a Kingdom with a God who gives you His spirit so that you have access to His power, wisdom, words, strength, courage, emotional stability, and more each and every minute of every day.  Yes, He gives it all to you so you can use it.  Are you using it?  Do you see miracles around you…simply because you’re there?  It is possible…the Bible says so.  Jesus said, “…anyone who believes in me will do the same works I have done, and even greater works, because I am going to be with the Father” John 14:12.

Why should you choose baptism?  Well, I like to look at things simply.  If the Bible asks us to do it (Acts 2:38), and Jesus said it was good for us to do (Matthew 3:15), it’s good enough for me.  It was good enough for new believers in the New Testament to do, and it’s probably good for me too.  Actually…it’s something I do to show God I trust Him…and that putting myself out there to say that He can trust me too.

If you’re not baptized, I hope you consider it.  It is something special between you and your Lord.  It is your ceremonial washing before you enter the priesthood of the Creator King.  Isn’t that cool!?

Questions to consider:

  • Why do we find debate about baptism?  If one reads…simply reads through the New Testament, one will find that baptism was the mark of the believers in the New Church.  It’s was Peter asked us to do.  It’s what Philip encouraged the Ethiopian to do.  It’s what Paul did and what he preached.  Why wouldn’t we do what Peter and Paul said to do?  People were asking them what they should do to become part of this incredible Kingdom.  Baptism was always a part of that new part of their life.
  • How can we make it more special and less “just part of” any church’s Sunday morning service?
  • Do you think it pleases our Lord when we just say, “Yes” to His requests no matter how weird they look?  Have you been willing?  This question goes beyond baptism.  It actually goes to all sorts of things that are going to look ‘foreign’ and ‘alien’ to the world we live in.  Baptism, as I read, is just the first step…the beginning.
  • Do we really understand why we need this picture of “becoming clean” before God?  Do we understand that we are going to be carrying the most Holy message ever to be placed in our hands?  Do we see how we need to have sin far from us so that we can be right there, close to God and His Spirit so we can be best directed anywhere we are whether at work, at school, driving down the exit ramp (Ted William’s Golden Voice story…wow!)  God’s redemptive work is happening all the time…He wants it to happen through you!  You’re incredibly and amazingly valuable to God.

Love, Serve, Spread the Word,

ed

We Decrease, Jesus Increases

March 19, 2010 Leave a comment

John 3: 28-36 The Proper Imbalance

(A Sermon preached by Senior Associate Dean Willie J. Jennings

at the Duke University Chapel For the 2003 Baccalaureate of Duke Divinity School)

28 You yourselves are my witnesses that I said, ‘I am not the Messiah, but I have been sent ahead of him.’ 29 He who has the bride is the bridegroom. The friend of the bridegroom, who stands and hears him, rejoices greatly at the bridegroom’s voice. For this reason my joy has been fulfilled. 30 He must increase, but I must decrease.” 31 The one who comes from above is above all; the one who is of the earth belongs to the earth and speaks about earthly things. The one who comes from heaven is above all. 32 He testifies to what he has seen and heard, yet no one accepts his testimony. 33 Whoever has accepted his testimony has certified this, that God is true. 34 He whom God has sent speaks the words of God, for he gives the Spirit without measure. 35 The Father loves the Son and has placed all things in his hands. 36 Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever disobeys the Son will not see life, but must endure God’s wrath.

Dean Jones, beloved and esteemed colleagues of the Divinity School, glorious graduates, families, and friends, I draw your attention to a slender verse of scripture that was read in your hearing found near the end of the third chapter of the Gospel according to John, “He must increase and I must decrease.”

Is it is possible to capture in a few simple words the beauty and complexity of one’s life? If it is possible, then with these words John the Baptist summarizes his own life. John’s words draw together all the loose strands of his life and all the pieces of his history. What brought it all together for John was hearing news of that other prophet, the one who was with him at the Jordan. The other prophet was now drawing disciples. John replied to that news by making a clear distinction. “I told you,” he said, “I am not the Messiah. I have been sent to prepare the way for him.” John’s words raise for us the crucial question. Indeed it is the question that binds us all together here in this place at this moment. What does it mean to have your life defined as preparation for another?

John, John, this fire-breathing dragon, this locus and wild-honey eating, camel hair-skin wearing wild man — He appears in the wilderness shouting the demand to repent. John has been thrust into the midst of his peoples’ hopes and pains, fears and longings. Expectation and interpretation will forever surround his life and there will never be escape. John has become like so many before him — prophet, servant.

Words, Words surround the life of this servant. Words about him, questions to him, interpretations of him and his actions. Endless words. Yet John has only one word, one weak word for his life –Preparation. Prepare – prepare the way of the Lord. John prepares the way for the Messiah. John’s life has become nothing more, nothing less than the stage upon which the Messiah, the deliverer will appear. John has become an occasion, an event that marks the coming of the savior of the world. God has done this to him. You can see God’s fingerprints all over this. This is God’s work. My sisters and brothers, the God we serve places women and men in the terrible cross currents of peoples’ pains and longings, their desires, their delusions, and fears. And in these cross currents, the servants of God are pushed and pulled by peoples’ expectations and interpretations. The servants of God are always vulnerable to the words of others. They can and will be cut and ripped by those words and they may even be killed by those words. We could not come right out and say this to these graduates. If we had told them this they would never have come to Divinity School. We would have never received their tuition dollars. So we waited until now. Listen soon-to-be graduates — anyone who would be a disciple of (Jesus the Messiah) must pass through the fire that is John the Baptist. You must take the same path that John took. You have entered a new interpretation of your life.

He must increase but I must decrease. These words capture the character of Christian ministry. We who live in service to Christ must interpret our lives through these words. That crucial exegesis of our lives through these words can never end, because God will never bring it to an end. This exegesis is eternal.

There is a truth in John’s words so basic, so terrifying that we often ignore it. What is that truth? God does not share. God does not share our lives with our family, with our friends, with our churches, with our spouse. God does not even share our lives with us. God in Christ seeks to re-pattern our lives so that his voice and his message become our life. There is no balance here. No Christ and me, fifty-fifty, half and half. Failure forms in our life in trying to find a place for the Messiah’s life in our lives. There is no balance, only a holy imbalance.

God has come into this world to do what we cannot do. We must never forget this. We cannot resist the lure of violence as a power that allows us to get our way. We cannot overcome the horror of death. We cannot drive away the despair in peoples’ lives. We cannot transform this world into a beloved community. John understood this – Christ must increase. This is both a plea and a statement of fact.

The cunning of reason crumbles before the stratagems of the evil one. The power of the strongest body fades at the onslaught of the forces of death. We can save no one. We have no power to transform any life. Christ must increase. And increase he shall – God in Jesus has broken the power of death and has taken hold of all creation as the focus of God’s redeeming love. This will be seen. This will be known by all flesh.

All that remains is the decrease. You are not the Messiah. My friends, anyone in ministry must say this to themselves at least once a day. But you must also say, “I prepare the way for him.” The decrease gives us everything. The decrease is not about taking away, but giving way. It is giving Jesus the stage of our lives to do his work. John the Baptist got it just right. The stage must be set (prepare the way) — all that remains is the decrease.

The journey of ministry is the giving way. The journey of ministry is not a journey of self-discovery, or self-realization, or self-revelation. If you are using ministry as a way to search for yourself, get out now. It’s not too late. Go do something else with your life. I say this only to save you from the disappointment that awaits you. You will never find yourself in ministry. Never!

It is not about you or me. It is about Jesus Christ. We preach and live Christ not ourselves. We prepare the way for him. All that remains is the decrease. And with this decrease, the one sent from the Father will pour out his Spirit on us without measure. With this decrease, God’s restoring and renewing power will be seen in our lives. With the decrease, the Son of God will be exalted and glorified through our lives. My friends, the moment is critical, the hour crucial. Lives are at stake. Christ must increase and we must decrease! Will you yield to the Spirit of the living God? Will you give way to Jesus Christ? If you do, then the journey you will take will be filled with awesome surprises. And with each step and at every stop God will be there. In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, Amen.

http://www.divinity.duke.edu/docs/faculty/sermons/Jennings-Baccsermon03.pdf

John the Baptist

March 19, 2010 Leave a comment

Matt 11:11


New Year Resolutions for Pets

15. I will not eat other animals’ poop.
14. I will not lick my human’s face after eating animal poop.
13. I do not need to suddenly stand straight up when I’m lying under the coffee table.
12. My head does not belong in the refrigerator.
11. I will no longer be beholden to the sound of the can opener.
10. Cats: Circulate a petition that sleeping become a juried competition in major animal shows.
9. Come to understand that cats are from Venus; dogs are from Mars.
8. Take time from busy schedule to stop and smell the behinds.
7. Hamster: Don’t let them figure out I’m just a rat on steroids, or they’ll flush me!
6. Get a bite in on that freak who gives me that shot every year.
5. Grow opposable thumb; break into pantry; decide for MYSELF how much food is *too* much.
4. Cats: Use new living room sofa as scratching post.
3. January 1st: Kill the sock! Must kill the sock!

January 2nd – December 31: Re-live victory over the sock.
2. The garbage collector is NOT stealing our stuff.
AND the Number 1 New Year’s Resolutions Made by Pets…
1. I will NOT chase the stick until I see it LEAVE THE IDIOT’S HAND

John The Baptist

Taken from: Student’s Life Application Bible-NLT (Page 1015)

In almost any crowd, John the Baptist would be called unique. He wore odd clothes, ate strange food, and preached an unusual message. He would not have agreed with our habit of evaluating people by how they dress – or by how they act. He would have insisted that we listen to what he had to say.

John really wasn’t interested in being unique. What he wanted to do more than anything was to obey God. And he wasn’t afraid to ask others to do the same. John realized that he had a special role to play in the world. His job was to tell the world that the Savior was about to arrive. John was totally committed to his purpose.

This wild-looking man stood face to face with people and told them to repent. He told them the best way to get ready for the Savior was to be deeply sorry for their sins. Although John was preparing people to receive Jesus when he physically came to the world, John’s message still applies today when we realize that Jesus wants to come into our life, too. We can’t receive the Savior until we know we need him. We won’t know we need him until we realize we are sinners.

Today, we still need to hear john’s favorite word – repent! If you don’t know what it means, you may not have done it. Repenting means that you are not only deeply sorry for your sinfulness but are also serious in wanting God’s help to live his way. Until you have repented, you won’t experience God’s forgiveness or the strength he offers to live a life of obedience. Repentance may be the most important thing you think about today.

Facts

· The God-appointed messenger to announce the arrival of Jesus.

· A preacher whose theme was repentance

· A fearless confronter

· Known for his remarkable lifestyle

· Uncompromising

Stats

· Where: Judea

· Occupation: Prophet

· Relatives: Father: Zechariah. Mother: Elizabeth. Distant Cousin: Jesus

· Contemporaries: Herod, Herodias

Lessons

· God does not guarantee an easy or safe life to those who serve him

· Doing what God desires is the greatest possible life investment

· Standing for truth is more important than life itself

Key Verse

· “I assure you, of all who have ever lived, none is greater than John the Baptist. Yet even the most insignificant person in the Kingdom of Heaven is greater than he is!” (Matt 11:11)

John’s sotry is told in all four Gospels. His coming was predicted in Isaiah 40:3 and Malachi 4:5-6; and he is mentioned in Acts 1:5, 22; 10:37; 11:16; 13:24-25; 18:25; 19:3-4.

Here’s a news story I clipped and pasted into this note. I think that it is maybe a modern example of the “So What?” part of this lesson for the week.

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AP WASHINGTON – Fox News analyst Brit Hume says he doesn’t regret urging Tiger Woods to become a Christian so the golfer can find forgiveness for marital infidelity.

Hume told CBN News that “Christianity is a religion for sinners — and I think that Tiger Woods has an opportunity here, and my prayer would be that he would take it.” Hume has been denounced for saying that he doesn’t think the famous golfer’s belief in Buddhism “offers the kind of forgiveness and redemption that is offered by the Christian faith.”


Brit Hume (news analyst)The longtime journalist said he wasn’t surprised that the remark aroused controversy. “If you’re trying to find the two most explosive words in the English language, those two words are ‘Jesus Christ,'” he stated.

He recognizes that openly expressing faith in Jesus Christ offends a lot of people. “People rage about this,” he said. “It’s very offensive to those who don’t share the faith, [and] it’s offensive to some people who claim they do share the faith. This is to be expected, and it has been happening to people who proclaim their faith in Christ for as long as anybody can remember — this is part of the deal.”


Hume described how he became a Christian. “Eleven years ago, my son committed suicide,” he shared. “And as you can imagine, it was absolutely devastating. And yet throughout that whole horrible time, I had this sense that God was there for me, that he would rescue me, that he would save me — and he did.”

The news analyst said he was deeply moved by the hundreds of letters of condolence he received after that tragedy. “I felt that I was seeing in them the face of God,” he recalled, “and I felt that it was time for me now to face up to the Christian faith which I purported to belong to, and try to face up to the implications of what I purported to believe — and I’ve been trying ever since.”

******************

I guess the take away here is that John lived a life of integrity, in spite of the opposition he faced. He spoke that forgiveness is the way to God and the way to Life. He pointed people to Jesus saying that Christ was the Lamb of God. He knew that sin kept us from God and that the only way to have God truly in our lives was to repent of sin…not a popular subject then nor now. Where are you on the ‘John the Baptist’ scale? Could you, like Brit Hume, publically say that Christ is the way to forgiveness and redemption? Could you publically ask someone to become a Christian? I want to have those kind of guts…and that kind of love.

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