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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 )

Daily Needs – Daily Bread


Our Daily Bread

Matthew 6:11

A salesman from KFC walked up to the Pope and offers him a million dollars if he would change “The Lord’s Prayer” from “give us this day our daily bread” to “give us this day our daily chicken.” The Pope refused his offer.

Two weeks later, the man offered the pope 10 million dollars to change it from “give us this day our daily bread” to “give us this day our daily chicken” and again the Pope refused the man’s generous offer. Another week later, the man offered the Pope 20 million dollars and finally the Pope accepted. The following day, the Pope said to all his officials, “I have some good news and some bad news. ‘The good news is, that we have just received a check for 20 million dollars. The bad news is, we lost the Wonder Bread account!”’

Ok…this is a tough one.  “Give us this day our daily bread” is verse 11 of Jesus’ model prayer.  If you’ve noticed, Jesus starts out his prayer using the words “us” and “our.”  He continues in verse 11 in the same manner.  It’s true that he was talking to a crowd.  But I wonder if He is also addressing the Kingdom, His church.  If this is true, then this is a prayer for the each member of the group to use “daily.”  He wants us to be on the same page moving together with the same goals and values….His Father’s goals and His Father’s values.

With that said, we need to figure out what this “bread” means.  The more I want to say that it is a spiritual request…the more I lean towards it meaning our daily ‘needs.’  Yes, I just said it.  I’ve been talking with a couple co-workers about how hard this lesson is to swallow being a born and bread “American Dream” type of person.  I also just came back from Haiti where I met and ministered to people who, when they prayed this prayer, knew exactly what it meant.  They lived in a maybe 10×10 wooden box built for them after being displace from their 15×15 cement/dirt floor home.

The question is, what do we truly need?  If Christ’s church shows the world that we need anything more than Christ, don’t we do a disservice to His message?  So let’s look at what we know from Scripture first.  Jesus said in John 6, in an extensive way, that He is the bread of life.  He told Satan during his 40 day fast that the Word of God was His bread to live on.  When telling 72 of His followers to go out on their first missionary mission trip, He said not to take anything except the clothes they were wearing.  They would be taken care of…workers deserve fair wages…God would provide (Luke 10).  In Matthew 6, beginning with verse 24, Jesus says that we can’t serve two masters…then the big word “therefore” comes into play as He says, don’t worry about your food, clothes or anything else that you think you need.  Why?  Because the Father knows what you need, and if you focus on Kingdom work, then He will supply your needs.

That’s what we know. Were the 72 taken care of?  Yes.  Did Jesus make it through His fast? Yes.  Are the birds of the air watched over by their creator?  Yes.  Can God clothe us like the lilies of the fields?  Yes.  Should we have any worry about these things?  No.  Reason?  Because when we truly rely on God for our needs, then people will see Him…and want to have Him…and be with Him for eternity.  Our wanting to supply our own felt needs points back to us.  Our relying on God for our daily bread always points back to Him.  One of those tip toes really close to sin…unintentional or not.  The other walks “humbly with our God” as the Lord points out through the prophet Micah in his book, chapter 6 verse 8.

Ok….what do we do with this?  I’m struggling with this one.  As a reasonable person, I can see how huge this could be to pointing people to see God.  But boy is it hard to let go of “self sufficiency!”  Let’s look for a modern day example of this really happening…not just a fairy tale sermon illustration.

George Mueller is a man we can look to for such an example.  He built and ran an orphanage for many, many, years.  He said, in an interview at age 91, “No man can ever say I asked him for a penny.”  When he needed something for the sometimes 2000 orphans under his care….he gathered his staff together and prayed.  God would send food, money, supplies and workers when needed…sometimes immediately before the prayer was finished.  This man truly relied only on what God felt He and his orphans needed.  Who is glorified in this example?  Mr. Mueller?  Well, his is a life to be patterned after.  But we know who supplied every need….no human.  Through humans, yes….but because of any human?  No.

So, can we live like in this manner?  It has been shown that we can.  Now…the question simply remains…will we choose to do so?…Individually and as a group of people who claim Christ their King and God their Father who supplies all things?

I’m not sure what to add here.  I’m sufficiently guilty right now and need to process where I’m at with this one little life changing verse.  I do know this.  I like to take care of things by myself…and therein lies the problem.  When we take care of things ourselves, we are lifted up.  When we fully and completely rely on God…only He can receive credit and fame.

Questions for thought:

  • What do you really need?  List here……
  • What things do we strive for that aren’t necessary, and sometimes place glory on us?
  • How do we change this?  Why would we even attempt to change this?
  • In the end, who get’s all the glory for our life?…all the glory…all

Love-Serve-Spread the Word,

ed

Paths – Which one are you on?

April 26, 2011 Leave a comment

I’ve been slowly reading a book by Andy Stanley titled, “The Principle of the Path.”  It’s a great book with one simple message.  Andy is very easy to read as well and he’s full of funny stories.  I’ve passed this book on to many people because of its very simple message.  Oh, in case you were wondering, Andy is the son of Charles.

Over the last few years I had the opportunity to work a couple side jobs that gave me the chance to travel throughout the country.  I would jump on a plane and head to another airport, jump off the plane into a rental car, then begin travels to a church building to speak or a store to install a computer/printer and do some training.  I had a phone installed with GPS, so before taking off, I’d type in the address of my destination.  That way, when I took off in the rental car, the phone would already be telling me what turns to make and when to make them.

GPS worked well, but there were those times when I found myself in a vacant parking lot in a empty side of town calling the church or the store to get different directions.  GPS just didn’t get it right.  Mostly it was an old business address or a difference in zip code or just something random.  The principle of the path would say this though.  The road I was on did take me to where I was going…might have been the wrong destination…but that stretch of pavement took me somewhere.  Isn’t that true in life as well?

The road we’re on will always take us to a destination.  It might be what you’re expecting and it might not be, but the principle of the path always holds true…you will always get to where the road you’re presently on leads…for good or bad.  Unfortunately, many of us get to the destination before we realize we’ve been on the wrong road.  So what road are you on?

The Bible says this, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding.  In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will direct your paths” (Proverbs 3:5-6).  The point is, it’s like we’re in the middle of the maze…we think we have a plan…we know our situation…but God is looking from above and can see the direct path we need to take to get to where He wants or needs us to be.  If we don’t look up every once in awhile and say, “Left or right?”, then we will make a choice based only on our intelligence and wisdom…and even though we all think we’re smart…haha  you can finish this sentence.

Have you ever had something happen to you and you put your hands on your head and shout, “How did this happen?”  Well, more than likely it’s because of the left and right turns you’ve taken.  It’s a principle.  You’ll always go where the path leads.

Choose God’s ways.  If you say that you’re not yet familiar with His ways, then look them up.  A great place to start is the book of Proverbs.  Lots of basic life stuff in there.  All given from a guy who had all of God’s wisdom, but not much of God’s intelligence.    He’s writing while looking back on his life and realizing all unintended places he ended up while not following God.

Love-Serve-Spread the Word,

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

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