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December 19, 2016, 9:09 AM

What makes us different?


Big question:  Are we any different?

Sure we have a routine that makes our weekends look different.  Sure we have a category in our closets with the title of "Church Clothes." But it it enough? 

The same question can be asked about the Christmas holiday:  Is it any different?  According to culture, Christmas is a time to SPEND, SPEND, SPEND!!!  Which doesnt sound any different than any other holiday in which we need to decorate, get season-appropriate cards, etc...  

Big answer:  Yes, we're different because of Love.  Christmas is different because of Love. 

God showed us our value in Christmas.  God became vulnerable on Christmas.  God paid a cost far above the return value for Christmas.  

Because he loves us.  That makes this holiday different than any other, except maybe Easter Sunday which celebrates the same valuation of sinners worldwide with the sacrifice of the Cross being front and center. 

While we may disagree on Christmas trees, whether or not we should celebrate on the 25th... we have to acknowledge the reason behind this holiday and what makes it different.  Jesus.  Its not about questions or the details... its about the Messiah.  

And that makes all the difference in the world.  

At least for a few weeks of the year.  What we do with the rest is up to us. 




December 12, 2016, 8:45 AM

The Best Kind of Present...


Is the one you didn't know you needed, but shows itself so useful later on that you never knew how you lived without it.  

I have opened my share of dud-gifts in my life.  I'm sure you have too... We've made a niche of ugly Christmas sweaters, so much that they are now popular and hard to find at thrift stores.  Fruitcake.  I don't need to explain that one further.  

They're almost a stereotype, the gift that is just poorly thought out...  But lets not dwell on the disappointing gifts... what about those that are so useful that they make up for all the sweaters and socks.  Sometimes its a gadget you didn't know what as useful as you thought.  Maybe it was something for the kitchen that makes preparing your favorite dish more efficient.  Whatever it is, I hope you've had the surprise of that kind of present.  

Not to be so simple and trite, but Jesus is that type of present for us.  Is he the gift expected?  No, we've been through this before.  He was not royalty, not born into a family that had political sway, nor was he adopted into such place (think: Moses and Egypt).  This was the gift we needed, but not the gift we wanted.  

This gift created the tension of sacrifice vs. self-preservation.  Because of the gift of Jesus brought about the conflict of dying to self as opposed to gaining reputation and fame in this world.  And as far as I can tell from human nature, no one asked for that!  "Dear Santa, please make me uncomfortable this year with what I believe and how I behave."  Nope.  

And yet there are centuries of believers who've put their trust in the gift of our Messiah.  Its time to unwrap that gift.  

Luke 1: 29 - 37    29Confused and disturbed, Mary tried to think what the angel could mean.30“Don’t be afraid, Mary,” the angel told her, “for you have found favor with God!31You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you will name him Jesus.32He will be very great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his ancestor David.33And he will reign over Israel forever; his Kingdom will never end!”

34Mary asked the angel, “But how can this happen? I am a virgin.”

35The angel replied, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the baby to be born will be holy, and he will be called the Son of God.36What’s more, your relative Elizabeth has become pregnant in her old age! People used to say she was barren, but she has conceived a son and is now in her sixth month.37For nothing is impossible with God.”




December 5, 2016, 8:43 AM

Counter-Culture


A quick hit blog for Christmas:  What would a commercial for the birth of Jesus would look like today?   

If it were left up to executives or travel agencies, Bethlehem would be absolutely void of stables or sparsely apportioned inns.  There would be comfortable beds (plenty of them), people on staff to take care of every need you could think of (even giving birth) at all hours of the night.  Not a food trough in sight. 

And yet the travel agency of Rome demanded attendance in Bethlehem.  Late arrival?  Tough.  Third trimester?  Tough.  Prophecies of a new-born king?  No big deal.  

The star that lead to our Savior then still leads us today.  Into a place of sacrifice that blesses.  To a place where discomfort produces faithfulness.  To a place that is a travel agent's worst nightmare.  

Will you make the trip?  

Luke 2: 1 - 7  1At that time the Roman emperor, Augustus, decreed that a census should be taken throughout the Roman Empire.2(This was the first census taken when Quirinius was governor of Syria.)3All returned to their own ancestral towns to register for this census.4And because Joseph was a descendant of King David, he had to go to Bethlehem in Judea, David’s ancient home. He traveled there from the village of Nazareth in Galilee.5He took with him Mary, his fiancée, who was now obviously pregnant.

6And while they were there, the time came for her baby to be born.7She gave birth to her efirst child, a son. She wrapped him snugly in strips of cloth and laid him in a manger, because there was no lodging available for them.

 




November 28, 2016, 9:00 AM

Balance.


There is a theme in my ministry (sermons) that I cant help but speak at almost every opportunity:  Live the Story.  

Here's the meat behind that concept:  we must act as though we are Christ-Followers at every moment, not just when in the presence of other Christians.  To give you (the reader) the context, I was a youth minister for the first 12 years of my career, and this theme was shaped out of that decade of experiences.  

Too many times I would experience the absolute best of a student, see changes and hear positive responses to the call of Jesus.  Commitments were made, and faith seemed to be the driving force of behavior.  And then I see social media comments, stories told from friends, and parents asking me why I haven't taught little Joe about the dangers of _______ or _______ (insert your favorite teenage rebellion or sin).   It became such a pattern that I could predict certain behavior trends in certain individuals (think: the last night of camp where the emotion of the week overwhelms tired minds).  

Yes, I became jaded.  Yes, I adjusted quickly how I taught and the expectations I had.  No longer was attendance the highest goal (Yay! You made it this week!).  No longer was mountain-top confession and repentance the goal of weekend trips (CIY does this to great effect). 

What became the focus of ministry and teaching was the valleys, those points when real life was happening.  In the classroom, when the parents aren't home, when they were alone with their boy/girl-friend, when depression and anxiety ruled the day.  That mentality has crept into my time as preaching minister... In the times when we're not dressed up and at church is where the heart of faith is grown. 

Because there is a truth that we need to face:  The behavior of children is taught and cultivated at home.  Behavior patterns need reinforced in order to "stick."   Yes, genetics and hereditary features can come in to play... but we cant use that as an excuse.  Racism is taught. 100%.  Prejudice is taught.  And weak faith practices are reinforced by practices and behavior outside the Church.  

Our time together in Christian activity (1 or 2 hours a week, tops) cannot be what balances, or even redeems us.   What proves a heart seeking to follow Christ is shown in actually following Christ.  We wrapped up a small group series recently entitled: Not a Fan.  The premise is this:  "Are you a fan of Jesus?  Or are you a Follower?"  Because following Christ happens in the valleys, in real life, when we're alone and the minister isn't around to keep his eyes on us.  

Lets change the world by teaching the world through consistent, Christ-like behavior where ever we are. Especially when we're not at Church. 

Colossians 3: 16 - 17  16Let the message about iChrist, in all its richness, fill your lives. Teach and counsel each other with all the wisdom he gives. Sing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs to God with thankful hearts.17And whatever you do or say, do it as a representative of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks through him to God the Father.




November 21, 2016, 9:08 AM

A Blessing for Thanksgiving


May our hearts be as full as our stomachs. 

May our family be as welcome as the dessert table. 

May our joy shine as clear as our passion for football on Thursday afternoon. 

As we gather, wherever we are, let the light of Christ shine through our gratitude and thankfulness for our salvation.  

1 Thessalonians 5: 18   18Be thankful in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you who belong to Christ Jesus.

 

Be blessed in this season of Thanksgiving.  


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