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Sunday, December 27, 2009

Christmas Experiences

The gentle sound and comfortable warmth of the fire.

The quiet music of Christmas on the hi-fi.

The dog contentedly snoring while curled up in front of the fireplace.

My wife leaning against me as we watch a classic Cary Grant movie.

The twinkle in the eyes of my sons as we eat pizza and play a competitive game of Life.

Waking up to the spicy aroma of fresh-brewed Christmas blend coffee at 6:30 in the morning.

Sunrise on a crisp winter morning reading from the prophet Joel.

A walk in the warm sunshine at the foot of the snow-covered San Gabriel mountains.

Worshipping God with brothers and sisters.

Hearing the Good News about Jesus Christ who was born to save us from our sins.

Receiving the body and blood of Jesus to forgive my sins, strengthen my faith and give me life and salvation.

Singing well-known-but-still-fresh Christmas carols, giving praise to God for His gifts of grace, mercy and forgiveness.

Spending more time with my wife and sons during Christmas break, eating special food, watching classic movies.

Proclaiming the 2000-year-old Gospel of Jesus to both life-long Christians and those looking for meaning and purpose for, and peace and fulfillment in, their lives.

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Sunday, December 20, 2009

Your Pastor’s Christmas Present

When a church members loses her job, she almost naturally turns for help – or at least words of comfort and prayer – to her pastor.

When another member gets a diagnosis of cancer he, too, turns to the pastor for prayer and comfort.

There is the mother whose daughter is caught in the grip of illegal drugs emails her pastor to seek guidance and prayer and to just vent a little.

Then there is the young man who is finding that he may not be able to fulfill a dream texts his pastor for advice on what to do now.

This is almost a daily occurrence in the life of a pastor.

Add to this the parishioner who is upset because a cause they are deeply committed to seems to be on the backburner for others in the church and fires off an email to the pastor to complain. Or another member who has been ill and feels the weight of the world on their shoulders, vents in a multi-page letter and then shares that letter with other members in the community. Or the ministry group in the church who feel that their needs are not being met with the full attention of the pastor that they think should be. Or the concerns of the leadership that the downturn in the economy is effecting attendance and giving.

And on top of all this, the pastor has to deal with a spouse who feels a little neglected because he’s always at the church office or having to attend a meeting. And the pastor has to deal with the stress of one of his children who has a mysterious illness and another child who is not doing well in school.

Oh, and let’s just stir the pot a little bit more and put all of this in the month of December with Christmas services coming up. The pastor feel the added stress of knowing that on Christmas Eve he will have perhaps the one and only chance to connect with a hurting and lost soul with the Gospel of Jesus.

What does that pastor do?

These are not beyond the experience of any pastor, or any disciple of Jesus Christ. What may be beyond the experience is the pastor calling out for help.

The called and ordained servant of Christ carries a very large burden – as indicated by the stole they wear over their church robes on the weekends . But many times, that very same man who provides comfort and guidance to others fails to understand and realize that this burden Jesus has placed on them with His Call “is easy, and … light" (Matthew 11:30). Part of reason Jesus says this is because it is a yoke and burden that is not meant to be carried alone. Yet, not a few number of pastors fail to take this to heart. Instead, they take everyone’s burden on themselves and share none of their own with others.

Church members – give your pastor the greatest Christmas present he’ll probably ever receive! Pray for him and his family. Step up and help out. Start a visitation ministry or join an existing one. Help fund the mission of the church, even in tough economic times. Join a Bible class or start a new one. Smile in church! Find out how you and your spouse can mentor newly married couples. Go to church! Bring someone with you. Don’t just send a Christmas card to your pastor and his family – attend worship this Christmas Eve or Christmas Day! Ask your pastor if there is anything you can do to help out at church – and mean it – and if he says yes and points something out, do it!

Don’t think you have to stop going to the pastor for prayer and guidance. That isn’t the point of all this. You must certainly continue to do this – that’s why he’s your pastor! But please understand that he’s a man who also needs a little prayer, guidance, and comfort. You and he are in this thing we call the mission of God together!

Sunday, December 13, 2009

The On-Going Noel

It’s a Saturday night and we’re supposed to head to Chicago in one week for our 14th Annual Chicago Christmas.

But I’m sitting here praying, listening to Christmas music, and waiting to hear from my wife about our middle son, Kurt. He had another seizure tonight. They seem to be coming every 6-8 months now. They are at the emergency room and my other two sons and I are in the living room waiting. They are snoozing and I’m trying to keep my mind focused on Christ and His love for me and Kurt and all of us.

The song that just came on is probably my favorite this season – the First Noel performed by W.G. “Snuffy” Walden on the guitar.

The First Noel the angels did say. But Noel continues on and we say it now. The angels first announced the coming of our savior but every since then, the proclamation on the message has been left up to us.

The shepherds who heard the angels’ Noel took up the message and shared it. And Christians are called to share the Noel now.

“Go into all the world,” Jesus said.

We do this in a lot of different ways. I do it nearly every week through sermons preached and blogs and devotions written. But I also proclaim “Noel” through my life, through my speech, my love, my parenting, and everything I do – sometimes frightfully inadequately.

Today, I need to be reminded of that more powerfully. That’s why I typed up and printed out the phrase from John 12:21, “Sir, we wish to see Jesus.” I printed it out twice. I taped one on my laptop so I see it every time I use the computer. I taped the other one on the steering wheel of my car. I also two I taped a couple of months ago on my monitor at work and on the pulpit in my church.

Showing people Jesus through our lives is how we say “Noel” to the world. At this time of year, “Noel” is exactly what they – and I – need to hear. Christ entered our world. He became a human being while still being fully God for the purpose of living the perfect life (that we couldn’t live) and then also taking our sins on Himself and dying on a cross as well as being damned by God. He lived so that we would not die eternally. He took on flesh and blood so He could give up that flesh on the cross and spill that blood to obtain our forgiveness.

This world needs this message. In the midst of seizures and other sicknesses. In the face of death and other tragedies. When we are fearful of foreclosure and other despair, we need to hear that Christ is born and that God loves us.

The first noel the angels did say, but we say it now and need to hear it now.

Noel, Noel. Born is the King of Israel – and all of us.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Away in a Manger

No one is quite sure where this beloved Christmas Carol comes from. And perhaps that for the best – as its message is able to speak loud and clear of a savior born to save us from our sins!

It was first published – although with a different tune – in the Lutheran Little Children’s Book: For School and Families. No author was cited but the evidence we have points to it being written in America sometime in the years leading up to the Civil War.

The legend is that Martin Luther wrote it and sang it as a bed time lullaby to his children. But there is no record of this at all, and seems to have been made up by Murray. Why? Probably because he didn’t know the origins of the tune and wanted to give such a popular tune a little “weight” to its history.

Whoever the songwriter was, they probably didn’t live to see the song reach children the world over with its poignant message. Yet while the mystery of origination remains, the song’s message, depicting the precious moment when a Savior came to earth bringing peace, joy, and hope, is so strong and profound that it leaped from a single night, from a single household, to become one of the world’s most beautiful Christmas messages in song. The picture that story paints is even more profound and riveting than that of Luther singing “Away in a Manger” in Deutsch to his children.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

O Little Town of Bethlehem

It is Christmas Eve, 1865. The nation had just emerged from the most devastating conflict in its history – past, present, and possibly future. The Civil War had ended eight months earlier, bringing an end to four years that saw more American casualties than in all of the other wars the United States fought combined!

Pastor Phillips Brooks of Holy Trinity Church in Philadelphia led a flock that had scores of widows and parents who had husbands or sons killed or wounded. In April, he had been called upon to preach the sermon at the funeral of Abraham Lincoln. Exhausted and soul-weary, he took a sabbatical to the holy land, hoping to find a spiritual rebirth.

He wrote in his journal:

Before dark we rode out of town to the field where they say the shepherds saw the star. It is a fenced piece of ground with a cave in it, in which, strangely enough, they put the shepherds…. Somewhere in those fields we rode through, the shepherds must have been. As we passed, the shepherds were still keeping watch over their flocks.

[Later] I was standing in the old church in Bethlehem, close to the spot where Jesus was born, when the whole church was ringing hour after hour with the splendid hymns of praise to God, how again and again it seemed as if I could hear voices I know well, telling each other of the Savior’s birth.


He tried to convey what he felt, write in poetry what he experienced. But he was frustrated. He returned to America and to his church. He felt a “singing in his soul” but he just couldn’t share with his congregation what he felt. He struggled and fought to find the right words but none came.

Three years later, as Christmas 1868 approached, he again thought of his ride into Bethlehem at dusk and the church service that had followed. This time, he didn’t force the words out; he simply relived the experience and jotted down the lines that seemed to float into his head. His thoughts soon took the form of a poem. When he finished, he immediately and excitedly shared his poem with his friend – and musician – Lewis Redner.

Lewis Redner was the organist of Pastor Brooks church and, reading the poem, finally understood the power of what Brooks had experienced in the Holy Land three years early. He wanted to write music that would perfectly convey the experience and struggled and struggled. Exhausted on Christmas Eve he went to bed without having found the music.

In the time between waking and sleep, the music came to Redner. As if blessed by God Himself, on Christmas morning, Redner was able to write the music and “O Little Town of Bethlehem” was complete.

I think most Christians have an “aha” moment. Sometimes called a “mountain top experience” or a “wilderness experience” where the salvation that God brings to us in Jesus Christ “clicks” and we experience the majesty, the awe, the fullness of the love that God has for us.

But it is sharing that experience that can frustrate us. Like Phillips Brooks or Lewis Redner, we can become frustrated as we struggle to tell someone else what we have experienced.

And we want to tell others. It is part of our salvation. God sent Jesus to live, die and rise again to save us from our sins. Indeed, the most wonderful Good News! And then Jesus tells us to go into all the world and tell this Good News to everyone. To share the Good News of our salvation is in our Christian “DNA” so to speak.

But we’re not all poets. We’re not all musicians. We’re not all authors. We’re not all cinematographers. Not all of us have the gifts and skills that we would want to use to tell this Good News in the most effective way possible.

The story of “O Little Town of Bethlehem” is a lesson in “letting go” of what we would like to bring to the table of telling the Good News and just letting God flow through us. Brooks struggled for years. Redner struggled. But when they finally gave up the struggle and were in a Psalm 46:10 moment (“Be still and know that I am God”) the Good News came pouring out of them in an awesome way.

Their Good News is the same as our Good News. Jesus Christ was born in a little town called Bethlehem. He fulfilled ancient prophecy. He was the culmination of the plan of salvation that God had implemented in Genesis 3:15.

And the best way to tell this Good News is to be still and let God speak through our lives.

Phillips Brooks lived through a horrific time, pastoring a Philadelphia flock through the Civil War, culminating by preaching at the funeral of Abraham Lincoln. And God used that in Brooks life to bring to our Christmas celebration one of the most beloved of all Christmas hymns. God can bring His Good News to the world through you as well.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

O Holy Night

I used Ace Collins’ book Stories Behind the Best-Loved Songs of Christmas, Zondervan Publishing, 2001, for the story behind O Holy Night.

Christmas is, still today, a mostly Christian holiday. I know that seems that is become less and less with each passing year – just last week I read an article about a school in Waterbury, Conn. that has reportedly banned all religious festivities and many decorations from their classrooms.

It’s even in the name – Christmas! That being the case, it is a bit surprising that one of the most beautiful songs of the Christmas season – O Holy Night – was written by a wine commissioner in France known for not attending church and composed by a man of Jewish descent who did not believe in Jesus Christ as the Son of God.

In 1847, the parish priest of the town where Placide Cappeau de Roquemaure was wine commissioner asked him to write a poem that would be read at the Christmas mass. Knowing this, he knew it would have to be religious, focus on Christmas, and be based on Scripture. Using Luke 2 and Matthew 2 has his guide, he imagined himself present at the birth of Jesus. Traveling from his small town to Paris, he completed the poem by the time he reached the big city.

But he realized that this was more than just a poem, it was a song in need of a tune. So he asked his friend, a well-known (at the time) opera composer – Adolphe Charles Adams – to compose a tune. Reading the words, he realized that this poem was about a holiday he didn’t celebrate and a man he did not view as the Son of God. But moved by friendship, he went to work and completed the tune in a short time.

The result is a song that went on to have an interesting history. At first it was embraced by the French people and the French Church. But later, it was discovered that Adophe Charles Adams was a Jew and an atheist to boot. The heads of the French Catholic Church at that time deemed the song as unfit for church serves – citing that it lacked musical taste and a total absence of the spirit of religion! Even though officially banned by the Church, the people continued to sing it.

It was about this time that the song traveled to America – bitterly divided between North and South and quickly heading to Civil War. A Unitarian minister – of all people (The Unitarian Church does not believe in the divinity of Jesus Christ) – was given a copy of the French carol, translated it and published it. He was drawn to its message of freedom – especially in the lines, “Chains shall He break for the slave is our brother, and in his name all oppression shall cease.” This minister – John Sullivan Dwight – was an ardent abolitionist and knew that the message of Christ coming to free all men was one of the most important messages that the people of the United States needed to hear at this pivotal time in our history.

There are two more interesting items of this songs history that show the impact it has on people. Back in France, in the 1870’s during their war with Prussia, a story began to circulate that on Christmas Eve in 1871, a soldier suddenly jumped out of his muddy trench and, with both sides look at this crazed man, he boldly stood with no weapon and began to see at the top of his lungs, “O Holy Night.” In response, a German soldier jumped out of his trench and began to sing “From Heaven Above to Earth I Come.” The story went on to say that the fighting stopped for the next 24 hours while the men on both sides observed a temporary peace in honor of Christmas day.

The other story takes place in 1906. It was the early dawn of radio and Reginald Fessenden – a former chief chemist for Thomas Edison – using a new type of generator spoke into a microphone and for the first time in history, a human voice was broadcast over wireless radio. He began by reading the Christmas story from Luke 2 and then he picked up a violin and played “O Holy Night.” Thus, this song became the first music heard over radio in the history of the world.

This song and its story illustrate the truth that the message it gives is not to be kept to one’s self. It is to be shared with all the world. And even though Jesus is the Jewish Messiah, he came for all people – as the visit of the Magi illustrates. The salvation that Jesus brings is for all people held in the slavery of sin. Jesus frees us from our bonds and gives us life through His life, death, and resurrection. That Holy Night long ago is to be celebrated and shared with all the world!

Sunday, December 6, 2009

The Music of Christmas

What brings Christmas to life for me is music, most of all.

For the most part, Christmas music is very unique. Yes, there are some who make Christmas music sound like everyday music with different words, but the truly meaningful songs of the Advent and Christmas season are unique.

There are songs that are more “secular” in nature – White Christmas, Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire, I’ll be home for Christmas. And there’s nothing wrong with these songs, they are some of my favorite Christmas songs!

But for a song to be a true Christmas carol it has to have at least one major theme – the birth of Jesus Christ.

Christmas is about the incarnation of the Son of God, which is another way of saying “the birth of Jesus.”

C.S. Lewis called Christmas “the grand miracle.” What about Easter? Without Christmas, Easter wouldn’t be possible!Jesus cannot rise from the dead, he cannot die, unless he first becomes a living human being!

All this is to say that Christmas is important. Not everything about Christmas is, of course. Here I mean what I’ve been noticing more and more on TV and radio – the emphasis on the buying and spending and the “commercialization” of Christmas. Which, of course, is nothing new.

This year, I’ll try to get back to the real meaning of Christmas and the best way I know how is through its music.

The stories of how some of the great Christmas Carols came to be are taken from Ace Collins’ book Stories Behind the Best-Loved Songs of Christmas, Zondervan Publishing, 2001. The songs I’ll explore this week are: O Holy Night, O Little Town of Bethlehem, Away in a Manger, and Silent Night.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Teenagers and Thanksgiving

I’ve been spending time thinking about Thanksgiving lately and as I was preparing for my school chapel message today, I decided to talk about one way of giving thanks.

It was a way that my parents wanted me to give thanks that I tried to get out of as I went through my teenage years.

For my family, thanksgiving was always a time for family. We would usually spend it either at our house with my grandparents joining us or we would go to my grandparents’ house for dinner. That was the norm – at least that’s the way I remember it being (maybe my mom or dad or both can refresh my memory). Christmas was the same.

But as I entered those “wonderful” teenage years, I began to rebel against this norm and tradition. Not the turkey, stuffing and pumpkin pie, mind you, but the part about spending the day with family.

By the time the pie was a pleasant memory, I would want to call my friends and go out to the movies. There was usually a blockbuster or two that had opened by that weekend. Or we would go to the the arcade (I realize that in today’s age of computer games and consoles, an “arcade” seems so, well, archaic). Or, if we were lucky to have a white and cold Thanksgiving, we would go to Holiday Park, the local ski hill, and schuss the slopes.

In other words, I would do almost anything if it meant getting out of the house and being with my friends.

It occurs to me that this is a pretty unthankful attitude. I’d scarf down the food and get out of the house as quickly as possible. It wasn’t that I didn’t love my family – I did and still do. I guess it was that teenage “thing” of wanting to live my life my way, on my terms and on my time.

That’s a pretty selfish attitude and selfishness, it seems to me, is the opposite of being thankful.

Now that I’m the parent of a teenager, I’m beginning to realize that this might have hurt my parents’ feelings. Actually, I find myself repenting of a lot of things that I did as a teenager now that I’m a parent of a teenager!

Now, in my forties, I’m more conscious of just how special time with family is. And that’s what I encouraged the school family with today.

I encouraged them to give thanks to God for the time they get to spend with their families at this time of year. I understand that they won’t understand just how special it is until they are older. I also understand that many of them won’t hear me – especially the teenagers.

But I feel compelled to at least try to reach them with this important information! I’m beginning to really understand that this is part of my calling.

I’m certainly telling my own three sons about this. My wife and I have established Thanksgiving, Advent, and Christmas traditions that I pray they will take with them into their adulthood. And these traditions all involve family – at the very least the five of us, but most of the time with the grandparents, aunt, uncle and cousins.

Spending time with friends is important. I don’t think it is anathema. But “family time” is limited. Parents feel this so deeply. Children are only that age once and not for very long. Older kids, left to themselves, won’t normally choose to spend time with parents, so it’s up to us to make that choice for them.

When they are adults, most of them will thank us for it. I know I do. Thanks, mom and dad! Happy Thanksgiving!

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Sunday, November 15, 2009

People Pleaser?

Like most people, I don’t like it when people are not happy with me. But it is my personality that I worry that not everybody will be pleased with me, with what I say or what I do.

My friends tell me that I can’t please everybody all the time. And I know that’s true at a reasonable level in my head. But there is still this unreasonable fear that I won’t please everybody all the time.

But its a mistake to try. As a disciple of Jesus, I follow a man who was more than a man, he was also the Son of God! If anyone could possibly please all people all time, it is certainly the Son of God. But even Jesus didn’t please everybody all the time. In fact, I think it might be safe to say that he didn’t even please the majority of people all the time.

He didn’t worry about this, though. There was only one person that Jesus was concerned about pleasing – his Father. And in pleasing his Father, Jesus brought the greatest gift to all people – the forgiveness of their sins. Jesus’ main concern was following the will of his Father by doing what was necessary to save people from their sins. That brought glory to his Father and pleased his Father.

My calling, like all Christians, is to bring glory to God by making disciples of all nations. By its very nature, this will displease many people. We simply cannot worry about that.

It is important to understand that it isn’t a matter of apathy, either. That I will not worry about pleasing everybody doesn’t mean I don’t care what they think or I don’t care about them. I do care. But I can’t live my life to other people’s pleasure – there’s just too many of them. I must live my life to only one person’s pleasure – and I chose God!

It is actually liberating to know that as I follow God’s calling for my life, I don’t have to worry about what other people think. Most people are not going to be happy with me. After all, most people were not happy with Jesus, either!

My prayer is that I surrender to Christ everything I have and feel. He will deal with me justly, by His grace. I need not worry about the one who can kill the body but cannot kill the soul. My life is in Jesus’ hands and he thinks of me with love. A love that led him to the cross to die for my sins.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Walls or Windows

I recently read a quote by Bill Tenny-Brittian, “To say the church exists to serve the needs of the churched is like saying McDonalds exists to serve hamburgers to its employees.”

I then tweeted that quote and got a few heated replies to it.

One reply informed me that the church actually does serve its members. Well, that’s true. But that isn’t the opposite of what the quote is saying.

Another reply informed me of the definition of “church” in the Lutheran Confessions, where it says that the church is “where God’s word is taught in its truth and purity and the sacraments are administered according to Christ’s institution.” I can’t argue with that, either, except to say that this is also not opposite of what this quote is saying.

What Bill Tenny-Brittian is saying is that the church cannot hope to thrive if all it does is meet the needs of its members and ignores the unchurched (or unsaved, if you prefer – he means the same thing, I think). The analogy is a McDonalds that only serves hamburgers to its employees. If it does that, it won’t stay in business very long. It is also against company policy, I would think. McDonalds exists to bring hamburgers to everyone, not just its employees.

So also, the Church exists to “make disciples of all nations.” Churches that simply meet the needs of their own members are sometimes called “maintenance ministries” and they are very small, and growing smaller by the year, congregations.

This led to me think about church architecture, of all things. Most of the churches I’ve been to have more walls than windows (probably sound architectural design) and the windows they have are stained glass – you can’t see in or out of them. The windows may be beautiful, but they don’t function as a window in that you can’t see out of them. They do let light in, that’s true. And when the light is filtered through the colored glass it is very beautiful.

But I was once in a church that decided that to illuminate the stained glass windows so that they could be seen at night. A good idea. But what they ended up doing was illuminating the outside so that those on the inside could see the window. Those outside only saw a bright light shining on the stained glass but couldn’t see the beauty of the picture.

I think the best design for a church would be for it to be made of clear glass walls so that two things could happen. The outside world could see in and see the people of God worshipping Him and receiving His gifts. They could see the Holy gifts given to a Holy people (holy people in the truest sense of the word – set apart for a special purpose, not in the sense of perfect).

But a church with clear glass walls would also allow the people inside to be able to see the outside world as well. The world they are told to go out into (but not be of – John 17).

One person pointed out a similar observation to me. He asked me if I had noticed which way the doors to the church opened. He pointed out that they open “out” as in to let people out into the world to make disciples.

All analogies break down if you take them far enough, and this one surely will as well. But it is important to understand that our calling as disciples of Jesus is to go out into the world bringing the Gospel to them. We cannot hide behind closed doors, stained glass windows and brick walls.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Top Ten Things Church Hoppers Say

I wanted to share this with you because I've heard #10 several times in the three church's I've served as pastor over the last 14 years. I saw this on Will Mancini's blog, who got it from Josh Reich's blog, a young pastor in Tuscon. Below is his post on a book by Bob Franquiz entitled, Zero to Sixty. It has a chapter on Church Hoppers. Here is how to spot a church hopper and what they mean (my favorite is the last one):

1. “But my old church…” This usually means they want your church to be like their old church.

2. “I just need time to be fed.” This means, “I don’t want to do anything. I’m here just to sit and see what I can get out of this church, so don’t expect me to serve in any way, shape, or form.

3. “I’m looking for a church that teaches the Word.” This means, “I’m looking for a church that dispenses lots of information without challenging me to do anything.”

4. “We came here because we are looking for deep teaching.” This usually means their last church focused too much on actually obeying the Word. They want a church that just talks about the Rapture, the Second Coming, who the Hittites were and the identity of Theophilus.

5. “I should know my pastor.”
This means, “In my last church, I got to know the pastor, but when the church grew, and the pastor couldn’t have dinner with us every Tuesday night, I left and came here.”

6. “We want a church that’s focused on discipling people.” This means, “I want a church that’s focused on me, not people who are lost.”

7. “I wish you wouldn’t focus so much on what people need to do.”
This means they don’t like commitment, they don’t like to be told the Bible actually tells them how to live and follow Jesus. They want to come to church, live in their sin and have no one tell them this is wrong.

8. “I wish you wouldn’t talk about money.” This is the best way to tell a pastor “I don’t give.”

9. “My old church/pastor was…”
The way people come to your church is how they will leave. If your first conversation with them is all about their last church and pastor, that is how they will leave your church and how they will go to their next church.

10. “Pastor, I’ve been talking to a lot of people and they all say…”
Translation: “Me, my spouse and my mother think…” If they start this way, 99.9% of the time they have no one else who thinks this way, it is just the best way to complain. If someone has a complaint and uses this line with me, they need to list all of the names or my best assumption is they talked to the same person 10 times.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

God Didn’t Make a Mistake

And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ. – Philippians 1:6 (ESV)

The providence of God is something that is overlooked at times.

There are times when it feels as though you aren't making progress in your spiritual life. The “one step forwards, two steps back” kind of feeling.

But I believe that we who are disciples of Jesus are all where we are according to God’s providence. He intended for us to be here, wherever “here” happens to be.

Yes, there are times when we try to force things, set situations up to our benefit. Sometimes God allows these things to carry through even though it isn’t what is best for us. He does this in order to teach us a lesson – we are disciples, after all!

And when you get discouraged because it seems like nothing is going right even though you’ve been following God’s leading in your life, don’t give up! God will bring the good work to completion eventually.

I heard this once that is relevant to this idea – God is rarely early and never late.

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Sunday, October 18, 2009

Baptism

As a pastor at Redeemer Lutheran church in Ontario, California, I have the privilege of teaching each week in our school. I teach children about Jesus and what Jesus has done for us – children from ages 4 to 14. One of the greatest joys of teaching children is teaching them (and their families) about Baptism. In the past three years, I’ve been honored to baptize over fifty children. But I was merely the instrument, the “tool” if you will, through which God poured His grace on these children.

Baptism is part of the primary mission of the Christian Church. Jesus told us to “go and make disciples (learners), baptizing them….” (Matthew 28:19).

But what is baptism?

Baptism is the special application of water (H2O) on a person while saying the words “In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.” When God’s word is combined with water, a special thing happens to a person – their sins are forgiven, they are rescued from death and the devil, and they are given eternal salvation – as long as they believe the words and promises of God.

It isn’t the water that does this. It also isn’t the person doing the baptizing. It isn’t even the person who is being baptized. It is God alone who does all these wonderful things, through baptism. It is a sacred gift given by the creator of the universe. It is a rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit (the third person of the Trinity).

It is also a blessed assurance of the love of God for a person. Many people can point to a specific date that they were baptized, much like a yearly birthday. But like some birthdays, a person may not feel like they think they should feel. For example, I’m 44 years old. But sometimes I don’t feel 44 years old (sometimes I feel like I’m 24 and sometimes I feel like I’m 94). In a similar way, I don’t always feel like I’m saved or forgiven or rescued from death.

But I am. I try not to refer to myself as having been baptized, saying, “I was baptized on March 17, 1965.” I most often refer to myself saying, “I am baptized.” It is a gift that I tap into daily. And it is a gift I cherished and want to share.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

I’m Sorry

What is an apology for? Why do we say “I’m sorry”? What are we really looking for when we insist someone says they are sorry?

I apologize a lot. I probably say “I’m sorry” more than any other phrase. This could be because I’m a little insecure and feel apologetic more than is actually necessary. It could also be because I do a lot of things for which I should be sorry about. It surely goes all the way back to the fact that I’m a sinner who needs to repent and be forgiven.

One of things I realized a few years ago is that we have a lot of “I’m sorrys” in this world but not a lot of “I forgive yous” to go along with them.

The reason we say we are sorry is in order to be forgiven. That is what happens when we say “I’m sorry” to God. When we sin, when we break His perfect Law, we need to repent. But that can only truly happen if we are forgiven. We have remorse, we feel bad, and we say we are sorry. But to really repent – to turn away from that sin and follow God’s path – requires that the sin be removed. God must forgive us our sins in order for us to change our ways, to live a better life, to live the life He intended us to live. And that is what God does.

God removes our sins because of the perfect sacrifice that Jesus Christ performed on the cross. Sin must be punished. We call that justice and God is a just God. But God is also a merciful God. That doesn’t mean He just looks the other way when we sin, for that would not be justice. God punishes sin – all sin. He did this by punishing Jesus Christ on the cross, who took all sin on himself.

So when we say we are sorry to God, He forgives us because of the suffering and death of Jesus Christ. When we say “I’m sorry” to God, He says to us, “I forgive you.”

Shouldn’t we do the same with each other?

But we don’t do that, do we? We say things like “that’s ok,” or “don’t worry about it,” or “no big deal.” We say almost anything else other than “I forgive you.” Why is that?

It could be because we do not understand the concept of remorse and forgiveness, because we haven’t fully grasped what God has done for us in the person and work of Jesus Christ.

It could also be because we are not interesting in forgiving someone who has wronged us. We will insists that someone apologizes to us but withhold forgiveness because we were more interested in holding that power over a person instead of reconciling the relationship that is marred by the sin.

But if we do this, then we are praying something very dangerous when we pray the Lord’s prayer, “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us” (emphasis added). Do we really want God to forgive us as we forgive others?

The next time someone says “I’m sorry” to you, say (and mean) these powerful words, “I forgive you.” You might be surprised at the reaction you receive. And you will also begin to understand the love God has for you.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Seasoned Talk

I was at a baseball game recently and I was reminded of Colossians 4:6 in a very vivid way.

Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone (Colossians 4:6)

I was muttering under my breath so that others (I hope) wouldn’t hear me. I was complaining – again, I hope to just myself – of the play of some of the players and some of the calls of the umpire.

My talk was seasoned, all right. But not with grace and salt. More like with cayenne pepper.

As I became aware I what I was doing, and growing ashamed that I – a pastor – was doing it, I stopped.

And two things happened.

One, I began to enjoy the game more. I was concentrating less on the bad plays and bad calls and more on the good catches, clutch hits, and strong efforts of the players.

And two, I began to notice that others were doing what I had stopped doing – but weren’t as successful as I hoped I was in letting other people hear it.

They were calling the umpire derogatory names and making it clearly known that they thought that he wasn’t a good umpire. They were saying not-so-nice things about some of the players. They also didn’t have a lot of nice things to say about other people and even family members.

I don’t know about other people, but the reason I do this is simple. It is much easier for me to be negative than it is to be positive. I suspect that this is because negativity is a basic part of the sinful human nature.

Yet, since I am baptized I have Christ living in me. Still I must daily drown that sinful nature so that the new man – Christ – may rise.

Jesus Christ is a risen and rising Savior and He needs to rise daily in me. I need to come to the Word of God and daily ingest it so that this can happen.

I was making this point to a group of twenty-somethings recently. I’ve come to this realization in my middle forties. I told them not to wait that long and save themselves 20 years of embarrassment and shame.

Jesus lives, the victory is won! But it is still a daily battle against the devil, the world, and my sinful human nature. Thankfully, Jesus is still fighting for me and in me! I can win this. I will win this!

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Sunday, September 27, 2009

Work Out

“Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.” Philippians 2:12-13

I want to grow up. It took me a long time to figure out that I actually needed to grow up. When I was teenager, I couldn’t wait to get older. I tried to act older than I was – mostly to impress other people and get them to take me seriously.

But it is hard to take seriously a person who tries to act older. Because it is a sure sign that they are actually quite immature.

I didn’t realize that until I was about 40 years old – about 20 years too late. With some shame and embarrassment I remember those early days. Trying to convince others I was older than I actually was. Trying to act like I was more mature and had “life experience” when it was obvious to everyone (but me) that I really was not and had little.

Being a Christian is about growing up. I know, Jesus said we must have child-like faith. That’s true (Jesus said it and He’s the Truth so it has to be true). But there is a distinction between being saved and living saved.

When I was a theology student at college and seminary this was called “justification” and “sanctification.” Justification is having a child-like faith. That is, our salvation must be done for us, we cannot do anything to get it ourselves.

When I was a young boy I loved going to major league baseball games. But I couldn’t get there by myself – my dad had to take me. And since he loved me, he would take me at least once a year.

Salvation is much the same way. God must do all the saving. We can’t do it ourselves – any part of it. And God loves us so He does what is needed – sending Jesus to live the perfect life, die on the cross taking the punishment for our sins, and rising to life again three days later.

But sanctification is what we do – with the power of the Holy Spirit working through Word and Sacrament – to grow in our salvation.

Paul words it as “work out your own salvation.” Not to be saved, but to grow in being saved.

Here in Southern California there’s a place called “Muscle Beach Venice.” You can go down to the ocean and lift weights in the beautiful California sunshine. You can “work out.” Not in order to get muscles, but to make the muscles you already have bigger and stronger.

Here in Southern California, we also have some of the greatest places of learning in the world – UCLA, USC, Cal Poly Tech, Biola, Pepperdine, etc. But you don’t go to school to get a brain, but to improve the brain you already have.

In the same way, St. Paul is telling us to “work out our salvation” not in order to get saved, but to strengthen our lives as we live in that salvation.

©2009 True Men Ministries

Monday, September 21, 2009

Live a True Adventure

I love “adventure.”

I love adventure stories – Treasure Island, Robin Hood, Clive Cussler stories, Tom Clancy stories.

I love adventure movies – Star Wars, Indiana Jones, Braveheart, Master and Command.

I love adventure songs – “Battle of New Orleans,” “Sink the Bismarck,” “North to Alaska” (all famously recorded by Johnny Horton).

I also love living adventures – going on hikes in the mountains, attempting to rock climb, camping in the wilderness, walking alone in a big city at night.

Ah, “walking alone.” In a book I’m reading right now, the author makes the case that most men search for adventure that they alone can partake in. Solo mountain climbing – without a partner, ropes or other safety devices. Or motorcycling across the country by themselves. Sailing solo. Hiking into the wilderness alone to find a solitary fishing spot.

What is it about adventure that guys want to do it alone?

After all, it was God the Father Almighty Himself who said, “It is not good that the man should be alone” (Genesis 2:18 ESV).

The problem is that too many men have bought into the lie that being married or parenting is domestic, and therefore not manly and certainly not an adventure.

As the father of three sons, I can honestly tell you that is certainly a lie! Being the father of three boys is a daily adventure – one that exhausts me at the end of the day. It is an adventure that I have to prepare myself mentally and physically – just as a guy would prepare for a cross-country cycle event or to play in an athletic contest. And it is an adventure I would never want to give up!

Being the father of three sons is an adventure that satisfies and fulfills me like nothing else can – and I’ve done the rock climbing, wilderness camping, mountain hiking, and other things that are normally considered adventures!

I enjoy solitary times, but God has brought into my life a beautiful woman who has been my wife for 18 years, and three young men who have been part of my life for 13 years. They need me in their lives as much as I need them – and we live the adventure God has given us together.

The adventure that Christ lived is our model for adventure today. He is the sole-begotten Son of God, but He did not live the adventure alone! He has perfect communion with the Father and the Holy Spirit. But He also chose 12 men – the original small group! – to be part of His Adventure. And the world was changed forever!

If you think that the only way you can live an adventurous life is by going solo – think again. God said that it wasn’t good for you to be alone – and He knows best. He will bring people into your life – a wife, husband, children, friends, and a church family – so that you can live a true adventure!

Monday, September 14, 2009

Just a Game

I watched an NFL football game last night. I probably shouldn’t have, considering how I felt at the end of the game. I forgot that the key word there is “game.” It is only a game. Yet because of the way the team I was rooting for played and because of the outcome of the game, I was not reacting to a “game.”

I was angry. I was frustrated. I was in a bad mood. “My” team lost. They played poorly. There were several key injuries that will significantly impact the rest of the season.

But again, it is a game. In the greater scheme of things, it doesn’t matter. It doesn’t matter to my future here on earth if “my” team wins or loses. It certainly doesn’t matter to my eternal life.

And that is something I need to remember right now. I guess in a way I’m playing “Monday morning quarterback” about my faith and the greater scheme of things.

Games are supposed to be fun. Of course, it is a lot more fun to win than to lose, but still, it’s a game! Enjoy it as a form of recreation and entertainment. It should bring joy. I want to feel joy. And God wants us to be joyful as well. God talks about it over 200 times in His Word (the English Standard Version anyway). If something I’m doing or watching doesn’t bring joy, than I better find something else to do or watch.

What brings joy all the time? God. His salvation for us brings joy even after mourning. Our joy is made complete in God through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

The one who wanted to destroy our joy is Satan. He was defeated by Jesus. Jesus took the power of death away from Satan when He paid the cost of our sin on the cross. Joy is restored to us by God through the sacrifice of Jesus.

Our mourning is now turned into dancing! Our Joy is now being made complete. When we depart this life through death or the Second Coming of Jesus we will enter paradise. Paradise is eternal joy. No tears, no death, no mourning, no crying, and no pain will be there. What will it be like? It will be a new heaven and new earth. I don’t know what that means but the descriptions of what won’t be there tell me that it will be a place of joy.

There was a little girl who was asked by her Sunday School teacher what she thought heaven might be like. She said heaven is a place where it is Christmas morning every day! Because Christmas morning is probably my favorite morning of the entire year, I love this description. Christmas morning is a time when my wife and young sons enjoy worship, then sit in a comfortable home and enjoy opening gifts while Christmas dinner is filling the house with an incredible aroma. My heart swells as I see the joy on my sons’ faces. Joy fills me as I am also filled with love in my heart for them and my wife. I like to think that this is a glimpse of the joy of heaven that Jesus is preparing for us.

This is what I’m going to remember then next time I find myself frustrated by my team, or a bad day at the office, or when I’m stuck in traffic.

Weeping may tarry for the night, but joy comes with the morning. (Psalm 30:5 ESV)

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Labor Day Weekend

This weekend is, in the United States, the unofficial “end of summer.” A holiday called “Labor Day” where, ironically, no labor is usually done. It is a day off from work for most people. A three day weekend that many will use to relax, get some projects done around the house, or spend time with family and friends.

I’m going to take the opportunity to remember that God calls us to work in His kingdom but also gives us Sabbath rest periods.

God created the world in six days and “on the seventh day He rested.” And God built this need to rest into us. God made us so that we live best if we take one day of rest for every six days of work.

But more than just a “day off” it was meant to be a day that there are NO distractions as we draw close to God. He is always close to us, but sometimes the world drowns Him out. Because of the Fall, we need to close off the world in order to hear God’s voice in our lives.

Labor Day to remember to draw close to God in order to hear our calling.

You don’t have to be a pastor or missionary or teacher in order to be called by God to work in His kingdom.

You may have noticed that most people who are pastors or missionaries or teachers are passionate about what they do. Most of them are not in it for the money or the fame, but because they have a passion to do what these callings carry out. It isn’t the calling that creates that passion, however.

The passion comes from God. It doesn’t matter what you do (as long as it isn’t contrary to God’s Word). Whatever you do, do it because you are passionate about doing that. It is what He created you for. Acting, selling, making, serving, or whatever you are passionate about doing that is God’s calling for you.

God created you with that passion in order to bring others into His Kingdom. All callings have that has their goal. Not just pastors and teachers, but all people of God. Just as Jesus died to save all people, so all people of God are called to share that message with the world. God saved us by the passion of Jesus. God put passion in our lives. And so we can passionately reach the world through whatever we are passionate about.

In fact, I think I have come to a point in my career that I’m not so much passionate about being a pastor as I am passionate about what being a pastor means to the Kingdom of God. It is the results that I am passionate about, not what I’m actually doing.

The last hours of Jesus’ earthly ministry are called “The Passion.” But it wasn’t what He was doing that He was passionate about. In fact, Jesus began the Passion by praying, “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will.” (Matthew 26:39) Jesus was NOT passionate about feeling the sting of the thorns, the slash of the whip, the pierce of the nails, or the absence of God on the cross. He WAS passionate about the result of what all that pain and suffering would be. Jesus was passionate about suffering and dying to save you from your sins.

The Passion of Jesus was the culmination of His passion for you. It wasn’t the end of His earthly ministry; it was part of everything He was doing for you and for me.

So don’t look at your job or career as “something you do” when you are not at worship. In God’s Kingdom there is no distinction between our work life and our worship life. In other words, we are not just weekend Christians. We are called by God to be and work and live in His Kingdom every day, not just on the weekends.

I hear sometimes from people that they don’t “get anything” out of worship. Could that be because we are approaching worship as something that it was never intended to be?

Church is not something we go to. Church is something that we are.

Rick Warren writes, in the Purpose Driven Life, that “we don’t worship God in order to feel good but rather to do good.

Praising God and receiving His gifts of grace, mercy and forgiveness in worship is not something we do once a week and then go back to our real life on Monday morning.

Worshipping God gives new meaning to Monday morning. Weekend worship is just one part – a small but important part – of the overall worship of God that we are called to take part of.

So, as we take time this weekend away from labor, let us think about our calling. What is your passion?

If you are not passionate about your job or career consider this:

1. Being called to work in God’s Kingdom isn’t so much about what you do; it’s more about how you do it.

2. If you don’t have a job right now, this is an excellent opportunity to explore what you are passionate about and consider how you can do that for God’s Kingdom.

 

Saturday, August 29, 2009

The Adventurous Life

Some call this life the “Title and cover page” of the real story that is yet to be lived.

Some call this life the “dress rehearsal” for heaven.

These are indications that this life is not all there is. There is more than just the 60-100 years that a person lives on earth.

If this all there was, I would think that we could – and should – do just about anything we wanted since there would be no consequences to our actions.

But this life is not all there is.

The Bible says that God “has put eternity into man’s heart” (Ecclesiastes 3:11). I take that to mean that we were created to live forever. Yet, since sin entered the picture through the disobedience of Adam and Eve, our bodies break down as we age and we will eventually die.

But there is still such a thing as “eternity.” Pastor Rick Warren (as well as others) says that there are many choices as to where we can live in this life but only two choices where we will live in eternity. Those choices are heaven or hell. In this life we choose where we will live in eternity by our actions, our beliefs, and our love. If we love God and accept the sacrifice of Jesus Christ, we’ll live in that love. It will shape our actions and very life. If we choose to disregard God and reject Jesus Christ, we will live accordingly in this life and will also be choosing to spend eternity separated from God.

Narnia author C.S. Lewis puts this thought more succinctly when he says, “There are only two kinds of people in the end: those who say to God, ‘Thy will be done,’ and those to whom God says, in the end, ‘Thy will be done.’”

I would call this life on earth, then, the “staging area” for eternity. “Staging area” reminds me of great adventures, and I want to live this life as an adventure that prepares me for the Great Adventure of living intimately with God in heaven. This life is the training for the Great Adventure. But the training is also an adventure! The people I train with become my band of brothers and sisters. I’m learning skills that will serve me well in my adventures. There are emotional extremes and adrenalin rushes. There are blessed down-times of rest and skin-tingling anticipations of action. There are the moments when I don’t think I can make it and will have to “drop out.” But that is usually when a brother or sister stoops down to help me up and trains along side of me for a time.

I wouldn’t want to live in this staging area forever. Thankfully, I won’t. The time will come when we’ll get the word “go” and load up then get the green light and jump into eternity.

And the Great Adventure will then begin!

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Getting Older

This past week I took my sons to the eye doctor. I also had an appointment. Each of the boys (age 9, 10, and 13) have 20-15 vision. I also got a good report, sort of. While I can see just fine things that are far away, I have a problem with stuff that is two to three feet in front of me. And the closer I get to something, the more blurry it gets.

This isn’t anything sudden or dire, said the doctor. It is just a part of getting older. I let out a sigh when he said that (and again as I typed it). So, I was fitted with bifocals and will be getting them in about a week.

As I was shaving this morning, I noticed the gray hair in my beard and at my temples. Again, I let out a sigh (and again just now as I typed that).

There’s no denying it. I’m getting older. I turned 44 this last March. I didn’t feel especially older, but I’m certainly looking it (or not being able to, as the case is with my eyes).

Getting older, the body getting slower and achy, this happens to most people. And it is a clear indication that something’s night right. Why do we get old and sick and eventually die? Why did my grandmother get dementia? Why did my grandfather get cancer? Why do I ache when I’m done jogging in the morning? Why are my eyes going bad on me?

All of these things are symptoms that something’s wrong with the world the way it is right now. And that something is called “sin.” Ever since Adam and Eve broke the one commandment God gave them (Genesis 2:17), the world has been suffering with sin (Romans 3:23 and Romans 8:22).

But there is good news. God loves us so much that He came to us in our pain and broken-down state. He came to us in His Son Jesus Christ – who may not have dealt with gray hair and failing eyesight but certainly felt pain and death! And in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, God saves us from sin, death, and the power of the devil.

Max Lucado, in his book “Just Like Jesus,” says that God loves us right where we are but He refuses to leave us there. God loves us no matter how broken and run-down we are. He saves us from all sin, no matter how grave and terrible we think it is. But God also refuses to leave us in that sin and broken-down state of being. He moves us from our sin to His Son’s righteousness. While we make progress (for lack of a better term) in this life, it doesn’t fully happen until we enter that place where there is no more tears, death, mourning, crying or pain (Revelation 21:4).

In the mean time, I’ll be immersing myself in God’s Word and God’s love, and I invite you to do the same!

 

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Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Book Review: My Life in France by Julia Child

My Life in France Julia Child intrigues me. She's led a very adventurous life and followed her heart to do what she was passionate about - once she figured out what that was.

She found the love of her life in Paul and followed him to Paris after World War II. She didn't speak French and she had never been to France (although she had been China and Ceylon - she had seen some of the world).

She admits that she didn't really know what to do with her life but knew she would follow her love - Paul - wherever that would lead her.

Then she had her first meal in France. That led the way to Le Cordon Bleu and a life-long passion for cooking. The rest was history.

Her life-story is a great example of identifying your dreams and following your passion with all your heart.

This book reads relatively easy and kept my attention once I finally decided I didn't have to translate all the French.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

One-ness

“One” is an on-going concept throughout the Bible. God creates one day at a time. “Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one.” God is called the “One of Sinai (Psalm 68:8). He is called “The Holy One of Israel (Psalm 71:22 and throughout Isaiah).

And the concept of “one” is at the heart of Ephesians 4.

There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call— 5 one Lord, one faith, one baptism, 6 one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all. – Ephesians 4:4-5 (ESV).

As people of God, then, it would make sense that we are “one people.” But are we? That’s a question many have been asking in these days. Are we one people? Or are we many people? Is E pluribus unum, Latin for "Out of Many, One," true?

If not actually true in 21st Century America, then certainly it is true in the Church, yes? After all, we weekly confess we are “One Holy Christian (catholic) and Apostolic Church.”

So why are there so many churches? Look at the phone book, under churches. Each city has more than a few. Why is that? Why are there Lutheran churches and Baptist churches and Catholic churches, and Presbyterian churches, and Reformed churches, and Methodist churches, and Episcopalian churches, and hundreds of other denominations and non-demoninations?

All confess to be Christian churches, so why are there so many different Christian churches?

Denominations are not a new development in the church. I believe denominationalism has its roots in the first century Christian church. There was one Church, but many different churches – the Church at Jerusalem, the Church at Antioch, the Church at Corinth, the Church at Rome, etc.

As time when on different pastors of these churches would occasionally come up with different teachings that were considered by other churches to be heretical. These paved the way for the Ecumenical Creeds such as the Nicene Creed in the 4th Century – being a common confession of faith to show that even though Christians gathered in many different towns and cities, there was still only One Christian Church.

Today, the different denominations exist because of the same type of things. One believes one thing about Baptism or the Lord’s Supper and another has a different teaching. Some are merely rooted in different traditions or nationalities. All are still Christian.

But what about us here at the local congregation?

Are we all “one”? Do we all agree on the mission and ministry direction that we believe God is leading us? There are several different ideas and opinions on which direction God is leading us. And that’s ok. No one believes they have the only right answer here. I don’t think anyone believes there is only “one” way of doing things, either.

But that doesn’t have to fracture us. It doesn’t mean we aren’t “one.”

For too long, I believe people have looked at the church in America as an institution or an organization. They’ve seen the church as an institution like a university or place of learning. They’ve seen the church as an organization, like a corporation or political party.

We’ve seen how institution and organizations have fared in recent history in this country. The church is right there with them as they are seen as one of them.

But that isn’t how Jesus started His Church. He started His church not as an institution or an organization but as a family. Families don’t always agree on the direction to go – anyone who’s been on a family vacation knows that. But that doesn’t make them any less of a family, does it?

Once, my family and I were driving from Mayville, WI to Lake Villa, IL to visit my mom. We normally take the interstate but I wanted to try taking US 45 – basically a “back road.” Both routes would get us there but the interstate is much quicker. We talked about it and disagreed about which way to go. But that didn’t make us less of a family. We finally decided to go my way and it took us three and a half hours instead of two, but we were still a family!

In the local congregations – and indeed in the whole Christian Church on earth – we are a family. A family of God made that way by God. We are many, that is true. We look different, sound different, eat different, live different (for the most part), but we are still one because we have one God and Father of all. The God who created the universe made us all one. That’s powerful stuff! The power of the universe is the power of our “one-ness.” Nothing can fracture us unless we stray from that power, the power of God in Jesus Christ!

That’s why we cannot “do” church like it is some institution or organization. We can’t “do” church at all. We can only be the Church! When Jesus started the Church 2000 years ago, He didn’t start it as an organization. He didn’t organize His followers. He called them. And He called them from all over! You have Jews from Judea, Jews from Galilee, Romans, Cyprians, Africans, Greeks, and on and on. E pluribus unumsanctam ecclesiam– “Out of many one … holy church.”

Jesus Christ died and rose again for the world – as it says in John 3:16 and Hebrews 7, 9, and 10. He died for all and made us all one in that death. We were all one as sinners and now we are all one as redeemed.

Not everyone accepts that. That is why Jesus called us together – so we can go out into the world and make disciples, baptize and teach. We are called as one to share the Good News of Jesus. We learn about it together, we strengthen each other together, and now we can tell others together.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

One Small Step – One Giant Leap

I don’t remember reading books until I was in the sixth grade. The first book I remember reading was The Boxcar Children by Gertrude Chandler Warner. I remember always loving to read – having gone through my school’s complete SRA reading laboratory by that time.

It must have been about this time that my dad bought me my first science fiction book – Robert A. Heinlein’s Space Cadet, and I was hooked! I progressed through Heinlein’s juvenile novels, then moved on to Isaac Asimov and Ray Bradbury. Science Fiction was my first love but I’ve since moved on to all other styles of writing.

I read Space Cadet in 1976 and while my nose was buried in a book, it got me looking up to the stars. At this point in the United State’s history, there wasn’t much to look at up there. The Apollo Program had ended in 1975 and NASA was working on a reusable “shuttle” but that was in the future – pretty much science fiction until January 1977.

But fiction was fast becoming fact and in 1981 the first Space Shuttle mission was launched.

In the early morning hours of Thursday, April 9, my brother and I woke up after not really sleeping and traveled with my dad and a friend and his dad to the airport for our flight to Florida. We were going to witness the first shuttle launch!

We arrived at Titusville, Florida early on April 10 and waited for the countdown to zero. But it was not to be. Because of a timing problem in one of the shuttle’s computers (we found out later), the mission was “scrubbed” for two days. Disappointment was tempered by a visit to Disney World that Saturday. Saturday night we didn’t sleep at all as we made our way back from Orlando to Titusville.

We gathered with tens of thousands of others on the beaches of Titusville looking east toward Pad 39A at Kennedy Space center and at 7:00 a.m. Shuttle Columbia lifted off into a clear blue sky. First we saw white smoke, then orange flame, and then the shock wave of sound hit us. It was so incredible all I could do was stare through the view finder of my camera as tears dripped down my cheeks.

I had witnessed history in the making! In just twenty years, we had moved from placing a human in orbit, to landing humans on the moon (and returning them) to being able to fly a craft into space and then return it safely to earth to be used again. We truly live in historic times!

Last Monday, July 20, 2009, marked the 40th Anniversary of another historical event. The first time a human walked on the surface of the moon. I don’t have any direct memory of seeing that (I was four years old at the time), but the images are iconic.

As are the words uttered from the lunar surface: “That’s one small step for man; one giant leap for mankind.”

As I stood on the beach in Florida watching Young and Crippen blast off into space, I was joined by my brother and friends and hundreds of thousands of other people from around the world. We weren’t Americans, we were “citizens of the world.” We were humans, brought together by a historical event.

As we marked the 40th anniversary of the Apollo 11 landing, I was thinking about this idea of being human.

Jesus didn’t come to this earth to save a specific group of people (such as Jews in 1st Century Israel, or Americans or Lutherans, etc.). Jesus came to this world, born of Mary in Bethlehem, to save all humans.

“For God so loved the world, that He gave His one and only Son….” (John 3:16, emphasis added).

Historic events like the first lunar landing or the first shuttle launch can remind us that while there are such things as Americans and Russians and Brazilians, etc., we are all, first and foremost, humans. We are people, we are brothers and sisters.

And we are loved by God and saved by Jesus Christ through His shed (human) blood on the cross. The Son of God became fully human – one of us – to save us from our sins. He remained fully God in order to defeat death through His resurrection on Easter Sunday – the most significant event in the history of the world.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Book Review: Small Footprint, Big Handprint: How to Live Simply and Love Extravagantly by Tri Robinson

41FGWvrHU7L._SX160_ Simplify your life so you are ready to answer God’s call when it comes. That’s the gist of this book and it is a good idea. I oftentimes wonder what my family could do for God if we weren’t saddled with debt and could “up and leave” at a moment’s notice.

Tri Robinson makes the case that this is a good way to live. He also says that it is “eco friendly” and that caused me to pause for a moment. I wondered if I had started reading a “green, Christian” book.

But I was determined to give Tri the benefit of the doubt and I’m glad I did. The only thing I might disagree with him about is his stand on global warming, but he doesn’t really mention it till the very end. My personal belief is that not all the data is available to make a determination one way or another.

But that doesn’t make Tri’s message less important. Especially in these economic times we find ourselves in, it is very important to live simply. Not easily done, as he points out, but full of tremendous potential blessings and opportunities to share the Good News of Jesus Christ.

There is an 8-week companion DVD Bible study that I will be using as a follow-up study for two groups at my church that are currently going through Patrick Morley’s “How to Survive the Economic Meltdown.”

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Made One For Peace

14For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility 15by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, 16and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility. – Ephesians 2:14-16

First, a little background: “Made us both one” in Ephesians 2 means Gentiles and Hebrews.

God had, at first, intended for Hebrews to not intermingle with Gentiles. This was so in order to preserve, not their blood line, but their faith in Him. As it turns out, nearly every time the Hebrews intermarried with Gentiles they gave up their faith in God and turn to idols.

What separated Hebrews from the rest of the world was their faith in God. God made a covenant with the Hebrews and reestablished that covenant with the Hebrews throughout the Old Testament.

The division between Hebrew and Gentile was rescinded when Jesus Christ lived, died, and rose again. He was the One who is “the light to lighten the Gentiles” and He is the “glory of thy people Israel.”

So now the separation is taken away – because of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

It is Jesus’ love that broke down all barriers in the first century.

It is Jesus‘ love that calls us today to break down barriers in this twenty-first century world.

This separation is not ethnic but goes much deeper, to a much more basic level.

“Make one” implies that there was a separation. The separation is between God and the crown of His creation.

The separation is caused by sin.

Jesus Christ is the Messiah, the Prince of Peace. Angels declared on the night of his birth that because Jesus was here there would be “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men” (Luke 2:14 KJV).

Not peace “among men” but peace “toward men.” There’s a big difference.

For there is very little peace among men on the earth. Read about that in every paper, on every news site on the web, listen to that on every news cast on the radio and TV.

Jesus came to bring peace, not among men, but between God and men.

We have all been made one for this peace and by this peace.

Jesus Christ removed what separated us from God – our sin.

He reconciled God with you and me. No matter what sin you’ve done – it is forgiven by the blood of Jesus Christ shed on the cross. Jesus paid the penalty for that sin and all sin. You are now a child of God who will live forever!

This has the effect of making possible peace with others.

There is a true story related about a church in the Pacific Northwest, who much like us, has a time during the service for passing the peace of Christ. This is a time when they greet one another, and their guests, with handshakes and hugs, and kind words of welcome. Nobody thought much about the weekly ritual until the pastor received a letter from a man who had recently joined the congregation. The new member was a promising young lawyer from a prestigious downtown law firm. He drafted a brief but pointed letter on his firm's letterhead. "I am writing to complain about the congregational ritual known as 'passing the peace,' " he wrote. "I disagree with it, both personally and professionally, and I am prepared to take legal action to cause this practice to cease." When the pastor phoned to talk with the lawyer about the letter, he asked why he was so disturbed about sharing the peace of Christ. The lawyer said, "The passing of the peace is an invasion of my privacy."

And, in the Pastor's response to this man, we find the truth of the Christian life. He said, "Like it or not, when you joined the church you gave up some of your privacy, for we believe in a risen Lord who will never leave us alone." And, he said, "You never know when Jesus Christ will intrude on us with a word of peace." [illustration taken from sermons.com, accessed July 18, 2009]

Most personal of all is we can have peace with ourselves.

When Jesus removes our sin and reconciles us to God, we can then start to actually live with ourselves. We can stand ourselves again. We can love ourselves. After all, if God can love us enough to send Jesus to die for us, certainly we can love ourselves and others, right?

Book Review: Call of Duty

Call of Duty

My Life Before, During, and After the Band of Brothers by Lt. Lynn “Buck” Compton (with Marcus Brotherton)

This is the “best of the best!” I’ve ready all the memoirs of Easy Co. soldiers that have been published (as a result of Stephen Ambrose bringing the unit’s story to life in Band of Brothers). And this is, by far, the best of all of them.

Buck Compton is probably the most “famous” of all the Easy Co. soldiers. He was a two-sport star at UCLA (playing baseball with Jackie Robinson as well as playing in the 1943 Rose Bowl game).

After the war he went on to be a successful LAPD detective, then prosecuting attorney (being the lead prosecutor of Sirhan Sirhan who assassinated Robert Kennedy).

He then had a successful career as an Appellate Court Judge in California.

Upon retirement he hosted a weekly radio commentary at a station in Washington state.

Any one one of those parts of Compton’s story would be fascinating to read or hear about – but that this man did ALL of them is truly astounding!

Marcus Brotherton guides the story along and the two of them have shaped a very readable book that would make an excellent mini-series in its own right (as a follow-up to HBO’s Band of Brothers).

If you’ve read Band of Brothers or seen the series, you will greatly enjoy this and the other books from the men who lived the life.

21st Century America owes a debt of gratitude to these men and I am very glad they have shared their story with us.

May we never forget!

Book Review: We Who Are Alive and Remain

Untold Stories from the Band of Brothers by Marcus Brotherton

We Who Are Alive and Remain Marcus Brotherton gets to the heart of the men who served in Easy Co., 506th PIR, 101st Airborne, United States Army during World War II.

Untold Stories from the Band of Brothers simply had to be written. No disrespect to Stephen Ambrose, but there were simply too many stories to include in one book. Without Ambrose, none of the other books would have seen the light of day and a debt of gratitude goes to him.

But since then - and the subsequent HBO series - the men of Easy Co. have published their memoirs (or in the case of David Kenyon Webster, published posthumously).

These books are essential to 21st Century America. These men have a story to tell that will shape our country and our lives for years to come.

Marcus Brotherton has meticulously interviewed 20+ men that were not included in Ambrose's book and does a great job of expanding the story. He brings the story to life - it is, after all a true story - and in bringing these men's story to light, sheds new light and life on the stories we already know.

This book led me to Buck Compton's book, which I will read and review next.

 

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Ephesians – One in Christ, Many in the World

I’m reading the Epistle to the Ephesians over the next couple of weeks as I put together a sermon series at my church. “One” jumps out as a common thread through the readings.

This week I’m looking at Ephesians 1, specifically focusing on verse 10: “to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth.”

Jesus Christ died on the cross to forgive our sins. His shed blood washes us clean from the stain of original and actual sin. One of the reasons God has done this for us in Jesus Christ is to unite us with heaven – to bring together and make one heaven and earth.

Not “heaven on earth,” as wonderful as this earth can be.

Yosemite, Yellowstone, Hawaii, Greece, Kenya, the Himalayas – this earth is incredibly beautiful.

But it is only half of what God has made for us. Genesis 1:1 says that “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.”

Still, many have bought into the lie that this earth is all there is. Beautiful yes, but singular. Others have bought into something that is just as much a lie – that God is pleased when all they do is spend time in His creation. They tell us, “I can worship God there. I don’t need church.”

But God has sent Jesus Christ to die for our sins, to forgive us and reveal the mystery of God’s will to us in order to unite both heaven and earth.

Heaven on earth doesn’t happen out there (the world), it happens in here (the worship service). Remember the words of the Communion liturgy? “Therefore with angels and archangels and with all the company of heaven we laud and magnify your glorious name saying, ‘Holy Holy Holy…’”

Arthur Just tells the story of a family in his parish. There was a young man, 12 years-old, who had died of cancer shortly after being confirmed. Pastor Just wasn’t quite sure what to tell the family at the funeral that would bring them comfort. Of course, he shared the comforting words of Jesus Christ – the Gospel of sins forgiven and the sure and certain hope of eternal life for all who have faith in Jesus. After the service the father talked to him and told him he knew all that but that he still – understandably – missed his son terribly. Pastor Just thought about it for a couple of days and then came Sunday. When Pastor Just came to the Communion Liturgy, those words resonated in a new way, “Therefore with angels and archangels and with all the company of heaven we laud and magnify your glorious name saying, ‘Holy Holy Holy.…’” After the worship service he told the father that even though his son was not with them physically, each time they came to the Lord’s Supper they came together again. For their son was in heaven. And in the Lord’s Supper all who partake come together with heaven here on earth for a brief moment. We are united with the body and blood of Jesus Christ and those in heaven are also united with Christ (Romans 6:5).

Jesus Christ unites us as a family today and He unites us with all those who have gone before us and will come after us. Jesus Christ unites heaven and earth with His death and resurrection.

This series of blogs will continue to focus on why Jesus Christ does this and what it means for us. Next week we’ll look at the result of this – peace.

 

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