Thursday, December 25, 2008

Merry Christmas!

The Christmas Story
as told by Luke 2:1-20

And it came to pass in those days, that there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus, that all the world should be taxed. (And this taxing was first made when Cyrenius was governor of Syria.) And all went to be taxed, every one into his own city. And Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judaea, unto the city of David, which is called Bethlehem; (because he was of the house and lineage of David:) To be taxed with Mary his espoused wife, being great with child.

And so it was, that, while they were there, the days were accomplished that she should be delivered. And she brought forth her firstborn son, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger; because there was no room for them in the inn.

And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid. And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord. And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.

And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying, Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men. And it came to pass, as the angels were gone away from them into heaven, the shepherds said one to another, Let us now go even unto Bethlehem, and see this thing which is come to pass, which the Lord hath made known unto us.

And they came with haste, and found Mary, and Joseph, and the babe lying in a manger. And when they had seen it, they made known abroad the saying which was told them concerning this child. And all they that heard it wondered at those things which were told them by the shepherds.

But Mary kept all these things, and pondered them in her heart. And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things that they had heard and seen, as it was told unto them.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008


Believe it or not, it takes a fair amount of time to put my sermons on the blog.

So, I've decided to put my notes up instead of a transcript. Most of the time, they will be full enough to completely understand.

Just an fyi!

Incarnation as Love

Scripture Reading: Isaiah 42:1-9
Scripture Lesson: Luke 2:1-20
Sermon: "Incarnation as Love"

Baby Books - I held up Isaiah and Sophia’s baby books and read from various things...Showed pictures of ultrasounds, Stephanie's belly, and the kids as babies.

Glimpses of Life (past & present) - I shared more stuff from the books. Prices of Gas, food. It records how we felt...One story that I related to as I looked back on what I wrote...

Mrs. Nolen Cash relates this story which many parents can relate to..."With the due date approaching for the birth of our first child, my husband was becoming increasingly fidgety. I had slight pains one evening, but assured him that they were not serious. I was in the den, relaxing, when I heard him shaving. Then he began to throw on his clothes.
" What are you doing?' I asked.
"'You can sit here if you want to,' he said, but I'm going to the hospital!'"

Reflections of What’s Important - we took time to record and keep stuff because it was an important event in our lives. It helps us focus on what our role as parents is and isn’t.
Asking Questions - Did I do right? What could I have done differently. Have I been a good father? What will my children remember about me? What parts of me will they pass on to their children?

The Backward Baby - But today we share about a baby story that is backward...

The Christmas Baby - Christmas is all about a baby. From the pregnant mother, expecting father, waiting wisemen, and bewildered shepherds, they all are secondary to the baby. Not just any baby mind you, this baby, the Christmas Baby is Jesus, the Christ, the long awaited Messiah. Usually when we celebrate births, we talk about new life, yet this life is beyond time and ancient beyond comprehension. A planned conception of countless millennia. Truly the hopes and fears of all the years were met in Thee that night.

Baby Love - I remember waiting for Isaiah and Sophia to be born, and I remember a love that began swelling and swelling. I remember when they were born that I loved them beyond what they will comprehend for many, many years...And while I’m sure that Mary and possibly Joseph were connecting with the unborn child, this child came loving us. This child was conceived in love...not a human love; rather in God’s love. This baby came loving and to be love.

The Baby’s Book - Unlike our children, Jesus was born with his book already started [lift up Bible]. A story of humanity and God...of God’s continual reaching out to us. Jesus’ baby book extends to our beginning and walks through our lives, our dreams, our fears, our failures, and our greatest moments. This Baby book, like most baby books, tells us as much about ourselves as it does the Child.

Glimpses of Life - As I mentioned earlier, baby books show us glimpses of life, share important reflections, and force us to ask and/or answer tough questions.
The Fairy Tale - Most of our nativity sets are complete fairy tale. Serene, peaceful, perfect. Let’s talk about reality: An unwed mother, a teenage pregnancy, a poor couple, no doctors, no place to stay, and animals eating the baby’s bedding.

Talkin’ Smack -
From the newspapers in 1965: "He didn't deliver what he promised last year," a 12-year-old Halifax, Nova Scotia, boy said after he socked a department store Santa on the jaw and kicked him in the shins. Even under the best of circumstances, the birth of a child brings with it many apprehensions.

Yet, God, I believe has a lively sense of humor, and I think that through the writers of Luke he talks some smack for all to hear: Throughout Rome there were inscriptions carved on the base of stone statues of Caesar Augustus. The nephew and adopted son of Julius Caesar, Augustus, brought Pax Roman, Roman Peace. By conquering anyone who opposed Rome, he brought “Peace.” On these statues, was carved, “Caesar Augustus, bring of peace and Savior of all the world.” God takes on Caesar Augustus kicking him right in the shins: Jesus is the Savior of the world. Jesus is the one who will be the Prince of Peace. And Caesar’s own census was merely a tool for the birth story of the true King...King Jesus.

Important Reflections
Christ’s Reign - It’s important that we learn from the story just who is in charge here. Not Caesar, not Rome, not the president, not America. God is in charge, and God shares that reign with no other...not even YOU!

The Audience
A second reflection for us should be that God’s audience for this event consisted entirely of outsiders, of social outcasts. Smelly shepherds, an unmarried couple, an insignificant village in an insignificant province. God’s expression of Lordship is different from ours, and God’s glory is different from ours.

Christmas Is For Times Like These
Ann, along with her two small sons, went to live with her parents in Texas for the duration of World War II, while her Air Force husband was busy in Europe. It was Christmas time and mother and grandparents were making great plans for the boys. The tree was up and decorated. Gifts were bought and hidden away. The excitement, the gaiety, the beauty of the season seemed to push the sorrows and separation of war aside for a time.
But only for a time, for just a week before Christmas Day, word came that Daddy would not only be away for this Christmas, but for all the Christmases that were to come-he had been killed in action.
Ann went away to her room and closed the door. Grandpa and Grandma talked quietly and wondered. Finally they decided to set the tree out and take down the decorations, since sorrow had replaced their joy.
Ann came out of her room after a while and saw the empty space where the tree had been. "Why, Mother?" she questioned, "What have you done with the tree?"
"Daddy and I set it out. It seemed out of place with you so brokenhearted."
"Oh, but Mother, let's bring it back in. Christmas was made for such times as these!"

...And for people such as these...the Christmas story is for those who NEED salvation. Those hurting, reeling, sick, desparing, grieving, alone, ashamed, nobody. And Christ the Lord comes bearing the gift of God: Salvation of not only soul, but of life.

Asking Questions - The Christmas story, just like the baby book, forces us to ask questions of ourselves...
  • Do I really follow the Christ Child?
  • Do I really live Christmas all year long?
  • Do I really believe God loves the world?
The Empty Gold Present
We often learn the most from our children. There is an old story about a man who punished his 3-year-old daughter for wasting a roll of gold wrapping paper. Money was tight, and he became infuriated when the child tried to decorate a box to put under the Christmas tree. Nevertheless, the little girl brought the gift to her father the next morning and said, "This is for you, Daddy."
The father was embarrassed by his earlier overreaction once he realized the gift was for him. He opened the gift, but his anger flared again when he found that the box was empty. He yelled at her, "Don't you know that when you give someone a present, there's supposed to be something inside of it?"
The little girl looked up at him with tears in her eyes and said, "Oh, Daddy it's not empty. I blew kisses into the box. All for you, Daddy." The father was crushed. He put his arms around his little girl, and he begged her forgiveness. He kept that gold box by his bed for years. Whenever he was discouraged, he would take out an imaginary kiss and remember the love of the child who had put it there.
In a very real sense, each of us has been given a gold container filled with unconditional love and kisses from God.

God has sent his one, unique child, Jesus to be the Gold Container that holds and offers God's love to us. A promise that we can keep with us everyday...A promise that we can count on...

Incarnation as Love
For God loved the world so much that he gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life. - John 3:16

May the Christ Child be born anew in your hearts this morning, this Christmas, this year, this life. May you experience the Love of God that gives himself to you, and may your life be forever changed.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Burn the Jungle Down?

Batman the Dark Night received some praise from many critics; however, I noticed that several Christian theologians keep speaking of it as a Gen-X, Post-Modern attempt to make a comic book character into something hideous and evil.

To be honest I don't get it. I loved the movie. It totally resonated with me...especially in light of our times...

We are fighting an enemy that wants to die for their cause. We are fighting an enemy that wants to cause destruction, chaos, violence. Our enemy wants to kill women and children for the notoriety. The worse and more evil it seems, the "better" the terror plot.

Moreover, the movie did an excellent job of asking the seemingly simple question, "How do we solve this?" Letting the Joker kill and maim at whim is unacceptable, but as he states, "There's only one way to stop me." Do we kill it? What happens if we stoop to the level of the killer? As we have found out, war hasn't solved the Terrorism problem...but it has kept the terrorism off our shores. Our attacks in the Middle East has only increased anti-American and anti-West feelings, yet we know that al-Queda (proper) is weaker than it has ever been.

At what point does the white night turn dark? What does it mean to be a Superpower? Is it being loved? Feared? Hated? All of the above?

Many have raised the question, "Should we negotiate with Terrorists?" Perhaps another question we should ask is, "Will they negotiate with us?"

As Alfred told a story we should all perk up a little (afterall he is the personification of wisdom within the story), "There was a bandit who kept stealing treasure from the nobles. After several princes' treasures were stolen, they decided to hunt the bandit. But, they could not find him. Alfred and his men searched and searched the jungles. They found nothing. Yet one day in a village, Alfred saw a boy playing with a ruby the size of an orange...He asked the boy, "Where did you get that?" The boy said, "It was just laying on the ground with a bunch of other stuff."

The bandit wasn't playing for money or power or wealth or even superiority. The bandit was stealing for the thrill of doing it. Later in the film, Batman finds himself confronted with the fact that he might have to kill the Joker to end the meyhem. He asks Alfred if he ever caught the bandit..."yes." "how?" "We burnt the jungle down."

The modern Tar-Baby is Terrorism, and the challenge of our day is to find creative answers to the struggle we face. Fighting the violence with violence only reinforces the convictions of the Terrorists...and worse it brings new recruits in. Doing nothing is just as bad as it reinforces the belief that we are amoral and capricious, afraid to risk our lives to save innocents.

So, now to the real point: What is our response as Christians to all of this? We are not government, but we should have a response to all of this? What do we say? "Turn the other cheek?" "Eye for an eye?" "If your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off?"

It's so hard to back away from being an American. To back away from our party affiliations. To back away from our own personal feelings and truly hear what God is calling us to be.

May God cause this violence to end. May God bring peace...and may it begin in our hearts.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel Shall Come to Thee O Israel.

The failed war on Terror.

The failed economy.

The failed relationships.

The failed dreams.

The failed expectations.

I've seen these looks in people's eyes and/or heard it in their voices. I see a lot of people lately who aren't happy, and Christmas is seriously dragging them down. Crabbiness seems to be the holiday cheer this year.

I love the movie "How the Grinch Stole Christmas" starring Jim Carey. Hilarious and clever, I loved it...even though I was dragged to the theatre (I chose Star Wars last time, so Stephanie got to choose Grinch).

Cindy Lou-Who sang a song, "Where Are You Christmas," that really probed what Christmas was all about. She seemed to think that there was more to Christmas than presents and giving things to each other.

Christmas IS about all those things that everyone is worried about and yet not...Because Christmas is about God offering Salvation to all people. Right now I think many need to hear Jesus' words from Matthew 11:28 "Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest."

May we all find rest and peace in Christ Jesus this Christmas. May the Christ Child be born in our hearts again today.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

It's the season...

Body hurts. Head exploding. 20,000 blankets and still cold. 103 temperature and shivering.

Yeah! It's flu season....That great and wonderful time of the year when we help out our fellow creation by providing a great environment to live and multiply. It's nice to be doing our part for the environment.

In fact, the flu is such a great thing because it's really two for the price of one! You see at this point, the virus has run its course (and been passed on to someone in my family...we like to share); however, I am now a living bacteria culture. My head and sinuses are little incubators for life. You know, it's really something to carry life around inside of you. I wonder if this is what pregnancy is like?

May you all experience the wonder and mystery of this season of life...

[In case you are not aware, this article is satire and not the official opinion of Blogger, the UMC, McDonalds or any other lawyer toting entity looking to sue]

Thursday, December 11, 2008


Some GREAT posts out there this week. Here are some of my favs...Thanks to everyone who posted these!

  1. The uncritical eye of Christmas Eve Worship meets practical advice. Giving people open flames in 150+ yr. old buildings!?! Come on! LOL!
  2. Seth Godin has an important tip for leaders: Having good ideas is totally different than selling/implementing them. Buy-in is critical!
  3. A great article on divorce (over on Emergent Village) and how the same concept has been prevalent in our churches and Protestantism since the 1500's. Absolutely brilliant piece.
  4. Beautiful pic of two people talking while others skate around them. Very nice.
  5. One of the things I consistently see pastors and other types of leaders do is hide all the facts and keep information from being disseminated freely. This is tragic. Not only does it intensely build distrust, but it ignores the fact that MOST people will be able to look at all the information and, together, make a good decision. This article explains that its not the data that is's our explanations (or lack thereof). Explain, explain, explain! Transparency is the key to building trust.
  6. Lastly, Kara sported a fantastic post that had a video parody of change. Absolutely brilliant and spot on. Language and explanation are so vital...but so is realizing that some people are unwilling or incapable of change, too. Now we must ask, "What do we do with that? Are we OK leaving them behind? How do we incorporate them even as we change?"

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Incarnation as Confidence

Scripture Reading: Psalm 80:1-7
Scripture Lesson: Mark 13:21-27
Sermon: "Incarnation as Confidence"

Something Big! - An old pioneer traveled westward across the Great Plains until he came to an abrupt halt at the edge of the Grand Canyon. He gawked in amazement. The chasm was a mile down, eighteen miles across and more than a hundred miles long. He gasped, "Wow, something big musta happened here!"

An alien visitor to our world at Christmas, seeing all the lights, the trees, the decorations, the parades, the festivities, the charitable actions and gifts, and all the religious services, probably would say the same thing: "Wow, something big musta happened here!" And something big did happen. God put on flesh and came into our world as one of us on the first Christmas. That event changed all of history. But underneath the surface, I wonder, was it really that big of a deal? There is still war. There is still hatred, poverty, sickness. Children still go hungry and dictators still rule unjustly. The dishonest rich overlord the common stealing at will, while governments turn blind eyes. Is it all just hype?

Living up to the Hype? - In the movie, Galaxy Quest, Tim Allen plays a failed, washed up alcoholic actor who used to play the star role of a TV show very similar to Star Trek. One day to his surprise he and his supporting cast are brought on board a ship crewed by aliens. For years they studied the TV waves sent out to space, and thinking that the show was a documentary, they built an entire ship off the TV show. Believing him to be a great captain, they build him up and build him up. As one of his cast mates said, “It was like throwing gasoline on a fire.” All the hype went to his head, and he failed miserably. Except along the way something brilliant happened: The aliens kept quoting a line from the TV show as their salute: “Never give up! Never surrender!” As you may guess, along the way, Tim Allen’s character keeps at it, this TV cast saves the galaxy, and they live up to the hype. In some ways Advent is very much like that.

Birth of Jesus - It starts out big! The birth of Jesus. The Word made flesh. Jesus is born, and we celebrate the birth of the Christ child.

Salvation of the Lord - His name means salvation comes from the Lord for Jesus will save his people. For centuries, the Jewish people expected God to deliver them from their enemies. When Assyrians killed off half of the nation, they prayed for God to save them. When Babylon lay waste to Jerusalem and mothers were so hungry they ate their dead children, God’s people cried out for salvation. When a Greek king, Antiochus Ephiphanes killed Jews and mocked God by slaughtering a pig on the Temple altar to Zeus, the people of faith cried out for God’s swift vengeance. When Rome conquered all and took everything, people pleaded with the LORD for hope. Prophet after prophet sent up a lot of hype. God is coming. But was God really ever going to come? Perhaps today, we ask the same question: Is God ever going to come? Is God really going to make things right? to fix our hearts? to right wrong?

Waiting...waiting...waiting... - There is a woman who is buried under a 150-year-old live oak trees in the cemetery of an Episcopal church in rural Louisiana. In accordance with this woman's instructions, only one word is carved on the tombstone: "Waiting."

Jesus Comes...
Worth the Hype? - So Jesus came. A baby born in a manger 2000 years ago. He lived a simple life. He died, crucified between 2 thieves. Perhaps the hype was a bit much? But before we go there, I want to ask you a question:

Has Jesus come to your life? - So what do you do then? Well, you look again, (says Jesus). Past the crashing. Past the burning. Past the rubbish, ruin and rubble. Past the fallen stars rolling like pearls in whatever direction the floor of your life happens to be tilting. Past the smudged-over sun and the snuffed-out moon. Past the turbulence that is, at that very moment, shaking your airplane or your attitude ... shaking your faith or your life ... even shaking the earth on which you stand or the heavens toward which you gaze. Look past all that, Jesus said. Look through all that, Jesus said. And you will see, amidst the darkness, that the Son of Man is coming in the clouds with great power and glory.

Is he talking about the Second Coming? Of course he is. But what matters is if Jesus has come into your life? Have you heard the thunder peal? Have the foundations of your life been shaken? Has Jesus' arrival in your life made a big deal...or is it just some pretty token faith on a shelf? Again, I ask you, has the Christ Child been born anew in your heart?

Incarnation as Confidence
Christ has died. Christ is risen. Christ will come again.
- Ancient Communion Liturgy

- All that we hold dear in faith as Christians is summed up in this simple credo inserted into the most ancient of liturgies. The Christ child, the Messiah, came and lived among us. He died that we might live. In his death, God is putting to death our sinful selves. On that Cross, when we give ourselves up to Christ, on that cross our sin and shame and guilt dies. Instead of our struggling and dying inwardly everyday, Jesus died once and for all. How do we know this: Christ is risen. It’s one thing to say you’re the Word made flesh, God incarnate, the God-Man, but it’s something else to prove it. For in Christ’s resurrection is our hope that while we too are crucified with Christ, Christ resurrection gives us life, that Christ lives in us. That we have a new start, a new life, a life free to truly do what we want...not to be stuck in a rut of work-eat-sleep. Or being captured by the family behaviors of not talking to each other because “our family doesn’t forgive.” Or forsaking what we really believe because it’s not cool or not empirical or sometimes not even practical.

I ask you again! Has Jesus come into your life? Is the Christ Child born in your heart? If not, it’s something to seriously consider because it's a matter of true life! Christ will come again...Are you going to be ready? Many missed out the first time...

There is a wonderfully true story of Marie Krassman. Marie Krassman was a Polish Jew who, during WWII, was rounded up along with thousands of others, and put to work on the German war machine, in forced labor. She was sent to the Volkswagen factory, that at that time was making Tiger Tanks. She was pregnant and soon gave birth to her baby boy. The child was immediately taken away and sent to the Volkswagen Children’s Home. She never knew what happened to him; she was never allowed to visit. We now know that these babies were fed sour milk and ravaged with lice.

One night in desperation she snuck out of the camp and hiked the eight miles to the children’s home. If she were caught, it would have meant instant death. She found her child and she hardly recognized him. He was skin and bones. She kidnapped her own child and literally walked away from the home and never came back and, remarkably she was never caught. Of the 300 children who entered the Volkswagen Children’s Home, this one child survived. Over the years, the child Vladimir Kreassman and his mother Marie have been interviewed many times to tell their incredible story.

That was a rescue mission. It was a salvation mission. God is coming on a salvation mission and the sun will be darkened and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will fall from heaven, and the power in the heavens will be shaken You will see the Son of Man coming in clouds with great power and glory. Because NOTHING, I mean NOTHING is going to stand between God and his children. And we shall survive. Not just one child but all God’s children. Jesus is coming back!

Incarnation as Confidence
Jesus is coming. - You do believe it don’t you? You have experienced him shaking up your world haven’t you? Don’t let the worries and fears and temptations of this world tear you down. Don't let the stresses and the sins entangle. The doubt and the despair may assail us, but we can't give up! We can't give up when we are so close! Jesus is coming! Brothers and Sisters, Jesus IS coming. Stay the course. Have faith.
Never Give Up! Never Surrender!

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Critical & Constructive

One of the things that brought me back to the UMC was reading the Book of Discipline (no joke). Specifically there is a part that says our theology is to be both critical (deconstructive) and constructive. Far too often I hear so many Christians hammering away with critical theology. "This is bad." "They don't believe right." "Space Monkeys are evil." etc.

After a critical post yesterday, I truly believe it important to follow up with a constructive post today. If I don't believe in "Christmas" giving without the Christ, what do I believe in regard to Christmas giving?

This movie clip is one of the most viral videos out there, and it sums up what I believe about giving: That if we truly buy into Christmas, Christ's loving Spirit will change our lives...and that means we will give and serve.

After you check out the video below, please check out World Vision's gift area (Thanks Kara!). They have an awesome way to give a lasting, eternal gift in the name of Jesus to both a loved one and 'my neighbor.'

Advent Conspiracy

World Vision

Jesus said, "I tell you the truth, when you did it to one of the least of these my brothers and sisters, you were doing it to me!" - Matthew 25:40

Happy Birthday Jesus. May your birth at Christmas define us as we seek to follow you.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Wolf in Sheep's Clothing

I don't like to dig people on my blog, but this season there is a great evil out there...yet it appears beautiful.

I seemingly can't escape this site. I've received letters in the mail, in my email, and I've seen it all over the internet. It's everywhere, and I think that's why it bothers me. Many people are going to jump on board without thinking about the implications of what this group is doing very subtly.

While the site claims that it "has no intention to reinvent the holiday," they are quick to point out that they are redefining it. And they are doing just that. In all of the literature, they mentioned giving, gifts, and spending, yet they mentioned no Christ. Apparently, the redefining of Christmas is more along the lines of Givemas.

Don't get me wrong. Stephanie and I plan on giving gifts this Christmas; moreover, we are committed to spending less on meaningless gifts. Some of our gifts will include donations to helping others on our families' behalf. Please, don't hear me wrong: The message of giving true, meaningful gifts of love is what Advent should be all about!!!

However, the followers of Jesus ought to rebel against any paradigm of giving or redefinition of "Christmas" that purposefully excludes the Christ. This is not a Fundamentalist rant; rather, it is a fundamental core of our faith: The only hope is Jesus.

Digging clean water wells and saving the orphans are vitally important to the message of Jesus, but if we take God out of it, what are we left with? If I'm not mistaken, it is CHRISTmas? The very reason of the holiday is to lift up the Salvation of the Lord. Advent is about the coming of Christ. Anything that preaches a message of Christmas or faith without Christ is not compatible with the message of Jesus.

We can do better. Brothers and Sisters, don't RedefineChristmas! Let it define us! Let Jesus reign in our hearts! Let us love and give and reflect the Spirit of God in our lives, but let us never leave the Christ out of our Christmas.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

What if...?

Good article on about John Lennon's infamous comment, "We're more popular than Jesus."

The author brings up a profound point. What if what John Lennon said were true? What does it change? How should we react?

What should we do?

Monday, November 24, 2008

Speedlinking & "Where're My Posts!?!"

OK, I've been very mobile lately and working on my Mac laptop. I've been posting and writing blogs, but for some reason they aren't getting all! I know that Blogger had some issues with Mac Safari capability, so maybe they are still having some new problems.

Anyhow, take my word for it, you missed the best posts ever. They were so good that I can't reproduce them.

Here are some great posts from the last two weeks:

  1. Stuff Christians Like is the first "Christian" blog that I've laughed at...I warn you not to drink milk while reading this one!
  2. A great post on Medium and Message. It lifts up Bill Watterson's "Calvin and Hobbes" cartoon as an excellent example of guarding the medium of the message and how this relates to the Christian mission. This was the topic of one of my posts that were magically deleted.
  3. Just Mizundastood? Seth Godin warns us all that we WILL be misunderstood from time to time. My question is: So what do we do knowing that we'll be misunderstood? I think in the blogging world, it means being Patient, Loving, and taking time to explain what one means without resorting to "they don't like me, they're attacking me."
  4. CommonCraft had the best statement I've ever seen from a company. We goofed, and we started over because hard work and time are worth the value and quality of our product. A company I already love, endeared me even more.

Enjoy! I know that I have!

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

The Art of Giving

Scripture Reading: 2 Corinthians 9:6-12
Scripture Lesson: 2 Samuel 24:18-25
Sermon: "The Art of Giving"

This sermon was VERY different! It was an open, honest discussion of how our finances are allocated.

There was a Wall Street businessman working late one evening and he was riding the subway at 9 p.m. As he was riding, a man in a very dingy sweatshirt, holey sock cap, with a pungant odor came up to him. He figured he was to about to be hit up for money, and sure enough the man asked, "Do you have any money sir?" Wanting to avoid a scene, the man said, "No, I don't." To which the homeless man replied, "Well you ought to try and get some...It's very useful."

Money can be useful. It can be a trap. It can be a great tool, or it can be our god. What we do with it and where our hearts are determine it's devilry.

The text today speaks of David offering a gift to God. He is commanded by God to buy a parcel of land and establish an altar in Jerusalem. So David and his men approach Araunah to buy his threshing floor. Araunah offers the threshing floor to him, free of charge. As a king in the ANE, David would have had the power to take whatever he wanted. Araunah, knowing this and seeing the king coming with all of his men, offers his land to preempt any demands or threats. But, David knows that his gift must come from his own possessions. He insists on buying the land at full value, and he buys it...then offers it to the LORD.

What is really cool is that David's gift would go on and become the very place on which the Temple was built. Unknowingly, David's gift in that moment, a creative buying of land to give to God and God's purposes, would be a blessing to later generations. In fact still to this day, 3 major religions hold this parcel of land to be sacred and special.

Our texts today demonstrate four characteristics of Biblical giving:

Obedient Giving - David heard God commanding him to give, and he responded.

Joyful Giving - Once we give from obedience, we learn that giving can be joyous. Giving is something that gives us joy. Why? God is a giving God. Think of the many blessings that we've shared today. Think of the innumberable blessings that we haven't mentioned! God is a giving God. God loves to bless, and we are made in God's image. Giving feels good because it is a part of God's character in us. We like to give because we were made to give.

Sacrificial Giving - David refused to accept Araunah's sacrifice of giving the land and call it his own. David knew that his gift had to come from his stuff, his possessions. When Bill Cosby was young he would ask his dad for $.50. His dad would reply that when he was a kid he had to walk 23 miles to work on a dairy farm 6 days a week. He would work 10 hrs. a day milking cows, but he had no bucket so he had to milk the cow into his hands and carry the milk another 8 miles to a milk barrel. He did this all for $.05 a day.! At the end of the story, Cosby didn't receive the $.50. Now that Cosby's a father and grandfather, when his grandkids reach for the money, he pulls his hands back and says, "No, it's my money!" When we earn our money it means much more to us. When the possessions are earned and worked for, the possessions mean more, and therefore, are a real sacrifice when given. David bought the land as a sacrifice to God.

Creative Giving - David's giving was creative. A threshing floor. Who would have thought it would be the foundation of the Temple? Who would have thought that seems to be a little gift from a small king, would grow to be one of the most contested parcels of land in the world? David was creative in buying the land, to make something new and to offer a different place and way to offer to God.

[At this point I took some time to explain our General Fund, Endowment, and other giving pools].

Our financial and giving habits are a part of our spiritual lives because they are a part of our lives.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

A Heart that Gives

Scripture Reading: Luke 19:1-10
Scripture Lesson: Micah 3:6-12
Sermon: "A Heart that Gives"

Mark Twain once said, "It's not the parts of the Bible that I don't understand that bother me...It's the parts I do understand." Sometimes there are issues in life and in faith that force us to dig deep, to get serious quick. Often they are hard to look at and even harder to speak of...and today we tackle one of those issues...the "T" Word

Tithing. Tithing is an Hebrew Scriptures teaching. The people were to give 10% of their income to God, care of the Temple. It was a mitzvot, a teaching, a command. It was an expectation of the people of God to give their money as a sign of love and obedience to the LORD.

Not only was it to be 10%, but it was to be the "first fruits." This statement comes from an ancient time when all economics were agrarian in nature. Nearly everyone's income came in some way from food production; thus, income was in fact farm produce and livestock. First fruits would be the first 10% out of your field, be it wheat or cattle or sheep. In Jesus' day, some even spoke of tithing from their spice gardens! God didn't just want any 10%, he wanted the first fruits. Why? From a spiritual perspective, it was a sign that the first thing we do is to worship and honor God. Secondly, it was practicle. You have 10% to give if it's the first thing you do. If you pay bills, expand your fields, and buy a brand new mule, you might only have 5% left. Offering God's tithe first was a sacrifice of putting God first.

And God makes a pretty big deal of this, too. In Micah, God says that not tithing is like cheating him, literally stealing from him. God not only wants to be firstly honored, the LORD demands it. Trust me, if God weren't so concerned about it, I would talk about. I don't like to be preaching about money...It's like walking through a minefield. But God makes a big deal out of it, and I think I'd be in the wrong if I didn't. In fact, Jesus spoke on money often. Of his 38 parables, 16 dealt with money. Of the 500 verses in the Bible on prayer and the 500 verses on faith, there are 2350 verses on money. The Bible talks about money alot. Why?

God knows who we are, and God knows how easy it is for possessions, things, and money to seep into our hearts and consume us. Too quickly they can become our "foundation" our "safety net" our gods. The LORD is jealous. Like a lover and a spouse, God will not share our love with another. The LORD is absolute about this that our love and devotion are God's...And I believe that the commandment to give money to God is a spiritual act of handing over potential idols to our Heavenly Father. We honor and worship God by saying that the most valuable things we have possess are God's, and that they mean nothing next to God's worth. In the end, the issue isn't about the money. It's about the heart.

[i sang Zacchaeus was a wee little man and invited the congregation to follow along]

The story of Zacchaeus is so much more fun when we sing that song, don't you think?

[I reiterated the Zacchaeus story]

Zacchaeus was hated. He was hated because he was a Tax Collector. Now this is beyond just being an IRS agent, you see. Tax Collectors in ancient Palestine under Rome were allowed to charge any tax amount they wished. Their only requirement was to bring in the state's allotment. So, often the tax collectors would add on to the already huge taxes, charging way too much, and pocketing the extra. There was little to no oversight, and if someone did not pay the amount the tax collector asked for, he had the power to send soldiers into a household and take whatever he wanted...including the family as slaves. And we think our tax system is bad!!!

Now add in that the tax collectors were working for an hated occupying force, the Romans. In bed with the enemy, these cheats, thieves, and traitors were hated and despised by the people. And that's exactly who Jesus calls down from the tree and in whose house eats dinner.

But, Zacchaeus doesn't remain the thief-traitor. In the presence of Jesus, his heart is transformed. He regrets his sin and offers his life to God. He does this by giving half of his wealth to the poor, and he wants to seek restitution by paying back four-fold everyone from whom he took too much. Unfortunately, the song ends too early in the story, for the best part comes at the end: Zacchaeus is a changed man with a changed heart. Once taking from the poor, now he gives to the poor. Zacchaeus has traded in its idol. His heart is now God's; and therefore, his wallet is now God's too. Jesus honors him with a blessing and naming: He is now a true Son of Abraham. A person of faith. A child of God. Beloved.

Two stories about people's giving. One in Micah and Zacchaeus. One story about God's people failing to give and honor God. Another about a heart transformed and given over to God, giving and loving.

Jesus said, "Wherever your treasure is, there your heart will be also."

Possessions show our values. Whatever we truly value, that is where our heart is. Whatever we save for, we value. Whatever we spend on, we value. And conversely, whatever we don't save or spend for, we don't value. A person's checkbook register can share a lot about what a person values, and so it also shares a lot about our faith, too. I can see by your faces that alot of you are thinking the same thing I thought when I first heard that: Ouch! At the end of the day, there are many excuses for giving or not giving, but it is really about our heart. If we truly value God, we will give to God.

Yesterday, I watched some football. How many watched footbally yesterday? Yeah, it's hard being a Purdue fan this year, and I've about given up...You want to hear why?
  1. Every time I go to a game, they want my money.

  2. The people at the stadium aren't always friendly. In fact, some are rude.

  3. The seats are crowded and uncomfortable...and way too hard!

  4. I don't agree with the coach, and he never does what I think he should do.

  5. A few of the games have gone into overtime...they just take too long. I'm late eating at the restaurant.

  6. The band plays music that I don't know.

  7. The games are always scheduled when I have something else going on...It's Saturday afternoon...couldn't they find a better time!?!

  8. When I was growing up, my mom and dad made me go to ballgames.

  9. And lastly, I've read a lot on sports and football, and I'm pretty sure I know more than the coaches do. I don't need to go to the games.

Yeah, you see where I'm going! How is it that we can sit through freezing weather to watch someone throw pigskin around with people puking all over our backs, but we can't make it to church!?! Or can't give!?! There are millions of excuses, but at the end of the day it boils down to whether or not our hearts are in it. If you love Purdue football, you'll watch it. If you love God, you'll give. It's all about the heart.

It's funny how our attitudes and dispositions change when we speak of money...take for example what happened this last week at our office...There was a man from Texas who called at the church and asked if he could speak to the Head Hog at the Trough. Brenda said, "Who?" "The Head Hog," he replied. Brenda paused composing herself, and said, "Sir if you mean Pastor Mark, you will have to treat him with a bit more respect. Please call him Pastor, but please don't call him the Head Hog at the Trough." The man looked down, and said, "Sorry, but I was stopping by to drop off $10,000 to donate to the church. Just then I walked in the door, and I heard Brenda say, "Hold on a second, I think the big pig just walked in the door."

I'm kidding, that didn't happen, but we laugh because there rings some truth for all of us in that story. People have strong, deep rooted emotions and feelings when it comes to money and possessions...Funny how that is...Perhaps there is something to that...Like money is more important to us than we'd like to admit...even to ourselves.

God wants to be first in our hearts. Period. God wants to have our hearts completely. That's why we give. God wants us to give because it is symbolic, yet very real statement of our allegiance and devotion to God. It also is a way to say thank you for the many material blessings that God has given us.

One of the reasons we give to the church is that together as the Community of Faith we can pool our resources and do more, together. We pool our money to do Mountain TOP, give out milk vouchers locally, we support the YMCA, we support Steve Newnum a Brazilian missionary. We also give to support those who can't pay their heating and energy bills. Together, our money that we give to God, out of our love for God, goes to help our neighbor, too. By giving we love God and neighbor.

So, if God is calling us to tithe, what's our plan of action? Most people can't jump from not giving or giving 1-2% of income right to the entire 10%. So what do we do?

  1. Our aim is the Tithe (as individuals and as the church). The tithe is the Biblical starting point for giving. As individuals we aim to give 10% of our income, and as a church we give 10% of our income to help support the greater United Methodist Church.

  2. The 1% Increase Plan - If you can't jump right into tithing, start making a 1% of income increase in giving each year. Most people can make this jump fairly easily, and over time you will get to your goal of giving.

  3. Often people ask me if they should give off of Gross or Net Income. I say, "Either, just give!" In ancient days, Temple Tax (the tithe) included support for widows and orphans. Today's government taxes include this. So believe that it is OK to give from Net because much of what is taken is given to help others...a way of giving through our government!

  4. Commit to giving. This week we are sending out a letter with a pledge card to all members and friends of Winchester First UMC. And, we are asking you to prayerfully consider what God is asking you to give. It's not about me telling you what you should give. Each of us must really go to God and honestly hear what God is asking us to give. I would suggest that as a matter of practice that you would put the percentage of giving down on the pledge card. This is a great way to practice and/or help us grow in our practice of tithing. At the bottom is a place to put the grand total for the year, but I encourage each of us to write the percentage down as we aim toward tithing.

Giving is about the heart. What do our giving habits say about our hearts? This week and month I challenge each of us to consider what our giving habits really say about us. Amen.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Historic Election

Today at Teen breakfast, I told the youth that they were living through history. Wow, the first African-American president! What a big step for our racially divided nation.

What I'm glad to say is that it didn't even strike me until he won. The entire time I was debating who to vote for (which ended when I pushed the button!) I never once thought "Obama is black" in relation to my decision to vote for him. It never crossed my mind. It was always between two different directions for the nation. Many I spoke to experienced the same. I believe that is an even bigger step for our nation when we don't even "notice" race.

No matter who we voted for or supported, it is now time for all of us to pray for, support, and help in any way our new president. The people have we need to back it up with our actions.

Barack Obama is now going to be OUR president. Congratulations, Barack, and may God bless you as you endeavor to lead and change our nation for the better.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

The Presidential Election Process

While I feel it is every person's civic duty, I also believe that people of faith have a divine mandate to speak to issues from their faith perspective. While I admit that I am totally not excited by either candidate, I am forcing myself to vote. Don't forget to vote for you Senators and Representatives, too!

Voting is duty, and voting is privilege. Go out and vote America, and may God grant us the wisdom as a nation to move forward!

If you are unsure of how this all voting stuff works, CommonCraft has a great video that explains it all. Just click below.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Leaving a Legacy

Scripture Reading: Revelation 7:9-17
Scripture Lesson: Deuteronomy 34:1-12
Sermon: Leaving a Legacy

There is a couple in rural Arkansas who let their 6 yr. old go out and play with his friends every afternoon. The rule is, though, that he must be home no later than 5 p.m. Breaking this rule brings out the paddle, so you know the parents are pretty serious about it! One April Monday, the boy was playing, but it was 5 p.m. His mother worried and worried because the boy was always so punctual. Arriving a full hour late, his mother jumped him, "Why are you so late!" He replied, "But, Mom, I'm not late!" She shot right back, "Young man it is 6 o'clock! You're a full hour late!" The boy looked puzzled, and said, "But the sun. I always know by the sun, and it's just now in the right spot!?!" His mom began nodding, "Oh..." And she began to explain about daylight savings time and how daylight now "lasted longer," and how the clocks were set forward, etc. The boy looked at her incredulously, and finally asked, "Does God know about this?"

I hate daylight savings time. I hated it in Illinois. I hated it in North Carolina...and I hate it here! Bah, humbug. I'm glad you all made it here on time because I'm not sure exactly what time it is. We apparently "Fell back," but what does that even mean? Ok, I'll stop, but I'm not sure God does know and if He does...I'm sure God's upset about the whole thing [tic].

Today we celebrate All Saints' Day. A day that we celebrate the lives of the faithful Saints, and we celebrate their graduation to the Church Triumphant. Their legacy lives on with us. Their faithfulness brought us here today! Be it a nurturing of a child's faith or the invitation to Bible study or church, some Saint has been vital to bringing you here. Today's text speak of a Saint, Moses, that left an incredible legacy. The story of Exodus, Passover, Mt. Sinai, all speak to us after thousands of years. What an incredible legacy!

Moses' legacy was threefold. He was a person of faith, a man of God. It's important, though, that we don't measure his faith by the burning bush or the parted sea...No, faith is measured by the answer, "yes." Moses could've said no to God...But, he didn't. When God said, "Go to Pharaoh," Moses went. When God said, "Lead my people," Moses did. We see and measure Moses' faith not by the big events (those are the measure of God); rather, we measure him by his willingness to follow God wherever...whenever...whatever.

Moses was also a leader. Imagine being a simple shepherd (today a farmer) being asked to confront the most powerful man in the world. Imagine going to the President of the USA and saying, "Your foreign policy is all wrong! This is what you need to do!" Would you expect to be listened to? I would expect a mocking laugh or a condescending, "We'll take that into consideration." Moses did the hard thing as a leader and stood up for what was right. He stood up for others despite the danger to himself. Perhaps the more difficult leadership was leading God's people. They whinned, they moaned, they complained, they threatened him. A few times God even offered to wipe them out and start over with Moses, but Moses said, "God don't. These are your people." Thus showing Moses' other legacy as a Servant, not only of God, but of others. He constantly was trying his best to do what was right for the Israelites. He interceded on their behalf to God. Moses wasn't in it for himself. He was in it for everyone. He loved God, and he loved his fellow Israelites. Moses was a servant.

I think we can learn from Moses as a Saint. His legacy teaches us about what it means to be a Saint. Perhaps first, we should as what a Saint is? I think a little boy captured it well. You see he was visiting his grandparents one Sunday. At their church there were beautiful stain glass windows, much like we have here, except that they had many different Bible pictures on them. There were pictures of St. Mark, St. Luke, St. John, St. Matthew, St. Mary, St. Peter, St. Paul, and a lot of other saints. When he got home, he told his mom and dad how pretty the church and specifically the windows were. Trying to be ornery, the father asked, "Well, what is a saint?" The boy thought for a moment and said, "A saint is somebody the light shines through."

Amen to that! The Christian Scriptures speak of believers, followers of Jesus, as hagios, holy ones...Saints. All of you who follow Jesus are saints for hte light of Jesus shines through you. Today, we remember all the Saints who have gone before us, but we, who without them, would be lesser. Indeed, who of us here have someone in our lives who has been that saint...the one who the light shined through?

There are the famous saints. Saints like Augustine, one of my favorites, who being quite wild in his youth, came to Christ and become the most influential theologian of the Western church. Or St. Catherine, patron saint of old maids adn philosophers (not making that up)! She was tied to a wheel and was to be spun to death. However, according to tradition, the wheel caught on fire, burned her ropes off, and she jumped to safety...only to be burned at the stake...all for her faith. "Cat be nimble. Cat be quick. Cat jumped over the candlestick." You've heard it, but supposedly it came from that story. St. George fought dragons, but he is remembered a saint because he refused the imperial order for all Roman soldiers to worship pagan gods. Tradition says that he tore the edict up right in front of the emperor. He died loyal to Christ, standing up to the emperor. St. Patrick famous for Shamrocks and ridding Ireland of snakes, actually is remembered a saint for something much more powerful. You see he was kidnapped as a child and taken to Ireland. He was held as a servant-slave for years. Finally he managed to get free and went back home...where he studied, became a student, became a priest, and went back to the very people in Ireland who captured him and held him hostage. St. Patrick, missionary to his enemies. That's what being a saint is...all of these people demonstrated in their lives the radical grace of God and the light of the witness of Jesus shined through.

I have a saint that is important to my life [I held up a picture]. This is my grandpa and I. This is from our wedding because he was the bestman at my wedding. He was a great grandpa. We worked a lot of hours together during the summers, and we were buddies. But, he's not a saint because he was my grandpa. You see this is the person who shared God's truth to me at a moment when I needed to hear it. He brought me back from some dumb choices I was making, and his words to me shaped my call to ministry. The light shined through.

What about you? Who are your saints? [the congregation shared stories of saints in their lives].

What made these people saints? What was Moses' and their lasting legacy?

They pointed to God. Moses pointed to God. The saints love God. Their aim is to love God and please God. A saint's legacy is to live life such that it mirrors God's own character and reflect God's glory. Their legacy is not like the Taj Mahal, a legacy of beauty, yet a legacy of death for it is a tomb. The saints' legacy is not in buidings or tombs, it's in their lives devoted to God. There's a story of a wealthy man who was very free spirited and liked to throw his money around. And after his death, he had very specific instructions for the mortician. Upon burial, they put on his sports jack, a hat, put a cigar in his mouth, a scarf around his neck, and placed him in his cherry red convertible Corvette. They placed the speedometer at 80 mph and lowered him down. A friend, holding back tears stated, "Man, that's livin'!"...[puzzled look] Uh, no that's dyin' and it isn't leaving a legacy.

They offer themselves. The saints give of themselves. They live for others. Like Moses they intercede for others. They help others. They give to others. Like the saints in our lives, the legacy of saints is giving that others might grow.

Saints give through time. One of the characteristics of saints is that they often don't see their impact. Abraham never saw his descendents become a nation. Eve never saw her offspring, Jesus, crush the serpents head. Peter never saw the Church as we know it, all over the world. Yet, their trust in God that living faithfully would be rewarded came true...but not in their lifetimes. My grandfather never got to see all the ways he impacted and impacts me today. Your saints may not have seen all they ways they made a difference in your lives, but they did make a difference. The mark of Godly living, of the legacy of the saints, is that our lives live on with repurcussions for the world.

So what's your legacy? Over the next 3 weeks, we'll be talking about leaving a legacy. A legacy of faith. A legacy of devotion to God's mission. A legacy of being the church that God is calling us to be. What is our legacy going to be? Are we going to light the light shine through us?

Are you pointing to God?
Are you giving of yourself to others?
Is your life making a long-term impact?

Are you ready to stand up, saints, and claim a legacy that declares to the world that Jesus is your King?

[I think it would be cool if you blog readers would like to post your saints, too!]

Sunday, November 2, 2008

New Poll

There's a new poll down below, and it will help me out if you take it. Thanks!

Thursday, October 30, 2008


Scripture Reading: Colossians 3:16-17
Scripture Lesson: Exodus 26:30-37
Sermon: Where Does Worship Come From?

The sermon entry will be rather different this week because of how I preached the sermon. It relied heavily on being able to see objects within the church and on the screens. Thanks to my Dad for letting me borrow the laser pointer...It really helped! The premise of the sermon is that our worship today is based upon a worship format that extends back thousands of years. In fact, many of the items found in traditional churches are variations of worship items present in the Tabernacle and Temple of ancient Israel. I was a little scared that it might be too much of a "teaching" sermon, but it was well received.

The Tabernacle is an old word that basically means "tent." Why we use tabernacle in Christianese? I don't know. The original worship space was a portable tent. What a great metaphor for God being with us wherever we go!

Solomon's Temple was basically a permanent Tabernacle. It had many of the same features and was laid out very similarly.

To enter the Tabernacle structure one had to first go by the Altar. A place of sacrifice, the altar was a bloody mess. Day and night sacrifices went up as substitutionary offerings for sin, for shalom (health and blessing), and for gifts to God. The Protestant Christian church has no altar for the Christian altar was the Cross on which the perfect Lamb of God died. In Roman Catholic churches where the Eucharist is an actual "redoing" of the Death of Christ, the priest is literally sacrificing Christ and so the Table also serves as an altar. However, Protestant theology does not believe Christ is sacrificed repeatedly; furthermore, His death on the Cross was a sufficient sacrifice once and for all. Thus, what is often called "the altar" in Protestant churches is actually the Table, which I'll come back to later.

The second item that one would come to is the Laver. It was an huge ceremonial washing bowl. The water was used to ceremonially cleanse and purify. Notice that after the altar and atonement comes the cleansing. In the Church, our baptistry serves this same purpose. In the entrance of Roman Catholic churches is a beautiful symbol, the holy water through which we come into the church. Figuratively and literally, one enters the Church through faith in Christ's atoning death and through the cleansing waters of God's Grace.

Inside the Temple was beauty and mystery. Candles or Menorahs burned brightly. The mystery of fire has always captured mankind's imagination. Fire has always been something somewhat mystical. The connection of life and death and purification juxtaposed with the warm light given off makes fire nearly sacred...or a symbol of the sacred. Today, we still light fires in our traditional churches. Acolytes bring the fire in and take it out when we leave. In the Christian tradition we have also tied this to Jesus' words, "I am the Light of the world." When we gather together, Jesus promised to be with us; thus, we light the candles as a symbol that Jesus' Light and Spirit is among us as we worship together. We take that light with us as a reminder that we don't hide the light under a basket; rather, we shine it brightly for all to see. We take Jesus into the world...we don't try to hide him away at a church building!

Inside the Temple was also a Table of Unleavened bread. This was consecrated bread offered to God, but also for the priests. Leviticus 24:5-9 says that the bread is an offering to God for the priests of God to eat. There is something wildly awesome about all of this. Giving to God means giving to others. The bread and the animal sacrifices were offered to God, but the priesthood ate from them as well. Secondly, it is worth noting that we are sustained by God's blessings, and that when we eat from God's Table, our lives are blessed. Thirdly, the Church (altar) Table serves in this same capacity. The offering of Christ's Body and Blood to God is served to us at the Communion Table. 1 Peter 2:9 says that followers of Jesus are the new "priesthood, a holy nation, God's own possession." As Christ made us all priests, we now eat from that Table the Bread and Wine consecrated to God through Christ Jesus. We eat from the Table of God as priests. Brothers and Sisters, what an awesome privilege to eat from God's own table, the offerings of Christ.

One of my favorite professors in seminary Richard Lischer told this story:

One of the pillars of the congregation stopped by one day to tell me that he'd just been born again. "You've been what!?!" Born again! Yep, I was visiting my brother-in-law's church and I experienced something there, I don't know what it was...but something was happened and I was born again!

Lischer replied, "You can't be born again! You're Lutheran and chairman of the board of trustees!"

What my professor got caught up in is something that seduces us all: The ordinary. Too often we get into a routine of church. We try to make routine and ordinary something that is spectacular...that is mystery...that is far from routine.

Enter the Holy of Holies. The "holiest place." There was the infamous Ark of the Covenant, the Mercy Seat, the presence of God, and all of it was behind a curtain. The Ark, which means box. Yes, box. Noah built a box. The Israelites carried around a box. Indiana Jones searched for a box. You get the drift. It was a box that carried important reminders of their story with God. The tablets of the Law given at Sinai, Aaron's budded staff, and a golden pot of Manna served as visible treasures symbolizing God's presence with them. My take is that we have it all backward: The Ark isn't what's important....It's the story inside.

The Ark was not to be touched, and the Holy of Holies was not to be entered except by the high priest, once a year. It was sacred space where God's Glory dwelt on earth. And separating all this from the rest of the Temple was a huge, ornate curtain. This thick curtain was a divider separating the people from God. In the Gospel texts, when Jesus dies, the poetry of God blossoms for the curtain in the Temple was torn in two. The divider between the presence of God and the people was gone. Now, through Christ, all could come into God's presence. The book of Hebrews says that we can boldly approach the Throne of God because of Christ's atonement.

Churches no longer have untouchable Arks or dividing curtains for central to our theology is the Holy Spirit of God dwelling in us and among us. God no longer is unavailable to the common person for the people of God have been made priests under one high priest Christ.

In closing I shared a story about the mystery and grandeur of worship being like my only experience of Crater Lake. My parents took me out West when I was in high school, and we went to see Crater Lake, one of the most beautiful scenic gems of the USA. Apparently, the water is so clear that you can see a 1 foot object 1000 feet down. The lake itself is in the crater of a volcano. Anyhow, when we got there, it had snowed like 15-20 feet in June! There was fog, snow, and snow drifts as far as the eye could see. Crater Lake was a huge disappointment. Worship can be like that, too. Sometimes there are things in our lives or things happening around us that allow us to miss the grandeur of it all; HOWEVER, Crater Lake is still beautiful...I just missed it. God is beautiful, and sometimes we miss it in worship, too. This is why it is important to keep coming back. Sometimes the fog of our lives keeps us foggy in worship. Sometimes the timing of our lives is the wrong time to hear a message. Does that mean worship is bad? Does that mean God is less grand? No!

Worship should be a multisensory experience full of symbols and actions that invite us into the presence of God. Worship is a declaration of our faith in God, so let us, as we come together every Sunday, worship with these symbols all around us...knowing that they speak to us through many generations of faith...that our God is the Living God full of Glory and worthy of praise.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Excellent Thought of the Day

Kudos to Kara, best Youth Pastor ever!

She has an excellent article on a broken Jesus statue...

Church Logos

Is your church thinking of updating its church logo? Is your church venturing out and planning on creating one for the first time?

Here's a great help from Stuff Christians Like.

#12 is my favorite.

Thursday, October 23, 2008


Scripture Reading: Revelation 1:12-18
Scripture Lesson: Exodus 33:12-23
Sermon: "Radiant"

I love astronomy. I love the stars. I had a telescope growing up that I would spend hours outside looking through. I've taken pictures of the moon and Jupiter and Saturn through it (which is no easy task!), and I've looked at several different stars. I love the stars. I love space. It's so big, it's hard to even grasp. Plus, I like the fact that we're all star dust. Our past and future physical state twinkles at us every night...and every day.

The Sun is our star. Earth was formed from it and is sustained by it. The Sun composes 99.8% of the solar system's mass (I couldn't believe that fact...that amazing!), and it is 99.2% hydrogen by volume. All that hydrogen is flying at super-high speed inside the Sun under intense heat and pressure. So much so that when the hydrogen atoms hit, they fuse to form Helium...But, when this happens, enormous amounts of energy is produced. That is why the Sun is so hot and bright: It is a huge fusion reactor. The energy that the sun produces is absolutely enormous. Temperatures inside the sun reach over 1,000,000 degrees C according to NASA's SoHo observatory.

The Sun provides our planet's warmth and energy. Just going outside on a sunny day and feeling sunlight on our faces warms up our day. A simple experiment that goes beyond science and into our emotions as well. The Sun's light also gives our planet's ecosystem energy. Plants convert it to sugars and animals eat plants. The energy of the Sun keeps our planet alive with warmth and with its energy.

However, this same Sun is also Destroyer. A few billion years from now, as the Sun expends its nuclear fuel, the earth will be consumed by the Sun as it stretches all the way out to Mars. There will literally be no Earth once this happens. Even today, the very life-giving radiation of the Sun would kill us all if not for the Magnetic fields of the Earth and the Ozone in our atmosphere. The Sun - brilliant, life-giving, beautiful, deadly, radiant. Glorious.

Today's Scripture Lesson is about the Glory of God. It's something we speak of often in church and in faith. We say, "God you are glorious!" Meaning, "God you are worthy!" Sometimes we speak of God's glory as a a shiny beam of light. "Your glory shines in the Heavens!" So what is glory? How do you define glory?

Perhaps a concept that might help us is the term "Beaming." We often use this word when referring to people, and there are three main ways that we use this word...

We speak of someone beaming when they are proud of something. When the team scores the last, winning points of the championship game, the players' faces are beaming. They are proud of their accomplishment. Or take the singer beaming after the applause for a job well-done. Or the look of a Daddy showing off his firstborn, bursting at the seams...he beams. Glorious of the worth that comes from within.

The glow of pregnancy is another way we use this word. The hormones and excitement of new life brightens a mother's face and skin. She looks brighter, more beautiful. These young mothers are beaming with the excitement of new life (not for German engineering). Their glow is the look of creation, of life, of beauty. Glorious from the life-giving nature of creation.

Nothing is more obvious or nauseating (not really, I like to see it) than the look of two new lovers. Happy and enamored. Beaming with love, couples have that silly smile and that twinkle in their eyes that beam. Notice, though, that this twinkle sharpens in the presence of the beloved. Love of someone shines out, the glory that comes from love.

And so it is with God - God's glory shines forth from the worth of who God is. The Creator and King of the Universe, worthy of our praise. It is a description and a brilliance. God's radiance shines from being the unique persona that always was, is, and will be. The Creator of the Universe, hotter, and more brilliant than a billion shinning stars: the worth and splendor of God. Behold, brothers and sisters, this is glorious radiance of God shinning forth from the very worth, life, and love of God. The glory of God is a Radiance, spendid and terrifying, Wonderful and Beaming.

Yet, within nearly all religions, we humans speak of the hidden Face of God. Perhaps this is a condition all of us lament: For there have been times all of us have called out to God wishing to see the divine presence in our midst. In need, despair, loneliness, or fear, I believe we all have longed to see God's Face smiling back at us, reassuring us of the Divine presence.

This is the Mysterium Tremendum, the Terrifying Mystery that God's Radiant Splendor is hidden from us...yet it is something we long for. Call it what you will, but the Radiant Glory of God, much like the Sun, is dangerous. Love and Life flow from God, yet the pure Holiness and Power of the Divine could annihilate us. I think of it like our TV growing up. Every few years a lightning storm would send a bolt of lightning too close to our house. The electricity, something the TV needed to work, from the lightning was too much. It fried our TV. Too much of exactly what it needed, fried it. Perhaps, this is what seeing the Face of God is like: Something that would overload everything within us.

So who can approach God!?! No one!?! Well, yes and no. For when God comes near, God is active, reaching out with Hands of Love, protecting us, restoring us, providing for us. Those same hands that reached down into the primordial mud and formed adam (humanity), in this text, reach down and cover Moses, sheltering him from the unbearable Glory of God's Face. So we see this at work: God's Hand of mercy is sheltering us and protecting us. Like a child holding a little critter being shown off to Mom, God cradles us in the Divine hands, holding us below, and covering us from above. So intimate, the Glorious King. God holds us close. God holds you close. God loves you and desires to keep you close at hand, in the presence of God.

There is a story of a child who had always wanted to see the circus. For years, he had begged his parents to take him, and one day it was announced that the circus was coming to their city. He was excited, and his parents gave him $5 to go see it.

He ran all the way downtown, and he saw elephants and lions and clowns parading through the street. He was amazed, but suddenly he though, "I haven't paid!" So he ran up to a clown and asked, "I have $5 to see the circus, who do I give it to?" The clown answered, "I'll take it." So the boy gave him the money. After the line of circus folk had moved on the boy ran home, saying, "Mom, I saw the circus downtown!" To which his mother replied, "No, Johnny, the circus is tonight, you just saw the parade."

Why do I share this? Because too many of us give our all to the parade and not for the show. Too many people have assumed that they got everything out of religion and faith because they went to the church service. On the contrary, like the circus parade, church worship services are but a taste of experiencing the relationship with God through Jesus Christ. The real show is in daily life practicing the Presence of God.

For the last two weeks, I've been reminded of how awesome sushine on our faces really is. With Winter approaching and a few rains, the sunshine has felt so amazing beaming down on my face. I've loved it. The warmth brightens up a bad day. The yellow beams seem to make worries lighter. So, too with Sonshine. Only by spending time in the presence of the Son do we experience the Radiant Glory of the King.

Moses said, "For Your presence among us sets your people and me apart from all other people on earth." - Exodus 33:16

The Presence of God is what makes the life of faith. It is God's Presence in our lives that has changed us! It is God's Presence and Hand at work within us that is bringing forth Salvation!

The life of the Disciple should be one of presence. We should be seeking the Presence of God.

This can be done through three regular activities:

  • Daily Scripture Reading
  • Daily Prayer time
  • Gathering together in Worship

Keeping these disciplines is a way to cultivate our spiritual lives and practice the Presence of God.

Now may the Glory of God shine brightly in our lives. May the Radiant Splendor of the King beam down upon us purifying us and making us whole. May the Glory of Christ fill us and shine from within that our lives might reflect the Light of Love to a hurting, broken, and dark world. Amen.

He's in my brain!

No, not the zombie!

Rob Bell.

Seriously, I've been working on this Exodus hermenuetic thing for a while now. I've begun to see a central theme of the Bible, that many of the stories repeat the theme in different ways. It is Exodus. For me the key to getting a big picture of the Bible, especially the Work of Jesus, is by reading it in context with the Exodus story. I've been working with this for about 6 years now after doing some research on OT Temple worship, and I've been even more convinced as I have been trying to brush up on my Eucharist/Holy Communion theology.

Recently Rob Bell beat me to a book title called, "God Wants to Save Christians." In this he outlines several points where the Church (especially the Western church) just doesn't get it. Besides that, he begins to outline a hermenuetic of his own...the Exodus story.

It seems as though everytime I read a new Rob Bell book, he's saying something that I've been chewing on and thinking about...often in eerily similar ways.

Don't get me wrong. It's not exact, and I disagree with him about how much liberation theology is present within his hermenuetic. But I'm encouraged that the Spirit of God is leading us together. And it's not just the two of us. I recently read some other pastors writing of basically the same thing.

Sometimes it seems like we're out on our own too often...especially as we try to be faithful heretics (read Peter Rollins' new book "Fidelity of Betrayal"). It's nice to know that sometimes I really am hearing the Spirit of God trying to tell me something...and it's not just my warped brain messing up all the time. Even greater is knowing that the Spirit of God is talking to others, and that together we are called to the ministry of bring God's love and truth to the world.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

A Better Glimpse

As I continue to try to improve my preaching, I ran across a thought that struck me. The idea goes something like this: If you generalize about something you make it seem far away, but if you are very specific it seems close. We say, "I'm going to 321 E. St. in Winchester, or Downtown Indianapolis, or Paris, or China, or Mars." See how they get more general the further away you are. That's the concept.

As I thought about the concept a while it struck me that we as pastors have been guilty of this too often. We speak of God and Heaven and Salvation...Yet, they seem so far away. We speak of a God that did amazing things....years ago. We preach about a the skies. We accept a Salvation...for the future.

My aim is to narrow the gap. What is God doing, RIGHT NOW? Where is Heaven, RIGHT HERE? What does Salvation mean for our lives, RIGHT HERE & NOW?

In my missions class I was taught that the missionary translates three things: The Bible (and it's culture), your own culture, and the culture to which you are going. I remember being really stoked about the idea. I went home thought about and came back to class with a question. I repeated the professor's thesis, and I asked, "Isn't this exactly what a pastor is supposed to do." He smiled and said, "You got it."

For teachers and pastors, our aim continues to be that of offering a better glimpse of God at work in the people's lives...Not just long ago...Not in others' lives...Not in the future....but God at work and play, RIGHT HERE, RIGHT NOW.

Monday, October 20, 2008

A New Day

Though the Church by and large is dragging her feet as much as she can, the world is changing. I find it very sad that again the Church is fragmenting much like it did when Martin Luther ushed in a new era. The old way versus the new.

I know many will go ape over this, but here we are:

I believe in online ministry. Websites, blogs, and yes, baptisms...

If you object to this, does it help to know that the pastor insisted on doing this because it was too important to wait? That she was a new Christian that had committed her life to Christ? That a few days later the person baptized unexpectedly died from an aortic aneurysm?

It's a new day. A new world. A new ministry.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Favorite Halloween Post from 2007

CommonCraft is a brilliant company that puts things into plain English. They posted my favorite Halloween webpost last year...I share again as we wait for Halloween...

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Sans Secretary

Brenda, our Administrative Assistant, is out of the office this week and next. She is a huge help to the church, and things aren't quite as smooth without her here. I'm reminded of who really runs the office when people come in and ask, "How do I....?" or "Where is....?" or "I'd like to..."

My blank stares say enough most of the time, but usually end up saying, "I don't know."

Another lesson of how it takes all of us to do the work of the it reinforced how dependent we really are on each other.

Hope to see you soon, Brenda!

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Letting God...

Charles Swindoll tells the story of a boy who went to Sunday School one Sunday. Afterward, he runs up to his father, saying, "Dad, Dad! They told this cool story about Moses and all these people crossing the Red Sea. It was awesome!" Proud that his son would be excited about a S.S. lesson, the father asked his son to tell him the story.

The boy said, "Well, the Israelites got out of Egypt, but Pharaoh and his army chased after them. So the Jews ran as fast as they could until they got to the Red Sea. So Moses got on his walkie-talkie and told the Israeli Air Force to bomb the Egyptians. Meanwhile, the Israeli navy built pontoon bridges across the so that the people could walk over safely..." At which point the father interrupted.

"Um, son, is THAT what they taught you?" The boy replied sheepishly, "Well, no, but if I told you what my Sunday School teacher said you'd never believe it!"

Miracles. Hard to believe sometimes...especially when entire seas are parted and armies are swallowed whole. It's easy to get caught up in details and being a spectator of the story; however, this story invites us to look more closely and see ourselves standing at the Red Sea, too.

The story starts in a test of Glory. Pharaoh is concerned about his glory. What will the Hittites think? What will my own people think if I let these people go? Who is this Moses and rabble of slaves that I, Pharaoh should even listen to them?

God has chosen to make this story a testament throughout the ages for his glory as well. The Exodus story will be the central theme of Jewish theology and later even Christian theology. So it's a battle of two forces competing for the Hebrew slaves....

Yet, it's also a Cosmic battle of Good vs. Evil. If Pharaoh wins, what does that say about God? If Evil triumphs does that not justify slavery, oppression, and brutality? If Evil were to win when Good has put all its chips in, then the stability of life, the universe, and everything is upset.

Make no mistake this story is so powerful because it plays out every day in our lives. Will we stay as slaves to Pharaoh, or will we trust God to lead us to a new, promised land?

When the Israelites see the Egyptian chariots, they begin crying out to God. I think most of us would, too. The Hebrew word for chariot is Merkhava. That is also the name of the Israeli main battle tank. Aptly named, they are equivalents for their respective times. Imagine fleeing on foot and seeing a division of M1A1 Abrams tanks coming after you!?! In this moment the story begins to really focus on trust.

Who do we trust? Do we trust God? Do we trust God when things are hard? Do we trust God when life is in turmoil? Do we REALLY trust God when Pharaoh's chariots are bearing down on us? Too often, we react in difficult times the same way the Israelites do...we blame.

Moses, it's your fault. Moses, we told you that we didn't want to come. We wanted to stay in Egypt! It'd be better to be a slave in Egypt than free and die! they really mean that!?! Maybe, a better question is do we? Husband to wife, "It's your fault I had the affair." "I wish I were never born!" Driver to passenger, "I told you we shouldn't have been speeding."

Like Adam and Eve in the Garden, when confronted with our fears and shame, we tend to blame. "She made me eat it." "The snake told me to." "SSSSS." (roughly translated as it was the donkey's fault).

Paralyzed in fear, they cry out, but Moses basically says, "Sit back and watch God." And, while we expect Moses to have the right answer, he so often doesn't. He doesn't here either.

Karl Marx once said that religion was the opiate of the masses. Contrary to what you might expect, I agree. Far too often, religion is been used as a way to pacify and stupify the crowds. It can me used to make people feel good about themselves. It can be a social affair, chic, and erudite. A politician, king, or pastor can weave spells with religious sounding words that sound and feel good.

That's the last thing we need or that God wants for us. We don't need a faith that dulls our intelligence or minds. The true disciples of Jesus aren't drugged into a stupor; rather, we're quite caffeinated. Our faith should unsettle us. It should convict us. It should motivate us to energy and action. Our faith should inspire the courage to topple empires and confront Pharaohs. The Christian life only comes caffeinated!

Moses wanted to sit back and let God do it all, but God has called us to Covenant. In a covenant, there are two parties acting, and we have our part, too.

When the Israelites are standing back crying out, God says, "Mah titsaq alay?" Why are you crying out!?! Then he says, "Get moving!!!!" The life of faith is one of pray AND action. God loves hearing our prayers. God enjoys our conversations with him...But, many of the things we pray for we have a direct role to play.

"God help our marriage." That requires me to be a good husband. "God help our finances." That requires me to be a good steward. "God bring peace to earth." Requires me to have and offer peace from my own life. "God forgive me," also requires me to forgive myself...and others.

The life of faith is a balance of trusting God for everything AND moving in action to fulfill our end of the covenant. Abraham Joshua Herschel said we shouldn't be taking leaps of faith; rather we should be taking leaps of action. Rabbi Michael Siegel called this the "amen of action." His sermon on this topic is extraodinary.

I quote him now:

The stories of our lives may not be as dramatic as the splitting of the
sea...But that does not mean that God is any less concerned about us than the
people of Moses' time. [Brothers and Sisters], God's words to Moses
continue to echo throughout the generations into our own time. Mah titsaq
alay...Why do you cry out to me? Get moving!

Let's head out to the Promised Land.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Seth Godin's Blog

If you haven't checked out Seth Godin's blog, you're really missing out.

Here is a fantastic article...I've been chewing on it daily since he wrote it.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Passed Over

Scripture Reading: Matthew 26:17-19, 26-30

Scripture Lesson: Exodus 12:1-14

Sermon: "Passed Over"

Blood. It's gruesome. It's gory. It repulses many. I have to admit that having tried to give blood a few times, I can't. Each time, I've failed to make it through! I work with animal blood. When others are bleeding, I can work with them. But, when it's my blood, I'm out.

There was a plant manager at a big industrial complex. Having just finished his second round of Red Cross training, he commented to the Red Cross Director. "I'm so glad I took this training. You see last week we had a gruesome accident. Someone was seriously injured and there was blood everywhere. Luckily, I remembered exactly what you taught us. I immediately sat down, and put my head between my knees...and it worked just like you said! Funny. Sad. True. Blood grosses us out.

Ironically, blood also attracts us. Friday the 13th, Halloween, Saw, Roman Gladiators...all bloody...all very popular. When we lived in Chicago they had traffic delays all the time. One of the delays was a "rubber neck" delay. When there was an accident, people would turn and look at the accident as they went by...presumably to see the carnage. I call this the "mangled arm" syndrome. It's gross. It's disturbing. We may shut our eyes, yet we will always take a peek. We're drawn to blood just as we're repulsed by it.

This is biological. All living creatures that we see fly, crawl, walk, or swim have blood. Without blood there is no animal life. Blood is life-giving. Our reactions to blood come from millions of years of evolution.

What is also interesting is that blood is a major part of nearly every religion. Judaism, Islam, Christianity, Hinduism, etc. As we have such strong reactions to blood and considering it's importance for life, the symbol of blood in religion is very powerful. It represents life, death, and healing (giving life back).

In the Scripture texts, blood plays an important part of the story. In fact, one of the central themes of Passover, the Last Supper, and Holy Communion is blood.

In the Passover text, God tells Pharaoh to let his people go. Stubborn and in a battle of "divine" wills, Pharaoh and the LORD go at it. God sends 10 plagues. Each plague an attack on the Egyptian gods. The Nile, the sun, frogs, etc. But, the last "god" that the LORD goes after is the sun god of Egypt, Pharaoh. For in any monarchy there is ALWAYS one person more important than the king/queen: The first born son. They are the future national security of the country.

In this case, Egypt considered both pharaoh and the first born of pharaoh to be divine. In the last assault upon Pharaoh's "fortified" heart (usually mistranslated as "hard heart...but there is a nuance there), God smites the first born. An attack upon the very core Pharaoh and Egyptian security, religion, and heart. At stake was the Hebrew people; moreover, at stake was every single human being oppressed and enslaved by the tyranny of human depravity. Don't feel sorry for Pharaoh, this was a brutal tyrant bent on genocide and slavery.

However, the LORD told Moses to instruct the people to eat an unblemished lamb or goat as a family. Sit down together and eat the animal ready to travel. They were to paint the blood of the lamb over their doorposts, and when death came by, it would passover the firstborn of every household having blood on the doorframe. God commanded that the Hebrews, the children of Israel were to celebrate this meal for all time...

And they did. Around 1500 years later, Jesus prepares the Passover meal with his disciples. But at this meal, Jesus shifted things a bit...OK, a lot!

Taking the bread, Jesus said, "This is my body broken for you." The flesh of the lamb broken for us. In Genesis, after Adam and Eve ate of the tree, they were ashamed. In a very stark and sad scene, God takes his creation that was "exceedingly good" and marred it. God himself took the first life-blood of an animal, and gave the skin, the flesh, of the animal to cover the shame, the guilt, and the spiritual nakedness of Adama and Eve. In that same manner, the body of Christ is broken that we might eat and live.

Taking the wine, Jesus said, "This is my blood of the new covenant. Take and drink it." A few days later Jesus' blood would flow on a wood framed cross. Just as perfect lambs' blood flowed on door frames in Egypt so many years ago.

The Passover Meal is our meal. The story is our story. In Christ, the Lamb of God, we share the Passover Meal. Through the blood of the Lamb, shed on the door posts of the universe, the angel of death passes over.

You see the Cross becomes the 2nd Exodus. Jesus died on the Cross to free free us from all that would be pharaoh. Pharaohs of guilt, addiction, self-hatred, jealousy, pride, abuse, and the list goes on. In this Passover, we are delivered from ourselves, our sins, and the oppression that humans too often push on others. We are freed to live a new life, a transformed life: The abundant life.

In Communion the stories merge: Exodus and Gospel. As we eat the meal of the Lord together, let us eat ready to leave this place. Ready to leave our sins and shame and oppression behind, but also ready to leave these walls, to proclaim the release that Christ is offering to the world.