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.