Preparing for Jesus

Posted 12/9/2018

As we walk closer and closer to Christmas, the sounds of celebration surround us. Lights, laughter, plans for family gatherings — all these are parts of the way our world celebrates Christmas.

Yet as Christians who are preparing for the coming of Christ there is also a “somber” side to our celebration of Christmas. It is the recognition of the fact Jesus came to be our Savior. It is the acknowledgement that we are sinful and needy people — people who need someone to save us. 

In the midst of all the joyous celebrations, it can be hard to stop long enough to acknowledge why Jesus came. It is so much easier to simply celebrate the birth of a baby — always a joyous occasion. It is much easier to stay in Bethlehem at the stable. 

Yet this baby was born to grow up into a man who willingly died on a cross. This baby was born to restore our relationship with God. This baby invites us to acknowledge the truth about ourselves.

And when we do acknowledge that truth, we recognize that we need God’s forgiveness. We recognize that our lives need changed. We recognize that part of celebrating the birth of this baby is taking time to seriously consider our lives and our priorities. 

Taking time to prepare for this baby can be difficult in a world focused on only a joyous celebration. But opening our hearts to God’s transforming power that has come to us in Jesus is the way to prepare for this baby!

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Promises

Posted 12/2/2018

Already the lights of Christmas can be seen everywhere. It was several weeks ago that the stores began to try to entice us to begin our Christmas shopping. The Christmas parades have begun. The excitement of Christmas is in the air. We have entered into a time of expectation — a time filled with promise.

The very fact that this time of year is a time filled with promise is what fuels the anticipation of children. They eagerly look forward to Christmas Day. They can hardly wait to see what will be under the Christmas tree. The hustle, bustle and demands of Christmas may drive the excitement of the season out of the hearts of adults, but for children this time of year is nothing but excited anticipation of what is to come. 

And it is anticipation that lies at the heart of Advent. Anticipation of a promise — God’s promise. Advent is a time to remember the promises of God. To recall both what God has done in fulfilling his promises and what God still promises to do. It is a time to remember how God fulfilled the promise of the prophets that a savior would be born. It is time to remember the birth of baby Jesus in Bethlehem. But it is also time to remember the promises of God yet to be fulfilled. To remember with hope the promise of peace throughout the world. Of deep, lasting joy. Of love that extends to everyone. Of a hope fulfilled. Of God’s kingdom fully visible in our midst.

Advent is a time of expectation. It is a time of rejoicing in the  God’s fulfillment of promises and a time of waiting for God to completely fulfill His promises.

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Jesus is the Truth

Posted 11/25/2018

Pilate asked “What is truth?” In our world where there seems to be little agreement on facts, that might be a question many are asking today. However, there is one definition all Christians should be able to agree upon: Jesus is Truth.

To say Jesus is truth is to say that Jesus shows us the truth. Jesus shows us the truth about God. But Jesus also shows us the truth about ourselves. In Jesus, we are invited to take a long, hard and honest look at ourselves. We are encouraged to give up the illusions about ourselves that the world tries to tell us is the truth. We are enabled to see our own sinfulness, our own vulnerability, our own need for God.

To say Jesus is truth is to say Jesus lived the truth. Jesus lived as the one true human. In Jesus we see what humanity was created to be. In Jesus we see what God invites us to become. 

To say Jesus is truth is to say we want to live in the truth. We want to live in and for the one who is truly king — king of a kingdom that is both outside this world and that has come into this world in a decisive way in Jesus.

Jesus is truth — the king of truth. The one who holds — who is himself — all the truth that really matters. 

As Christians, we say Jesus is the truth, Jesus shows the truth, Jesus lived the truth. We also say we want to live in the truth Jesus reveals. We want to live the truth that Jesus revealed. We want our lives to be shaped by the truth Jesus shows us.

Jesus is the truth. On that we can depend.

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Hope

Posted 11/18/2018

Hope can be a fragile thing that broken dreams and disappointments can wipe away. Yet as Christians, we know that hope is an indispensable part of our faith. Without hope, our faith is meaningless — not even good for this world.

Yet how do we maintain hope in a world that is filled with so much hopelessness and so many disappointments and griefs? In a world like ours, is there any possibility of maintaining hope? And if so, what does that hope look like?

Some today believe hope looks like having a life without problems or difficulties. Yet Scripture doesn’t promise those who follow Jesus trouble-free lives. What Scripture promises is hope. And that hope is, at its heart, a trust in the faithfulness of God. It is a trust that finds expression in our confidence that God is able to bring good out of even what others intend for evil. (Consider the story of Joseph and his response to his brothers in Genesis 50:20.)

How can we have hope? We can have hope because we know the faithfulness of God. We have seen God’s faithfulness in sending Jesus, fulfilling promises given. We have seen God’s faithfulness in bringing new life out of Jesus’ death on the cross.

We can have hope because we have experienced God’s faithfulness in the gift of the Spirit. We have known God’s faithfulness in our own lives. We ourselves know we have passed from death to life by the power of the Spirit.

In a world filled with hopelessness and disappointments, we live in hope — hope in the faithfulness of God.

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Being Like Jesus

Posted 10/28/2018

Genesis tells us humanity was made in God’s image; and over and over in Scripture we are invited to become more and more like God in Christ. But what does that mean?

I used to think that becoming like Jesus meant primarily being a moral person — doing the right thing. But as I’ve grown older I think it is as much about our attitudes and characteristics as it is our actions. You see who we are drives what we do. 

And I think this is particularly true when it comes to stewardship. Yes, stewardship is about how much we give. But it is at a much deeper level about the kind of people we are. Are we generous people? Or are we reluctant to share with others — especially those we deem “not worthy”? Do we give gladly? Or do we give with a grudging heart? Do we plan to give and look for opportunities to give? Or do we only give when someone draws our attention to a crisis of some kind?

Jesus is the model we are given for our stewardship. Jesus gave everything. He left heaven and came to earth for our sake. He went to the cross and died for our sake. Jesus held nothing back. 

And Jesus did all this for us, as Paul reminds us, “while we were yet sinners.” Jesus didn’t do it because we were worthy in some way. He did it because he loves us — even when we are sinners.

So the question for us becomes, do we dare to give in a like manner? Do we dare to love in a similar way? Jesus is the model for our stewardship. Do we dare to be stewards who follow Jesus in our giving?

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It's All God's

Posted 10/21/2018

One of the hard things for we Americans to get from our heads into our hearts is the fact that all we have and all we are is a gift from God. We live in a society of “self-made men” (and women). Our society insists we are the ones who make something of ourselves — or have failed to make something of ourselves. 

Yet Scripture, and the Christian faith, takes a far different view of humanity. We may make ourselves, but when we grab the reins of our own lives in that way we are living in idolatry. We are seeking to live independently of God. The creation story in Genesis, however, tells us we are God’s creatures, whose very existence depends on God. We haven’t made ourselves — God made us. And it is God who has given us all our abilities, so even what we “earn” really comes from God.

That’s a tough message to accept in our culture because it goes against everything our culture tells us. But it is the truth that is at the core of Christian stewardship. We give because God has given to us. We give out of thanksgiving, knowing just how much God has given to us — literally everything we are and have. 

In our culture, stewardship isn’t easy. But it is a vital Christian discipline. It reminds us God is our creator. It helps us grow in gratitude. It teaches us compassion. 

As we draw closer to Thanksgiving, I invite you to take the coming month to seriously think about your stewardship — the way in which you are giving thanks to God for all God has given you.

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Jesus said "Follow Me"

Posted 10/14/2018

“Follow me.” It is a simple command which Jesus gave to many whom he met. Yet what does it mean to follow Jesus? Over the years Christians have given many answers to this question. And today Christians disagree, sometimes vehemently, over exactly what it means to follow Jesus.

In some ways, this was one of the questions that underlay the Reformation. In that day it took the form of “Did one have to become a priest, monk or nun to truly follow Jesus?” In other words, were all the “ordinary” people at best second class Christians?

The Reformers answered that question by saying that whatever one did — be it a pastor or a trucker or a farmer or an accountant or a retired grandparent — could be a form of following Jesus. They pointed to Scriptures like 1 Corinthians 10:31 (“Whatever you do, do everything to the glory of God.”) and Colossians 3:17 (“Whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.”) as telling Christians that no matter what occupation they were in, they could be servants of God.

Whatever you do — whether you are actively working or retired — we are called upon to do everything to God’s glory. That means our work and our play; our words and our deeds; EVERYTHING.

I think that is the heart of following Jesus — doing whatever we do in a way that gives glory to God. I really don’t think following Jesus is so much about a position we take on a certain issue as it is about how we give God glory in everything.

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Suffering

Posted 10/7/2018

As a pastor, there are few moments as profoundly holy to me as those moments when someone wrestles with the reality of their own suffering. I say this not because suffering is in itself somehow holy, but because we can trust God to be at work in a mysterious yet redeeming way even in our suffering. 

While there certainly are times when we are able to learn from our suffering, I don’t hold to the idea that there is always something God intends for us to learn when we suffer. Nor do I hold to the notion that all suffering is the result of our having sinned. Frankly, there are many times I have no idea why a person must suffer or what good can come of their suffering.

But what I DO know is that in Jesus God has taken on human suffering and transformed it. Our own suffering may not have any redemptive quality about it — a quality that is central to understanding Jesus’ suffering — but our suffering can be redeemed by God’s powerful grace.

I admit, most of the time I can’t really see how a person’s intense suffering can be redeemed; and I seldom have any clue as to how innocent suffering can be redeemed. But I do know, because of Jesus, that God does redeem suffering — even our suffering. And hard as it is to do at times, I rest in that assurance.

However, that assurance doesn’t mean that I don’t rail against suffering. I ask the “why”. I protest the injustice. I question God; even if I’m pretty sure that I won’t get a satisfactory answer. What the assurance God redeems our suffering does is allow me, like Job, to continue to be in a relationship — a real, honest relationship — with God even in the midst of suffering.

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God's Amazing Grace

Posted 9/30/2018

God’s grace truly is amazing. God’s grace is seen in Jesus being with us. It is seen in his coming among us and living with us. It is seen in his sharing life with us. But God’s grace is also seen in Jesus being for us. In Jesus taking our side against the powers of sin and death. In Jesus reigning in heaven and praying for us.

In times of difficulty is can be important to remember that in Jesus God has shown us he is both with us and for us. God actively acts to deliver us. To open up a new life for us. To open us up to the abundance God offers us. To redeem us from the floods that sweep over us and free us from the snares that entrap us.

It can be hard at times to remember God is for us. Life seems so difficult, our situation seems to hopeless, the future seems nothing but a dead end. Yet it in the midst of such desperate times that we come to truly know the depths of God’s grace for us. 

I’m not suggesting that God will free us from every negative thing that happens in our lives. Clearly we have been warned that suffering will be a part of our lives, even — especially — as Christians. Yet the wonder is in the midst of our suffering we can know God with us and for us. God on our side — giving us love, strength, endurance, hope.

My prayer is that when life becomes overwhelming, when hope seems far away, when the future seems nothing but a dead end that you too will know the wonder of grace — the wonder of experiencing God both with you and for you.

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Being Family

Posted 9/9/2018

Small churches like ours are in some very real senses families. We know one another by name. But we also probably know “the good, the bad and the ugly” about each other. And, in general, we have learned to live with one another despite our various quirks and differences. We are a family!

Being a family has some real strengths. We know we “have one another’s backs.” When life throws us curve balls, we know that there are others in the congregation who will be there for us. We know there are people who are holding us in prayer.

But being a family also has some drawbacks. Like most families, we tend to divide into groups. We hang out with the brothers and sisters (or cousins!) we find the most comfortable. We cluster with family members who agree with us. As a result, at times our family gatherings (worship, programs) can become divided into groups — really cliques — that may even intentionally avoid one another. 

Another big drawback to being a family is the simple fact there aren’t many ways to become a member of a family. You are either born into it or you aren’t. If you aren’t, you either have to marry into it or be adopted to become a member — and either of those may not guarantee you actually become a member! 

Why am I writing about this? Because as Christians we are called upon to be a family that includes everyone — those family members we disagree with, the new in-laws, the adoptees, even the family-less folk that one member of the family invited to the  family reunion this year!

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