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Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Go For The Ride of Your Life this Christmas!

There is this great chapter in John Steinbeck’s “East of Eden,” wherein he describes this darling country mother (Olivia Hamilton, by name) who disbelieves a war is taking place (World War 1) until a neighbor boy is killed in Germany. This death snaps her to her senses so strongly she declares her own personal war against the Kaiser himself and sells so many war bonds that the Army rewards her efforts with a plane ride. The only problem is that she does not believe in airplanes. What happens next is golden—but you read that for yourself.

Truthfully (and on a very human level) the Christmas story is hard to believe; yet, with all the historical evidences alone, the event is undisputed and we can embrace and rejoice with the news of the Savior! We can, to some degree, begin to grasp the conflicting emotion experienced by Mary and Joseph who both received angelic announcements concerning what was going to happen. The news is unbelievable; however, they trusted God.
And what about the shepherds? The news is unbelievable, but they trusted God.

And the wise men? Not only were they able to divine the news, but trekked quite a ways over a long period of time because they believed God.
The Christmas story must be believed!

But that’s if we jump over Luke 1 and go straight to Luke 2.
Luke 1 tells another story, before Mary receives her announcement. Luke 1 is the story of unbelievable news—and a man who did not believe . . . at first.

This is no accident that Luke 1 comes before Luke 2. When he arranged his account, Luke begins with the record of a man who did not believe God. And why not? This sets the tone for the rest of the book: God is to be believed and the news is world-changing. When you climb on board and believe God by faith, you will get the ride of your life.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Truth: the Unifying Factor in Pastoral Ministry

The Greek tragedian Aeshylus (525-456 BC) wrote, “God is not averse to deceit in a holy cause.” Nothing could be further from the truth. One of the greatest difficulties pastors face today stems from this damaging worldview. Truth is the unifying factor of all the pastor is and all the pastor is to do; otherwise, the badge of office is “scandal,” and the world knows this. Just read the headlines.

We catch a glimpse of the centrality of truth in pastoral ministry where Paul writes to Timothy, “Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus, according to the commandment of god our Savior, and of Christ Jesus, our hope; to Timothy, true child in faith . . .” (1 Timothy 1:1-2). This entire letter to Timothy encourages truth and warns against those who speak otherwise. There are those who shipwreck their faith on the reef of untruth.
Truth defines both the person and work of the minister. Let’s get this right, from the beginning. “Ministry” is an outward orientation, taking care of others. Ministry involves the application of truth to the minister first, then to others because the context in which we live is un-truth. The task of the minister is to spread truth around in the sunshine for all to see (ala Steinbeck). If he has no truth applied to himself, then there is no ministry. Early Christian writer Lactantuis (240 – 320 AD) is quoted by Calvin saying, “No religion is genuine that is not in accordance with truth.” (Institutes 1.4.3).

Paul’s instruction to Timothy makes the connection between truth and that which the minister is entrusted. Paul says, “I have been entrusted with the gospel” (1 Timothy 1:11), the trustworthy fact that Christ came to the world to save sinners (1 Timothy 1:15). Now, Timothy is entrusted to wage good warfare against those who live and spread untruth, particularly concerning Christ (1 Timothy 1:18-20). Paul admits he is not worthy of this work, but is thankful for Christ’s appointment to service (1 Timothy 1:12-16). The minister today should reflect on his own position in this same light.

Since God desires all to come to the knowledge of the truth, truth must characterize our conversation with God and with others (1 Timothy 2:1-4). Furthermore, not only is the church is built on truth, but the minster himself is characterized by specific evidences that even his personal life is engaged with truth (1 Timothy 3:1-13, 15). One task he is to perform is exposing error, so the training required is constant study of truth (1 Timothy 4:6-15). Just as water finds the lowest point, so ministry flows in the direction of truth, affecting the way we touch the lives of others (1 Timothy 5:7, 5:24-6:20).

Paul Tautges has a wonderful two-part series covering 1 and 2 Timothy in “Fellow Pastors, Pay Attention.” Get Part 1 here and Part 2 here. Mark these in your Bibles, men!

Friday, December 16, 2011

The Spielberg Face

"With his two new movies War Horse and The Adventures of Tintin, Steven Spielberg commands our attention once again. We've taken the occasion to produce the following video essay exploring what may be the most singular visual element to his films: the face."

I must admit that after all these years, I never saw the scene described in 4:35-38 as an orchestra, but now it is so perfectly obvious: the music playing in the backgound while all the people are standing in orchestral formation . . . stunning visual composition! Truly masterful.



Thursday, December 15, 2011

How Great My Joy!

Last week did not make it to the gym or walk at all last week, yet still dropped another 4 pounds (lost a total of 30 pounds since August). Excellent!

During my week of non-activity, I was thinking more about my walking and looking forward to doing more 5k (these are getting to be regular features, daily when I can excercise). I've been trying to jog once again, but only able to do about 3/4 mile--even in increments. More on that momentarily.

During my "break," I watched this documentary called, "Running the Sahara" about three guys (who typically run the equivalent of 2 marathons per day) who ran from the Atlanta Ocean in Senegal, West Africa all the way across the Sahara to the Red Sea in Cairo, Egypt in 111 days. Talk about inspiration!

Well I finally made it back to the gym and jogged 2 miles of the 5k in increments--I found my stride and divided up the run thus:

1) walk .25 miles;
2) jog .75 miles;

3) walk .25 miles;

4) jog .75 miles;

5) walk .25 miles;

6) jog .25 miles;

7) walk .25 miles;

8) job .25 miles;

9) walk to end, then cool down 2 min.

For a fat man, that's pretty good I think!

I was amazed at how much finding my stride contributed to the workout (as opposed to just pushing myself through, as  I was doing before). I kept thinking of those guys out there running the Sahara and tried to figure out what pushed them through. Most of it had to do with stride. The rest had to do with the direction of the mind.

This morning as I reflect, I think of Jesus where in the scripture it says of Him, “for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” (Hebrews 12:2). This is the concluding statement of the encouragement we have to lay aside every encumbrance and run with endurance—joy.

Jesus found His stride in the joy that was on the other side of the pain. After that unparalleled marathon, He sat down—game over.

Now, many runners have a personal “mantra” (the practice derived from Buddhism of repeating a word or phrase) as a focal point to push themselves along (such as “one more step,” or “keep going,” or in the case of one of the Sahara runners, his wife). Imagine for a moment what Jesus kept before His eyes as He entered this world; as he made those repeated trips to Jerusalem during Passover and watched those lambs being slain; as He entered Triumphally; and finally, as He enduring the cross. He had the joy of knowing it would all be finished: the satisfaction of God’s justice and the redemption of those who will repent.

When I jog (and one day, run), my mind is focused on Him and “the joy set before Him endured the cross”—for me.

How Great My Joy!

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

"All Seated on the Ground"


Our last post had us thinking a bit deeper about the Angels and the Shepherds. Departing at this time from the Christmas story would have us miss a very crucial aspect of God’s plan in stepping into time and space in the person of our Lord Jesus Christ. Ponder this in your heart: God chose shepherds.
So what? (I have grown to love the journey launched by these two words). We catch of glimpse of what sort of person Jesus would be by God’s selection of this first audience and God’s selection of the shepherds was not arbitrary, but very intentional.

First, “so what” is the very attitude most of the world has always had about shepherds; yet, shepherding is part of the structure of Israel’s history. Their work is tied to the integral part of worship in what we may now call “Old Testament life.” So, why are they so despised? One reason is the nomadic lifestyle of the ancient shepherd, preferring a home on the range instead of settling down under a roof. They had to move constantly to fresh food and water. Dr. Harold McManus indicated that, “the best grazing lands were in the central highlands, the hills of Syria, portions of the Negev, and the Transjordan plateau.” (“Biblical Illustrator,“ Fall 1986). Summertime necessitated larger forays as opposed to Winter grazing, when grass was not burned by the searing heat and was more readily available. The shepherd’s responsibility was to find food and water.
Reading the gospels we find Jesus ministering all over the countryside as the Good Shepherd to people who are like shepherd-less sheep (John 10:11; Matthew 9:36). We also find him being despised and rejected, giving up His own life as the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world (Is. 53:3; John 1:29). Jesus, the Bread of Life (John 6:35) was born in Bethlehem (literally from the Hebrew “House of Bread) and the Living Water (John 4:10).

Sheep need protection and for the flock to feel safe, he must remain in sight at all time. Moreso, shepherds protect other shepherds, not just the sheep. Shepherds relate to one another and support each other in various ways.
Jesus moved around the land and among the people providing spiritual and physical deliverance from sickness, demons, death and sin. Just as the shepherd led his flock, so Jesus was followed everywhere He went. He trained others to do what He did and sent them out, each with responsibility for their portion of the flock. He gave them all necessary tools to do the work correctly—and they always came back and enjoyed fellowship with one another.

There is so much more to consider about God’s choice of the shepherds as the first of public ears to receive the news—I just wonder what caused their joy when they laid eyes on the manger baby.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Angels, Shepherds and Birth Announcements

Play the scene in your mind: angels appear to the shepherds with the divine announcement of the Savior’s birth and the shepherds go find baby Jesus and return to their flocks rejoicing. And that’s it, right? The event is so short that we can encapsulate the whole affair in one sentence. The Nativity scene is burned into our brains. When we slow down and ponder the event, we discover the scene is so incredibly rich.

Luke 2 tells us the shepherds were minding their business when an angel of the Lord appeared, shining the Lord’s glory all around them. The shepherds were terrified! Why? Well, let’s break it down: dark night, bright light where one should not be, an off-subject announcement (who know what they shepherds were discussing, or if they were asleep)—fear seems to be the default response—but don’t stop there. Look and ponder.
The Angel of the Lord appeared to the shepherds, then a multitude of angels. Look at the heritage of these shepherds: Angels guarded the Tree of Life (Genesis 3:24); Abraham encountered angels (Genesis 18; 22:11-12); Joshua saw the commander of the Lord’s army armed with a sword (Joshua 5:13-14); the centerpiece of God’s presence in the midst of Israel was the Ark of the Covenant (Exodus 25:18-20).

There are over hundreds of references to angels in Israel’s past, and this birth announcement to the shepherds (“you will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger”) is not the first birth announcement they’ve been able to deliver: they announced the birth of Isaac and Ishmael (Genesis 15-16. Note: 16:11) and Samson (Judges 13:3-5). This means that the shepherds knew this particular announcement was uber-significant; after all, they did not announce the birth of just anyone!
Here’s where it gets really interesting: the angels merely announced the birth, so where did the idea come from to leave the sheep and go find the baby? Did the angel tell them, “Go find the baby”? Actually, the idea came from the shepherds, “the shepherds began saying to one another, ‘Let us go straight to Bethlehem then, and see this thing that has happened which the Lord made known to us.’” (Luke 2:15) And why not, as this birth-announcement pattern historically produced very notable individuals! And they had good reason to rejoice, having gone (Lk 2:20).

Now, as we continue in the Christmas season, think about the people in your context: they are overwhelmed (I believe I can safely say) with the sights and sounds of the celebration of Jesus’ birth; but, who is going to suggest they leave what they are doing for a time and actually go search out the Savior?

Monday, December 12, 2011

The Writing Assignment

While stuck in “revision-land” with my novel, I am trying to keep the creative juices flowing by using prompts and various writing assignments. Admittedly, I’ve not been writing as much as I’ve wanted, despite my best efforts. Regardless, here I am staring down my latest assignment and frankly, I don’t want to do it. It frightens me.

Here it is: “Create a character with personality traits of someone you love, but the physical characteristics of someone you don’t care for.

Immediately the faces of two individuals come to mind and just as quickly comes the horror: I must destroy someone I love for the purpose of creating a person who does not exist.
Then came the greater horror: there exists someone in my life for whom I don’t care.

All the discipline I require to press on with my duty has crashed head-on with my refusal to do the assignment.  I have love for one and I have hatred for another. There exists within me deep respect for one and deep disdain for another. One draws and another repulses. I would fight for one and throw another to the wolves.

I am sick with this realization.

Then, as if the mirror shifted just a little to give me a look into a place I did not know existed, I am stunned by another realization. First, I realized that the one person I love was not truly the person I love most. I actually love myself more. Then I saw the true monster and the reason why I don’t love the other person at all.

See, standing over me in back of this deeper reflection is the most beautiful person of all time; matter of fact, time itself turns on Him—the central figure of Christmas. Jesus showed me that I don’t have the love He has for the person I can’t stand because I am in the way. I don’t have the forgiveness for the one I cannot forgive. I can’t see the beauty He sees in the one I can’t bear to even look at. He threatens me because He wants to see me changed and I don’t want to change—change is scary.
Here is the problem: the Lord Jesus Christ made it clear that supreme love with all heart, mind, soul and strength belongs to Him and I have not loved Him supremely every day of my life. No person deserves not being cared for, so what I need is Him to care through me—I need His care for that person. No person deserves to remain without forgiveness, so I need Him to forgive through me. The real challenge is that I am not alone in this position.

Look at beautiful Jesus and see, “he had no form or majesty that we should look at him, and no beauty that we should desire him. He was despised and rejected  by men; a man of sorrows,  and acquainted with grief; and as one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and  we esteemed him not. Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. But he was wounded for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his stripes we are healed.” (Isaiah 53:1-5) Jesus Himself was so plain that nobody took a second look at Him—He got lost in crowds at the peak of His ministry!

Think about it: what kind of person did Jesus chose to be his up-front man? A hippy! A stinky wild man who ate bugs, dressed in camel skins and liked to dunk people. Who did Jesus chose to have as his closest friends? Fishermen (don’t tell me “Old Spice” was the fisherman’s cologne of choice), tax collectors and a political radical! When Jesus called for more, He asked for the worn out and burdened people to follow Him. What’s wrong with this guy?
What’s wrong is that He did not seek out the outwardly beautiful in order that He might make them beautiful both inwardly and outwardly.

I can’t do that. I have to have it done to me and for me.

Friday, December 09, 2011

Books I'd Like to Write

Here are titles for 10 books I’d like to write. What are your first impressions of the titles? Which genre do you think each would fall? What do you think the books would be about?

1)      Spankey’s Newfangled Monster-kicker: An Illustrated Guide

2)      Eating Greens

3)      That Horrible Skin

4)      Death or Die Trying

5)      Priority

6)      Resurrecting Joy

7)      Why Be Great?

8)      Why Lead?

9)      Forgotten Etiquette

10)   Crossbound

Thursday, December 08, 2011

Randoms

Jonathan Edwards: A Missionary? PhD. Candidate Jonathan Gibson takes a closer look at the famed preachers' service in Stockbridge.

Paul Tripp examines anger, the beautiful characteristic of God.

How about some Biblical Roundup for the Root of Bitterness? Paul Tautges mixes up a batch of "15 Ways To Kill Bitterness."

The Necessity of Sleep for Proper Recovery.

Here's a great question: Why Do We Love C.S. Lewis and Hate Rob Bell?

Wednesday, December 07, 2011

The Christmas Journey of Worship


Bible teacher Woodrow Kroll writes this provoking thought: “If the star of Bethlehem first appeared on the night Jesus was born, then two groups started a journey toward worship that evening. The shepherds didn’t have far to go. They could probably see the dim lamplights of the little town from the hillside where they were tending their flocks. Meanwhile, in a distant land, wise men marveled and began preparations for an important journey. It may have taken them as long as two years of travel to reach Bethlehem.”
As you ponder the things of Christmas in your heart, take a moment to reflect where you are now in your journey with Christ:

  • Was it a short trip (perhaps you came to Him when you were young), or were you a long time in coming (perhaps you repented later in life)?
  • What it was that drew your attention to The Savior?
  • Who or what was it that pointed the way? How did you find out about Jesus?
  • Are you drawing even nearer to Him in your everyday walk?
  • Why do you worship Him? 
  • How will your Christmas worship be different this year?

Tuesday, December 06, 2011

Anticipating Christmas

Ready for Christmas? When we were school children, we looked forward to being out of school and getting presents. Now we are grown and we groan, looking forward to time off of work—not much, but any amount is deeply anticipated. But really, why are you looking forward to Christmas?

Most of us readily vocalize the Christo-centricity of the holiday, but why long for this particular day? Is it because of a memory, a smell, feel, sound, or sight? Is it because we like to see Ralphie in that pink bunny suit all day long? Fa-ra-ra-ra-ra ra-ra ra-ra!
Sure we love to hear Linus recite, but we are so familiar with the events in Bethlehem that unlike Mary, we do not ponder these things in our heart. When was the last time we stopped everything in order to truly understand? Instead of rockin’ around the Christmas tree, how about a quiet “sit and think” about Christmas for a while? Why did God step into time and space as a helpless infant in a village so obscure that even the gospel writers had to identify it for their readers?

Start here: “but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. (Phil 2:7) You know that already? Slow down and think. Why did He do this? The clues are found in the next few verses:

  • Clue #1: verse 8—to die on a cross;
  • Clue #2: verse 11—to glorify God the Father.
  • Clue #3: verse 12, notice the first word. “Therefore.” This means means that Jesus was born in order to give us God’s glory to shine in the world. See verse 15.
God emptied Himself in order that we should shine as lights in this dark and dying world, blameless and innocent children of God.

If we like Mary ponder things like this in our hearts, we may need to step away from Christmas (as it were)—away from the noise, Noise, NOISE so that we can intentionally hear and see from God what He was accomplishing by His birth, death and resurrection.

I am looking forward to Christmas so God can reflect His glory through me.

Friday, December 02, 2011

Following a Star

Matthew 2:2 and 9 report that magi saw a star and followed it in their quest to find the birthplace of the King of the Jews. Here are a couple of paragraphs that helped me get a better grasp of what they were doing:

“The old Polynesians were great navigators. They took bearings by the sun by day and the stars by night. Their knowledge of the heavenly bodies was astonishing. They knew the earth was round, and they had names for such conceptions as the Equator and the northern and Southern tropics. . . . The Polynesians knew five planets, which they called wandering stars and distinguished them from the fixed stars, for which they had nearly two hundred different names.  A good navigator in old Polynesia knew well in what part of the sky the different stars would rise and where they would be at different times of the night and at different times of the year. They knew which stars culminated over the different islands, and there were cases in which an island was named after a star which culminated over it night after night and year after year.

Apart from the fact that the starry sky lay like a glittering giant compass revolving from east to west they understood that the different stars right over their heads always showed how far north or south they were. When the Polynesians had explored and brought under their sway their present domain, which is the whole of the sea nearest to America, they maintained traffic between some of the islands for many generations to come. Historical traditions relate that, when the chiefs from Tahiti visited Hawaii, which lay more than 2,000 sea miles farther north and several degrees farther west, the helmsman steered first due north by sun and stars, till the stars above their heads told them that they were en the latitude of Hawaii. Then they turned at a right angle and steered due west till they came so near that birds and clouds told them where the group of islands lay.”  (Heyerdahl, Thor. Kon-Tiki: Across The Pacific By Raft. New York: Pocket Books, 1984.)
 
Was the Star of Bethlehem a real astronomical event? A myth created by the early church? Explore the history and science for yourself . . .
If you are a video person, spend an hour watching the presentation.

Thursday, December 01, 2011

Randoms

Now's your chance to stop wondering about what takes place on a Bible translation committee. Here is a rare opportunity to sit in and listen to a debate on translating the word "slave" or "bondservant" in light of author's intent and audience perception.

Why do we say “The United States is” rather than “The United States are”?

While we're on the subject, do you like our new logo?

If given a choice, would you choose a personal trainer who has struggled with their weight in the past over one who never has?

Are you an "educated man?" Here are three characteristics to consider.

I just HAD to post this:

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