Thursday, December 31, 2009

Looking Back, Looking Ahead

In the last few hours of 2009, I am trying to put the year in perspective so I can look forward to what God might do in 2010. So permit me to wax introspective for a moment or two. After all, this is a blog that promises to help people understand "a pastor's life." So I'll share what this year was like personally.

Personally this has been a roller coaster year.

Finishing my Masters was definitely a highlight. Rockbridge Seminary was perhaps the best educational experience I have ever had. If I could figure out a way to pay for another degree there, I'd be after it. Practical but ever challenging is the way I'd describe the experience. I continue to benefit from the tools I acquired there.

The continued decline and eventual passing of Bunny's mother overshadowed almost everything this year. In my heart I had been preparing for the challenge of helping my beloved wife through this for years. I have never known anyone as close in a mother - daughter relationship than Bunny and Dot were. They were like the two sides of a page at times. They really enjoyed each other's company and treasured the time they spent together whether it was in person, on the phone,or via video cam. Dot's illness, confinement to hospitals and nursing homes, and the last few weeks at home were overwhelming. We gave everything we had at every opportunity to try and get her well, then to just be there for her and for Curtis. But in the end, the disease won. Bunny's grief was so deep  for so long - and continues to this day. Yet her faith in the power of the resurrection has given her a source of strength and constant hope that her mother is whole and in the presence of Christ.

There were still many shocks and aftershocks from my own Father's death and the probate battle that I'd just as soon not even mention them. Every time I thought the impact was over, something else happened. The takeaway from all of it for me? I cannot trust in any provider save one - Almighty God. What I had counted as secure was taken again and again. So it goes. Our trust for each day, and for all the days to come has to be in Christ.

Then our great friend and companion Henley the Dane fell ill in May and we almost lost him to an infection. We had known that at 7, he was reaching the end years,but that battle almost cost us his company. We enjoyed a few more months with him, and then in October lost him to bone cancer. It broke my heart. It's hard to adequately describe just how much Henley meant to me and Bunny. He was our stress sponge and our constant source of encouragement and joy. To go through the first trial with him was awful, but then to see him in pain and have to end his life to spare him agony was just heart rending. We still tear up to this day looking at his picture and talk about him every day. He was so much more than a dog.

A few weeks ago we were blessed to adopt two Airedales that we named Mick and Stevie. They are a hoot!  We're adjusting to their odd ways of doing things and their boundless energy. That is, except when they are sleeping, like they are now. :) They are not Henley. But no dog would have been, and they are pretty special. They've come a long way in a short period of time toward becoming our companions and forever friends.

I think I can speak for Bunny too when I say that we have grown in our love for Jesus this year, and in our desire to do more of what makes Him smile. The people we've met, the books we've read, the events we've participated in have all conspired to bring a real sense of anticipation about what God might have for us in 2010.

Well, that's not everything, but I've already imposed too much on you. Shalom and blessings for a Christ filled 2010.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Sunday Recap 27 Dec 2009

My mainline church friends call this "Low Sunday". It's supposed to sit between Christmas and New Years - between the old year and the new and is a low ebb. For most everyone it is a low attendance weekend too. After the "high" of Christmas Eve worship it always can carry low expectations. Many churches forgo Sunday School/Bible Study on this weekend.

The challenges are many.

The job is the same, though. To lead God's people who have assembled for worship into communion through worship and the Word. On days like today pastors need to focus on who is present, not who is absent. There are no "throw-away Sundays." So rather than bask in the glow of Christmas, I was led to discuss Christmas' cost in light of the cross.

Music is another of the areas that can suffer with low attendance as both musicians and praise team members can be absent. Fortunately we weren't hit too badly in that area today, though we did miss Kevin's bass.

Our music today: How Great Is Our God; O Praise Him; O Worship the King; Have Thine Own Way, Lord"

The message centered on Luke 2:21

21 Eight days later, when the baby was circumcised, he was named Jesus, the name given him by the angel even before he was conceived.Luke 2:21 (NLT)

The shadow of the cross.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Christmas Eve Blessings

Christmas Eve.

For 10 years here we have held a Christmas Eve service by candle light where we gather to sing the carols of the season, hear the Scriptures that tell of the Savior's birth, and share communion together. Every year we hear from people that the service is one of the most meaningful we do.

Tonight's service was special for a number of reasons. We had some families with us we haven't seen in a while. Some others came home. The season leading up to tonight has been rich in God's presence and provision. Our Advent Conspiracy efforts have been very fruitful and we are going to see lives saved as a result.

But the best part of tonight's service - the part I'll never forget - happened after everyone else was gone, and actually didn't happen at church. We decided that some of the people who are the heart of New Hope, but who couldn't come to the worship tonight needed to have worship brought to them. So we called Robert and Jewel Hughes and Larry Smith Sr and took our Christmas Eve service to them.

When we arrived, we explained what had happened in the worship service, and why we were there - to share the love we had felt there with them. So we sang Silent night, and I read the Scripture from 1 Corinthians and offered them the symbols of the body and blood of Christ, praying before each.

As we got ready to leave the Hughes' home, Jewel asked Robert to give her his hands. As we helped him stand, she took her husband's hands and told him how much she loved him, and how much she thanked God for him. It was an infinitely intimate and precious moment of pure love.

Just like Bethlehem.

The angel said, "Don't be afraid. I'm here to announce a great and joyful event that is meant for everybody, worldwide: 11 A Savior has just been born in David's town, a Savior who is Messiah and Master
Luke 2:10-11 (MSG)

What love! What a Savior! What joy!

Merry Christmas everyone.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Primal by Mark Batterson

Mark Batterson is one of the current crop of young and innovative pastors who are not only seeing the Kingdom grow where they serve, but are also helping other churches by writing books to equip, enlighten, and encourage. As pastor of NCC in Washington DC, he has seen God grow a congregation from 25 to several thousand over the past few years. NCC is making an impact there, and around the world as they reach out on mission. Mark has written two other books - "In A Pit With A Lion On A Snowy Day" and "Wild Goose Chase".

Primal contains everything that readers have grown to expect from Mark.

There's a clear focus and articulation of what he wants to achieve with the book. There are lots of references from other disciplines, particularly science and medicine. And there are stories about people and how God has worked in their lives. If I have a beef with Mark, it's that he shares more of the references than he needs too. Yes, it's fascinating stuff - how the brain works, how much blood the body pumps,etc. But the material he's sharing is better. Having to slow down and digest the scientific tidbits hurts the flow. But I'll tell you this - I wouldn't ever play trivia against Mark. :)

That's not to say that anything about Primal is trivial. His call for a new reformation centered on love for God is right on track. The way he gets the reader to that conclusion winds through chapters that pose challenges to the heart, soul, and mind. He does it in a vibrant and accessible way. I can see this book providing great discussion for small groups and real value for personal spiritual growth.

There have been quite a few books this year I have recommended to people in my church. It's late in the year now, but Primal has to get added to the list. I managed to get a copy free from the publisher so I could review it, but go buy a copy. It's worth the bucks and the time.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Sunday Recap 20 December

Today was the last of the four weeks of the Advent Conspiracy emphasis. We've tried to turn the cultural tide away from the consumerist extravaganza that Christmas has become back to what Christmas was supposed to be. We've learned about how to worship fully, to spend less, and to give more. Today we wrapped it up with the hardest - "Love All."

Everyone I have ever known has challenges in this area. Most have exclusionary lists of people who they do not love the way God would have us love. The barriers to that may be racial, cultural, ethnic, any number of reasons or no real reason at all. And yet to fully understand what God did in Jesus - to fully become what God would have us be - we have to learn to love as Jesus loved. We have to Love ALL.

This year those of us who make up the family known as New Hope have had many opportunities to learn just that. We've turned our attention to areas of the world and people who live there that we never really focused on before. The least of these. They are mostly black and poor. Many are infected with HIV and will die without divine intervention. Well, guess what - we're God's chosen instrument. It was okay to read about what was going on in Africa until we saw the faces of those in peril - until we read and heard the stories.

Now we know. Now we have to decide whether we are truly followers of Jesus or whether we are his fair weather disciples. There's no way to sugar coat it or explain it away. Are there people right here who are in need? Absolutely. In fact I'm so proud of how New Hope has given to our neighbors here this year. We've served at area events. We've collected school supplies for local schools. We've given out food from our pantry on numerous occasions. And just recently we've supplied Thanksgiving and Christmas meals and provided toys for 21 children in Valparaiso. There's probably more that I don't remember or know about.

And then we sent some of our youth and adults to Kentucky again this year to spend a week serving the people in that impoverished area.

But this year, it has been the orphan and those with HIV in the third world that has gotten much of our attention. I knew going in that there would be some "push-back" from some and a tepid buy in from others. "Why don't we focus on helping our own?" was something I heard second hand earlier in the year.

First, there is no "our own" in Jesus Christ. When we decide to follow Christ we give up forever our right to choose who we will love. We have to love ALL. That "who is my neighbor?" stuff went out when Jesus told the story of the Good Samaritan. Luke 10 - look it up.

And second - Think about it this way. You drive up to a row of three houses inhabited by three families. The first home needs a new roof. The second home is being broken into. The third home is on fire. Now all three are in peril. If the roof is not fixed when the rains come damage can occur. In the second case the robbers could decide to cause bodily harm and not just rob the people inside. But the third home is on fire with people in it. There's no question that unless help comes quickly, THEY WILL DIE.

The statistics on deaths among children from starvation, from contaminated water, from malaria, from HIV left untreated are horrible. Those areas are on fire. We have to get help to them as fast as we can. We'll get help to the others as well, but this is a no brainer. 147 MILLION orphans need families.

Are you okay with 25,000 people dying each day from malnutrition and starvation?
Are you okay with a child dying every 21 seconds from the effects of contaminated water?
Are you okay with those 147 million orphans growing up without homes?
Are you okay that many will die without knowing the love of Jesus?

New Hope has said - No We Are NOT OKAY WITH IT

So today that was our focus. To look into the Scripture and redefine love the way that God would have us view it. To come away committed to Love All. I didn't do the best job of presenting it but I hope God used it for His glory.

The songs were: Here I Am To Worship
The First Noel
Joy To the World
O Come All Ye Faithful
Offering (Christmas version)

My fervent hope is that 2010 is the year New Hope sends people to help and to build lasting relationships with those on need.

Had a great Christmas fellowship after and the New Hope family were very generous in their Christmas gifts and words of appreciation. Bunny and I are blessed to serve them.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

"The Visited Planet" by J.B. Phillips

Once upon a time a very young angel was being shown round the splendours and glories of the universes by a senior and experienced angel. To tell the truth, the little angel was beginning to be tired and a little bored. He had been shown whirling galaxies and blazing suns, infinite distances in the deathly cold of inter-stellar space, and to his mind there seemed to be an awful lot of it all. Finally he was shown the galaxy of which our planetary system is but a small part. As the two of them drew near to the star which we call our sun and to its circling planets, the senior angel pointed to a small and rather insignificant sphere turning very slowly on its axis. It looked as dull as a dirty tennis-ball to the little angel, whose mind was filled with the size and glory of what he had seen.

"I want you to watch that one particularly," said the senior angel, pointing with his finger.

"Well, it looks very small and rather dirty to me," said the little angel. "What's special about that one?"

"That," replied his senior solemnly, "is the Visited Planet."

"Visited?" said the little one. "you don't mean visited by --------?

"Indeed I do. That ball, which I have no doubt looks to you small and insignificant and not perhaps overclean, has been visited by our young Prince of Glory." And at these words he bowed his head reverently.

"But how?" queried the younger one. "Do you mean that our great and glorious Prince, with all these wonders and splendours of His Creation, and millions more that I'm sure I haven't seen yet, went down in Person to this fifth-rate little ball? Why should He do a thing like that?"

"It isn't for us," said his senior a little stiffly, "to question His 'why's', except that I must point out to you that He is not impressed by size and numbers, as you seem to be. But that He really went I know, and all of us in Heaven who know anything know that. As to why He became one of them - how else do you suppose could He visit them?"

The little angels face wrinkled in disgust.

"Do you mean to tell me," he said, "that He stooped so low as to become one of those creeping, crawling creatures of that floating ball?"

"I do, and I don't think He would like you to call them 'creeping, crawling creatures' in that tone of voice. For, strange as it may seem to us, He loves them. He went down to visit them to lift them up to become like Him."

The little angel looked blank. Such a thought was almost beyond his comprehension.

"Close your eyes for a moment," said the senior angel, "and we will go back in what they call Time."

While the little angels eyes were closed and the two of them moved nearer to the spinning ball, it stopped its spinning, spun backwards quite fast for a while, and then slowly resumed its usual rotation.

"Now look!" And as the little angel did as he was told, there appeared here and there on the dull surface of the globe little flashes of light, some merely momentary and some persisting for quite a time.

"Well, what am I seeing now?" queried the little angel.

"You are watching this little world as it was some thousands of years ago," returned his companion. "Every flash and glow of light that you see is something of the Father's knowledge and wisdom breaking into the minds and hearts of people who live upon the earth. Not many people, you see, can hear His Voice or understand what He says, even though He is speaking gently and quietly to them all the time."

"Why are they so blind and deaf and stupid?" asked the junior angel rather crossly.

"It is not for us to judge them. We who live in the Splendour have no idea what it is like to live in the dark. We hear the music and the Voice like the sound of many waters every day of over lives, but to them - well, there is much darkness and much noise and much distraction upon the earth. Only a few who are quiet and humble and wise hear His Voice. But watch, for in a moment you will see something truly wonderful."

The Earth went on turning and circling round the sun, and then quite suddenly, in the upper half of the globe, there appeared a light, tiny but so bright in its intensity that both the angels hid their eyes.

"I think I can guess," said the little angel in a low voice. "That was the Visit, wasn't it?"

"Yes, that was the Visit. The Light Himself went down there and lived among them; but in a moment, and you will be able to tell that even with your eyes closed, the light will go out."

"But why? Could He not bear their darkness and stupidity? Did He have to return here?"

"No, it wasn't that" returned the senior angel. His voice was stern and sad. "They failed to recognise Him for Who He was - or at least only a handful knew Him. For the most part they preferred their darkness to His Light, and in the end they killed Him."

"The fools, the crazy fools! They don't deserve ----"

"Neither you nor I, nor any other angel, knows why they were so foolish and so wicked. Nor can we say what they deserve or don't deserve. But the fact remains, they killed our Prince of Glory while He was Man amongst them."

"And that I suppose was the end? I see the whole Earth has gone black and dark. All right, I won't judge them, but surely that is all they could expect?"

"Wait, we are still far from the end of the story of the Visited Planet. Watch now, but be ready to cover your eyes again."

In utter blackness the earth turned round three times, and then there blazed with unbearable radiance a point of light.

"What now?" asked the little angel, shielding his eyes.

"They killed Him all right, but He conquered death. The thing most of them dread and fear all their lives He broke and conquered. He rose again, and a few of them saw Him and from then on became His utterly devoted slaves."

"Thank God for that," said the little angel.

"Amen. Open your eyes now, the dazzling light has gone. The Prince has returned to His Home of Light. But watch the Earth now."

As they looked, in place of the dazzling light there was a bright glow which throbbed and pulsated. And then as the Earth turned many times little points of light spread out. A few flickered and died; but for the most part the lights burned steadily, and as they continued to watch, in many parts of the globe there was a glow over many areas.

"You see what is happening?" asked the senior angel. "The bright glow is the company of loyal men and women He left behind, and with His help they spread the glow and now lights begin to shine all over the Earth."

"Yes, yes," said the little angel impatiently, "but how does it end? Will the little lights join up with each other? Will it all be light, as it is in Heaven?"

His senior shook his head. "We simply do not know," he replied. "It is in the Father's hands. Sometimes it is agony to watch and sometimes it is joy unspeakable. The end is not yet. But now I am sure you can see why this little ball is so important. He has visited it; He is working out His Plan upon it."

"Yes, I see, though I don't understand. I shall never forget that this is the Visited Planet." - by J.B. Phillips

I love the way Phillips tells the story. You know some times we get so wrapped up in the "why" we forget the focus is on the Who. Jesus. Christmas begins and ends with Jesus.

The Word became flesh and blood,
and moved into the neighborhood.
We saw the glory with our own eyes,
the one-of-a-kind glory,
like Father, like Son,
Generous inside and out,
true from start to finish.

John 1:14 (MSG)

Jesus. God's gift to us.

Grace and peace,


Monday, December 14, 2009

Sunday Recap 13 Dec 2009 - "Give More" (Advent Conspiracy)

December is flying past us and the miracle that is Christmas approaches. As we've been on the Advent Conspiracy Journey for the past two weeks (Worship Fully, Spend Less) the ground that we have covered is new. Most Christmas seasons we recall the events that took place then and try to bridge to the present. With the outline we are following now, the opposite is true. So we have looked at what it means to Worship Fully, and tried to grasp "Spend Less." It is time to approach "Give More."

When I was working on this message, and reading once again the passages dealing with the Incarnation, I could not help but wish that I had been there to see it all happen. But no one on earth saw it all - that would have been relegated to the angels like Gabriel who are in the presence of Almighty God. They would have also have had the context to understand why such a drastic measure was necessary.

It started out so well. God created men and women to fellowship with Him. But they rebelled against His authority and broke trust with God. The consequences were awful. A loss of fellowship with God, a loss of the special relationship and even their home that was created just for them.

When a relationship is broken, the tendency is to turn away, to put some distance between the hurt party and the one who hurt. While the deep intimacy was gone between the Creator and His creation, in His mercy He did not leave. And down through the ages He continued to offer His children the opportunity to do right, to live righteously. But time and time again they failed. So finally, in the ultimate act of love, God sent His one and only Son to come and live among men, bringing the Kingdom of God near once more.

Our song set this week was:

How Many Kings by Downhere
Here Is Our King - Crowder
It Came Upon the Midnight Clear
Angels We Have Heard On High
In Christ Alone

At the end of the message, I read most of a blog post by Shaun Groves, a Christian musical artist who also serves as an ambassador for Compassion International. It was deeply moving. I know that the Advent Conspiracy focus was to "give more" relationally - more presence instead of more presents - but I could not get away from my conviction that we need to do more for the poor and the orphans. Go over and read Shaun's post and prayerfully consider whether God might be calling you to sponsor a child.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

We Need A Little Christmas

 We were out and about today, actually headed to the mall. It was a dreary December day - rainy and cold. It's that time of year when you can feel the collective angst as people feel like time is running out (along with money). As we rode along, I told Bunny that I felt as though we had lost a lot that was special this year. The crushing loss of her dear sweet Mother combined with having to say goodbye to our friend Henley the Great Dane has been hanging over us like a cloud - a dark one.

"For I've grown a little leaner,
Grown a little colder,
Grown a little sadder,
Grown a little older,..."

...says the song, and it's true. Well, except for the "leaner" part.

I've seen it in others over the years as a pastor and now I'm catching a whiff of it myself. It's the tendency to look back instead of looking forward, of swapping hope for memories, of believing that there's less joy ahead than there has been before. Bunny and I love our family. We love our church family. We love where we live and what we do. But it's been a tough year.

So yes, we need a little Christmas, right this very minute.

Thank God for a chance to worship Christ at New Hope later today.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Christmas - It's For All People

I grew up in the Deep South at a time when there were great differences in our society centered on the color of a person's skin. In restaurants, in schools, and at lunchroom counters, there were lines for white people, and there was a line for colored people. At Macon Georgia's Terminal station signs cover today what was once chiseled in stone - a "White" entrance and a "Colored" one. A person coming to Macon now wouldn't see what in my memory remains so clear - we were a divided people. Some of us were the "haves" and some the "have nots", and it had always been that way. We were so blind.

I cannot understand how a nation so dedicated to freedom for all could have been so wrong about this for so long. But finally, we did change. We struggled with the truth. We refused at times even when confronted with it to acknowledge its claims. I can remember protests against Judge Bootle, conflict at Mercer's campus church, and confusion as the times really were a changing.

But they did change. Voices arose from within the nation. A rediscovery of just why we were here took place. We were exhorted to not judge a person by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character. And 40 years later for the most part, Americans do.

I had to turn on the "way-back" machine for you today because I am struggling to help you understand just how the people of Israel, who saw themselves as the "light to the nations", who understood themselves to be "God's chosen people", who had law after law to remind them to treat their fellow Jew fairly - how these godly people treated those who were employed as shepherds.

Shepherds were a permanent underclass in the nation of Israel. They were despised and rejected by their own. Even though they had contributed to the making of Israel - remember at one time literally all of the tribes were nomadic shepherds, and David even rose to be the most famous king of Israel ever - by the time Christ was born all that was ancient and forgotten history. Everyone despised shepherds. They were considered second-class and untrustworthy.

To be a shepherd was to be involved in an activity critical to the worship of the people of Israel. The production of lambs for ritual sacrifices was ongoing, and the standards for those lambs were quite high. No defects, illness, or blemishes would be tolerated. So a successful shepherd delivered lambs as close to perfect as possible, and timed the birth of the newborn lambs so that they would be of sufficient age at the Passover feast, when every family in Israel was supposed to come to Jerusalem and offer sacrifice.

It was hard work- even dangerous at times as lions, wolves and thieves could threaten the sheep. To prevent the sheep from straying, a shepherd would hem the sheep into a natural sheepfold and bar the entrance with fallen logs or sometimes with his body, placing himself at the mouth of the corral. Christ Himself referred to His role as the "Good Shepherd, who lays down His life for the sheep." I'm sure Jesus' audience just chalked those references up as foolishness along with His insane penchant for hanging with tax collectors and prostitutes.

Remember, they called Jesus a friend of "sinners." Shepherds were called "sinners" because they were ceremonially unclean. Jews were told not to trade with them directly on the assumption that whatever they purchased would be stolen property. The Mishnah, a collection of rabbinic sayings, refers to them as "incompetent" and in another place intimates that no one should feel obligated to rescue a shepherd who has fallen into a pit.

They were deprived of civil rights, not being allowed to hold judicial offices or serve as witnesses at trial. People would avoid them, spit at them, chase them away.

Again, I can remember when it wasn't so different here.

If you were a gentile, there was a place for you - the Court of the Gentiles. If you were a woman, there was a place for you - the Court of Women. But if you were a shepherd, though you were where David, the shepherd-king of Israel once reigned, you were relegated to the far courts.

The shepherds brought their flocks to the wall of Jerusalem and watched as gentiles collected the lambs. The shepherds never were able to worship as the "good" people did, being made to stay in the same place as the rest of the "sinners", even though their efforts made it possible for the "good" people to worship freely.

And yet God seems to have a special place in His heart for shepherds. The rabbis marveled at how in light of the despicable reputation of shepherds, God Himself was referred to by the Psalmist in 23:1 as 'my shepherd'.

When it came time to announce the birth of the King, the logical thing to do would have been to have the angels descend on the Temple in Jerusalem. They would be immediately in contact with the learned priests, scribes, and rabbis who could respond in worship and spread the news. The worship could then go on for months - even years. The best and brightest of the people of Israel would know what to do.

But instead, God went to the shepherds.

He ignored those who were sure they were first in His eyes and chose to meet instead with those "everyone" had decided He could never love.

He rushed past all the fine furnishings, the impeccable dress, and the well rehearsed priests and musicians when He chose the people to bless with His news. How odd of God.

The shepherds had no temple, no priest, and no choir. They had nothing and no one on their side. The only reputation they had was uniformly bad. No means of worship, no hope of being heard. They had been banished to the desert plains and given only their sheep as companions. So into this context of societal smugness and prejudice, far from the "right" places and the "right" people, God decided that the first people who needed to hear "It's a boy! Oh and He's Messiah!" were the despised and rejected shepherds.

God's light began to shine clearly into their dark place.

And a worship celebration broke through to earth from heaven.

8 There were sheepherders camping in the neighborhood. They had set night watches over their sheep. 9 Suddenly, God's angel stood among them and God's glory blazed around them. They were terrified. 10 The angel said, "Don't be afraid. I'm here to announce a great and joyful event that is meant for everybody, worldwide: 11 A Savior has just been born in David's town, a Savior who is Messiah and Master. 12 This is what you're to look for: a baby wrapped in a blanket and lying in a manger."
13 At once the angel was joined by a huge angelic choir singing God's praises:

14 "Glory to God in the heavenly heights,
Peace to all men and women on earth who please him."
Luke 2:8-14 (MSG)
So the nobodies who couldn't worship freely since they weren't good enough got to experience worship like no one has ever seen. Those so despised that they were forced to live on the fringes were placed in the center of God's work. The last had become first. When they were shown the side door and relegated to the outskirts of God's neighborhood, the Lord Almighty simply kicked down the doors and redrew the map to include them.
Yeah, I think that qualifies as "great joy."

The news they received let the shepherds know that even if the world's standards for people stayed the same, God's new plan included them.
This good news was "meant for everybody..." for all people.

It still is.
May we walk into the light this Christmas forever remembering just how far we have to go before we see that joy and His peace break out everywhere.

Sunday, December 06, 2009

Sunday Recap Dec 6, 2009

The second Sunday of Advent and the "Spend Less" week.

Before worship, Sarah Hickman helped us learn about what the numbers for how much Americans spend on Christmas and what could be done if we spend less. Clean water, food for the hungry, and HIV meds - all are possible if we focus our attention on people and not presents. Then Missy Hickman made us aware of an opportunity through to give the gift of an orphan's support to people this Christmas.

It is amazing that we can literally save lives by purchasing items that are produced by people in the third world. The Scriptures say that Jesus went about doing good. We can too.

Our music today was:

God With Us
O Come All Ye Faithful
Give Me Jesus
Come Home Running

As I wrote yesterday, this week's theme was personally convicting so I do hope that God used what we did today to touch the hearts of others and change how we spend so we can do more good.

Don't forget that the New Hope website has a page of links you can use to do good when you do decide to spend.

Saturday, December 05, 2009

Objects In the Mirror Are Closer Than They Appear

So it's Saturday night and I'm putting the work of the last few weeks into the Powerpoint I'll use tomorrow. The trouble with that is that on a usual week's work I'll have 30-50 pages of notes, a dozen pdfs, several pages bookmarked and far more material than I will ever use. The trick is to distill and illuminate what you've learned in a way that the people who walk through it with you can grasp, apply, and incorporate into their lives.

There are times when the particular topic or text doesn't really train its crosshairs on me. But this one is. Tomorrow I'll continue our Advent focus and talk about the commercialization of Christmas and urge people to spend less. Like the mirror above - that topic is closer to me than I'd like.


Yes, I love the Biblical story of Incarnation and the promise of redemption. The babe in the manger. The shepherds keeping watch of the flocks by night. The wise men. The flight to Egypt. I love it all.

But for most of my life, and too often still, I find myself dreaming of what I might get for Christmas.

As a child I was totally sold out to the presents that Christmas brought. As an adult I've loved buying them for Bunny and for the boys. It was like being a kid again. And I'd move heaven and earth to make sure that they "had Christmas" in the typical American traditional way it is expressed - that is - we loaded them up with stuff. I've gone in debt again and again to make sure it happened.

So when I stand before the congregation tomorrow, I will be speaking to them and to myself.

Friday, December 04, 2009

Stevie and me

This is my Airedale friend Stevie. The 'Dales came to us without the inclination to sit on the couches or really to express much "dog love". We are rapidly changing both. :)