Friday, December 31, 2010

What Have I Read this Year?

Dennis Bickers, in his blog on ministry, has wrote a convicting post about how we as pastors often do not read enough. It made me want to check on what I have read this year. So I am going to try and list what I have read below and think about how I have done with my work-related reading and my reading in general. I am going to do this a little at a time

1. The Male Factor by Shaunti Feldhahn (Partial Read, Partial Skim)

2. Transforming the Small Church by Shannon O'Dell

3. The Strategically Small Church by Brandon O'Brien

4. Lead Like Ike (Partial Read, Partial Skim)

5. The Journey Home (Fiction)

6. Dig Deeper:Tools for Understanding God's Word

7. Chosen (Story of Esther)

8. It had to be you (Fiction)

9. Doctor Jesus

10. They Almost Always Come Home (Fiction)

11. Charlotte Figg Takes Over Paradise (Fiction)

12. Plan B by Pete Wilson

13. Heading for Heaven (sermon collection from a puritan preacher)

14. What Happened to My Life--about women's issues in middle age

15. Churched (spiritual autobiography)

16. Imaginary Jesus (Fiction)

17. Suprised by Hope (Reflection on the Biblical Book of Jonah)

18. The Sacred Journey (On Spiritual Discipline of Pilgrimage)

19. What Your Son Isn't Telling You (Focus on the Family book)

20. 66 Love Letters (Partial Read and Partial Skim)--on Bible as love letter

21. Crazy Love by Francis Chan

22. How to Build a Life-Changing Men's Ministry

23. The Shark and the Goldfish (Business Management Parable Book)

24. Tithing (Part of Ancient Spritual Disciplines Series)

25. The Liturgical Year (Part of the Ancient Spiritual Disciplines Series)

26. The Emotionally Healthy Church

27. Gilead (Fiction about a Pastor's Life)

28. God's Prayer Book (On the Psalms)

29. Seeds of Turmoil by Bryant Wright

30. Understanding the Koran by Marteen Elaas

31. Clouds Roll Away by Sibella Giorello

ok...there might be more...I will see....

See the sidebar for other books I am working my way through

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Review of NO MORE CHRISTIAN NICE GIRLS by Coughlin and Degler

By Paul Coughlin and Jennifer Degler Ph.D
ISBN 978-0-7642-0769-3
Bethany House Publishers
Reviewed by Patricia Walker

If you are a woman that…..
Tries to please everyone else
Avoids confrontation whenever possible
Has difficulty speaking up when you disagree
Wishes you could have …would have ….should have.
BUT really feel that this is the way Christian women should be….
then RUN to get NO MORE CHRISTIAN NICE GIRL, grab a highlighter, and give yourself some time reading this fascinating book.

The chapters are intriguing, discussing how Christian women often feel social and cultural pressure to act a certain way which does not compare at all with the strength of women in the Bible, much less what Jesus modeled for us. The authors talk about how “Nice” can actually have the opposite result than we would expect. “Nice” can ruin relationships both personally and professionally, and how Jesus taught us to speak with love and truth, even if it might upset someone else.

The book is set-up with questions at the end, which can be used individually or in a book club.
Though it is an easy read, you will want to take your time. If you are like me you will want to buy some more copies of NO MORE CHRISTIAN NICE GIRL for friends when you are finished reading this great book. You will NOT want to let this book go!

Guest reviewed by Patricia Walker (Friar Tuck's Mom)

**This book was provided by Bethany House Publishers in exchange for an honest review

Review of The Clouds Roll Away by Sibella Giorello

By Sibella Giorello
ISBN 978-1-59554-534-3
Thomas Nelson
Marketed by Litfuse Group

At first glance, it does not seem like much of an assignment. A cross is burned in the back yard of a hip-hop mogul who has bought a plantation in Richmond, Virginia. The FBI and Agent Raleigh Harmon are brought in to expedite the investigation of the event. The assignment was intended as part of a hodge-podge of dull cases given to Agent Harmon by her boss, who is trying to run her out of the FBI one way or the other.

It is not long before the investigation of the “hate crime” of the plantation renamed “Rapland” becomes a bigger case than anyone expects. Other crimes happen at Rapland and in the area which accelerate the investigation, and the risk Raleigh Harmon must face both to her career and to her safety and well-being increase as well.

At the same time Agent Harmon is involved in working the case at Rapland, she is involved in a task force working on urban crime in Richmond, which also eventually presents threats to her career and her safety.

In addition to her normal work challenges, Raleigh Harmon must navigate her investigation through social circles of the Richmond elite that she has grown up in and known all her life. This creates many challenges, as the people she must interview are also the people she goes to church with, and who attend parties and social functions with her and her family.

The Clouds Roll Away is a wonderfully written book. Even though it is written by a faith based publisher, it could easily be successful in a mainstream market. It is a page-turner of a crime-novel, and could easily be made into a movie or a pilot for a television series. It is that good. In a world where guys like me have to suffer through Christian novels about Amish women and supernatural thrillers designed to manipulate readers toward a fearful faithfulness, The Clouds Roll Away is a breath of fresh air, and one will eagerly pass on to friends.

Most readers will enjoy relating to Raleigh Harmon the person. She is a high-society woman that likes blue-collar work. She can afford to wine and dine at fine restaurants, but instead chooses Hardees and Burger King for most of her meals. She is smart and earthy, strong and sweet. And once the reader finishes The Clouds Roll Away, they may well seek out the other books in the Raleigh Harmon series.

Giorello has a way of combing excellent character development, breath-taking suspense, and weaving several strands of stories together seamlessly. The result is a novel that should have a wide audience, and a growing fan base for a very talented writer.

Rating: 4 star
Faith Element: Low to Medium
Credits: This book was given to me by the Litfuse Group via Thomas Nelson in exchange for an honest review.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Giveaway! Book Review Tomorrow

Sibella’s celebrating the release of The Clouds Roll Away by giving away a KINDLE prize pack worth over $150.00!


One Grand Prize winner will receive:

  • Latest Generation KINDLE with Wi-Fi

  • $25 gift certificate to

To enter simply click on one of the icons below! Then tell your friends! Winner will be announced January 3, 2011 on Sibella's blog:

Monday, December 27, 2010

Day After Christmas Sermon

Matthew 2

1 Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, 2 saying, “Where is He who has been born King of the Jews? For we have seen His star in the East and have come to worship Him.”

3 When Herod the king heard this, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him. 4 And when he had gathered all the chief priests and scribes of the people together, he inquired of them where the Christ was to be born.
5 So they said to him, “In Bethlehem of Judea, for thus it is written by the prophet:
6 ‘ But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah,
Are not the least among the rulers of Judah;
For out of you shall come a Ruler
Who will shepherd My people Israel.’”[a]

7 Then Herod, when he had secretly called the wise men, determined from them what time the star appeared. 8 And he sent them to Bethlehem and said, “Go and search carefully for the young Child, and when you have found Him, bring back word to me, that I may come and worship Him also.”
9 When they heard the king, they departed; and behold, the star which they had seen in the East went before them, till it came and stood over where the young Child was. 10 When they saw the star, they rejoiced with exceedingly great joy. 11 And when they had come into the house, they saw the young Child with Mary His mother, and fell down and worshiped Him. And when they had opened their treasures, they presented gifts to Him: gold, frankincense, and myrrh.
12 Then, being divinely warned in a dream that they should not return to Herod, they departed for their own country another way.

Luke 2:8-20

8 Now there were in the same country shepherds living out in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. 9 And behold,[a] an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were greatly afraid. 10 Then the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which will be to all people. 11 For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. 12 And this will be the sign to you: You will find a Babe wrapped in swaddling cloths, lying in a manger.”

13 And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying:
14 “ Glory to God in the highest,
And on earth peace, goodwill toward men!”[b]

15 So it was, when the angels had gone away from them into heaven, that the shepherds said to one another, “Let us now go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has come to pass, which the Lord has made known to us.” 16 And they came with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the Babe lying in a manger. 17 Now when they had seen Him, they made widely[c] known the saying which was told them concerning this Child. 18 And all those who heard it marveled at those things which were told them by the shepherds. 19 But Mary kept all these things and pondered them in her heart. 20 Then the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things that they had heard and seen, as it was told them.

Before we had Karis, Jennifer kept turning the channel to TLC and Discovery Health. She did this in order to watch shows about childbirth. You would be surprised how many of these shows are on television. There is this show about these female doctors that are all best friends and have an obstetrics practice together. There is a my first baby show. There is that show with that fundamentalist family called the Duggars that home schools their kids and has 19 children now. And then there is the “I’m Pregnant and….” Series. “I am pregnant and I am a drug addict”. I am pregnant and I am homeless. I am pregnant have ocd. You know…freak show kind of stuff.

We also went to a class about childbirth. Actually, we went to about half of it, got frustrated, waited for a break from it, and snuck away, went to Dairy Queen, and went home.

Then came the day that we went in to have Karis. And while there were some similarities to these shows, there are a lot of things that are a lot different. For instance, when Jennifer was induced, we spent about ten to twelve hours waiting for something to happen. On television, it you don’t see a lot of people just sitting around watching the Today Show and ESPN for hours. We did. In Jennifer’s case, when you have an epidural, you expect it to work. It usually happens that way on the television. In real life the epidural didn’t work. At least, it did not work right. We were led to expect the doctor to arrive at least 15 minutes before the child is born. He didn’t.
In the training and the tv shows you expect to be able to stay in the birthing room long enough to recover instead of the nurse pushing you out of the room on a timeline as soon as the doctor walks out saying “I’ll give you twenty minutes, but then you better get out of here”. I am not sharing any of this to complain. I am just wanting you to see, our ideas in popular culture about childbirth and those first few moments of becoming a parent are much different in real life are much nicer, much tamer, much more romanticized than what it is like in the real world.

When you go to classes, watch television shows, and listen to all the people who often offer you unsolicited advice about your childbirth experiences, they often tell you about being awash in this sense of delightful love the moment your child is born. I cannot deny this. I have dreaded having children most of my adult life. But when I held baby Karis and looked into her eyes it melted my heart.

However, there is this other feeling that comes over you as you become a parent. It comes a few moments after the “I love my baby more than I could imagine moment.” It is the “Holy Moley, what in the heck did I get myself into?” moment.

Now I share all this because if I felt this way with our little precious cargo, I cannot imagine the thoughts, concerns and expectations that Joseph and Mary were dealing with that Christmas morning.

Not only were they having a child, conceived by the Holy Spirit, and born to a virgin. They were having this baby while they were on the road in the barn or garage of a fleabag motel several days journey away from anyone they have ever known.

In that little stable lied a baby that was born to save the world from their sins. In that stable lied the Messiah. In that stable laid God in human form. And Mary and Joseph were charged for caring for that child in that stable. They must have listened to it cry, watched it wiggle and giggle, and thought, “Holey Moley, what in the heck did I get myself into” as well.

And then, as they were in Bethlehem, trying to get their feet underneath them and their stable in order they had two groups of visitors. I am sure they might have had a few more visitors in that stable, but scripture records two sets of visitors.

These two groups of people could not have been more different. One group was a group of raggedy shepherds. The other group to visit was a group of well-educated nobleman with an eye for astronomy and it relation to miraculous and holy events.

The pictures that we see in a nativity scene have the shepherds and the wise men there at about the same time. Most people believe that this is not the case. Rather the shepherds came to Bethlehem the night of the birth, and the magi came a while later.

What is interesting though, is not who were with Jesus, but what those folks that were with Jesus teaches about who Jesus is, and what his mission in the world is.

First, let us look at the shepherds. The shepherds were poor. The shepherds were dirty. They were ceremonially unclean according to Jewish law. They were most likely uneducated. They had a job that nobody else would really be that excited about doing. They were hard workers.

The shepherds, it appears were nearby. They were Jews. And they were on the bottom rung of the ladder. They were awaiting a Messiah. Most likely they were near the same areas where King David grazed his flocks as a shepherd, but they were far from Royalty.

The shepherds were at work when all of the sudden angels appeared in the sky. The sky lit up and they were afraid. They thought they were seeing the great white light that signified the end of their lives. But they were not. The angels told the shepherds that they had good news of great joy. They said that the Savior was born. And that he was lying in a manger. And that they would find him swaddled up in cloths. Then the angels announced that Jesus had come to bring peace, and show God’s goodwill toward men. Then they left.

And they came to the manger. And they told people why. And everyone was in awe. They had nothing but a story to bring. Nothing but worship to offer.

The wise men, as we have come to know them, were radically different from the shepherds. The shepherds were from nearby. The wise men were from far away. The shepherds came to the manger because the angel told them to. The wise men came because of a star in the sky that they had studied in conjuction with prophecies. The shepherds were poor and uneducated. The wise men were wealthy. The shepherds had no gifts. The wise men had gold, frankensense and myrr. The shepherds were of low standing. The wise men invited to dine with the king by the time they made it to Jerusalem. The shepherds were Jews like Jesus. The wise men were most likely Arab Gentiles.

These differences tell us this: Jesus came to save everyone and love everyone. You may be rich. Jesus came to save you from your sins. You may be poor. Jesus offers his love and forgiveness to you as well. Jesus came for the well-read and the illiterate. He came for those nearby and faraway. He came for Jew, and Arab, and you and I. The good news of Jesus coming to earth is good news for everyone.

The similarities with the visits tell us something as well. One thing that you will notice is that both the shepherds and the wise men were outsiders to the religious establishment. The shepherds were rough fellows that worked a rough job that everyone looked down upon. People looked down on them. Yet, Jesus sent them an invitation to his first birthday party.

The wise men were not Jews. They were not a part of the people of God. They were on the outside looking in among the religious establishment as well. Yet, Jesus welcomed them to his humble nursery of a feed trough and straw. People would not think Jesus came for “those people”. But he did. He came to save everyone, not just those who parents went to church or who came from the right family.

Both visits emphasize that Jesus’ mission is to invite outsiders in. To reach those who may not have felt like they fit and belonged, even at church. He came to offer love to people that most of his peers thought he should just ignored. He came to save one and all from their sins.

The other similarity is the response of everyone that arrived at the manger after that Christmas morning. Awe. Marveling. Wonder. Glorifying. Praising. Worship. They praised God for what he was doing. Shepherds praised God. So did the noblemen. Foreign kings visited that manger. So did the guy who wandered under the stars with the animals. They were all moved to worship.

The Bible even says Mary kept all these things and pondered them in her heart. And it seems appropriate that we should do the same. We should believe God’s word that Jesus has come to be our savior. We should respond to the miracle of his birth by having faith that he came to love US and DIE for us. We should worship God for this amazing thing he is doing in the world. And we should keep the truth and wonder of what has happened close to our heart, and ponder and wonder at how amazing, wonderful, good, and completely unpredictable God is. And we should praise Him once again. Amen.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Book Review of Seeds of Turmoil by Bryant Wright

Bryant Wright
Thomas Nelson
ISBN 978-0-8499-4815-2

These days, there is a lot of curiosity about the nature of Islam. Can Judaism, Christianity and Islam exist together in peace? Are the terrorists in line with the majority of Muslims, or is Islam essentially a peaceful religion? Seeds of Turmoil sheds light on these questions and many others by discussing the Biblical and historical roots of conflict between Islam and the other two religions that trace themselves back to being children of Abraham.

The book discusses this interreligious turmoil from a thoroughly Christian perspective. This will be helpful to some readers, and discouraging for others. Seeds of Turmoil begins by recounting the roots of Middle Eastern-Israeli conflict as recorded in Scripture. It claims that Islam is rooted in the experience of Ishmael. In doing so, it draws a straight line between Ishmael to Mohammed. It demonstrates that Biblical history describes continuous conflict between Arabs, Palestinians, Persians, and Babylonians.

Seeds of Turmoil also spends a lot of time discussing the development of the nation of Israel, and how that is viewed from Arab perspective. This history is helpful, and gives the reader helpful perspective. In a rare moment of empathy toward Arabic people, the author asks the reader to consider how Americans would feel if the original thirteen colonies were all deeded back to the Native Americans.

Bryant Wright’s summary of Islam clearly believes that mainstream Islam throughout history is dedicated to the “jihad of the sword”. He points out that the Muslim attempt to conquer Europe predates the crusades. Wright draws clear lines between the words of Mohammed, and the words of Khomeni and Bin Laden after they incited conflict with America to show that Islamic violence toward Christians and Jews has clear roots in the Koran. He briefly discusses inter-Muslim violence and the conflict between Shiite Muslims and Sunni believers.

There are several things I enjoyed about this book. It was easily accessible to nearly every reader. It achieved the goal of developing a history of Islamic conflict from Biblical history, throughout history, and into modern times. And, while I would not paint Islam with as broad of a brush as Wright, I believe that his insight about the centrality of violence to the Islamic faith is accurate.

My criticism of the book would be that I think the author oversimplifies history in order to make his points in places in the book. I am not sure a direct genealogical line between Ishmael and Mohammed has ever been drawn, and I think that the Arabs predate Ishmael (after all, wasn’t Ishmael of Egyptian heritage). And conflict between Abraham and his neighbors predates both Issac and Ishmael.

Overall, I think Seeds of Turmoil is a nice book for some, especially those who have not given the turmoil in the Middle East much thought. But the book should be treated as a primer to further study, and not the final authority on the complex issue.

I was given a complimentary copy of this book by the Thomas Nelson publishers in exchange for an honest review.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Book Review of Love and War by John and Stasi Eldridge

By John and Stasi Eldridge
ISBN 978-0-307-72993-4
Waterbrook Press

John and Stasi Eldridge have written several books that focus on the matters of the heart. Wild at Heart encouraged men to discover a manly, passionate faith that they could give their lives too. Stasi Eldridge’s Captivating addressed women in a similar fashion. The couple’s latest book, Love and War: Devotional for Couples attempts to challenge men and women to turn their hearts toward home, and to discover the marriage that they have always wanted.

For the last six months to a year, my wife and I have been seeking a devotional for couples. We found that many of the couples’ devotionals were difficult to relate to for us. One devotional assumed a level of formality that we do not share as a couple. Another devotional was written by a well-to-do middle-aged couple from the suburbs. We are a working class family in the country. It was very discouraging finding a devotional for couples that was straight-forward, down-to-earth, and that we could relate to. Then I discovered Love and War by John and Stasi Eldridge.

Love and War is so encouraging. It is most encouraging because it raw and honest. It begins with the statement, “marriage is fabulously hard”(p. 3). The rest of the book is peppered with thoughts like “Being married costs you everything…”(p. 22), and “Life wears marriages down” (p. 55). The Eldridge’s state it like it is, but they don’t leave their readers there. Instead, they challenge their readers to fight for healthy marriages, to throw their lives into loving their spouse, and to do the hard work that will make their marriage a joyful, live-giving witness of God’s grace to the world.

There are several other helpful things about Love and War. First, it is a manageable 8 week spiritual adventure for couples. Also, each devotional is both brief and thought-provoking. The book is small-enough to even fit on a couple’s nightstand to read together after they have gone to bed. John and Stasi Eldridge have another stellar book on their hands that will help people see the world as a world full of hope and possibilities. What a blessing.

**a complimentary copy of this book was provided by Waterbrook Press for an honest review.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Sermon: Jesus in the Camp

John 1:1-18

1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was in the beginning with God. 3 All things were made through Him, and without Him nothing was made that was made. 4 In Him was life, and the life was the light of men. 5 And the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend[a] it.
6 There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. 7 This man came for a witness, to bear witness of the Light, that all through him might believe. 8 He was not that Light, but was sent to bear witness of that Light. 9 That was the true Light which gives light to every man coming into the world.[b]
10 He was in the world, and the world was made through Him, and the world did not know Him. 11 He came to His own,[c] and His own[d] did not receive Him. 12 But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, to those who believe in His name: 13 who were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.
14 And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth. 15 John bore witness of Him and cried out, saying, “This was He of whom I said, ‘He who comes after me is preferred before me, for He was before me.’” 16 And[e] of His fullness we have all received, and grace for grace. 17 For the law was given through Moses, but grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. 18 No one has seen God at any time. The only begotten Son,[f] who is in the bosom of the Father, He has declared Him.


The first week I was in college I met my roommate named Mel. Mel was, well, and interesting fellow. I came to Trinity College because I wanted to go to a Christian college where I could play football. Mel came to college because he had an opportunity to play college football that was close to home. I was the goofy naive guy from Alaska. He was the worldly wise guy from suburban Milwaukee.

We had two weeks of football camp with just the football team before people came in to campus. It was simply eat, workout, eat, workout, eat, meetings, sleep every night. But soon camp broke and that joyous moment came when the girls came to campus. Mel’s car was being “fixed” at home (I never saw said car in his short tenure at the school), and I was without a car. Mel had a girlfriend, but he was working at making a few more girl friends, and brought me along as his wingman.

He offered me tidbits of his worldly wisdom. We visited with a gal, who when she found out I was from Alaska and had never been in the city of Chicago, so she offered to drive us around and give us a brief tour of the city. Mel was stoked. He asked me how I thought she looked. I said I thought she was cute. He agreed. Then he gave me a nugget of insight. It was dark outside. He said, “Girls always look cuter when it is dark out. I bet she is just average looking in the light of day”.

I did not really care. I did not believe the gal was awfully interested in me, and I seemed to be a wingman for Mel in this situation anyway. I was just excited to see Chicago. I had been in a town in Alaska without a stoplight for goodness sake, and I had never been to a town with over a million people, unless you count driving through the Portland and Seattle metro areas hoping parents did not get us lost. And it was fun. And they both got a kick out of me looking at the city like a five year old looking under the Christmas tree on Christmas morning.

Anyway, we met up with the gal the next day, and Mel was right. Much better looking in a dimly lit campus than in the full light of day. Now Mel’s lifestyle was such that I believe this insight was most likely fueled by drinking too much at parties at high school, and engaging in bad behavior that left him with a few regrets when he sobered up. But I have remembered the insight to this day, and think it is a factual truth, not just about attractiveness of the opposite sex. Food looks much better in a dimly lit restaurant. Christmas trees, when purchased late at night, can reveal flaws once you get them home as well.

And while we are on the subject of how things appear in the dark, I wonder if any of you have ever been in a church, or this church, in the dark, late at night, and been totally creeped out. I have. In fact, I can officially say that every church that I have served I have had to walk around in the dark and work alone at night in. And every one of those churches, while I have been alone in them late at night has been creepy.

Most churches are uniquely constructed. They have had additions built. They have unique plumbing, heating and wiring systems. And most of them make mysterious noises when you least expect them to make any noise. It can be quite disconcerting. Probably the most disconcerting was the church in Kansas City that I served named Armourdale Baptist Church. Armourdale was in what they called a transitional neighborhood, which means that it used to be nice, but now was getting run down and higher crime rates etc. The church was built in a flood plain, and there was a series of pumps that kept the basement of the church from flooding. The result was that both the heating system and the plumbing “popped” at times. And at times their were cars backfiring outside. And at times there were gunshots. To a skiddish country boy, all three of the sounds sounded eerily similar. Especially when working on a term paper at midnight.

Once again, as I will explain, the gospel of John in verses 14-18 plays on our ideas of light and sight. It takes a different angle on what it means for Jesus to be God’s light in the world as it again amplifies the truths shared in John 1.

Once again, John 1:14-18 has some clear words and concepts that are important that are easy to pick up on as you read through the passage. One of those phrases is “grace and truth”, “glory”, and “the Word became flesh and dwelt among us”. But you will have to bear with me to figure out what the story of how people look when its dark out and the fear factor of churches at nighttime relate to Jesus as the light of the world.

First let us look at the phrase, “the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.” The word, we heard in verse 1, was with God in the beginning, and at the same time was God. The Word, according to John, is also shorthand for Jesus. So when John is saying “the Word” became flesh, he is saying that God took on human form in the person of Jesus Christ. He who spoke the world into existence and yet he was humbling himself to take on human form, to be dependent on some gal in her late teens to raise him and change his diapers, and some Average Joe to teach him how to hunt, fish, and build stuff. (in case you did not get the pun, Jesus’ father’s name was Joseph, so average Joe kind of fits)

The interesting part to me in this phrase though is the second half of the phrase. The words that say the Word “dwelt among us”. The word for dwelling there is interesting. Because the word could have said that Jesus came and built a house in our new subdivision, or moved into his palace. It did not. The world for dwelt among us here literally means that Jesus set up his tent and made camp in our campground.

This is special for a number of reasons. First it speaks to me because it speaks of a Jesus who was not afraid to get smelly and dirty. Not uncomfortable with being tired and sweaty. Jesus was a savior who is not afraid to roll his sleeves up and get in the middle of our mess with us in order to reach us, and save us, and help us to find the “Jesus-kind” of life both in this life and the hereafter that he offers. I am glad he is that kind of savior, because if Jesus does not get down in the middle of my messiness and failures with me I will be lost, but with him and have hope and the possibility of growth, change, and new life.

But as you dig even deeper with this phrase “he dwelt among us” you find an allusion to something that happened in the Old Testament. Early in the Bible, God made a promise to a man named Abraham, that he would make his decendants a great nation. In the second book of the Bible, the book of Exodus, we find that Abraham’s decendants do not have their nation yet. As a matter of fact, they are slaves in Egypt. Through a series of miracles God leads Abraham’s decendants, called Israel, out of slavery and they end up spending 40 years walking around and camping in the wilderness until God gives them the green light to enter the Promised Land. While they were in the wilderness, and even after, the Jews had a big tent in the middle of camp that was their worship center. This was called a tabernacle. The tabernacle was covered by a cloud by day, and by a pillar of fire at night. When it says that Jesus is set up his tent in the midst of the camp, it is also saying that God is like the tabernacle in the middle of the camp. Guiding. Leading us by his light through the fire and the cloud.

Which is interesting, because this passage speaks of Jesus as the glory, and the glory of the only begotten of the father. This word “glory” refers to an extrabiblical Hebrew concept called the “Shekina” of God. Shekina glory is a word that describes the power and presence of God revealed through light. It in a minimal sense refers to the light over the tabernacle. It refers, actually, to the overwhelming blinding light when we are in God’s presence. No one has ever seen God and lived, John says, but people have seen Jesus. And Jesus is God in the flesh. The Word dwelt among us.

So Jesus is like this blinding light, this light of God’s presence. This presence that is not over there, but right among us. But how do we see this light? How is this light manifest through the life of Jesus?

The Bible says that the glory of God is demonstrated to us through grace and truth. Grace and truth. These three words are used together twice. They are essential to understand.

First, let us look at the word “truth”. The word truth, most literally, means uncovered. Completely visible. Unhidden. Something that is exposed to the clear light of day.

The world is scary when it is covered in darkness. Like the situations I shared about at the beginning of this sermon, life without light is confusing. When you live in darkness your sight isn’t so sharp, your ears are hypervigilant, and your mind plays tricks on you. You see things that look attractive in the dark, when it is partially hidden. But when it is exposed to the light of day, it does not look nearly as attractive. And things that seems scary when you are living your life in the dark don’t seem nearly so scary when they are exposed to the light of Christ.

Jesus has this amazing way, just by his word, and just by his presence, of making the world look a little different. You look on the glory of Christ, the light of Christ, and you start realizing that those attitudes, those behaviors, those things that looked so beautiful without Him, matter nothing at all when he has come into your life. And those circumstances and situations that might have scared us and frightened us, that have occupied so much of our time and energy, when we see them in the light of Christ, and his power, do not seem nearly so scary and frightening.

This is why, later in John, the Bible says that “the truth will set you free”. Once you allow Jesus to have full reign in your life, the lies that you were trapped by no longer have any power.

And that is all because he dwelt among us. He came to be with us. He lived a life and spoke words that illumined us to the way things really were, instead of the way they assumed they were when we were in the dark.

And finally, when our lives and our souls are uncovered, and we have nothing to hide from and we cannot hide, well, then we find this thing called “grace”.

Grace means unmerited favor, or an undeserved gift. It speaks of God loving us when we don’t deserve it. God forgiving us when we cannot earn his forgiveness.

But today, I think it is important to remember it also means to remember that in Jesus that God did not leave us alone. Nor does he leave us alone.

God is not just “out there”. When we hear the “Word dwelt among us” we know that God’s presence is “right here”. His Word is “right here”. His hope is “right here”. His guidance is “right here”. We don’t have to stumble in the dark, mistaking the ugly things in this life for the beautiful. We have the light of Jesus’ truth to show us what is true and what is beautiful. We don’t have to live our life full of fear, anxiety,and paranoia. We have the light of Jesus to show us that the things that scared us most really have no power except for the power that we give them. His beauty is “right here” among us. His truth is “right here” among us.

And that presence. That light. That hope. That truth. That closeness we can with Jesus. That is truly unmerited favor. That is truly an undeserved gift. That God has set up camp with us. That is nothing but grace. Right here. For you.

New Living Bible Giveaway

The New Living Bible is putting out a "Give the Word" Bible, and having a sweepstakes to promote it.

To sign up of find out more look HERE.

Here are the details I have from the email

With the Give the Word Bible Contest and Giveaway:
• Ministries win: Each time the NLT Facebook Page reaches a fan count milestone, votes will be tallied and the three ministries will receive cash donations from the New Living Translation and Tyndale House Publishers.

• Everyone wins: Everyone who enters on the Bible Contest website wins a free download of Matthew West reading the Christmas story
• Daily NLT Study Bible winners: Vote on the NLT Facebook page and you will be entered to win two NLT Study Bibles—one to keep and one to give away. A new winner will be chosen every day.

• Weekly Give the Word Locally winners: Tell us about a deserving local ministry on the NLT Bible Contest website and they could win five NLT Study Bibles and $250 worth of NLT products.

• One Grand Prize winner will enjoy a unique trip customized just for them and their family (or three guests of their choice), to Wycliffe Bible Translators world headquarters and the WordSpring Discovery Center where they will experience firsthand the exciting world of Bible translation. The Grand Prize winner could also choose to donate the value of the trip--$2000--to Wycliffe instead.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Sermon on Third Sunday of Advent

John 1:1-13

1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was in the beginning with God. 3 All things were made through Him, and without Him nothing was made that was made. 4 In Him was life, and the life was the light of men. 5 And the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend[a] it.

6 There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. 7 This man came for a witness, to bear witness of the Light, that all through him might believe. 8 He was not that Light, but was sent to bear witness of that Light. 9 That was the true Light which gives light to every man coming into the world.[b]

10 He was in the world, and the world was made through Him, and the world did not know Him. 11 He came to His own,[c] and His own[d] did not receive Him. 12 But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, to those who believe in His name: 13 who were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.


What I am about to say is not what pastors are supposed to say as they preach sermons at Christmas time. Pastors are supposed to warn their congregations that Christmas is not about the presents that are under the tree. We are supposed to tell folks that they need to avoid the consumerism, sensationalism and the festiveness of the whole holiday season. Pastor Darryl Johnson is fond of saying of Christmas, “It is not my birthday, don’t buy me any presents!” I can respect and appreciate that. Christmas, the way that Jesus intended it, should not simply be a marketing scheme. But I think often these protests are a little “Scroogy” and a little “Grinch” like, and at times overdone.

When I was little I was often taught by my mother that Christmas was more about giving than about receiving. When we were little she would say that we did not understand it then, but we would as we grew. Certainly, it has been true that as I have gotten older, I have learned more and more about the joy and the importance of giving through the Christmas season. But I don’t think Christmas is just about giving.

One of the best things about Christmas is watching a preschool aged child, somewhere between say 3 and 6, experience the joy of receiving on Christmas. Often parents stay up late putting everything together the night before. The kids wake up. They creep down the stairs. And their eyes light up. And all morning you hear all of the noises of toys being played with while kids are running around in footy pajamas.

With many children, it does not take a lot to please them. You can get a 3 year old 10 presents at the dollar store, watch them tear the presents open, and see them become so thankful because you have thought enough of them to get them the gift you got. They get what you give them, and they start playing with it right away.

Children have no means of providing for themselves. For this reason, many children are good receivers. They accept the gifts as gifts, and many times they are thankful. They don’t believe that they need to do something to receive what they have been given, they just experience the joy of being given to by someone that they love.

Somewhere along the road, especially in our culture we close ourselves off from being good receivers. Some people in our world are good “getters”. They work the system to get the discounts and freebies we want. But most of us are not good receivers of what we are given by others, or even by God. We say things like “I can’t accept this”, or “but I did not get anything for you” when given something by a friend. And when offered God’s grace and hope we recoil from simply receiving it. We try to justify why we deserve what God gives us, or we try and earn it.

Much of the sad part of Christmas is our unwillingness to receive the gift that God has given us through Jesus. We don’t receive him into any room. Instead he is born out in some barn somewhere. Stargazers may have brought him gifts, but the man who was king in the region did not want to receive Him as Messiah and future king. As a matter of fact, that king wanted to kill the gift of God before he ever got to live and carry out his mission.

This morning we are looking once again at John 1, and we are focusing in on verses 10-13. Verses 10-13 focus in on what it means to become a child of God—a part of God’s family. And, I think, as we go along, you will be challenged to understand that a big part of Christmas, according to the Bible, is not simply being a good giver or a faithful steward. To a large part, Christmas teaches us to be appropriate and excellent receivers of what we have been given.

One thing you learn to like if you study the book of John is that he makes it hard to mistake what he is getting at. In Bible study I have taught some of you to look for words that repeat themselves. John repeats his key words often.

The best way to understand what is going on here is to look at those words that repeat themselves. The first word that repeats itself is “the world”. The word world shows up 3 times in verse 10, and over 70 times in the gospel of John as a whole. Sometimes John speaks of the world positively in the gospel of John, such as when he says, “God so loved the world” in John 3. Other times he speaks negatively of the world, such as when he declares that neither he nor his disciples are “of this world” in John 17, among other places.

Here, John is emphasizing the global mission of Jesus and the opportunity that he offers everyone to know about and believe in Jesus. The whole world was made by Jesus, he came into the world he made, and he was not recognized or understood for who he was.

We have all, at one time or another, turned away from Jesus. We have all, at one point or another, failed to recognize him for who he is, and worship Him for who he is.

I remember working with a man named Paul when I was in Alaska working at an RV Park that housed sites to sleep in, laundry facilities, and shower rooms to shower in. Paul was a fast-talking, hard-edged, chain smoking New Yorker who had made his way to Alaska during retirement. He was merely a RV park attendant, but he always brought a briefcase with him to work with khakis, a pressed shirt, and a leather jacket.

Paul was difficult for a lot of people to work with. Originally from Maine he had made his way to New York to make his living. He split his career, as I understood it, between working his way up through JcPenney’s leadership, and then moving to the stock market. Paul started at Penney’s the way most start working there, doing the grunt work in the stock room.

At one point, he had left the room a little dirty as he took his break. In walked this elderly gentleman, who looked like he worked there. Dressed in clothes that were not awfully fancy, he cleaned up the mess that was still left. Paul thanked him for the help, explaining that he planned to clean that up after his break. The man said that he hated looking at the mess and decided to clean it up himself. Then he introduced himself. His name was J.C. Penney.

Paul was of course immediately embarrassed. First of all, because he was caught doing a job half way by the owner of his company, who was also one of his heroes. Secondly, he was embarrassed because he did not recognize Mr. Penney. He did not expect to see such a powerful man in his stock room, and he expected him to look a lot different than he did.

On a much larger scale than a department store, I believe this is kind of what we see with Jesus on a cosmic level. He came to earth looking common, did not put on the airs that everyone expected Him to, and so many ignored Him and many fought against Him, even though he was God in human form. They had blinders on. They refused to recognize Jesus for who he was, the Son of God, God in human flesh.

Verse 11 uses the phrase “His own” twice. Jesus did not come to the world as a stranger. He came to the world as its Lord. He came to the world as its creator and owner. He was made to feel unwelcome in the universe that was born through his Word. He was excluded and abused by the very people who existed because of Him. He came into the world with a gift in hand, and he was not welcomed in to give it. How very depressing.

It is a good thing that the story turns. As we alluded to earlier, the word “receive” also appears two times. This seems to be the goal. God wants us to receive Jesus. He doesn’t want us to simply politely listen and then ignore Jesus. He wants us to receive Him. To bring Him into our lives, to allow Him to enter the everyday life we inhabit and be a part of our going to school, looking for a job, trying to get along as a family, figuring out how to pay the bills, struggling with our health, wondering why we can’t get around as well as we used to kind of world.

According to verse 12, receiving Jesus means specifically that we believe on His name. John 20 says, as Dudley reminded us in Bible study last week, that Jesus came so that “that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.” The word believe actually shows up over 80 times in John.

What is set before us is a choice. We can choose to reject Jesus or receive Him. We may try and ignore Jesus. We may try and put Him off. We may choose to accept the idea of Jesus as some moral teacher, but not as Lord. All of those are choices not to accept Him. All of those options are choices to not receive Him. All of those choices are saying, “Really, I don’t need your help, let me do things on my own”.

We can also choose to receive Him. And for those who receive Him he gives the right to be called children of God. A lot of people misread verse 13. They think it describes Jesus. It does not. It describes the experience of believers becoming children of God. It says that when we become children of God, it is not because of what family or nationality we were born in because it is not due to blood. We can’t earn the right to become children of God, because it is not of the will of man or of the flesh. No, God makes the way for us to become his children. By his will. It is our choice whether we will receive that gift or not.

What does it mean to be a child of God? What does it mean to have the “right” to be God’s child? What privilidges or power is that describing?

Simply put, to be a child of someone means that you are a part of their family. I don’t know how your family works, but in my family, well, family is family. It does not matter where I have gone, or what I have done, I am still the son of James and Patricia Walker. I belong to them and they belong to me.

Being a child means that I resemble my parents a little. I have my father’s gait and smirk. I have my mother’s spark and mischief. In the same way, a child of God resembles their heavenly father a little.

In a more practical and morbid sense, children inherit and have ownership in all that their parents own. Scripture teaches this truth about believers very clearly. We are joint heirs with Jesus of all of God’s kingdom.

Even more, being a child of God means that you have a place to call home. Up until I turned 30, my father often made the point that if I ever wanted to, I could come and live with him in Portland. He was telling me that no matter what happened, I always had a home with him if I wanted it. I just had to receive that gift. I never did. I wanted to do things on my own.

Of all the things a human soul longs for, more than anything in our world, we long for home. Either in our hearts or with our feet we wander near and far, chasing after adventures and treasures, but we really simply long for a home. A true home. That is why when Jesus leaves his disciples to go to heaven in the gospel of John he says, “I go to prepare a place for you”. He is saying,” I am readying a place for you in your heavenly home”. We want a place in our lives, and to be among people in our lives, where we know that we always belong.

Isn’t it interesting? Jesus leaves his home to come and let us know that if we will believe in Him and trust Him, we will always have a home with Him! How amazingly wonderful is that?

Most of all though, when we claim the right to become children of God, we come knowing that we can lay claim to nothing but the right to be children of God. We come to realize that we come into this world naked, and we leave this worn down and worn out. When we come to God as children we realize that everything we have and everything we are is a gift of God’s grace. We have no resources of our own. We can simply lift up our arms and joyfully receive the forgiveness, the love, and the grace that God gives us. We can simply open these gifts like a young child on Christmas morning, and squeal in delight, because we know we have been given everything we ever needed as God’s child, and we know we are loved.

Sunday, December 05, 2010

Sermon for Second Sunday of Advent

John 1:1-9
1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was in the beginning with God. 3 All things were made through Him, and without Him nothing was made that was made. 4 In Him was life, and the life was the light of men. 5 And the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend[a] it. 6 There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. 7 This man came for a witness, to bear witness of the Light, that all through him might believe. 8 He was not that Light, but was sent to bear witness of that Light. 9 That was the true Light which gives light to every man coming into the world.

Light. I think we take light for granted. For most of human history we did not have electric lights, and when it was dark, for the most part, it was dark. Sure, if you had the money for oil you might have a few oil fueled lamps around the house. But, for the most part, the only kind of light people would have for a lot of human history were lamps at night times. And fires.

This has made a big difference in how we view the world. We may tell one another “daylight is burning” now, but that is generally just an expression we use to get a move on. Many factories and businesses actually run twenty-four hours a day because we have this wonderful gift called electricity. Even farm equipment can run at night now. In fact, earlier this week as I was driving home I saw some folks working in their fields in the dark.

I think we take light for granted. At least until there is a power outage.

A homeless man came by our church just as services were about to end a few months ago. He was hitching his way from wherever he started to Florida. Anyway, he was telling me about leaving Pueblo on foot and making his way down Highway 50 in the evening. He said he was scared.

He would walk down the road, and he said that when you are in a car going down the road you don’t realize just how dark it is. But when you are on foot, and you in those open spots, and you start hearing the noises of all the animals, and things growling it can be kind of scary. Coyotes. Stray, feral dogs, and whatever you thought you would hear. And then some car would come screaming out around the corner, not knowing that there is some fella walking along the road, and the lights would blind him for a moment, and the cars would almost hit him at 70 miles an hour. Then it would just be dark again.

Even if you live in a world filled with electric lights, you can long for the light that only God can provide through sunlight. Maybe some of you have friends that have spent a winter in Alaska. I have spent 4 full winters in Alaska in high school, and several other parts of December and January while I was in college and graduate school. That was enough for me. Let me tell you, most of the time you can get through the holidays with it being dark. But at some point when you are in mid-January or February and the sun still seems to wait until you are at work or school to come up at around 10:30, and it goes down around 3 to 4 in the afternoon it gets old. You almost need get some Zoloft just as preventative medication for the long winter. It is not the snow that gets old, though it does. It is the lack of daylight that can get you depressed, drive people to drink, or simply put people into a foul mood.

Light is even more than convienient though. Light, light of a fire, light of the sun, and light in general is central to life and health. So lets us talk about light, what it means for people then and today, and what the Bible means when it talks about Jesus as the Light of the World.

Point #1 is Light is essential to life, health and happiness

Light is a big deal. And it was an even bigger deal in the time of Jesus. Light kept you safe, so that you could see things around you. The light of a fire cooked your food well enough that you did not get ill. Thieves came in the night to steal. Soldiers snuck into cities in the night to conquer them. That is why most fortified cities had night watchman.

Light was and is essential to crops going. Plants need water, light and soil.
Light is essential to life. And to the world functioning well. Perhaps this is why when God created the world, the first words that are attributed to God by the narrator of Genesis is “Let there be light”.

This leads us to point #2. Point #2 is that Light, throughout Biblical history, has been a symbol for the presence of God.

When God wanted to speak to Moses, he spoke through a burning bush. When God let the Israelites through the wilderness, his presence was visible to the people at night through a pillar of fire (and a cloud during the day). When God spoke of the Jesus’ presence and ministry among the people in churches, he spoke of a lamp stand that identified the churches. And when the book of Revelation ends, and there is a new heaven and new earth, one of the great blessings that is shared is that there is no night. There is light all the time. And that this light is the presence of God.

So when we speak of Jesus, we call him the light of the world. We discussed that Jesus was the Word last week, and how that related to God creating everything through a simple word. When we speak of Jesus as “The Light of the World we speak of Jesus as the creator, but also the first word of creation personified. Jesus is God’s first word, and incidentally his last word. Everything in Scripture centers around Jesus. Everything in creation beforehand is building up to his coming to earth to live as “God with us” Everything in history after that moment on is a response to that first word. He is like the light. Creation begins with him, and its end, when all who believe are in his presence, he is the last word.

When we speak of Jesus as the light of the world, we speak of Jesus as the presence of God among us. That is why we light the candles during Advent. That is why we sing “Shine Jesus Shine” during this season for at least a little bit of the year.

So John 1:3-4 says that that Jesus is the light of all mankind. And that this light is also life. We have a little better understanding of that now.

But verse 5 says something that “sheds a little more light” on our conversation. In the KJV, the NKJV and the old NIV (NIV has updated its translation in 2010 for release in 2011.) it says, “And the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend[a] it.” But most other version translate the passage this way, The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome[a] it. Did you hear the difference? One translation says, “Comprehend” it and one says “overcome” it. Which means what? Which are we to accept as a better translation? The answer is both translations are good, and because John is using layers of meaning for the word “light” and both are appropriate. If I were writing a translation, which I will NEVER do, I might say, “the darkness has not comprehended or overcome it”. The metaphor of light in this passage, in other words, speaks of two meanings, and both help us understand what it means when we hear about Jesus as God’s light.

This double entendre, most literally, is because the literal word picture of the Greek word is “to grasp”. And the word “grasp” speaks to both comprehending and overcoming.

So Point 3 is that Jesus as light of the world has not been grasped by the people he created.

This word grasped has two meanings. Let me repeat them.

One meaning is to comprehend or understand. The other is to overcome.

Plato, in documenting the life and philosophy of the philosopher Socrates, tells a story about people in a cave. He tells this story in Greece a few hundred years before Jesus was born. Plato tells a parable about people all living in a cave. There is this very minimal amount of light, but not enough light that they can ever really make out much of anything. Instead, what they mostly see is shadows. Big scary shadows, and small little shadows. But all of these shadows, they believe that this is reality.

Then someone leads them outside the cave. And they began to see the world as it really is. They began to comprehend what life is like, what beauty is like, and that what looks one way in the shadows of darkness, looks different in the light of day.

John says that Jesus has come into the dark world as light, the darkness has not comprehended it. He is referring to something like this. The world needs to understand the truth. They need to “see the light” as Hank Williams would sing it. They need their minds and hearts enlightened. The world is still a dark place, but as the gospel takes territory for the Kingdom of God, light moves into it. Because people who are ignorant or unwilling to “see the light” comprehend the truth of Jesus. When the do comprehend or understand, they come out of the cave. Hank Williams put it this way:
I wandered so aimless, life filled with sin;I wouldn't ask my dear Saviour in.Then Jesus came like a stranger in the night;Praise the Lord, I saw the light!

ChorusI saw the light, I saw the light.No more darkness; no more night.Now I'm so happy no sorrow in sight.Praise the Lord, I saw the light!

Just like a blind man I wandered alone,Worries and fears I claimed for my own.Then like the blind man that Jesus gave back his sight;Praise the Lord, I saw the light!
I saw the light, I saw the light.No more darkness; no more night.Now I'm so happy no sorrow in sight.Praise the Lord, I saw the light!
I was a fool to wander astray,For straight is the gate and narrow is the way.Now I have traded the wrong for the right;Praise the Lord, I saw the light!
The second meaning of the word grasp is to overcome. Jacob, when he was born, had a name that literally means the “grasper” which is also translated “the wrestler”. In other words, grasping also has to do with conflict. And in Hebrew memory at the time of Jesus, there was a miracle in the middle of a conflict that I think ties into the intent of what God was saying through John in this passage.

This story is found in the Apocrypha, which is in Catholic Bibles and not in Protestant Bibles. It is the story of the Macabee family, especially Judah. One version of the story is written in I and II Macabees in the apocrypha, though others tell the story too. It is the event that Hebrews celebrate at this time of year called Hannukah, which is a festival of lights.

The history behind Hannukah begins about 200 AD. It is at that point that the nation of Israel comes under Syrian control. The first Syrian leader that ruled over them was benevolent. The second, named Antiochus Epiphanies was not so. He forbade Jewish customs. He went into the temple and killed people in the temple. He sat on the throne, and he had pigs killed on the altar (pigs were considered unholy and unclean).He banned circumcision. He killed a Woman named Hannah and her seven sons because they refused to eat pork when they were commanded to.

About 5 years after the takeover, in 155 AD, A man named Matthias and his sons began an insurrection against the Syrian ruler. Soon his son took over the rebellion. The son’s name was Judah, but he was nicknamed Judah Maccabeus. The nickname is commonly translated as “the hammer or hammer of God” but can also refer to an acronym of a verse that speaks to the mightiness of God.

Anyway…They fought their war with a series of ambush attacks and won quick victories. Eventually the temple was liberated from the Syrian leadership. They needed to purify the temple. Part of the purification involved burning candles in the sanctuary. They only had enough oil for one day. But miraculously, the candles burned for all eight days it took them to make new oil to burn in the temple. It was a sign that God was with them, and that God was going to continue to be with them as they battled against the evil oppressors that they had not overcome completely.

It is with this in mind that I think John says that the darkness has not overcome the light. The darkness cannot defeat the light of Jesus. All the forces of darkness and evil cannot defeat the powers of light and good. Both the Advent of Jesus and the miracle of Hannukah point to the truth that the forces of light cannot be defeated by the forces of darkness, and that the light of Christ is on the move and ultimately has the victory, both at the cross and at the second coming of Jesus.

It is with this present and ultimate victory through Jesus in mind, began with his coming into the world, that we both celebrate and long for as we come to the Lord’s Table. The Lord’s Table reminds us that Satan’s doom is sure, he defeat is secured, his ultimate loss is guaranteed. Jesus stuck the death blow to his oppression and power when he conquered sin and death on the cross.

The question is, how will you respond.

Annie Dillard tells a story about light, based on research by a scientist named Marius Von Senden recorded in a book called Space and Sight. It is a study of people whose blindness was caused by a kind of cataract, and thus, when the technology developed, could be cured. A number of them opted to have the surgery. And, a number of people who opted to have the surgery hated the result. They found ways to cover their eyes even though they could see, and begged for the surgery to be reversed. They hated the light. Too much stimulation. Too much to learn. Too much change. Too much color.

Many reject God’s light for a similar reason. They fear it. It asks to much of them they think. It is unfamiliar. I beg you not to run from God’s light, but to embrace it. Embrace the understanding, the truth, and the victory that comes with faith in Jesus, that we find at this table.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Blogging Evolution

A week from Tuesday will be the sixth anniversary of this blog.

I have worked on this blog longer than I had been in any one job, longer than I have lived in any place since 5th grade, and about as long as I have owned my current automobile.

It is interesting to look over the posts that I have put together, and to see the ways that this blog changed, the way that the craft of blogging has changed, and how I have changed.

I really began my blog with three main purposes in mind. I wanted to develop my skill as a writer. I also wanted to have a place to store "fleeting thoughts" and quotes before they escaped my mind forever. Finally, I also wanted to have a place to vent. I was in a place where I was professionally isolated and spiritually beat down by mistreatment within the congregation I served. I needed a safe place to write about what I was feeling and thinking.

Writing a blog was very effective for these purposes. I was able to resource myself with thoughts and reflections that I could work into sermons. And for a time, I could sense I was becoming a more skilled writer.

In addition to these goals, I soon discovered that blogging was an early form of social networking. Before Myspace and Facebook had taken hold, those of us in the blogging world would seek out blogs that we thought were intriguing and follow them. Often, these blogs were written by people that we had not met before we started blogging. As the blogs developed readerships, some of the "subscribers" became acquaintences and friends.

Another similar benefit of blogging in those early days of blogging was professional networking. I was able to have formal and informal conversations with ministry leaders. At that time I was able to build some relationships with youth ministry leaders and those in the emergent church conversation.

As the blog developed, I began to share more of my personal life. For many, this was a chance to get to know me better. For some, my honesty was somewhat offensive. I managed at one time or another to offend friends and relatives, Republicans and Democrats, homeschoolers and minor Christian celebrities. Sometimes this ability to offend others complicated things in my life. I missed a work opportunity because of my transparency on this blog for instance. Other times it was helpful, because sometimes people would hear my voice on my blog when they would otherwise dismiss my voice when I spoke verbally and directly.

Eventually, the readership in this blog began to change. Those that used blogging primarily for social networking drifted to Myspace, and eventually Facebook. My blog, which used to have an international and diverse readership saw its readership shrink.

I have increased my readership a little in the last few years. Part of the way I have done this is to link my blog with twitter and facebook. Thing brings in many yet unreached casual visitors, but the blog does not have as many "subscribers" as before, and most of the readers of my blog are friends from other settings.

Unfortunately for me, because of the kind of readership I have now, and the ways that this blog has developed, the blog has become more public and less transparent. I say unfortunately because I grieve the opportunity to have a place where I can be as honest and raw and open as I had before with this blog.

I think part of this is that my personal life is much less open for public consumption because it is my family life.

I wonder if part of this is because I am a less reflective person than I was when this blog started.

These days, most of my blog posts center around ministry related writings, parenting experiences, and book reviews. Which is not all bad.

My blog posts have become less frequent, and less passionate. However, I think I will continue blogging, so that I can continue, at some point, to work on the goals I started with in this blog, and to watch my thoughts and life developed.

Sermon: First Sunday of Advent 2010

It does not seem, to me, like it should be Advent already. Didn’t we just begin the season of fall a couple of weeks ago? I think part of the confusion of my internal clock in relation to Advent might also have to do with Daylight Savings Time being moved back until November in recent years. It seemed by this time of year, with Black Friday and Thanksgiving behind us and Christmas ahead, that there would not be so much light.

It is strange for me, even though I have lived in Colorado for a number of years, to think about Advent starting this week when just a couple of weeks ago it was 70 degrees, and everything was still bright and cheery. Jennifer and I both grew up in more northern climates, and near larger bodies of water. Which meant that often by this time of year it was even darker, because it was further north, and it was also much greyer when the sun came up. Advent candles and Christmas carols went with big warm sweaters and hot cider, and rain drizzles or snow in the air.
Advent and Christmas have many symbols. Trees with ornaments. Wreaths. Gifts. Candy canes. Stables and babies wrapped in swaddling clothes.
But perhaps most prominent in the time of Advent is the presence of small flourishes of light in dark places. Lights on a Christmas tree and strung around a home. Stars shining to guide men to a room full of animals and a new born baby. Even the advent candles that we light ourselves. Each remind us, through the cycle of the seasons and the symbols that we choose, that God is at work when the air is cold, the trees are dormant, the lawn is brown, and natural light seems to be waning.

Advent reminds us that during dark times, light is present among us. It is coming soon again. Advent reminds us that God’s grace and truth are like a light in the darkness. Advent hat Jesus is invading our frightening, frigid and dark world with the light of his truth, and the hope of his presence. Advent reminds us to prepare for this coming light of hope, and to equip ourselves to share it with others.
So this year, we are looking at Advent and Christmas through the eyes of the gospel of John, who illumines us to the truth of Christ as Creator, Light of World, Gatherer of a New Kind of Family, and as one who dwells among us.

We will be repeating the text of John 1 often, in different ways, hoping that like light and truth it makes its way through the blinders we have put around our heart, and helps us to know, see, and understand Jesus anew again. And hoping that you sense the light of Christ more and more this holiday season, instead of just the neon lights advertizing sales, and the noise and business that calls us from one activity to another. Let’s read the first few verses we will focus on this morning

1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was in the beginning with God. 3 All things were made through Him, and without Him nothing was made that was made.

In the beginning.

That is how the gospel of John starts: In the beginning.

Each gospel tells the story a little differently, the story of how Jesus came into the world. Matthew tells about who Jesus was related to. Matthew tells the lineage of a promised king. Jesus is the answer to the promise and hope for the Messiah that the Hebrews had been longing for and praying for.

Luke locates Jesus in a certain place and at a certain time. Jesus comes to the City of David, at the time of a census, during the reign of Caesar Augustus in a manger, nearby where shepherds graze their flocks. Luke is a very good historian. He wants to get the facts nailed down. He does not want anyone to mistake Jesus as some sort of mythical person.

Each of these ways of approaching how Jesus came to earth are factual. They are just telling us who Jesus is from a different perspective.

When John introduces us to Jesus, he does not want us to forget the big picture. John wants us to see cosmic, universal, global picture of who Jesus is and what he is about. He wants us to remember that Jesus in not just fully human, he is both fully human and fully God. He is God in human form. At the end of his gospel, John tells us that he wrote his gospel so that “you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name (John 20:31)

In the beginning.

These first words are shared by the book of Genesis, which begins all of Scripture, and the book of John, which tells us about Jesus.

In the beginning, John says. “In the beginning was the Word.”

From the start, John says, from the start of creation, Jesus was there. When the universe was formless and void, the Word was present. As the world was being born, Jesus was there. As the mountains were being carved out, Jesus was there. As the night and day were created, Jesus was there. When the first cat meowed, Jesus was there. When the first flowers sprouted from the ground, Jesus was there.

In the beginning, John says, “In the beginning was the Word. And the Word was with God”.

Interesting way of describing Jesus that John uses, this moniker, “the Word”.

It has several layers of meaning. When God creates the world, he speaks it into existence. When God wants to make something out of nothing, he uses a Word.

When John calls Jesus the Word, he is saying that all the power that created the world is present in his person. He is also saying something bigger. When John calls Jesus “the Word” he is doing the same kind of work as he was doing in creation. By showing up personally, in our flesh and blood world, he is continuing to create and recreate our lost and rebellious world.

When the Hebrews talked of the Law of God, they spoke of it as “The Word of God”
When the prophets shared what God had inspired them to say, they declared, “Hear the Word of God”And when the writers of Proverbs spoke of the way of wisdom and the way of folly, they spoke of wisdom as a person. A Living Word with flesh and bones.

So when we hear that Jesus is the Word we are hearing that when we see and hear Jesus, we are hearing the truth of God as set from the foundation of the world. Jesus’ words are God’s words. If we want to see what God is like, we can look at the person of Jesus. Jesus is the expression of who God is in a way that we can see and understand.

Pagan philosophers also used the word for “word” found in the gospel of John. The Greek word for word was “logos”. And for many Greeks, there was this idea that if they just found the right word, the right insight or idea, than all of creation and all of life would make sense to them, and everything would come together. John turns this idea on its head. He compels people not to look for some grand philosophy to guide their life, some amazing insight, some book like “the Secret” to have everything make sense. Because the “logos”, the word of insight that helps everything makes sense, was not a philosophy or an idea. It was a person.

So when John says Jesus is the Word, he is saying that all of creation was about Jesus and leading toward him coming in human form. And that when he came he came as the pure expression of who God is and what he says. When Jesus came he came as the one who was there from the beginning, and who makes sense of everything that has come before and come since. Everything comes together in this Word, who is the very person of Jesus.
In the beginning. John says. In the beginning was the word. And the Word was with God. And the Word was God.

You need to pay attention. Jesus was God. Jesus was not simply a great teacher. He was not just a moral example for us to follow. He was God.

Some people, like Jehovah’s Witnesses, try to say Jesus was “a god” with a little g. Jesus was not a God. He was THE God in human form. Or, as one lesson I heard put it, “Jesus was God in a bod”.

Some people, such as those in the Mormon church, teach that Jesus and Satan were brothers. They believe that we can all, if we are good enough, become Gods in the sense that Jesus is God, eventually being Lord over our own world and our own planet.

This says that Jesus was there in the beginning. That nothing was made without him. And that even the angels were made through Him. There is only one person that was God in human form, and that is Jesus. We will never become Gods. We were not there in the beginning. We are not the Word that spoke the world into existence. We are simply the creation Jesus came to save.

Some people, like many New Agers or Eastern Mystics, will say that Jesus is one of many gods that can be worshipped. That many spiritual leaders have divine insights. The Bible says that Jesus is THE WORD. Not a WORD. The Word.

Jesus is God. He is the final authority, because he is the author of everything that is. And when the fullness of time came Jesus took on human form and dwelt among us.

But what does this mean and why does it matter?

Well, it means everything to us and it matters more than everything.

We may think we are just this glob of cells and goo that somehow have sprouted up and made its way to this place.

This passage tells us that we were created. This passage tells us that we were created by this God who did not just make the world and take his hands off the wheel. We were created by a God who has spoken to us and continues to speak to us. A God who created us while we were in our mother’s womb, and who continues to create and speak to us even now.

We were created by a God who has a plan and a purpose in this world. We are created by a God who speaks, and keeps speaking to us. We may plug our ears. We may only be willing to hear what we want to hear. But God has spoke and continues to speak to us through creation, through the world around us. But most of all, God speaks to us through THE WORD. The person of Jesus.

The WORD who made everything in existence wants to speak to your heart. He wants to speak his truth into your situation. The WORD who created everything wants to create in you a new heart, and wants to make a new reality out of the tattered fragments of your life. He wants to speak new hope into those situations you find hopeless, and new life into those parts of your life that feel dead and broken.

He made the rivers and the trees, the mountains and the canyons. I hope you will let him make your life something even more beautiful.



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