Thursday, December 31, 2009

Beyond Christmas (Section 6d of the Nameless Luke Advent Thingee)

Home Alone

Happy New Year! I know I’m a little early, but I’ll be a little late if you check out the blog tomorrow.

I can’t believe we’ve made it through an entire month, working through the first two chapters of Luke. I hope it has helped keep you in the season of Advent, anticipating the revelation of God’s great love as He stoops to communicate to us in a way we understand – through the life of a man who was born as a baby in Bethlehem.

I was going to show my kids the movie Home Alone this year, but it was checked out at Blockbuster. Our passage today, oddly enough, relates a bit to home alone, but in an unexpected way. The passage begins with a faithful family (we’ve been through that) that travels each year to the temple. (Are you seeing how this is developing?) Read the rest of Luke 2 and see if you notice the twist.

Read Luke 2.41-52

Did you get it? Jesus wasn’t “home alone” in Nazareth when his family went on their journey. He was “home” in the Temple with His Heavenly Father. His residence was in Nazareth, but His home was with God.

This passage aligns Jesus with God the Father and starts to establish His identity as Messiah and preparing for Him to break on the scene ready for ministry.

Alignment with God. That’s an interesting thing to think about as we look forward to 2010. Some people are dismissive of resolutions and goals. I do them some years and not others, but nobody can dispute the need for some self-evaluation, or at least some Spirit-guided personal reflection on how well one is aligned with God.

Where are you with God? Where are you out of alignment? The last verse of this passage gives some potential areas where you may be out of alignment with God.

Jesus grew in wisdom. The mind is a vital battlefield when it comes to living the life God desires for you. Are you committed to an active life of the mind?

Jesus grew in stature. He was a growing boy, but God gave you a body to take care of. How are you doing? I need some work on this one, personally.

Jesus grew in favor with God. Are you aligned with God in the sense that you are pursuing relationship with Him? Seeking to be His friend? The first commandment is to love God with everything you’ve got.

The second commandment is like it. Jesus grew in favor with man. He grew socially. God created us to love our neighbors.

God has created you as a whole person. Mental. Physical. Spiritual. Social. Where do you need to better align with God in one or more of these areas in 2010?

May God bless you as you pursue Him in 2010. Happy New Year!

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Beyond Christmas (Section 6c of the Nameless Luke Advent Thingee)

You’re Not the Only Righteous One

The title may scare you. You may think you’re not righteous. That’s possible, even likely, but one of the fears about following God faithfully and passionately and without reserve is that you feel like you’re alone. Yesterday we looked at how Mary and Joseph were a righteous couple. They must have felt so alone. They were still bearing a huge weight. Few would believe their story and they’ve only received the encouragement of anonymous shepherds. But as they’ve walked in righteousness, as they’ve followed what God has called them to do, they encounter the fellowship of other faithful pilgrims.

Read Luke 2.25-40

What an amazing encouragement for Mary and Joseph! Who are the people in your lives that have been a great encouragement to you in your faith? Take some time over the next couple days to thank them for their investment in your life.

On the flip side, who are you investing in? Pray for God to direct you to, or bring someone in your life, who you can invest in. God has used examples in your own life. It might be time for you to step up and be one yourself.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Beyond Christmas (Section 6b of the Nameless Luke Advent Thingee)

A Commitment to Righteousness

Sometimes I don’t finish well. For example, I don’t feel like writing this post today. I’m sensing a great accomplishment coming on. Posting for a full month consecutively on the blog. But it wouldn’t take much for me to blow it off. I don’t know who’s reading this, but I know there aren’t many. I’m a bit ADD so I’d happily move past Christmas now and not worry about this any longer.

Mary and Joseph have done the heavy lifting here. They’ve borne the shame in Nazareth. They’ve processed their confusion with angelic intervention. Mary has given birth to Messiah. Joseph has stood by and will take the role of parenting this child that is not his own.

We might excuse them if they cut some corners. They don’t. Check it out.

Read Luke 2.21-24

What’s this all about? It was time for circumcision. So they did it. It was time for purification. So they did it. As righteous people, they fulfilled the expectations God put upon them through the Law.

Think of the excuses they may have had to cut corners. They’re poor (they gave two birds instead of a lamb). Marry got a pass on being an unwed mother and Joseph received a divine permission slip via an angel to excuse Mary. In short, they’ve had unmatched spiritual experiences. They’ve also suffered. Remember the looks Mary would have received? Joseph would be thought weak for not divorcing her – or it would be assumed he really was the father. They paid their dues. None of us would blame them for taking an easy way out.

But that’s not what they’re made of. They are committed to righteousness. They’re going to set a great example for their Messiah-Child.

It’s important to focus on Jesus during this time of year, but we shouldn’t forget the examples of those who are around Him. Mary and Joseph are committed to righteousness. Righteousness sometimes has bad connotations: legalism, boredom, dour faces. But it seems like it is something different in their lives. I might be reading too much into it, but there seems to be an eager overflow of grace in their lives.

They’ve been taken on quite a ride. When you experience God and walk faithfully, the response isn’t to cut corners. It’s to move in ways that please God.

As you’ve sought to experience God during this Advent season, how has it affected your righteousness? Are you more inclined to keep following Him closely into the New Year? What will that look like? If you’re not inclined to follow Him, what are the things that are holding you back?

Monday, December 28, 2009

Beyond Christmas (Section 6a of the Nameless Luke Advent Thingee)

Surveying the Scene

This is it, the home stretch. Jesus has been born, but there’s more to the story. Don’t worry. We aren’t going through the whole gospel, but there are several more passages on the reception of the baby Jesus by faithful men and women. We’re going to look at their expectation and how we can look ahead to 2010 as we follow in their footsteps. For now, survey the passage we’re going to look at and jot any pertinent notes or questions.

Read Luke 2.21-52

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Sunday Services

Just like the last couple weeks, spend today thinking about how your pastor’s Sunday message can apply to your life. If you’re not at a church, below is our church’s link (Cypress Church) and Imago Dei Community in Portland (one of the churches that spearheaded the Advent Conspiracy).

Cypress Church

Imago Dei Community

If you’re not in a church, consider giving one a try this New Year, asking God to show Himself to you and how you can contribute to a local church family.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Messiah Arrives (Section 5d of the Nameless Luke Advent Thingee)

Lingering Worship

People don’t necessarily think much of shepherds. We’ve covered that much. But these shepherds are models for all of us. They encounter the angelic host and are moved by the message. We can easily be ‘moved’ without actually moving. The shepherds were moved to action. From the testimony of others (the angels), they were moved to see this baby and testify of the things they’ve heard. As you read, take note of what happened after they encountered Mary and Joseph.

Read Luke 2.15-20

Did you notice that? Their story was compelling. Imagine Mary’s bewilderment. It has been a fantastic promise coming to fruition, but could it really be true? Might she be confused? Her faith has been resolute so we don’t want to assume the worst, but if there was any wavering, the testimony of these unlikely heralds, shepherds, would calm those fears. It gave her wonderful images to ponder in her heart.

But there’s more. I love the rest of the shepherds’ story. There isn’t much to it, but it is a story that lingers, that carries on. They encounter Jesus in the manger. They tell Mary the story. And they can’t stop. They’re changed. They continue to worship and delight in what they’ve experienced.

It’s the day after Christmas. There are probably sales to get to and errands to run. I understand things need to get done, but don’t forget to keep an attitude of worship. Christmas is a time to re-focus, but it isn’t a time to re-focus and then forget. It’s a time to re-focus and stay as focused as we can to live like Jesus, to incarnate God’s presence into the lives of those we touch. Don’t forget to worship Jesus today – and stay focused on doing it throughout the New Year, too.

This series of blog posts will go through January 1. I hope it helps you dwell in the Advent season and move into the new year with that same awareness of God’s presence in your life as you take His presence to others.

Friday, December 25, 2009

Messiah Arrives (Section 5c of the Nameless Luke Advent Thingee)

Angels Sing ‘Happy Birthday!’

Kinda. OK, not at all. But they do announce that Jesus, the Messiah has been born in Israel.

Read Luke 2.8-14

Much is made of the shepherds. Some talk about how lowly and despised they are. Others say it was a moderately honorable job – even if not lucrative. The Lord is our shepherd in Psalm 23. So it wasn’t a totally scandalous vocation. Either way, they’re probably neutral at best. Maybe neutral isn’t the word I’m looking for. It might be better to say they aren’t movers and shakers. They aren’t difference-makers. They are largely anonymous.

And yet God sends the angel to them. What about Quirinus or Caesar Augustus (Luke 2.1-2)? No angels sent there.

We’re celebrating the coming of the King, Messiah Jesus. If anyone should want to make a splash before important people, it would be God Incarnate, right? He needs some credibility.

No. That’s how we do it. We look forward to a Christmas event with dignitaries – tree lightings or parades. There’s something dignifying about having important people around.

I guess God doesn’t need dignifying. He goes for the guys on the hillside watching sheep, not rulers of nations. I think that’s beautiful. It gives me hope. He isn’t interested in engaging and blessing and calling the most talented around. I still have hope!

He opens the door to the humble, those who want to worship Him. Delight in the reality that God loves you as you are and is calling you to worship Him this Christmas season.

This story reminds us that the door to God has been swung open wide by Jesus’ arrival on the scene and work at the cross. All are welcome to walk through.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Messiah Arrives (Section 5b of the Nameless Luke Advent Thingee)

Happy Birthday, Jesus!

It’s still a day away on the calendar, but I got it pretty close, didn’t I? We celebrate tomorrow, but I hope the birth of Jesus in our text today gets you in the mood to celebrate like shepherds tomorrow. This has been a month of preparation and our passage today reveals more preparation. God’s entrance into human history isn’t without some foundations being laid in the hearts of men. Let’s look at today’s text.

Read Luke 2.1-7

Did you see everything going into this? Rulers are ruling. Subjects are traveling. Lots of human activity. Secular history. All of this political, earthly, secular stuff is happening at this most religious of seasons. What’s going on? Maybe there’s no such thing as secular history. Maybe God is at work in these rulers and kings and census counters and men and women traveling to their home city. Maybe God is sovereign after all and the hearts of kings are turned by the Almighty God.

He’s big enough. Strong enough. Wise enough. But then we walk into the paradox. If He’s big enough to direct traffic so wonderfully and subtly, why does He make His Son’s entrance so grimy and unspectacular?

History is coming together for this perfect time. God has worked it out. And when it’s time for the grand entrance … A baby is born. In a manger. In an obscure town.

As Christmas is upon us, let this odd paradox settle in your mind. Remember that there’s a God too big to figure out and yet willing to make Himself small, to become a person to show us how great His love is for us. He sent His Son.
Don’t forget to celebrate Jesus, God with us tonight and tomorrow.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Messiah Arrives (Section 5a of the Nameless Luke Advent Thingee)

Surveying the Scene

You may still have shopping to do. You still may be running crazy. I hope you get it all done, but don’t forget Jesus in the rush. Most missed Him in Bethlehem. Don’t miss Him. We’ve spend three weeks now getting ready to meet Him, getting ready to enter the event. It feels like there’s been detours and times wondering if we’d ever get here. I know I wondered it more than once. We’re here.

We’ll spend the next few days on the Christmas story. Slow down and read it now, asking God what He wants to jump out at you this year.

Read Luke 2.1-20

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

John's Birth (Section 4d of the Nameless Luke Advent Thingee)

God’s Provision: John

‘Tis the season of the Christmas lights and glitz and everything bright. It’s beautiful. I love the lights – within reason. At their most basic level they’re fun and bright and add to the seasonal excitement. At the most important level, they remind us that Jesus is the light of the world. God didn’t plug in lights to point people to Jesus 2000 years ago. He sent a herald, a forerunner. His name is John. His dad, Zechariah testifies to his purpose. Let’s finish Luke 1 today.

Read Luke 1.76-80

What an honor. He’ll be a prophet. He’ll point people to the One who saves. He points people to the amazing grace of God that brings peace. John has a unique role, a blessing like no other human person has experienced.

This is John the Baptist. We’re no John the Baptist. (I feel compelled to insert: “I know John the Baptist. John the Baptist is a friend of mine. You’re no John the Baptist.) Where was I? Oh, right. We’re no John the Baptist. He’s one of a kind.

But there are some ways we can be like him. We can point people to Jesus. We can point them to the God whose amazing grace can change everything, who can bring life.

This time of year, we can point them to the Baby in the manger who, like John, grew strong and, in time, bore the sin of the world upon His shoulders.

How might you show God’s love and amazing grace as Christmas approaches and, in so doing, point them to Jesus?

Monday, December 21, 2009

John's Birth (Section 4c of the Nameless Luke Advent Thingee)

God’s Ancient Promises

It’s Christmastime, but this passage has us looking ahead a little bit – to Easter. More specifically, the language in this passage is rich in allusions to God’s deliverance from Egypt, the Exodus. And it looks forward to a new kind of deliverance through the Messiah. Read it from Zechariah’s perspective of being in between two great events – the rich history of God’s deliverance that defines who you are as a people and the expectation that God will once again deliver through a Messiah.

Read Luke 1.67-75

There’s anticipation of what is upon them. The Messiah is coming. But it isn’t an anticipation without history. God promised it long ago. Read Isaiah 40 to get an idea of the promise and the hope. God was going to rescue them.

There’s one more point to highlight in this passage. (Actually, there are several, but we’re trying to keep this kinda short.) In v. 74 Zechariah is excited that they will be rescued to be enabled to serve without fear. That’s the same language as Exodus (“let us go so we may worship”). Worship and service overlap and they are the purposes of rescue. Not self-fulfillment, not getting to heaven someday. We’re called to serve and worship the God who rescues us.

In this season of celebrating the Baby born in Bethlehem, be sure to celebrate the purpose of His arrival. To save people from their sins. To make us free.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Sunday Services

Just like last week, spend today thinking about how your pastor’s Sunday message can apply to your life. If you’re not at a church, below is our church’s link (Cypress Church) and Imago Dei Community in Portland (one of the churches that spearheaded the Advent Conspiracy).

Cypress Church

Imago Dei Community

Saturday, December 19, 2009

John's Birth (Section 4b of the Nameless Luke Advent Thingee)

A Second Chance of Faith

I can’t believe how long Luke 1 is. Sometimes the passages seem awkward. They seem like a detour from the point. Let’s get to Jesus already! But there’s a point to this. There’s tension in the waiting. And the lessons for us are significant. As you read this next passage, take in the sights and sounds. Don’t just read the passage; hear it.

Read Luke 1.57-66

Did you hear it? There’s a buzz. Neighbors are talking and meddling – trying to name someone else’s kid. In fact, we hear in v. 64 that Zechariah’s tongue has been loosed. And he can’t get a word in until v. 67. There’s too much going on.

This is the season of buzz. I’m feeling the pressure. There’s still a couple more gifts to buy and then send off. There’s wondering about that ‘right gift’ for certain people. This is where the meaning of the season can get lost. We end up focusing on the buzz rather than focusing on Jesus the Messiah.

There’s a point to this passage, I think. Zechariah and Elizabeth are in the midst of this buzz and there’s an expectation that they would name the child in line with the cultural expectations – after dad or a grandfather. And they were feeling the heat.

They’re at a crossroad again. Will Zechariah seize this second chance of faith, or will he doubt again? No surprise. You’ve read it. He obeys God. He passes this second test. The name is John – just like God said. They stood against the pressure amid the buzz.

The general principle here is to stay true to what God is calling you to despite the cultural pressure. That’s a principle that one can apply anytime.

But it’s pretty pertinent right now. Today. The buzz of the Christmas/holiday season is intense. We may be tempted to cave to the cultural pressure to celebrate it with stuff and non-Christ-centered frivolity.

I’m not saying we shouldn’t have fun at Christmas, but stay clear. Stay focused. Don’t be distracted by the buzz. Cut through it and make sure you worship Jesus passionately this Christmas.

Friday, December 18, 2009

John's Birth (Section 4a of the Nameless Luke Advent Thingee)

Surveying the Scene

The realization of the promises are coming to pass. Zechariah learns to trust God. The tension is building. Messiah is coming. Go ahead and survey the scene we’ll cover over the next couple days. What does it teach us about God’s promises? About faith? About being faithful after you’ve been doubt-filled?

Read Luke 1.57-80

Thursday, December 17, 2009

The Annunciation and Magnificat (Section 3f of the Nameless Luke Advent Thingee)

The Underdog Song

It might be too crass to dub The Magnificat, the Underdog Song, but it seems to fit. Don’t get me wrong, Mary’s song is beautiful and poetic, but “The Magnificat” sounds so magnificent and majestic. And it is, but the content is unexpected.

Kings and queens are majestic. But God lifts the humble in this song. Royalty is magnificent, but rulers are brought down in this psalm of praise. I guess more than anything else, it highlights that God is the Magnificent One and He proves it by working through the weak, the weary, and the broken. It’s all over Luke – even in this beautiful song of rejoicing from Mary.

We can’t escape the reality that God loves the unlovable, the powerless, the weak. I think it’s because they are the closest to genuine humility – generally speaking. And God does His best work with the humble.

Read Mary’s Song and realize that this is a young girl, a teenager, who is giving up a lot of comfort in life and yet she still manages to praise God. She delights in God’s willingness to use the humble, to use her. Soak in the song. Read it a few times and ask God what He wants to teach you about worship and surrender and humility.

Read Luke 1.46-56

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

The Annunciation and Magnificat (Section 3e of the Nameless Luke Advent Thingee)

The Bonds of Motherhood

Read Luke 1.39-45

This passage always seems like an odd fit in the flow of the Jesus birth narrative. But when I pause and look at it and do a little studying, the reality of the narrative resurfaces. It’s so surreal a lot of the time – a virgin birth, angels, the silencing of Zechariah. But this is Relationships 101. Mary’s been given a great mission and a great weight. What should she do? Go to someone who is more mature for support. Not only more mature, but also dealing with something similar. She needs support, and does she ever get it!

John is fulfilling his role of pointing others to Jesus before either are born – talk about an overachiever. And Elizabeth interprets the reason for John’s movement. She’s a prophetess and proclaims again that God is on the move.

And her statement that Mary is blessed isn’t a statement without context. It is a powerful statement from the Book of Judges. Mary is equated with the anti-Mary, Jael. She drove a tent peg through the head of a king that warred against Israel. While that doesn’t seem like something Mary would do, they still have something in common. They’re both involved in the deliverance of Israel. Jael fought for Israel to deliver them; Mary will give birth to the Messiah, the ultimate deliverer.

The passage closes with Elizabeth honoring Mary’s faith. How can you live out your faith in a way that people notice? Giving yourself to the deliverance of others by sharing your faith and/or loving people in practical ways? Or maybe you need to be an Elizabeth, bearing the burdens of others by sharing how God has carried you through difficult times? (see 2 Corinthians 1.3-4)

How might God want to use you this Christmas season in light of this passage?

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

The Annunciation and Magnificat (Section 3d of the Nameless Luke Advent Thingee)

NOTE: I set the release time as PM instead of AM when I drafted this post. Sorry it wasn't up this morning. :(

A Simple Girl’s Faith

Read Luke 1.38

This verse is stunning. Its simplicity is unnerving. Powerful. Convicting.

Yesterday we looked at the cost Mary would pay for carrying the Messiah in her womb. At best she’d be looked at suspiciously; at worst killed for being an adulterer. Expected outcome: divorce and eventual destitution because no man would have her.

Now, the mission she’s given is breathtaking, to be sure. She will give birth to the Messiah, the Hope of Israel, the Hope of the World.

But let’s face it. She’s pretty special. She’s been selected for an opportunity above anyone else in all of human history. Good thing she wasn’t a negotiator. Maybe she would have requested some social standing – in her own time and place, not the respect she’s received since. Maybe she could ask for some financial comfort; instead, she’s the wife of a carpenter. At least a change of venue? Maybe God could relocate her to a town that didn’t know the story.

There are perhaps better requests she could have made … but she doesn’t. Her response is simple. Faith-full. Amazing.

“I am the Lord’s servant. May it be to me as you have said.”

She’s giving God a blank check with her life. We like that idea until it comes to actually doing it. Then it’s a bit less romantic. What keeps you from giving God that blank check, from making Mary’s statement your own?

Monday, December 14, 2009

The Annunciation and Magnificat (Section 3c of the Nameless Luke Advent Thingee)

Eternal Hope, Temporary Pain

A couple days ago we counted Mary’s blessings, reviewed what a tremendous honor God had given Mary. But there’s a dark side to this blessing. Pain. Not just the pain of childbearing, but the pain of shame. I know there’s been significant scientific advancement in the last 2000 years, but people still knew how babies were made in the ancient world. And it wasn’t through the agency of the Holy Spirit.

Read Luke 1.34-37

There’s a painful side of Christmas that doesn’t make it on the commercials or in the ads. Missing loved ones who have died, estranged relationships. Mary has some questions. She doesn’t doubt it can happen (unlike Zechariah); she is unsure about how it will happen.

It turns out that it will happen through a virgin birth. When you think of pain and hardship during the holidays, think of Mary as she began to show that she was with child. She would be considered and adulterer (she was betrothed to Joseph). He would have been expected to divorce her, which he almost did (see Matthew 1). She would have been marginalized in a small community as an unchaste woman. She would have brought shame on her betrothed and her family. The angel’s message was a high honor, but it also came at a high cost. This would not be easy for Mary.

As we are in the midst of the holiday season, what kind of pain are you bearing? Think about the pain from your past. How has God used that pain to bring blessing? Mary surely felt the sting of rejection by her culture and the weight of others’ opinions, but the blessing outweighed the pain. Is there anywhere you can see this in your own life?

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Sunday Services

Just like last week, spend today thinking about how your pastor’s Sunday message can apply to your life. If you’re not at a church, below is our church’s link (Cypress Church) and Imago Dei Community in Portland (one of the churches that spearheaded the Advent Conspiracy). I preached in our church today, but I don’t think the audio will be up for a couple days.

Cypress Church

Imago Dei Community

Saturday, December 12, 2009

The Annunciation and Magnificat (Section 3b of the Nameless Luke Advent Thingee)

A Wonderful Life

When you go to a greeting card store, it isn’t uncommon to see some stationery with a naked, chubby baby with wings sprouting out of their backs. Angels. Apart from the freakish nature of having wings growing out of someone’s back, they don’t elicit much awe. They’re cute. Cuddly. In today’s passage, Gabriel announces to Mary that she’ll give birth to the Messiah. She doesn’t say, “Aaaawww, how cute!” when she sees the angel. She’s afraid. God’s messengers are powerful and often say, immediately after their arrival, “Do not fear.” Today’s no exception.

Read 1.26-33

What a message! What a promise! Mary will give birth to Messiah, the Hope of Israel! The angel enumerates some general, but wonderful, blessings in Mary’s life. She has found favor. She will have a son – it is a great cultural blessing to have a son. This son will be great, bringing great honor on the family. He will be called God’s own Son! He will be a king that restores the glory of the Davidic Kingdom. Her life is flooded with blessing. Beyond these, she has a wonderful man to whom she is betrothed to be married.

On Monday we’ll see that there’s a dark side to blessings, but for now it is enough to think about God’s favor on Mary’s life. What about you? How has God blessed you? We’ll think about the challenges of blessings soon enough, but what are the promises ahead and the promises you’ve experienced that reveal the ways God has given you a wonderful life.

Friday, December 11, 2009

The Annunciation and Magnificat (Section 3a of the Nameless Luke Advent Thingee)

Surveying the Scene

God is on the move. We’ve seen that the unexpected is to be expected. It moves even the most faithful people to wonder how it could be. What we’ve heard so far is just beginning. Grander things are afoot, if you can believe it. We’ll spend the next few days looking at what happens when Mary hears she’ll give birth to Messiah. Again, let’s survey the scene and jot any notes that catch your attention after one walk through.

Luke 1.26-56

Thursday, December 10, 2009

The Silence is Broken (Section 2d of the Nameless Luke Advent Thingee)

Priestly "Faith," God's Grace

The promise has been laid out. John is going to be a great man who will prepare the way for Messiah … and Zechariah has the honor of being his father – even in his old age! Surely a godly man would jump at such an opportunity, this golden ‘temple moment.’

Read Luke 1.18-25

Maybe it’s unfair to say Zechariah didn’t jump at the opportunity, but there’s obviously some doubt. It’s clear that position (being a priest) doesn’t hold the corner on being filled with faith – a point that will be emphasized when Mary’s angelic encounter serves as a contrast.

Nonetheless, he gets the sign he asks for. He can’t speak. It probably isn’t funny for Zechariah, and it probably wasn’t humorous in that culture, but it strikes me as pretty funny today. He asked for a sign from a lack of faith (I’m not assuming I’d do better, by the way!) and he gets it – it’s a sign of gentle rebuke, however, instead of handwriting on the wall or something outstanding. That makes me smile.

One of the possible reasons the rebuke of silence was given was so the message of John’s birth, and of the coming Messiah, would not get out too soon. Jesus often attempted to restrain those He had healed from talking so this is a possibility.

The story turns from being difficult for Zechariah and Elizabeth to beautiful, however. She becomes pregnant. Her cultural shame has lifted. And most importantly, God is at work.

I don’t know that we can blame Zechariah, but we can learn from him. He was caught off-guard when God stepped in and revealed His plan. He didn’t know how to respond. Maybe that’s not right. He knew how to respond; he just didn’t think it possible.

Where’s your faith? How will you respond if God comes in with a change of plans that seems impossible? Will you trust Him or will doubt lead to a missed opportunity? Are you in the middle of a ‘temple moment’? How will you respond?

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

The Silence is Broken (Section 2c of the Nameless Luke Advent Thingee)

The Promise

I don’t know what you imagine angels to be like, but if you imagine they’re the chubby little babies that you see on stationery, you’re wrong. You don’t want to pinch the cheeks of an angel when you encounter them. You want to die a quick, painless death – or worship them. Neither is acceptable.

Zechariah encounters an angel while offering sacrifice and receives a wonderful promise.

Read Luke 1.11-17.

Imagine hearing that promise. Imagine the joy! And it won’t be just joy for John, but for many people. John’s personal happiness is in view here, but the promises also communicate something important to all people.

God is on the move. God is at work in a special way – like He was in the time of Elijah. God’s people are going to flourish in all of this and his son is going to be in the middle of it. (Can you see John swelling with pride? I think I can.)

John actually plays a vital role of liking the OT prophets to the message of Jesus. He is a transitional player in the story of God’s salvation. God is at work and John gets to be part of it.

God has invited each of us to be part of His work. Perhaps none of us are as pivotal to the whole story as John, but God is calling us to be transitional players in the lives of those He is calling all around us.

What can you do this Christmas to point to Jesus – just like John was born to do?

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

The Silence is Broken (Section 2b of the Nameless Luke Advent Thingee)

Blessings & Curses

Even in the land of the sit-com, context matters. While we specialize in raising issues and resolving them 30 minutes at a time (commercials included!), context makes the experience of the story more meaningful. Even if you can ‘get’ an episode of a show you’ve never seen before, there’s more meaning/humor/enjoyment when you know the characters and get the inside or running jokes.

Luke gets context, too. It seems almost odd that the story of Jesus begins with John’s birth, but look at John’s family. Let’s just take a portion of the text for today.

Read Luke 1.5-10

They are a picture of OT righteousness. Zecharaiah was a priest – and his wife was from the priestly line. They didn’t just have a good family, though. Their faith was real. They were righteous Jews. They lived out their covenant obligations. What’s the point? The Jesus story is not some unhinged event that happened in Israel apart from their vocation as God’s people. The Jesus story grows out of, and is the next step in, the story of God’s people Israel. This isn’t a random way for Luke to begin. It is giving us context. Jesus comes from faithful Jewish roots – as does His forerunner, John.

Zechariah and Elizabeth are the picture of the faithful being blessed. They surely have honor in their community. They are used of God. In fact, Zecharaiah was offering sacrifice during the evening prayers. This was the high point of his priestly career. The honor he was granted to do this would only happen once in a person’s lifetime. They were blessed, indeed.

But not all is perfect. Elizabeth can’t have a baby. Some would consider her cursed. It is likely she was still respected in the community because of their religious standing, but this would certainly hang like a cloud over them. As righteous and faithful and blessed as they were, not all was perfect.

What about you?

In the busyness of the season it is easy to forget how much you’ve been blessed. Take some time to list some specific blessings. I have a sheet of paper I list them on … and add to it periodically. I try to pray through that list and be thankful for everything from my wife and family to banana Slurpees. I need to try harder and pray through them more regularly.

But this passage isn’t all about blessings. There’s a cloud over Christmas for some. It may be a lonely season for some, a painful reminder of loss or alienation. Take some time to wrestle with that as well. Ask God how He wants you to work through whatever this dark side of Christmas might mean for you.

The beauty of this passage, and what might frustrate some of us, is the reality that Zechariah and Elizabeth are like a handful of OT characters. An older woman who shouldn’t be having babies is set up for the miraculous to happen.

Faithfulness and struggle seem to be a convergence zone for something wonderful to happen. (That sounds like it should have something to do with weather. Completely incidental if it does.) I don’t know what it will look like. It might only be a life of faithful struggle to the end, but I encourage you to keep faithful – even as you struggle – and see what God might do in that convergence zone in your life.

Monday, December 7, 2009

The Silence is Broken (Section 2a of the Nameless Luke Advent Thingee)

Surveying the Scene

The last book in the Hebrew Scriptures is Malachi … or 2 Chronicles, depending on which version you’re using. Either way, it’s been centuries since God has spoken. But He’s on the move again. As we spend a few days looking at the announcement of John the Baptist’s birth, we’re going to see that God likes doing the unexpected. We’ll break it up as we go through this passage, but today’s assignment is small. Read Luke 1.5-25 and then think about how God likes to work in unexpected ways.

Read Luke 1.5-25.

How has God worked unexpectedly in your life? What difference has it made?

Sunday, December 6, 2009

I lied!

Just kidding about getting started today with the Advent story today. Actually, I’m only working a day or two ahead so I didn’t have everything mapped out yesterday. It will work best for the timing of our passages … and our limited ability to focus … to skip posts on Sundays so you can think on what your pastor shared. If you don’t go to a church, check out one of these links and let their Advent messages help prepare you for the season.

Cypress Church (Cypress, CA) - that's my church.

Imago Dei Community (Portland, OR)

And there are plenty more good ones, but I'm getting sleepy. Just being transparent :)

Saturday, December 5, 2009

The Testimony to Incarnation (Section 1d of the Nameless Luke Advent Thingee)


Read Luke 1.1-4

Don’t worry. This is our last introductory/context-setting/broad stroke post. We’ll get to the storyline next.

A few years ago I was reading a journal article on how prayer is a key feature of all the turning points in Luke’s gospel. I thought it was an interesting article, but in my general exposure to the gospels at the time, I honestly thought it was a scholar trying to make too much of a pet theme. I saw the point, but didn’t buy the emphasis.

Maybe it’s the holidays getting to me, but I’m in the mood to buy it now. Our small group is going through Luke – I think I’ve mentioned that – and prayer really does subtly connect to key points along the narrative. I pulled that article off the shelf and I need to give it another look because I think I might be sold.

In some ways this doesn’t have direct bearing on the Advent story. It isn’t rich with prayer, but there’s a lot of communicating between heaven and earth. Angels are doing a lot of work in Luke 1-2, but as we think about prayer we realize it is a divine encounter.

We have this amazing privilege in prayer to be part of heaven and earth meeting as we communicate with God in prayer. It sounds beautiful. For some people it is a beautiful and rich experience. Others know it is important, but it is also work. Prayer is labor for some.

I wish I was one for whom prayer came easy. I’m not. It’s labor for me. I’m not always consistent. It sometimes feels like I’m talking to the ceiling – or floor. And yet it isn’t about my feelings. It is about talking with God - and listenting, too.

This Advent season is a reminder that God sent His Son to connect with earth. But we have the opportunity all the time to connect to heaven in prayer.

Don’t let this season go by without spending some good time praying – prayers of thanksgiving for God sending His Son, prayers of gratitude for our abundance, prayers of healing for the pain the holidays bring. Whatever you need, God wants to hear from you.

Don’t forget to give presence to God in prayer this Christmas. He wants to hear from you.

Tomorrow … the story begins!

Friday, December 4, 2009

The Testimony to Incarnation (Section 1c of the Nameless Luke Advent Thingee)

The Margins

Read Luke 1.1-4

Yesterday we looked at “…the things that have been accomplished among us” and the gospel – Jesus saving us from the judgment due us. We can’t escape the reality of judgment. It is biblical and important.

But it shouldn’t be our entire motivation for embracing Jesus, either. He didn’t come to scare us into heaven; He came to bring us life and usher us into a new way of living. This is our last introductory look before we get to the texts leading to Jesus’ birth, but it is an important ‘big picture’ item that may not surface prominently in the first couple chapters of Luke. It is, however, an important theme in Luke that touches the hearts of people all over the world during the Christmas season.

God cares for the people on the margins. Bringing people from the edges of society to the center of God’s people is one of “…the things that have been accomplished among us.”

As I’ve read Jesus’ miracles through the years, I’ve been amazed at His power and pointed to His deity. Only God could do such amazing things. But if you think about it, that’s not true. The Bible has examples of people who do almost anything Jesus does – from a bottomless supply of food to raising the dead to healing leprosy.

There’s something more than power at work in Jesus miracles. Don’t get me wrong, power is important, but there’s compassion in them. That leper doesn’t just have a skin disease. He’s cut off from the people of God. He can’t worship at the Temple. But when Jesus heals him, he’s brought from the margins into the mainstream. He’s moved from unclean to clean.

Or that woman. The one who has been bleeding for years. She’s unclean. She can’t touch anyone else – or she’ll make them unclean. She can’t worship in the temple. She’s unclean. But Jesus heals her. Not only is her body made whole, but she is been given new life socially and spiritually. She can hug and be hugged without making others unqualified to worship. She can worship herself at God’s House. For the first time in years.

As we work through these first couple chapters of Luke (coming soon, I promise), it may not be as prominent as it is in the rest of the book, but Luke is known as the gospel most concerned with people on the margins.

Christmas is a time when we think of those on the margins. It is when our hearts hurt for those who can’t afford Christmas gifts – or even a warm meal. I’ve heard (don’t quote me!) that this is a great time for donations to ministries to those in need, but shortly after the holidays donations drop off. People are moved to alleviate need during this season.

If you read Luke and see Jesus’ desire to relieve pain – not just financial, but social and spiritual and physical – you see that this desire to help and heal is something God desires from each of us. How appropriate that, when we celebrate Jesus’ arrival to our world, we act more like He did. Helping the hurting, the needy, the broken.

What are you doing this season to bring hope to those who are hurting?

Thursday, December 3, 2009

The Testimony to Incarnation (Section 1b of the Nameless Luke Advent Thingee)

The Larger Story

Read Luke 1.1-4

“…the things that have been accomplished among us” sounds simple enough. It could be as simple as a checked-off To-Do List. Groceries. Check. Bank. Check. Take out the trash. Check. Things accomplished.

I don’t want to kill the momentum of the Advent season by making our eternal dwelling the first four verses of Luke’s gospel. At the same time, we want some context for the stories on the horizon. As we see the detailed brush strokes of Jesus’ arrival, we have to remember there are limits to the canvas. It is a story within a grander story.

Some of these elements will come out as we look at each passage, but over the next couple days I want to hit some big picture features we don’t want to overlook.

As I mentioned, Jesus’ arrival is a story within a story. God had promised a Messiah. This Messiah would save His people. Not just Israel, but He would make a way for the nations to worship God.

This might sound contradictory to what I said a couple days ago, but the culmination of the gospel story is Good Friday and Easter. Advent is the beginning that makes it possible. But Advent isn’t a preliminary. It is essential.

Mankind is broken. We don’t work the way we’re intended to work. You can’t fix yourself when you’re broken, either. We’re in trouble. It isn’t that we’re just stuck as broken that puts us in trouble. Our brokenness is actually rebellion. We want to live for ourselves, fix ourselves, save ourselves instead of finding healing in worshiping God, our Creator. We want to be self-sufficient – or at least choose and/or make our own Saviors. In a word, we’re rebels.

God would have every right (it’s odd to type something as obvious as the Creator having rights) to write us off. But He doesn’t. There are two reasons. First, God is just. While we may overlook injustice (unless we’re the wronged party J), God is perfect and cannot overlook injustice. His character requires that He punish it.

Next, God doesn’t write us off because He is merciful and He loves us and He created us to enjoy Him. He intends to see that it happens.

But there’s this chasm. Our rebellion separates us from Him. We don’t have anything in common. We’re as different as whales and mice (I’m open to a better comparison, by the way). There’s only the remotest similarity. Otherwise, the two just don’t meet.

We can’t cross the chasm. We’re broken. And we don’t want to. We’re rebels. But God does. He sends His Son, the Messiah, in the form of a rebel (a Galilean Jew) and yet who does not live His life as a rebel, but faithfully. More than faithful, He is a model of how to live a God-honoring, God-empowered life.

But Jesus is more than example of how to live. He does what none of us could do on our own. As rebels we deserve a rebel’s punishment. Death.

Before I continue, there’s something fascinating about Jesus. Some people want to check out now because they think I’m talking about them. Far from God and not living how they should. Others are thinking, “He’s talking about someone else because I have this thing wired.” Luke’s gospel seems to indicate Jesus would think both are wrong.

Those who think they’re far from God and are broken, who can smell death, and yet are longing for rescue … Jesus is near you and wants to bring you hope and wholeness.

For those who think they’re close and like to think about how bad everyone else is, Jesus generally has some salty words for you.

Sorry for the rabbit trail. Back to rebels deserving death. We’re all born rebels deserving death … and we continue to choose that way as long as we think we’re running our lives and making the rules. If you haven’t grappled with your rebellious heart, you haven’t grappled with the gospel.

So as rebels deserving death, Jesus, in the form of a rebel – yet without the rebellion – takes the rebel’s punishment for all of us. He was innocent, but dies a criminal’s death.

Rebellion must be punished. God’s justice demands it. But His love bears it. Jesus takes the punishment for all of us.

This is where Christmas is vital. If Jesus of Nazareth is just a Jewish carpenter who had an unlucky day on Good Friday, his death is a tragedy that would only pay for his own sin – if he was perfect. But if Jesus is God incarnate…

… if Christmas was when God put on skin, it changes everything. That death was not only sufficient to pay the debt of one rebel; it is infinitely valuable as the sacrifice of God Himself to pay the debt of every rebel, whose nature He took upon Himself.

Easter’s huge, but it’s nothing without Christmas.

Have you thought of yourself as a rebel? A traitor against God’s leadership?

Have you thought of the punishment due?

Have you accepted the rescue, the ransom offered by Jesus?

If so, take some time and give thanks for Good Friday and Easter.

If not, what keeps you from receiving the gift of life Jesus offers through the cross?

December 4 The Margins

Read Luke 1.1-4

Yesterday we looked at “…the things that have been accomplished among us” and the gospel – Jesus saving us from the judgment due us. We can’t escape the reality of judgment. It is biblical and important.

But it shouldn’t be our entire motivation for embracing Jesus, either. He didn’t come to scare us into heaven; He came to bring us life and usher us into a new way of living. This is our last introductory look before we get to the texts leading to Jesus’ birth, but it is an important ‘big picture’ item that may not surface prominently in the first couple chapters of Luke. It is, however, an important theme in Luke that touches the hearts of people all over the world during the Christmas season.

God cares for the people on the margins. Bringing people from the edges of society to the center of God’s people is one of “…the things that have been accomplished among us.”

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

The Testimony to Incarnation (Section 1a of the Nameless Luke Advent Thingee)

Trust Scripture

On Sunday evening I was speaking with a man who blows off the Bible because it is written by men. My two year-old boy was with me so it wasn’t an opportunity for deep conversation, but Luke’s gospel begins with something that can help us walk through this objection.

Read Luke 1.1-4

Before we move on, did you grab your Bible and read it? This daily exercise will be built around Luke 1-2. Be sure to read the Scriptures each day because they are the tool the Holy Spirit uses to help us connect with Jesus.

In fact, this brief passage highlights Luke’s care in assembling an orderly account of Jesus’ story. The good news. Gospel. We’re going to spend a couple days looking at the broad implications of the “good news,” but before we do, Luke’s introduction is a perfect time to be reminded that we can trust God’s Word, the Bible.

An imperfect recollection from one of my seminary classes has proved more helpful to me than simply quoting Scripture, which is more than sufficient if you believe it is inspired. This will hopefully help remind you why you should believe it is inspired.

As we prepare to walk through Luke as God’s Word, I want you to trust His Word. If you struggle with trusting it, let me know if this process helps.

Why should we trust the gospels?
· They were written shortly after the events, particularly by ancient standards & in an oral culture.
· Two gospels were written by close associates (Matthew & John), one was written by a no-name, but had Peter’s backing to it (Mark), and one guy was Paul’s associate (Luke). Remember, Luke said eyewitness and researched accounts.
· Interestingly, there are no “made up” names for the gospel writers that would make it more acceptable.
· There are embarrassing things in the gospels if you’re trying to prove Jesus is the Son of God (e.g., Jesus not knowing the time of His return). You don’t short sell a guy when you’re trying to get everyone to “buy-in.” The authors are honest – even making themselves look foolish at times (Matthew 16.).
· There are things absent from the gospels that would have been helpful in solving early church issues – circumcision, Jew/Gentile – but the authors don’t put those issues in Jesus’ teaching narratives.
· These guys had nothing to gain from their story except death and suffering. And they held to the truth. There was no political gain. Eleven of the twelve were martyred, according to church history.

This is just scratching the surface. From here we would see what Jesus thought of the Scriptures, how Jesus promised further revelation, and how several New Testament Scriptures recognize God speaking through different authors.

But don’t forget. This research is given by Luke so Theophilus might have certainty about the things he’s heard. That’s a challenge in a skeptical world. What keeps you from certainty? In trusting the Scriptures? In trusting Jesus?

I hope there’s more ‘inspirational’ content to come (Who knows? I’m doing this day-to-day!), but this is a crucial starting point. The Bible is written so we can grasp the reality that God has come in the flesh in the Person of Jesus of Nazareth.

Will you trust the testimony of the Scriptures and try to live it?

If you’re not sure, would you at least be open to the possibility that God might speak to you through the Bible and through the Jesus the Bible reveals?

Please share any thoughts, questions, etc… you might have.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Introduction to the Nameless Luke Advent Thingee

I’m haunted as I write this. OK. Maybe that’s a little over-dramatic, but something’s up. I’ve been a Christian for more than half my life now. I’ve known the Christmas story for longer than that. As a pastor, I’ve taught through the birth narratives – a few times. I’ve gone to seminary. I understand this.

But something different is happening this year. I’m coming to grips with the reality that I may not have the grip on this stuff I thought I had. Last year a friend shared a video from The Advent Conspiracy. It was compelling and it got me to thinking. Then this Christmas our church decided to do it. I’ve been preparing the teaching series and showing the DVD curriculum in a couple smaller groups. There’s a challenge to “remain in the gospel” during this busy season.

Certainly I want to stay focused on Jesus amid the cultural clutter of the season. That’s challenge enough and the Advent Conspiracy is proving a great tool for at least starting to wade through some of the challenges of keeping Christ central during Christmas.

Yet a thought started materializing last night at small group. I take Jesus for granted. Christmas is important for gifts and making Easter possible. Eternity hangs on Good Friday and Easter, but I give limited attention to Christmas.

It’s odd. I’ve taught on it. I’ve emphasized it. But I don’t know that I’ve dwelt in the incarnation. I haven’t soaked in the reality that the Eternal God took on flesh in the person of Jesus of Nazareth. I take it as a given.

It shouldn’t be. I want to dwell in the incarnation, but, to be honest, I don’t know what to do about it. Instead of letting it pass, I’m going to try to wade through the first couple chapters of Luke for the month of December. I can't think of a worse time to do this. The season is crazy and this is going to be a big chunk of work - if I manage to keep up. But if it helps me (and hopefully others) stay focused during the season, it'll be worth it.

I’ve taught through these texts in our small group so it’s familiar territory, but I hope it will be particularly helpful during the Advent season for living in the gospel of Jesus and being formed by the incarnation. That’s my prayer for myself and, hopefully, for others.

If you’re interested in joining in, survey the scene for the next few weeks. Read Luke 1-2.

Please feel free to jot notes and insights on the reading - or questions, too - so we can share this experience together.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Missional Renaissance: Introduction

I’ll catch up later on all the books I’ve read over the last few months, but failed to blog. I want to start working through the most recent book I’ve completed, Missional Renaissance: Changing the Scorecard for the Church by Reggie McNeal. It is a very practical, challenging book. I’ll sketch the intro during this post and lay out the rest of the book over the next couple weeks.

Missional is a buzzword, but it is even more. McNeal believes it is the largest shift in the church since the Reformation. It is difficult to define, but McNeal italicizes: “Missional is a way of living, not an affiliation or activity” (p. xiv). The missional church looks differently at the way the church engages the world. The shifts that we’ll flesh out are a shift from internal to external ministry focus, program development to people development, and church-based to kingdom-based leadership. These are “not destinations; they are compass settings” (p. xvi).

And how we know whether we’re headed the right direction will change how we “keep score” to know if we’re being successful. For instance, right now churches determine success by the number of attendees, the offering, and how many people are serving in the church (or something like these). The missional church has a different scorecard. It will focus on how people are growing, how many hungry children are being fed, or how many inmates are mentored to mainstream back into life. Sometimes this is more difficult to track, but McNeal believes this is the new way.

These three shifts (and how we track success) means church is going to look really different in many cases. There are some key elements that contribute to these changes. First is “The Emergence of the Altruism Economy” – think Bono, Extreme Makeover: Home Edition, or TOMS shoes (see picture). People are moved by giving to others and the church needs to move from being a recipient of generosity to a vehicle of generosity. The world is not impressed with “successful” churches. They want organizations that make a positive difference in the world. The church needs to focus externally.

Next, “The Search for Personal Growth.” Rick Warren’s Purpose-Driven Life sold millions because people want their lives to matter. Churches need to take life-change into consideration rather than program development. If going through the programs don’t actually affect life change, so much for the programs. People want to grow themselves and they want to see those less fortunate grow as well. I’m trying to do this in one of my mentoring relationships right now. Asking, “Where do you want to be in six months?” And then we’ll try to figure out how to get him there.

Finally, “The Hunger for Spirituality” is where religion is not clergy-dominated and expressed in sacred time and space, but in all aspects of one’s life. The idea is that the church should be present everywhere (that’s Kingdom-based thinking) rather than the church just being a place. We know this, we say it, but a missional mindset has no substitute for it.

Just reviewing my notes in the margins, I’m re-challenged by this book. I’m looking forward to getting into it again.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Go See The Blind Side

Suzanne and I went to see The Blind Side last night. Wonderful film. Almost as good as the book. I posted on the book a few years ago. Here's what I thought then. It was a late afternoon showing and the theater was pretty full. I imagine it will be around a little while, but don't let it get away.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Sailing the Wine Dark Sea and St. Augustine

Awhile back a friend was telling me how much he loved City of God by St. Augustine. History judges it to be great, but 1/3 of the way through, it isn’t making my short list. Much of it is my own shortcomings. I don’t know Roman history well enough to get some of his references and I’m not interested enough in Platonic thought to unravel his arguments where I currently find myself. My fault, not the saint's. Apparently I'm not as smart as my friend. I didn't need Augustine to know that fact.

City of God is a defense against those who blamed Christians for the crumbling of the Roman Empire. His defense of Christianity starts with dismantling the religious and philosophical climate of the day. I may get into Augustine’s work at another time; maybe I won’t. But he spends a good bit of time highlighting the debased morals of the Roman gods. “What does this have to do with Sailing the Wine Dark Sea?,” you ask.

Thomas Cahill has written a series of books he calls the “Hinges of History.” I loved the first, How the Irish Saved Civilization. I wasn’t as fond of The Gifts of the Jews – more liberal outlook on the OT than I’m comfortable with. His third is Desire of the Everlasting Hills, which is about the life of Jesus. I haven’t read that one. This summer I finished Sailing the Wine Dark Sea: Why the Greeks Matter. I linked it to Augustine and moral decline because, whether it is a fair picture or not, Cahill paints the ancient Greeks as a bawdy, promiscuous culture. I’m not speaking of nude statues, but the crude poetry he highlights, including men seducing young boys. While much of the high art was a celebration of the human form (specifically male, women were almost always clothed as virginity and chastity were highly honored for women), private art had its share of lewdness. And, perhaps as Augustine laid it out, Cahill denotes the degradation of art as correlating with the fall of Athens from prominence.

But there’s more to this book worth noting – and some of it very good. Cahill talks about Greek warriors and how their style of warfare are honored by influential military strategists and historians of our day. He shares how stories like the Odyssey were hundreds of years ahead of their time in identifying the emotions of one drawn to their home – something possibly dismissed at its time. Ancient Greeks identify the petulant Achilles as more a hero than the honorable Odysseus. He also talks about governance. He opens each chapter with a description of pertinent literature, highlighting key texts. Since I recently read the Oresteia, which he refers to in the book, I’ll save political comments for the post on the Oresteia.

When I think of Ancient Greece, I can’t help but think of philosophers above all else. Cahill surveys Greek philosophy in 50 pages. It is a nice, brief survey that spends a bulk of the time, after a brief discussion on pre-Socratic philosophy, on Socrates and Plato before moving on to Aristotle and some others. Cahill talks about the groundbreaking thinking, but also notes the arrogance, assuming Plato would be, either explicitly or hypothetically, be dismissive of democracy and women adding any value to society. For all the lofty thoughts, there are some pragmatic issues that mar their intellectual heroics.

After reading Sailing the Wine Dark Sea, it made its way to my give away/sell back stack in my office. I’ve now moved it back to my Bible Backgrounds section on my bookshelf. Do I recommend it? Not heartily. There are better books, but it isn’t a total loss, either. Quite a help, aren’t I?

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Happy Thanksgiving!

Be sure to give thanks for the many blessings in your life today.

Enjoy Psalm 111

Praise the LORD!
I will give thanks to the LORD with my whole heart, in the company of the upright, in the congregation.
2 Great are the works of the LORD, studied by all who delight in them.
3 Full of splendor and majesty is his work, and his righteousness endures forever.
4 He has caused his wondrous works to be remembered; the LORD is gracious and merciful.
5 He provides food for those who fear him; he remembers his covenant forever.
6 He has shown his people the power of his works, in giving them the inheritance
of the nations.
7 The works of his hands are faithful and just; all his precepts are trustworthy;
8 they are established forever and ever, to be performed with faithfulness and uprightness.
9 He sent redemption to his people; he has commanded his covenant forever. Holy and awesome is his name!
10 The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom; all those who practice it have a good understanding. His praise endures forever!

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Abigail Adams

Let’s see if I can get this blogging thing rolling again. Forgive the false promises form my last mini-spurt of posts. No promises this time, but I’ll give it another try. OK, to the content.

I love this quote:

“When men know not what do, they ought not to do, they know not what.”

Just started watching John Adams, the HBO mini-series, that my brother-in-law loaned me a few months ago. I don’t know if this is a real quote of Abigail Adams, but, if I understand it correctly, it’s fantastic. My translation: “If you’re too dumb to know what to do, you’re too dumb to know what can't be done, too. And you just may do the impossible.”

I don’t know if this happens to others, but I often feel paralyzed when I’m not sure what to do in a given situation. Sometimes there’s wisdom to waiting, to be sure. But sometimes not knowing what to do doesn’t bind you to boiler plate solutions. Perhaps the lack of pre-established answers (not knowing what to do) opens the door to new possibilities that nobody has ever imagined.

Not knowing, all of a sudden, seems like something to be envied rather than feared. What new horizons might God be opening up in your life. Might it be the very area where you don’t know what to do?

Saturday, October 10, 2009

The Tipping Point

OK. Confession: I didn’t actually read Malcolm Gladwell’s The Tipping Point. My wife and I listened to it as we drove up to Seattle and back … with the characters from Cars playing on the DVD player for the kids in the back. I need a hard copy of this book because I couldn’t take notes on my CD. I found it a fascinating study, however, on how cultural phenomena become, well, phenomenal.

I wish I could unpack it all, but it had great insight, particularly on different kinds of people and how they relate to social phenomena. There are people who are passionate about a topic – even as a hobby – that, while they may seem obnoxious, serve as great resources for making those products better. For example (I think I read this in a different book), somebody sends Google emails with a number on it. Nothing else. The folks at Google discovered it was when the word count on their homepage is getting too high. They want to keep things simple so they appreciate the emails to keep them in check. These folks are called Mavens, I believe.

Others are connectors. They may not have the deep knowledge, but they have social networks that get the right people together to make a movement happen.

There’s one more. I can’t remember what it is, but it is those who are influential. It might even be ‘influencers.’ These are the people that move people to doing something. The cool kids in some ways.

Jotting these notes down makes me want to really get a hard copy and mark it up because it has some good insights for leadership. Sometimes, when identifying leaders, I think in singular categories. It could be any one of Gladwell’s categories at a given time, but this book is really a challenge to see the value in the myriad of different people and their giftings and contributions. Sounds almost biblical (see 1 Corinthians 12 or Romans 12).

Friday, October 9, 2009

Back to it again … The Last Nine Innings

I had the best intentions of keeping up on my blogging by catching up on the books I’ve read lately and not reflected and blogged upon. It’s now been almost a week since I’ve thought about it. But here goes…

I brought The Last Nine Innings by Charles Euchner on our trip to Kenya this summer in the event that I needed a break from all the studying I was doing on the trip. I started it on that trip, but didn’t really get into it. I think I finished it during vacation in Washington in August. It was a book that I was excited to read quite a while. I think I saw it recommended on the USS Mariner Reading List when it was a thread that several people were contributing to.

Over the last few years I’ve enjoyed reading a baseball book or two each year. I’ve enjoyed Out of Left Field, Weaver on Strategy, Cheater’s Guide to Baseball, and Moneyball (my favorite). I don’t know if I’ve reached baseball fatigue, the writing wasn’t that great, or what, but I wasn’t thrilled with this book. I didn’t devour it.

The organization of the book is interesting. Euchner uses Game 7 of the Yankees – Diamondbacks 2001 World Series as an opportunity to speak about different aspects of the game. For instance, he talks about starting pitching in the first inning – unpacking pitching in general with Curt Schilling and Roger Clemens as his examples. Then he talks about fielding in the bottom of the inning, highlighting Derek Jeter and Steve Finley … and so he goes through the nine innings with relief pitching, hitting, managing, etc…

I don’t know why I didn’t love it. It had everything. Randy Johnson winning. Yankees losing. Fascinating discussions on the science of hitting and pitching (the most violent action in all of sports!). An explanation of international scouting. Debates on pitching and fielding. A lot of great stuff, but, like I said, I wouldn’t enthusiastically endorse it like I would Moneyball or Weaver on Strategy. But if you like baseball, you’d probably like it. So … consider it endorsed, just not heartily endorsed.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

The Nibelungenlied

The Nibelungenlied is a German medieval epic. Track the storyline here. To answer the first question, I’m reading it because, while I feel like I had a sufficient education, there seems like a lot of classic stuff I’m missing out on. Also, I’d like to be broadly read rather than have tunnel vision on a particular area. Sometimes it means I read stuff I have little interest in. Other times, I find gems that I never would have thought I’d have any interest in. This is one of them … for the most part.

The Nibelungenlied was too long, but it was a great walk through medieval honor and chivalry – as well as treachery. I don’t know why, but I often expect books like these – even the Odyssey and the Illiad – to be boring because they’re old, but the passion and fury of battle in them is always exciting. Tarantino could get some mileage out of these books – helmets splitting, blood spurting. Epic battles.

Anyway, I come away from these books impressed with the honor and courage of many of these knights and their brotherhood. Something to aspire to and to instill in my boy. The flip side of this honor and brotherhood is sometimes the demeaning of their sisters or wives and the refusal to confront the treachery of their brothers due to their commitment to one another. I only read through one of these “classics” each year (my ‘to read’ categories are pretty long) so I won’t get to King Arthur and his guys for a couple years, but I’m looking forward to see how/if honor and faithfulness develops more thoroughly.

Either way, there was a lot of good stuff. I don’t know if I brought it out in the series of “Just War?” blog posts, but I distinctly remember the author of When God Says War is Right mentions the medieval warriors who were fierce in battle and honorable off the battlefield. The Nibelungenlied does not fit that mold specifically, but there are traces of it.

This wouldn’t be my most recommended book of the year, but if you’re into medieval lit – or curious about it (you’ve probably read it already if you’re into it) – you might like it.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Back to Blogging

As you can tell by the date, it’s been too long since I’ve last blogged. I’ve been busy, to be sure. But one of the reasons I like to blog is that I like to read. Too much. One year I consumed 50+ books, but couldn’t remember much of what I read. Given the dearth of good material, some may say, it may be better forgotten.

But I’m not the most discerning reader. I often like, or end up liking, much of what I read. And yet, I can read a ton and not get much from it or retain much. Maybe that’s what happens when Tom Clancy novels turn you into a reader. The stories make you move fast and you skip over all those Russian names. Anyway, blogging is my way to slow down and process my reading. Sometimes it keeps me in books too long because I’m so obsessive compulsive that I need to do a thorough blogging of a book.

Well I’ve read a bunch since my last blog, but I haven’t gotten any of it down. Instead of a thorough blogging of the books I’ve done, I’ll just give a brief sketch on what I’ve taken from the book.

I’ll probably try to find a happy medium between the exhaustive blogging I was doing before and not blogging, which I’ve been doing more recently. I hope to return this to a helpful, refreshing outlet for myself instead of a burden and, at the same time, keep my reading from being such an escape that it escapes my head without being processed. We’ll see how it goes.

A post on The Nibelungenlied tomorrow! Points for anyone who knows what that is!

Monday, July 13, 2009

Kenya Review Day 4 (June 20)

We traveled back to Nairobi today and visited an organization called New Life Children’s Home. It was a well-run ministry taking care of the abandoned babies in Nairobi. Their ministry has been blessed to the degree that they have several satellite homes throughout Kenya. Whether they find the babies, or people bring them to the home, or if police bring them, they take 50 or so children in at a time. I think they had 47 during our visit. They’ll take them from birth to three years before they go to an orphanage.

This ministry is vital because orphanages often don’t take babies because they are so labor intensive. So this is a specialized ministry where the helpless are helped. Our task was to play with children and encourage the staff by sharing from the Scriptures. I shared from Luke 13 (it was my go-to devotional for the week). It is where Jesus sees a woman who had been suffering for years. Everyone else overlooked her or looked out for her to stay away from her. She was unclean. But Jesus, the text says, “saw her.” And then He brought her up so others could see her. And He healed her. They got upset that he healed on the Sabbath, but Jesus said this woman is more valuable than the ox they’d feed on the Sabbath so relax.

I encouraged these workers that they are taking care of those who are overlooked. The idea of abandoned babies pulls at our heartstrings, but few see them to the degree that we’ll actually give our lives to taking care of them. But Jesus sees them and these workers are being His hands as they care for these who are in such dire need.

It was a beautiful place where kids are played with and cared for, but it is run with great efficiency and discipline as well. I’ve never seen toddlers eat so much or so quickly. They get the kids cleaned up as well as put down for naps. It was a clean, efficient ministry meeting the basic needs of the most helpless among us.

I posted some of these pics on my facebook account and several people commented on how they were moved to tears. While I may be a bit hard-hearted, I left more encouraged. And I know that fifty kids are a drop in the bucket for the great needs in Nairobi, let alone Kenya, Africa, or the world. And yet, there’s a common theme I’m seeing in the last couple trips I’ve gone on in the last couple years.

God raises up people to meet the needs around them. Fifty kids may not solve the problem, but it is a group of people committed to doing what they can. They can’t solve the problem by themselves, but they’re part of the solution. They’re doing their part. I’m always inspired by people who are doing that and it is what is motivating me to build a ministry that ministers to and alongside those who are in need in our local community here in Cypress. I’ve seen great examples in Kenya (we’ll look at others throughout the trip) and in Ecuador and I’m sure they’re all around the world.

Church tomorrow!

Sunday, July 12, 2009

How do you prepare for worship?

I raised a few basic ideas on how we can prepare better to engage God in worship with His people on Sunday mornings, to build anticipation for worshiping God with the church. Get up earlier, go to bed earlier. But I’m counting on you to have better ideas. There’s one more I didn’t share – just to get the conversation going on here. But please add because my ideas need some help. Here’s what I do.

I’m a channel surfer when I drive. I don’t have a particular station that I camp on. Sometimes it’s talk radio. Other times it is classic rock, sometimes 80s music – the sound of my youth, other times I’ll stop in at the Christian station or listen to CDs. But I bounce around.

I have about a 5-7 minute commute on Sunday mornings so it doesn’t work as well as it used to when we lived in Long Beach, but I don’t channel surf on Sunday mornings. 95.9, the Fish, offers a great service of commercial-free worship. So I tune in each Sunday morning on my way to church. Helps get me a little more focused than my usual channel-surfing.

What do you do to get ready to worship on Sunday mornings? Discuss.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Kenya Review Day 3 (June19)

This was Friday in Kenya and it was a lighter day. It is amazing how things slip one’s mind, but the schedule was clear apart from preparation and a cookout with some Moffat faculty. I don’t remember a day feeling so “open,” but I think that was pretty much all we did this day. This doesn’t mean it was a relaxing day. I don’t think we had one of those. Instead, we worked on the lessons we’d be teaching during the coming 10 days. Actually, we were probably just focused on the weekend ahead of us.

The evening cookout with the Harrells was nice. We were able to meet some of the professors at Moffat Bible College. One of the American missionaries had been a pastor for 20+ years before coming to Moffat to teach church history. He had done enough short term trips that he was familiar with how to see the sights in London in five hours. His tour came in handy on our return trip.

One of the great things about Moffat is the Kenya to expatriate ratio. They are careful to keep the staff 50% Kenyan, including the Academic Dean and the Principal of the college, I believe. This keeps it from being paternalistic. The Western missionaries are working under the leadership of Kenyans and it maintains a good balance. At the same time, the Western missionaries help give a different angle on ministry and training as well as help keep tuition costs down, which is important. Because Western missionaries are supported, the students don’t have to pay for their salaries with their tuition.

We met some great folks at the cookout and even discussed the possibility of spending a trimester there as a teacher during my next sabbatical, which is a ways away. But still something to look forward to.

Tomorrow (in Kenya) we get to work! That day will show up on the blog on Monday – a special church post tomorrow!

Friday, July 10, 2009

Kenya Review Day 2 (June 18)

This pic is our team from Cypress. I don't have one with us and the Harrells so this will have to suffice. This was taken later in the trip, but here's the team.

Regarding the date, no, I didn’t skip a day, the flight was really that long. Plus the time change. Perhaps a little background is necessary at this point. Our church (Cypress Church) supports Rich and Kathy Harrell. They serve as lecturers/instructors at Moffat Bible College in Kijabe, Kenya. They train young men and women for ministry. My desire in going on this trip was to bring others along for a short term experience in a new place. I also wrestle with whether God wants me to go to the mission field ever few years. When I imagine where I’d go, I think of doing what the Harrells do in Kenya. So I guess this was partially exploratory for me, too. In fact, that’s why my senior pastor wanted Suzanne to go (she wasn’t initially on the team). He wanted her part of the decision-making if I decided to stay in Kenya!

The Harrells were wanting to connect better with Cypress Church. A team is one way to do it. While we were there, they wanted us connecting with Moffat students, partnering with them, and, where possible, opening doors for them for new kinds of ministry.

So on to our day…

We had breakfast with Rich at Mayfield Guest House (run by Africa Inland Mission) and then ran some errands here and there. The most significant errand we ran was to Naivashu Maximum Security Prison. We met the warden in the men’s prison and the medium security women’s prison. Since we were planning on returning in a little over a week, it was good for them to meet us. Surprises aren’t good at a prison. We had good interactions and were pleased that God was using us to open up a ministry opportunity for Moffat Bible College students – both while we are there, but hopefully in an ongoing capacity.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Kenya Review Day 1 (June 16)

We packed and ran errands before hopping on the plane to London and then Nairobi. Honestly, this was quite a blur. Not much to report apart from lots of flying, some reading, and some sleeping. Some anticipation, but I don’t know that Kenya was “real” in my mind yet. Preparation was so rushed and there were so many things happening at church that I don’t think the weight of the journey had soaked in yet.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Silence and Pastoral Ministry

I’m reading The Way of the Heart by Henri Nouwen a few pages at a time. There was a great passage that I thought was helpful and challenging for pastors. The section is on the wisdom of silence from the desert fathers. Here’s his quote:

“Our task is to help people concentrate on the real but often hidden event of God’s active presence in their lives. Hence, the question that must guide all organizing activity in a parish is not how to keep people busy, but how to keep them from being so busy that they can no longer hear the voice of God who speaks in silence.” (p. 47)

Kenya Review Day 0 (June 15)

“Day 0” because we didn’t leave for Kenya until the next day, but this was the day the adventure started for us. I guess our commissioning on Sunday would be the start, but this was the day we said goodbye to the kids. We had a nice day visiting the Wild Animal Park north of San Diego, a nice Father’s Day dinner, and then went home to Grandma and Grandpa’s house in El Cajon. Cael went down easy and then we laid with the girls in bed until they fell asleep.

It got a bit teary when Vivian and I locked eyes and she saw my eyes leaking. It’s scary to write a will and leave your kids for two weeks to go around the world. We both understand it is to tell people about Jesus, but it’s still sad when one of your girls starts crying because she knows you’re leaving as soon as she falls asleep.

I think she missed us in the morning, but they didn’t miss us much after that. They had a blast with all their family and friends taking care of them.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Kenya Review

It’s been a week since we’ve returned from Kenya – OK, a week tomorrow – so I suppose it is time to put some thoughts down. We’ll be sharing at a dessert on Friday evening, but sharing here might give a broader picture of what was happening on a day to day basis in Kenya.

My plan for the blog is to go through each day and hit some of the highlights of the day and maybe what God was teaching me or the team at that time. I hope you enjoy it and I know it will be profitable for me to review what God has done and what He is doing thanks to our time in Kenya.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Christ & Culture Revisited: Overall Conclusions, Part 2

This last installment of a Carson summary finishes “Disputed Agendas & Frustrated Utopias.” After speaking of some more sweeping paradigms yesterday, Carson now moves to a less ambitious perspective.

Minimalist Expectations
This view recognizes culture as a storm that we cannot affect, but we help individuals who are being battered by the storm. There is some wisdom that culture cannot ultimately be redeemed until the new heavens and the new earth, but there is surely some temporal good we can do. For example, we can do more to abolish slavery than just rescue individual slaves – or cure diseases, not just individual sufferers. And, Christians can help create culture to make a better world that is passed on to the next generation for the common good.

Post-Christendom Perspectives
Carson gives initial praise to Craig Carter’s Rethinking Christ and Culture and it operates from a post-Christendom perspective. The dividing line for Carter regarding Christendom or post-Christendom is pacifism. The latter are the approved post-Christendom models. The strength of this model is that it discusses what Christians and the Christian community should do, but Carson ultimately has little use for it due to the arbitrary dividing line of pacifism (equating the Crusades with WWII, for instance, as both morally indefensible) and it is ultimately reductionistic.

Finally, persecution is a painful reality in the world and, when it is extensive and exhaustive, the blood of martyrs is not the seed of the church. It can be stamped out when the persecution is particularly intense (e.g., Turkmenistan). Persecuted Christians don’t often see themselves as part of the culture, but “other.” However, while some flee for freedom, others stay to try to bring about change. Carson offers that options on how the church should engage in culture are not given to everyone and we must humbly learn from those who are in much more difficult circumstances than most of us find ourselves in.

As useful as all these paradigms and grids may be, culture changes within a generation or two and it must constantly be rebuilt and re-thought.

There is a tension between “This is My Father’s World” and “This World is Not My Home” (in Michael Horton’s words). Both are too reductionistic – as are most options. We need to keep the turning points of biblical theology and flex with regard to how we engage with culture rather than canonizing inflexible paradigms.

Carson’s final words serve as a good summary for his study: “…we will live in the tension of claiming every square inch for King Jesus, even while we know full well that the consummation is not yet, that we walk by faith and not by sight, and that the weapons with which we fight are not the weapons of the world (2 Corinthians 10:4)” (p. 228).

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Christ & Culture Revisited: Overall Conclusions, Part 1

Carson begins his final chapter with his summary of the previous five chapters, summarizing that there is not fixed paradigm that is universally transferable, but our discussions of church and state must take into consideration the key turning points in biblical theology (these have been written previously). Then Carson goes through some more recent paradigms that he calls “Disputed Agendas and Frustrated Utopias.”

Fundamentalism is culturally reactive – even winning some battles in the culture war. This is not a theocracy, but more of a 1950s America. He argues that fundamentalists should not argue that America was based on Christian principles. Rather, it is based on some Christian principles. We wouldn’t want to return to slavery, Carson contends. Hard to argue with that. While this paradigm has social ills that it is particularly passionate about, it neglects others.

Luther & His Heirs
This is the Two Kingdoms view, but Lutherans disagree on how this actually plays out. This view has its strengths, but it can also forget that Christ is Lord over all and that there can be a polarized view of knowledge – a distinction between human reason and divine revelation. Such a sharp distinction can result in letting the government do whatever they want – like Nazi Germany in the 1930s. Beyond politics, to draw too sharp a distinction makes “reason” king and doesn’t allow God to speak into His world via special revelation.

Abraham Kuyper
Kuyper had unparalleled success in articulating a view of church and state and actually implementing it well. He argued that all truth is God’s truth and all of creation is God’s, but the consummation is not yet and so there a tension because the recognition that God is Lord of all is not realized, but Christians are called to speak Christ’s lordship into every area of life. He founded Christian unions and universities, not for the purpose of withdrawing, but to speak into the world. Carson thinks Kuyper shifted to a more liberal position once in power – emphasizing common grace over redeeming grace. Also, once he departed leadership there was a massive decline in Christian influence and the church had become full of the unregenerate members due to “presumptive regeneration.” Finally, this Kuyperian paradigm is helpful when you have the piety of a Kuyper, but it fails when it is not wed to personal piety.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Christ & Culture Revisited: Church & State, Concluding Reflections

You may be wondering why this is appearing instead of Kenya updates. We hit the ground running in Kenya and haven't slowed down. Tonight is our last night in Kijabe. We'll spend the day as tourists in Nairobi tomorrow before heading to London on Tuesday morning. We'll be back home with the kids on Wednesday evening. Once we get home I'll start walking through our two week journey on the blog - with some pictures. But as we were flying to Kenya I finished my summary of the next section of Carson's Christ and Culture Revisited. Enjoy before a steady dose of Kenya.

The church/state relationship is difficult to explore because it is such a broad topic and terms are so flexible. It often ends up being a Christian/state discussion. From this perspective, the starting point is that Christ followers need to ground their identity in their “heavenly citizenship.” It ought to be our primary identity. At the same time, the Scriptures tell us to submit to our governing authorities unless doing so would entail disobedience to God.

Carson agrees most readers of his book would be from democracies as opposed to more oppressive situations that the early Christians found themselves in. It is hard for Christians in a democracy to have an us/them dichotomy that Paul or Luke had. But one way we submit to our government in democracies is to take seriously are part as participants, including doing good to the city. This can be done at several different levels from voting to holding positions of office.

One of the dangers in a democracy, with the goal of doing good to the city and building coalitions (I assume), is to put our values and priorities in secular categories. The effects may be good, but it may indicate a false secular veneer and people think we are fake, or we may be signaling that secular values take precedence and that secularists are correct – theirs is the only position that is “neutral.” This may be a place where the church is separated from the state, but Christians need to engage the public arena.

Carson discusses challenges of Christians living their faith in the state will raise. The issue of funding that might be pulled if religious organizations don’t secularize certain aspects of what they do – even if it serves common ends with state institutions. Even so, the Christian must continue to minister for the good of society. Sometimes it is helping AIDS patients, but at other times it may be lobbying for or against a political issue that the Christian feels is harmful to the society – a casino, for example. The Christian may abstain because of biblical conviction, but they seek to stop it because it has a harmful effect on the broader culture. This is a way of loving one’s neighbor – even if the neighbor doesn’t see it this way.

One of the distinctives of Christianity that comes to bear on how its political engagement will contrast with that of Islam, for instance, is that there is an internal transformation required to become a Christian. With Islam, you can exert your will and become a Muslim. That’s why Islam has a broader vision of a society governed by the Koran. But Carson notes, “In short, we have a high stake in preserving a place for ‘conversion’ that is intrinsically supernatural …, that demands what some traditions call ‘soul liberty,’ and that certainly extends beyond mere practice” (p. 202). Being a significant majority with a pressure to conform to faith doesn’t result in true conversion from a biblical perspective.

As Carson concludes this illuminating and brief section, he makes it clear that regardless of the challenges of navigating these Christian/state relationships, God has called us to do good to our neighbors and to love them in ways that may cross over into government responsibility. Even if we’re told to depart, God has called us to stand firm and do good.

Ultimately, however, Jesus is King of all, but the end has not yet come. So we wait by serving Him through serving and loving our neighbor.