Archive for December, 2010

Dec
16

From and For

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Jesus has come to redeem our broken lives from sin. But He did not come just to save us from something. Redemption also involves a purpose…a saving for, if you will. Zechariah concludes his prophetic hymn of praise for Christ with these words, “He has given us the privilege, since we have been rescued from the enemies’ clutches, to serve Him without fear in holiness and righteousness in His presence all our days” (Luke 1:73-75, HCSB).

We should be thankful to have been redeemed by Jesus from the clutches of the enemy. But even more, we should be thankful that we have been redeemed for a purpose. Check out the four purposes redemption provides for us:

1. To live without fear of our enemies, chiefly, sin, death, and the grave.
2. To live in holiness, meaning that relationally we belong to God. Holy is not a behavioral concept, it’s a relational concept—we are set apart to God, by God, and for God!                                                                                                           
3. To live in righteousness, meaning that we are empowered to live as Jesus lived and would have us live.
4. To live in His presence all our days. After all, the only way we can stand in the presence of God is because we have been redeemed.

This Advent season I’d like to encourage you to think about Jesus our Redeemer. He’s not just redeemed us from something. He’s redeemed us for something. And the for makes our lives purposeful and meaningful.

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Dec
16

Digital Nativity

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Categories : Advent, Christmas
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Dec
15

On Recycling and Redemption

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I have a love-hate relationship with recycling. Our local trash company has gone to extreme measures to help families with the task. They provide a box for containers as well as a roll-out dumpster with a helpful label inside the lid to help families classify their recyclable items. In the words of Kermit the Frog, “It’s not easy being green.” But we’re getting better.

My wife thinks it’s a good idea to recycle pop cans. Not in the bin, mind you. After all, each Diet Coke can is worth a nickel. So we cull those cans out and take them to a redemption center. (For those of you who are not fluent in spouse-ese, that means it’s my job to bag the cans and haul them to the grocery store for redemption, even though I don’t drink canned soda.) Each can times .05 = lunch money.

Zechariah’s prophetic word in Luke 1 speaks of the birth of Christ in terms of redemption. Those of you who have taken choir will recognize these words as the lyrical content of Benedictus, or “blessing.” Under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, Zechariah proclaims, “Praise the Lord, the God of Israel, because He has visited and provided redemption for his people. He has raised up a horn of salvation for us in the house of his servant David, just as He spoke by the mouth of His holy prophets in ancient times;” (Luke 1:68-70, HCSB).

Zechariah’s words provide us with a beautiful picture of what God was about to accomplish in the first Christmas. To redeem something means to buy it back for a price. Christ came to redeem us from sin. Like those pop cans, our lives are empty, void, and for all intents and purposes, worthless. We are no good to ourselves or to anyone else. Yet God sees the potential in us. He values us and loves us to the extent that He is willing to “buy us back” so that we can become new creations (2 Corinthians 5:17). But it took more than a nickel. It took the very life of Jesus to pay the price. With Zechariah let us exclaim, “Praise the Lord!”

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During this morning’s reading I came across  research posted by Barna Group which describes six faith trends that have emerged in 2010 that we all need examine. I want to encourage you to take a few moments and read this carefully. There are many who ruffle at Barna’s unvarnished observations, but in the 20+ years I’ve been following his work, time frequently proves that he’s spot on with his insights. You can click for the article.

Categories : Barna Group, Faith
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Dec
14

Race to Nowhere

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The New York Times has recently published a movie review for Race to Nowhere: The Overscheduled Child. It discusses the pressures that today’s children face to build resumes in a competitive educational environment. Click for the article.

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Dec
14

Sweet Baby Jesus

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I think babies are great! Lisa and I had three, and we enjoyed being parents of newborns. Holding each of my children was a very gratifying experience, and if I were to be confessional, there was a feeling I had with each that wished they could stay that way. Realistically, however, if a baby stays a baby then something is terribly wrong. Parents are very cognizant of their children’s growth patterns. We make sure they are frequently weighed and measured and that they maintain weight gains. We chart their physical development and muse over what percentile they rank on the charts. Babies grow and develop, and that’s a good thing!

Sometimes I wonder if our celebration of Christmas skews our understanding of Christ. Many homes are decorated with a nativity, the centerpiece of which is baby Jesus in the manger. Like Ricky Bobby, “sweet baby Jesus” is our favorite Jesus. But after the presents are opened and the leftovers reheated, Christmas, including the nativity set, goes back in the box until Thanksgiving.

Luke 2:52 teaches us that “sweet baby Jesus” doesn’t remain an infant. He grew in “wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and man.” Jesus experienced mental, physical, spiritual, and social development and maturity. But for what purpose? To serve God and the world as our redeemer. This week’s series of posts will focus on the goal of Christmas: the redemption of the human race.

Categories : Advent, Christmas, Jesus, Luke
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Dec
10

The Mystery of Christmas:: 4

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When I was a kid, my mother went through a phase where she was “into” jig saw puzzles. She would purchase a puzzle and spread the pieces face up on the table. Then, she would prop the box up across the workspace which displayed the picture that the puzzle was to make. Working those puzzles was hard, but at least there was a picture that let us know what the finished product would look like. We eventually finished every one. For a grade school boy, there was a sense of satisfaction that came when I got to put the last piece in place.

When God’s announcement came to Mary via the angel Gabriel, she, without doubt, must have felt a bit overwhelmed. So many questions that were unanswered. So many details that were not outlined. So many missing pieces to the puzzle. And no box propped up on the other side of the workspace, so to speak.

It’s at this point that Mary is at her finest. Her response to the angelic proclamation was simply, “I am the Lord’s servant. May everything you have said about me come true” (Luke 1:38, NLT). Wow. What an example! Mary demonstrates humility, obedience, and faith.

What would your life look like if you adopted that kind of attitude toward God’s will for your life?

Categories : Advent, Christmas, Luke, Mary
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Dec
09

The Mystery of Christmas:: 3

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When God speaks, He expects us to believe his word even though we may not fully understand all of the implications of His word. Mary’s story continues like this, “You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you will name him Jesus. He will be very great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his ancestor David. And he will reign over Israel forever, his Kingdom will never end. Mary asked the angel, ‘How can this happen? I am a virgin.’” (Luke 1:31-34, NLT)

Clearly, Mary doesn’t get it. 2,000 years later, we don’t get it. God has no problem expecting us to affirm things by faith that we don’t fully comprehend. The Bible is full of those instances. Think about the creation account in Genesis. The Bible affirms that God created all things, but doesn’t bother to tell us how he did it. What about the trinity? For centuries the church fathers have tried to adequately explain and illustrate how the trinity works. But honestly, the Bible doesn’t spell that out either. God just expects you to believe it. Speaking of Mary, the same is true of the virginal conception. We accept this truth, but don’t have the details as to how that whole thing really went down.

Which bring me to the next thought. Understanding is not the object of our faith, God is the object of our faith. Reading on in the narrative, the Bible states that, “The angel replied, ‘The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the baby to be born will be holy, and he will be called the Son of God. What’s more, your relative Elizabeth has become pregnant in her old age! People used to say she was barren, but she’s now in her sixth month. For nothing is impossible with God.’” (Luke 1:35-37, NLT)

If you base your responses to God based on things like understanding, comprehension, and security in the outcome, you’ll not see the power of God in your life. God expects you to affirm things he will never bother to understand. So the question at the end of the day is “Do I believe God?” “Do I trust God?” As long as we make understanding the condition of our obedience we will not get very far in our faith journeys, and our faith journeys will be based on the limited possibility of self rather than the limitless impossibilities of God.

Categories : Advent, Christmas, Luke, Mary
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Dec
08

The Mystery of Christmas:: 2

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God’s word always precedes his movement, and when God speaks, we don’t need to be afraid. Consider this—“Confused and disturbed, Mary tried to think what the angel could mean. ‘Don’t be afraid, Mary,’ the angel told her, ‘for you have found favor with God!’” (Luke 1:29-30, NLT)

“Don’t be afraid.”

Fear is a tricky problem for us because fear establishes the limits of our lives. For example, if you’re afraid of heights, you’ll stay low. If you’re afraid of water, you’ll stay dry. If you’re afraid of failure, you’ll never take risks. So what was the root of Mary’s fear? Was it the appearance of an angel? Or was her concern more about the angel’s message from God?

I believe one of the reasons we don’t listen for God’s voice is because we’re afraid he’ll tell us to do something radical that pushes us beyond the boundaries of our security and comfort.

The reason we’re afraid to hear from God is that deep down inside our souls we are conflicted about what Jesus is really like. On one hand we have the domesticated Jesus of the American Dream. American Jesus calls us to get a good education, marry a good spouse, and work hard to build a career. American Jesus calls us to advance in our careers and to conduct our lives ethically and morally. Have kids. Go to parent-teacher conferences. Coach soccer. Put money in the 401K. Look forward to retirement when you can spend your remaining years in health and recreation. American Jesus also calls us to go to church “regularly” and volunteer when time permits. And, of course, give some money to charitable organizations. We’re not really afraid to hear from American Jesus because American Jesus is simply a projection of ourselves.

Biblical Jesus, on the other hand, is another story. He’s the one that makes us nervous. Biblical Jesus says things like…

“If any of you wants to be my follower, you must turn from your selfish ways, take up your cross daily, and follow me.” (Luke 9:23)

“If you try to hang on to your life, you will lose it. But if you give up your life for my sake, you will save it.” (Luke 9:24)

“Follow me now. Let the spiritually dead bury their own dead.” (Matthew 8:22)

“Anyone who puts a hand to the plow and then looks back is not fit for the Kingdom of God.” (Matthew 9:62)

“Look, I am sending you out as sheep among wolves.” (Matthew 10:16)

“If you want to be my disciple, you must hate everyone else by comparison—your father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters—yes, even your own life. Otherwise, you cannot be my disciple.” (Luke 14:26)

“So you cannot become my disciple without giving up everything you own.” (Luke 14:33)

“If you want to be perfect, go and sell all your possessions and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” (Matthew 19:21)

Mary taught us that when God speaks he may ask for hard things. At the same time, Mary inspires us to not be afraid of God’s requests. Obedience can be difficult and costly. But not as difficult or costly as disobedience, or worse, total indifference.

Categories : Advent, Christmas, Luke, Mary
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Dec
07

Radical

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One of the first Christian books I read that made a profound impact on my life was The Normal Christian Life by Watchman Nee. The foundational premise of the book was that our spirituality was often so anemic that anyone who really walked with God appeared “abnormal.” Nee called readers to return to the radical normalcy of biblical faith.

I thought about that as I read Radical by David Platt. Platt serves as senior Pastor of the Church at Brook Hills in Birmingham, Alabama. Prior to leading this megachurch, Platt ministered to the French Quarter of New Orleans. He also has done extensive work on the foreign mission field.

Out of those experiences, Platt writes to expose the chasm between what is and what should be. He contrasts the demands of Christ in Scripture with our westernized culture, and like Nee, calls for readers to return to the radical normalcy of biblical faith. Platt addresses our comfortable faith and suggests that we rethink the implications of Jesus’ words concerning the American Dream and global evangelism. Readers who take the words of Jesus seriously will find their worlds turned upside down. The Radical claim of the gospel is that we “can find satisfaction and real service to God only in abandonment to Jesus.”

To help responsive readers apprehend the radical life, the author provides a helpful one year experiment that calls for five commitments. Those commitments are:

1. To pray for the entire world.
2. To read through the entire Bible.
3. To sacrifice my money for a specific purpose.
4. To spend time in another context.
5. To commit my life to a multiplying community.

These five commitments will help reshape your worldview as well as your priorities. If the metrics of the American Dream have high-jacked your faith, Radical can serve as a compass to help you find your way back to the truth of the gospel of Jesus Christ. It’s difficult and even dangerous. But our calling is not to success. It’s to faithfulness.