Archive for December, 2013

Dec
11

Great Things from Small Places

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wood.nativity

In the 19th century the whole world was watching the campaigns of Napoleon with great concern. There was talk everywhere of marches, invasions, battles and bloodshed as the French dictator pushed his way through Europe. Babies were born at that time, but who had time to think about babies or to care about cradles or nurseries when the international scene was filled with such turmoil? Between Trafalgar and Waterloo there stole into the world a host of heroes whose lives were destined to shape history. But who had time to think of babies while Napoleon was on the move?

Take the year 1809. All eyes were on Austria because that is where the blood was flowing freely. In one campaign after another, Napoleon swept through that nation. Nobody cared about babies in 1809, but when you check history, your realize that some special people were born that year. Take for example William Gladstone, destines to become one of England’s finest statesmen, and Alfred Tennyson, who would one day make a profound mark on the literary world. Oliver Wendell Holmes was born in Cambridge, and not far away in Boston, Edgar Allen Poe began his eventful albeit tragic life. It was also 1809 that a physician named Darwin named his baby Charles Robert. And in that same year, the cries of a newborn infant could be heard in Hardin County, Kentucky, where Abraham Lincoln was born.

If we could turn back time and read the headlines from 1809, they would say something about how the destiny of the world was being changed on the battlefield of Austria. But was it? It’s funny, but only a handful of history buffs could probably name only two or three of those Austrian campaigns today. Looking back, history was not being shaped on the battlefields of Austria. It was being changed in the nurseries of England and America.

In 4 B.C., no one in the Roman Empire could have cared less about babies either, especially the birth of Jewish ones in small towns like Bethlehem. Rome ruled the world and history was being made. But was it? About 7 centuries before Christ was born, a prophet named Micah predicted to Israel that their future hope lie in the coming of Messiah. As they surveyed the devastation of the nation, Micah gave words of assurance that God did have a plan for their redemption and restoration. His prophecy seemed strange to some, for he announced that the greatest would come from the least. The Messiah was to be born in the humble town of Bethlehem.

Bethlehem means, “house of bread.” In history it was the setting for the book of Ruth—the famous love story. Later it would be the birthplace and childhood home of a boy who would become Israel’s greatest King—King David. Other than that, Bethlehem was known for two other things. It was a place where sheep were raised. Most of Bethlehem’s labor force was involved in breeding and raising sheep. It was also known as a place of shelter. Only 5 miles from Jerusalem, it was a popular overnight stop for weary travelers. Bethlehem was a town of no significance. But when Jesus came to town, it became transformed into a place of greatness. Today the town has worldwide fame. That’s a wonderful analogy of the transformation that Jesus brings. Christ takes the ordinary and transforms it into something significant, valuable and meaningful.

Categories : Advent, Christmas
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Dec
10

Do You Hear What I Hear? (part 2)

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How did God speak to the shepherds? What can we learn that will help us as we learn to hear from God?

1. God speaks to us where we are.
That night there were shepherds staying in the fields nearby… (Luke 2:8)

2. God speaks to us as we are.
…guarding their flocks of sheep. (Luke 2:8)

3. When God speaks we don’t have to be afraid.
Suddenly, an angel of the Lord appeared among them, and the radiance of the Lord’s glory surrounded them. They were terrified, but the angel reassured them. “Don’t be afraid!” he said. “I bring you good news that will bring great joy to all people. (Luke 2:9-10)

4. When God speaks He speaks with clarity.
The Savior—yes, the Messiah, the Lord—has been born today in Bethlehem, the city of David! And you will recognize him by this sign: You will find a baby wrapped snugly in strips of cloth, lying in a manger.” Suddenly, the angel was joined by a vast host of others—the armies of heaven—praising God and saying, “Glory to God in highest heaven, and peace on earth to those with whom God is pleased. (Luke 2:11-14)

5. God’s speech is an invitation to respond to Him.
When the angels had returned to heaven, the shepherds said to each other, “Let’s go to Bethlehem! Let’s see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.” They hurried to the village and found Mary and Joseph. And there was the baby, lying in the manger. (Luke 2:15-16)

6. God speaks to us so that our lives may be changed.
After seeing him, the shepherds told everyone what had happened and what the angel had said to them about this child. All who heard the shepherds’ story were astonished, but Mary kept all these things in her heart and thought about them often. The shepherds went back to their flocks, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen. It was just as the angel had told them. (Luke 2:17-20)

Categories : Advent, Christmas
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Dec
09

Do You Hear What I Hear?

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Advent has always been a prominent part of the worship of the church. Some of my earliest memories of worship are of cantatas, pageants, living nativities, and candlelight Christmas Eve services. During my elementary age years the choir would prepare and perform songs that the children of the church would act out. Our volunteer children’s leaders would assign parts to the kids and organize rehearsals that would meet during Sunday School. Our simple costumes consisted of dad’s bathrobe; accessorized by a towel and necktie that would be fashioned into head wear. I always wanted a leading role, but usually ended up as a shepherd.

Perhaps we have romanticized the shepherds a bit much. Looking back in history, shepherds were often dishonest, unsavory men of poor reputation. No one in the first century would have trusted a shepherd, let alone have honored one. Part of their problem was that due to the nature of their work they were spiritually marginalized. They spent their lives, according to legend, tending the sheep that would be sacrificed in the Temple at Passover. As keepers of the Temple sheep, they could not observe all of the Jewish purification rites and rituals. They were an unclean sector of society that were a necessary evil. Imagine the irony of raising sheep for sacrifice in a Temple they could not enter.

Yet when Jesus was born the shepherds were the first to receive the news. Does that surprise you? It reminds me that the overriding theme of Christmas is that Jesus came to give his life for the down and out as well as the up and in. When the shepherds heard the good news they seized the moment. God spoke to them and he speaks to us. What can we learn from the shepherds about hearing God’s voice? Tomorrow I’ll post some observations about how we can hear God’s voice from the shepherd’s experience long ago.

Categories : Advent, Christmas
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Dec
05

5 Kinds of Gossips

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Here’s a great post by Tim Challies on the 5 Kinds of Gossips you’ll encounter in life.

Categories : Relationships, Speech
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Dec
04

A Psalm of Thanksgiving

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Shout with joy to the LORD, all the earth!
Worship the LORD with gladness.
Come before him, singing with joy.
Acknowledge that the LORD is God!
He made us, and we are his.
We are his people, the sheep of his pasture.
Enter his gates with thanksgiving;
go into his courts with praise.
Give thanks to him and praise his name.
For the LORD is good.
His unfailing love continues forever,
and his faithfulness continues to each generation.

(Psalm 100:1-5, NLT)

Have you ever had someone do something for you or bless you in some unexpected way? Have you ever asked yourself the question, “How can I show my gratitude?” Psalm 100 offers some suggestions on how you can express your gratitude to God. We can shout joyfully, serve gladly or sing joyfully.

It takes two things to shout: conviction and commitment. When my son started playing football in Arkansas I stood at the games with the dads. Primarily because the moms wouldn’t sit with us. We were loud and proud, cheering for our children like we were at the Rose Bowl. When we moved to Iowa I had to tone it down because fan Iowa fan enthusiasm rivaled the golf clapping gallery at the 18th green at The Master’s. When you shout, you get the attention of others because your words are loud enough to be overheard. When we joyfully shout our praise and thanksgiving to God, we become witnesses to the goodness of God, bearing testimony to his character. Our witness not only expresses our feelings about God, it indirectly becomes an invitation to those around us to join the chorus.

Our glad worship is the application of our praise and gratitude. The word worship literally means “service” (liturgy). We can move our mouths and our hands, expressing praise through our talents, time and treasures.

Older translations render sing joyfully as “make a joyful noise unto the Lord.” That is not an invitation to the tone deaf to join the choir. It is yet another way that we can share our praise and gratitude to God.

The common denominator of these verses is joy and gladness. But what if you don’t feel joyful and glad? Sometimes the pain and problems of life leaves us feeling anything but joyful and glad. Are we, to borrow a cliche from years ago, to “praise the Lord anyway?” Does sincerity matter? Don’t let your circumstances cause you to be confused about the character of God. We live in an evil and fallen world, surrounded by brokenness.

So what can we say with confidence about our God? What can we acknowledge? First, the Lord is creator, He has made us. We do not come from ourselves. Second, the Lord is redeemer, for we are his people. We do not belong to ourselves. Finally, the Lord is our Shepherd–our care giver, for we are the sheep of his pasture. Ultimately we do not provide for ourselves.

Verse four issues a second invitation. Praise and thanksgiving are something used interchangeably, but they are not synonyms. Thanksgiving acknowledges what God has done while praise acknowledges who God is. Suppose you gave me a gift. Upon receiving the gift I might say something like, “Thank you for the gift. You are a thoughtful and generous person.” Thanksgiving acknowledges the gift, while praise acknowledges the thoughtfulness and generosity of the giver. See the difference?

So what is our motivation for this? Our motivation is rooted in the character and nature of God. Unlike the pagan deities of the day, God is good. His love endures, never diminishing. We can never do anything to cause God to love us less than he does and we can never do anything to cause God to love us more than he does. And he is faithful forever. He never quits on us or writes us off.

Praise and thanksgiving are cultivated in the humility of one’s heart. The proud and arrogant are not thankful. If praise and thanksgiving are absent from your life and lips, its not because you’re ungrateful. It’s because you’re proud. So take some time to raise your voice and lift your hands. No one has the perfect life. But we are blessed with more than we deserve. And every gift comes from the loving hands of our good God.

Categories : Thanksgiving
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