I came across this blogpost and thought it was exceptional. We generally don’t think of ourselves having this struggle, but given the frequency that Scripture discusses it must mean the problem has been around for a long time. If you have a few minutes, I’d encourage you to read it. If it doesn’t help you directly, I’m certain that this is a helpful tool that you can put into the hands of someone who could benefit from it. You can find the article by Tony Reinke HERE.

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There’s a lot of pressure that comes with finding out you’re about to have a baby, not the least of which is what to name it. My wife, who is a school teacher, and I set forth specific ground rules for what name to pick. It couldn’t be the name of someone either of us had dated. I couldn’t be a name that could be easily made fun of on the playground. It couldn’t be the name of a naughty school child or a difficult church member. Once all of those names were ruled out we were in business.
We even went so far as to purchase a couple of those “baby name” books to see what particular names meant.

Of all the names associated with Christ at his birth, the most familiar by far is the name Jesus. The name Jesus appears some 700 times in the New Testament. Unlike us, Joseph and Mary didn’t have to come up with that one. God instructed them before his birth what he would be called.

“Don’t be afraid, Mary,” the angel told her, “for you have found favor with God! 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!”
(Luke 1:30-33, NLT)

When we had each of our children, the first question we got was “What did you name the baby?” When the Deatrick’s have a baby, it gets a name. When the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge have a baby, people want to know what it shall be called. That may seem like splitting hairs for us in North America, but its a big deal among countries that still have monarchy’s. To the royals, babies are “called.” Its a formal act that is replete with character, reputation, and dignity. That’s the idea behind the naming of Jesus. It’s not just a name. Its the right of royalty.

The name Jesus itself means “Yahweh saves,” which would have reminded the original readers of Luke of all kinds of Old Testament salvation stories. Matthew 1:21 takes it one step further and explains, “for he shall save his people from their sins.”

This baby would be great, literally megas, from which we derive our English word mega. While we generally use the word great loosely, there is a more formal understanding of the word from the world of mathematics. In mathematics, the word mega denotes 10 to the power of 6, or one million. That is something that is quantifiable for us, but the greatness of Jesus exceeds even our basic math comprehension. So how then, is Jesus revealed to us as great? There are three manifestations of Jesus’ greatness that Luke calls out.

First, he is great in his relationship to the heavenly Father. He is “Son of the Most High.” This points to his divine sonship. He is great because he is the Son of God. He is great because he is God.

Next, he is great in his role as the Messiah. Luke’s references to throne and rule points to his Davidic Messiahship. Jesus’ sonship precedes his Messiahship.

Finally, he is great in his rule as the everlasting king. His kingdom knows no end. The sonship yields the Messiahship, which in turn yields the Kingdom of God. This kingdom is not the geo-political kind, but a spiritual movement where God rules in the hearts of humankind and his will is actually done on earth as it is in heaven.

So what does that mean for you on the Christmas Day? Who is Jesus in relationship to you personally? The fact that Jesus is great reveals that we are not and cannot be without him. One of the greatest dangers that Christmas presents to each of us is the temptation to leave the baby in the manger. Yes, Christ was born as a baby in Bethlehem long ago. But if you leave the baby in the manger you miss the entire point of why he came. Because he is the Son of God the has the authority to serve as the Messiah sent from God to be the Savior of the world. As Savior, he has the right to rule in your heart and mine. I don’t want to rob you of the joy of Christmas in the slightest. But if you leave the baby in the manger, all you’ll end up with at the end of your life is warm sentimentality and not a relationship with the creator and redeemer of the universe.

Categories : Advent, Christmas
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When my wife went into labor with our third child things progressed more rapidly than we anticipated. By the time we arrived in the birthing suite it was time to deliver. The nursing staff called the doctor whose office was just a few blocks away. When she returned, she calmed stated, “The doctor is near.” At that moment, nearness offered little if any comfort. My daughter would be brought into the world by a complete stranger, a doctor on call that we had not seen before or since.

There is a big difference between being near and being here. That difference is the calming promise of Immanuel, “God with us.”

In 734 BC, the people of Judah were under duress. The armies of Israel joined forces with the armies of Aram to overtake Jerusalem. The prophetic word of encouragement from Isaiah was not what King Ahaz was not what he was expecting. “The Lord himself will give you a sign. The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel.” (Isaiah 7:14) That prophecy came to Judah during a dark time of adversity. The most comforting words the prophet could offer was, “God is here.”

Fast forward seven centuries and we learn that little had changed for the people. Under the oppressive rule of the Roman Empire, people were looking for hope and comfort. Again, the word of the Lord came to them. “The virgin will conceive and give birth to a Son, and they will call him ‘Immanuel,’ which means ‘God with us.'” (Matthew 1:23)

When God came to us through Jesus, he didn’t come as hoped or expected. Messianic expectations were focused on a military leader like David who would deliver the land from the unrighteous Roman rule. Jesus came to meet the deepest needs of the people, the needs far deeper than geo-political freedom and restoration. How does he meet our deepest needs?

I believe Isaiah 9:6 sheds light on the kind of presence God offered then and now. “And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.”

As Wonderful Counselor he is available to reveal the ultimate root causes of our need and point to the appropriate remedy.
As the Mighty God he has the power to enable us to experience the true transformation we seek.
As the Everlasting Father he reminds us that we belong and that we are loved unconditionally.
As the Prince of Peace he provides the true peace we need, peace with God.

The Gospels emphasize the presence of God in our lives. In fact, God’s presence bookends the story of Jesus. At his birth, he is Immanuel, God with us. At his ascension his parting words were, “And lo, I am with you always.” (Matthew 28:20)

The Christmas story is about, in part, the fact that God is not near. He is here.

Categories : Advent, Christmas
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The Word

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Art can be difficult to understand. Since my daughter is an art student, I’ve had the opportunity to visit two of the Midwest’s finest art galleries. As I wandered through those quiet halls, I felt immersed in the paradox of knowing what I viewed but not really knowing what I viewed. While I appreciate art, I need help to understand it. For example, I once read that Vincent Van Gogh used the color yellow to symbolize the divine. That insight brought to life his famous painting, “Starry Night.”

The Gospel of John is like that for me. Matthew writes with the precision of a tax accountant. Mark displays a unique understanding of the humanity of the story line. Luke pens his witness with the care and concern of a physician. John, however, writes with an artist’s paint brush. While his words sometimes seem clouded, they should have resonated to some degree with his Jewish audience.

John’s Christmas narrative is not like that of Matthew and Luke, who cite times, locations and people. John’s version of the Christmas story goes like this.

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through Him, and apart from Him nothing came into being that has come into being. In Him was life, and the life was the Light of men. The Light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it. And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we saw His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth. (John 1:1-5, 14)

The first thing that John points out in his Gospel is that Jesus is the Living Word. We know about words. Words are a means of communication; the expression of oneself to another. So the first thing John wants us to know about Christmas is that God is trying to say something to the world. God is speaking. So what is God trying to communicate?

God wanted us to know that Jesus is divine. He wasn’t created at birth, he was pre-existent before time and space came to be. To emphasize this, John reminds us that Jesus played a vital role in the creation of the world that he has come to reclaim and redeem.

God wanted us to know that Jesus offers us tremendous possibilities. “Words create worlds,” as my friend Bryan Rose likes to say. The Word brought forth life, and from life comes light. John is reminding us that the first day of creation was the creation of light. Light is important because it reveals. That is true of any light from the nightlight in your bathroom to the surgical lamps of the operating room. Light reveals what is there and what is not, and enables us to see to take the next step.

Finally, God wanted us to know that the Living Word is filled with promise. He came full of grace and truth. Jesus’ unfailing love and faithfulness offers two things to us this Advent season. In Jesus, God is promising that he will never stop loving us and that he will never abandon us. No matter who we are, where we are, or what we have done, his grace and truth is relentless.

In order to make all of this happen, “the word became flesh and dwelt among us.” Or, as Eugene Peterson wrote in The Message, “The Word became flesh and moved into the neighborhood.” That’s what Christmas is about. The Word becoming flesh and moving into the neighborhood.

Categories : Advent, Christmas
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A Whole New Mind

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One of my interests is reading about neuroscience and how the brain works. This title was especially captivating to me because I am right brained and was optimistic that this book would help me understand why my brain functions the way it does. While Pink’s book does deliver some basic information about both hemisphere’s of the brain, his work is more about how using both sides to move past the information age into the remainder of this century.

Most of the text on the right hemisphere of the brain is basic. For example,

The left side is sequential while the right side is simultaneous.
The left side is the 1,000 words while the right side is the picture.
The left side specializes in text while the right side specializes in context.
The left side handles what is said while the right side handles how it was said.
The left side is about attention to detail while the right side is the big picture.
The left side is analysis while the right side is about synthesis.
The left side thinks in categories while the right side thinks in relationships.

Ultimately, Pink writes, to be healthy you have to use both hemisphere’s.

Pink offers that the left hemisphere has led the way in our careers and our economy to date, however we are now seeing many of our jobs outsourced to people overseas who can do the same kind of work for pennies on the dollar. So how does the right hemisphere help us maintain our competitive edge? By developing six senses related to the right side of the brain.

It’s not just function, but also design that values both utility and significance.
2. It’s not just argument, but also story where we learn to fashion a compelling narrative.
3. It’s not just focus, but also symphony where we combine disparate pieces into an arresting new whole.
4. It’s not just logic, but also empathy that enters into what other’s see and feel.
5. It’s not just seriousness, but also play that adds value to what we know.
6. It’s not just accumulation, but also meaning so that we find purpose, transcendence and spiritual fulfillment.

Again, it’s not one engineers versus artists. It’s both/and.

I found Pink’s book to be interesting and very helpful. If you’re interested in this sort of stuff, perhaps you will too.

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Decision 2016

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Within a few short hours Americans will make their way to their precincts to cast their ballot for the next President of the United States. I have not missed a presidential election since I became eligible to vote 35 years ago. At no time during my brief allotment of ballots have I sensed this level of anxiety among the electorate. This election has dominated both our television screens and our personal conversations. As I have listened to people I have become increasingly concerned with the observation that this high level of anxiety is no different among people of faith as those who do not have any religious leanings.

To the people of faith who may stumble upon this simple post, I offer the words of Old Testament King David, who penned these words:

“Some nations boast of their chariots and horses, but we boast in the name of the Lord our God.”
(Psalm 20:7, NLT)

On Wednesday, November 9, we will awaken to our alarms and discover that the sun has still risen. And more importantly, God will still be on his throne.

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Back at the first of June we obtained one, female German Shepherd puppy. Needless to say, our summer has been busy, but limited. Puppies are a lot of fun, but also a lot of work. One of the things I’ve noticed about her is that she doesn’t care to be outside in the heat of day. Summers in Iowa are not renown for intense heat and humidity, but we have had several days of 100 degree heat indexes. On those days she immediately seeks shade when outdoors.

Shade is something that makes summer what it is. It is a place where we find rest from the heat of the noonday sun. There are times when we have to be in the sun, but its nice to have some shade available.

There isn’t really much about shade in the Bible, but recently I’ve been thinking of the story of the Exodus. When God led the Israelites out of slavery in Egypt, he provided his presence and guidance through the form of a cloud. The fleeing children simply had to keep an eye on the cloud to know the path to the land of promise. Interestingly enough, the same thing that provide them with guidance also provided them comfort, for those who followed the cloud walked in its shade.

The same thing is true today. Following God provides some marvelous benefits, including his comfort. The more closely we walk with God, the more we sense his comfort. The Psalmist understood this principle far before I did. Psalm 121:5-8 says, “The Lord watches over you–the Lord is your shade at your right hand; the sun will not harm you by day, nor the moon by night. The Lord will keep you from all harm–he will watch over your life; the Lord will watch over your coming and going both now and forever more.”

So next time you see a park bench under a shade tree, remember that the Lord is your spiritual shade, provide rest and refreshment from the noonday sun.

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Barna Research has released it’s latest report, focused on the top 50 most generous cities in America. I am not surprised to find Des Moines/Ames ranks number seven on the list. The report shares two interesting insights from their findings.

First, four of the top five cities have a larger “downscale” population than an “upscale” population. Downscale is defined as those with a gross income of less than $20,000 per year who do not hold a college degree. Upscale is define as those with a gross income in excess of $75,000 who hold a college degree. This affirms what data has claimed for some time: wealth does not have a direct impact on generosity.

The second observation is that the majority of donations among the top 50 communities are directed toward churches and religious institutions. This insight is interesting to me given the general feeling that churches are continuing to cleave along the lines of the haves and have nots.

If you would like to read the full report or see the top 50 list in its entirety, you can find it at www.barna.org.

Categories : Barna Group, Stewardship
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The Development of Fruit

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The Fruit of the Spirit

For the past five weeks I’ve been teaching on the Fruit of the Spirit, found in Galatians 5:22-23. There are a variety of opinions on how the Holy Spirit develops this fruit in our lives. I’ve settled on the concept that the Fruit of the Spirit develops in progression.

For example, the first one in the list is love. That fruit is the baseline for all that follows. We begin by developing the fruit of love, and when that is in place, we then have access to the fruit of joy. Love plus joy yields peace, and upon those three we can then move toward patience. Once I have a handle on patience, I can then demonstrate kindness, followed by goodness, and so forth.

To understand it in reverse, you’ll never find a kind person who is not loving, or a person at peace who doesn’t have a measure of joy.

Because fruit is singular, we need to embrace the whole, not just the individual virtues listed by Paul. My grocery store has a salad bar that includes a large assortment of fresh fruit. I’m interested in the berries and the pineapple, but will always pass on fruit like kiwi. The Fruit of the Spirit doesn’t work that way. We can’t pick and choose joy and peace to the exclusion of patience and faithfulness. We begin with love and add to it one by one until we arrive at the final trait, self control.

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The Fruit of the Spirit

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The Fruit of the Spirit

If you want to evaluate your Christian maturity, don’t assess your gifts. Don’t bother to measure your ministry involvement. If you want to evaluate your maturity inspect your fruit! Tomorrow I’m beginning a new sermon series from Galatians 5:22-23, on The Fruit of the Spirit. I hope to share some thoughts throughout this series here on my blog!