Archive for December, 2008

larval baby jesus
Image by Dane Larsen via Flickr

On a past weekend (12/18-12/21), we went to church 2x’s.  Yes I am bit on the overachieving side, but not usually when it comes to listening to sermons while sitting in the pew (or other uncomfortable chair).  Friday night was our usual Seward Church gathering and on Sunday we went to Church at the Crossing in Indianapolis, which is where my wonderful wife went to church growing up. Last Monday I shared the message from Seward Church, so today is the one from The Crossing.

Steve Rennick shared the Christmas story for us, starting with Luke 2:1-20. Luke gives a special emphasis to the shepherds and the angels in the Christmas Story.  The shepherds were minding their own business in the field when out of no where came a ton of shiny angels (vs 8-14) where they were told that they shouldn’t be afraid of the angels.  The angels delievered the good news and the shepherds immediately travelled into Bethleham trying to find this baby Jesus upon their arrival they worshipped Him.

Knowing that Christmas is incomplete, the next stop is Matthew 2:1-12. The baby Jesus was born in Bethlehem which fulfills the prophesy in Micah 5:2. Steve pointed out that the entirety of Luke’s Christmas story, all 20 verses of it, fits into 1/2 a verse in Matthew 2:1 “After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod.”  We traditionally think of their being 3 Magi and 3 shepherds, but there is no Biblical truth to this matter.  We get the number 3 because of the three gifts that were brought, but in reality it could have been hundreds of Magi.  Another Christmas misconception or at least a nativity misconception is that the Magi and the shepherds visited the manger at the same time.  In reality the Magi came at a later date and met the family of Jesus at a home (vs 11).  The three gifts gold, frankincense, and myrrh were ultimately used to fund the family’s “exile” in Egypt. Some of these thoughts are new and insightful to me.

A third perspective on the Christmas story come from John 1:1-5, 9-14. If you are familiar with the John story, you know it is a very different perspective on the coming of Jesus.  Steve called it a more theological or upper perspective.  It could be the God view of the story.  It tells it straight up with no sugar – Jesus, the Good News, has come into a dark world to shine light and bring peace.

The final and shortest part of the Christmas story is from Mark 1:1. It offers no information other than that Jesus represents the beginning of many good works!

What is the point of sharing the Christmas Story? It is important to realize the truth of the story (much like looking at the darkside) but it is also important to realize that Jesus represented, as Mark says, the beginning of the good news and many good works. We know that Jesus performed many great works during his 33 years on Earth.  Steve was sharing the story to offer us a challenge.  Jesus could easily fill many libraries full of books on his 33 years (John 20:30-31, 21:25), yet Steve implied that Jesus is still working and acting today – through us.  He asked several times what John 22 might look like if it were written about us…

We are a part of the Gospel story – not the canonized version – but the ongoing story of good news and salvation.  Can we obey God’s desires and serve Him?  Steve challenged us to ask ourselves this question as we prepare for 2009:

God, what do you want to do through me, what do you want to do to me, and  what do you want to do in my life?

He suggested we dream big and set no limits, just wait, pray, and see where God takes you.  It is an interesting connection, using the Christmas story to challenge us for the beginning of 2009. I have trouble recalling it and tying it all together but you can listen to it here (sometime soon).

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Hope you have a Merry and blessed Christmas season.   Enjoy this picture of the greater Cross family!

Merry Christmas,

Team Cross

It seems almost sacrilege to even mention that Christmas might have a darkside.  What could be bad about a holiday that celebrates the birth of the Savior? Or giving and getting gifts?

Some of the modern day darkness is easy to point out – the fact that it takes until February or March for the average American to pay off their Christmas-related debt or the fact that the commercialization of Christmas has made it the most important time of year for retail stores.  Yes this is some of the darkness, but that is only the tip of the iceberg.

On Friday night Tim discussed with us the dark beginnings of what we have come to know as Christmas.  The key Scripture is pretty blunt, Matthew 2:16-18 says it all – Herod slaughtered all the male children under 2 years old. But the pain and suffering started before that.

The suffering started when God spoke and told both Mary & Elizabeth their “good news” about their forthcoming children. The news strained Mary & Joseph’s relationship – Joseph knew he wasn’t the father, “Mary is there something you are hiding?” The broader family and community were hurt by this scandal of a pre-marital pregnancy.  The trip to Bethlehem (which was necessary to fulfill prophecy) was painful on the very pregnant Mary and not so easy on Joseph either.  Actually the census was painful on everyone in the country.  Then you have Zecharia’s disbelief and his ensuing muteness. All of this is capped off by Herod’s evilness and desire to kill the so called King by slaughtering thousands of innocent babies.

Yes the pain and suffering surrounding the birth of Christ is immense. Tim also pointed out that if you look through the genealogy of Christ in Matthew 1, you not only see kings, but you see a rag tag group of hurt people. Victims of slavery, rape, war, and much more.  One good (?) aspect of all the suffering is that ultimately no one was spared. Every socio-economic group, every age group, and every gender was adversity affected by pain and suffering.

So why all the pain and suffering? Because God is a narcissist and like to see us suffer? Not so much and actually quite the opposite. The Gospel is a real story of good news which can help redeem our own pain and suffering. Our cultural focus is all about the hope, joy, peace on earth, and goodwill to men, but this is way outside the reality for most of us. Our holiday season is fraught with painful memories, family tensions, financial struggles, etc. It is reassuring to realize that from the beginning Jesus knew and understood suffering.

God’s plans is to suffer with us throughout our lives. But not the kind of dejected suffering where you see no hope. God understands our pain and wants to be a part of it. He wants us to connect with the heartache and not disconnect from it. He doesn’t want us to cover it over with alcohol or spending sprees. Nor does He want us to jump head first into painful and dangerous situations. Ultimately when we pull away from our suffering we are pulling away from God and the grace and peace He can offer us through Christ.

Finally, God suffered for us, bringing redemption into our lives. Redemption is amazing and unbelievable. God wants to turn our ratty lives into something awesome and indescribable. The Christmas story is one of hope because we know the rest of Christ’s story. We know that He suffered, died, was buried, and ultimately rose again – defeating Satan and providing a way for us to find eternal life.

We know that suffering will end eventually, but it is also part of the experience and we need to learn to try and embrace it and praise God through it.

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Tim ended the evening with John Piper reading his book The Innkeeper which is a great story about the suffering of the innkeeper and his meeting with the adult Jesus.

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German painting, 1457

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We are in the season of Advent or the season of waiting for our Savior Jesus Christ to be born.  Or as it has become known the Christmas Shopping Season.

For the past several years groups have been spending a lot of time and energy advocating around Christmas time.  Some like Focus on the Family do campaigns encouraging you to boycott stores that don’t advertise Christmas – using generic words like holiday. They’ve actually taken it to the extreme this year setting up a rating system using terms like Christmas-friendly, Christmas-negligent, and Christmas-offensive.

Other groups have been less concerned with the terminology used but more with the idea of getting back to the meaning behind Christmas and focusing less on the materialism side.  One group this year is called Advent Conspiracy. Which is trying to encourage people to give the gift of presence this year.  Their campaign has four tenants –

  1. Worship Fully
  2. Spend Less
  3. Give More
  4. Love All

What do you think? Christmas has always been a special time of seeing friends and family and celebrating the birth of Jesus. But as I’ve gotten older it has been harder and harder to come up with gift ideas for myself and for my family.  It seems that I buy myself the vast majority of things as I need them or the things I’d like to get are unrealistic – a new laptop, a suit, etc – for any one person to buy. I’ve told my mom for years that she didn’t have to get me anything special, a gift card would be fine.  Unfortunately, her primary love language is giving gifts – so she has to give gifts!

I really enjoyed this video from Advent Conspiracy.

It is crazy how much money gets spent each year, how much debt is incurred, all in the name of our Savior.  He would not be pleased with this.  Do you remember that He was born in a barn? Yes, next to the animals.  He is not honored by our extravagant gift giving. He is honored by the love that we share with those around us.  He is not honored by lots of decoratively colored boxes under a dead tree.  He is honored when we are willing to sacrifice our lives for others, like He did on top of a dead tree.

Just some things to ponder this Christmas…

HT Carol’s Place

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Two Saturdays ago, we went with our church to go out and love some of our neighbors.  You may recall our church is in its toddler stage, but from its birth the church’s goal was to be outward focused loving our neighbors.

Webster defines neighbor as one living next to or near another or fellow man. I think the story of the Good Samaritan shows that our neighbor is anyone in need. I think almost all of the people who attend our church our involved in some type of personal ministry to our neighbors at our house and about half of us intentionally live in the “inner-city.”  As a church we are fortunate to have a Minneapolis Housing Authority building located almost directly across from the church (Google say is is just over 200 feet down the street).

The pastors of the church have been engaging people from that building through the years getting to know some of the residents.  Some of our students from our Somali Adult Literacy Training school live in that building.  I guess what I’m trying to say is that as a church and for Team Cross we already know people there and are at least somewhat involved in their lives.

As a group we took homemade cookies, tea, music, boxes of love and stockings of love and spent a good 3 hours meeting some of the residents, talking with friends and just hanging out.  It was a lot of fun and everyone was very appreciative of our love and kindness. There are a lot of fun stories, but the coolest one of all is that they want us to come back.  Both a staff person and the tenants group leader want us to keep being involved.  As a church who wants to love its neighbors I am sure we will go back often and Team Cross will continue to visit our friends there as well.

Oh, just a thought… our boxes and stockings weren’t full of cheesy little gifts, but real useful items.  The boxes were actually designed for Thanksgiving time and are full of non-perishable food items.  The stockings had things like toothbrushes, hats, gloves, long underwear, and the like.

I share this story with you today so that you might be inspired to find a way to love your neighbors.

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Moses with the Tablets, 1659, by Rembrandt.
Image via Wikipedia

Friday night David continued the series “The Gospel According to …” at Seward Church.  This week was an exploration of the Book of Exodus.

I’ll admit I haven’t read much from Exodus in the last few years and often turn to Deuteronomy to get a copy of the 10 Commandments, so this was an interesting exploration and refresher of the book. Exodus has 40 chapters so David broke it down into three parts.

God Who Saves – Grace (Exodus 1-18) Some of the background of the book is God fulfilling His previous promises to Abraham (1:5-7), remembering the plight of his chosen people (2:23-25) and He had concern for their plight.  Some interesting thoughts come from this section as well such as before Abraham and any promises were made was the “I AM”. In John 8:12 Jesus said “I am the light of the world…”  This section of Exodus reminds us that Jesus draws near to us and is with us no matter our condition.

What do you think of this statement David made: “It seems when God shows up things seem to get worse.” I think I might have it a little out of context, but the point he was trying to make is that we expect God to remove all the pain from our life – we expect at the moment of salvation to have all of our troubles erased and life to be perfect.  God never promises us freedom from pain and suffering – but He does promise that He will never leave or forsake us no matter what trial we might face.

Did you know that God systematically destroyed Egypt’s gods? Maybe I knew this and forgot but basically the 10 plaques and all the other hardship Egypt faced in Exodus were direct frontal attacks on their most important deities.  A personal aside, I wonder if this is something similar to what we are experiencing now in the US?  A final thought from this section that I really like is that God saved Israel before the law was ever made. It is as if God wanted to make absolutely clear that we could never work for salvation but that it is His to freely give.

God Who Guides Us – Truth (Exodus 19-24) Like I just mentioned the law was created as a guide for the Israelites to live by, not a means for their salvation. Our salvation is only through God alone and His grace. 20:2 makes this clear, “I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery.” Our obedience to the law and to God’s desire in our life is a way to enjoy blessings (shalom) and wholeness that comes from submitting to God’s might and power. That was David’s paraphrase of 19:5 and here is the fulfillment of that promise from John 1:17:

For the law was given by Moses, but grace and truth came by Jesus Christ.

God Who Is With Us – Glory (Exodus 25-40) You may recall that this last section of Exodus talks mostly about the Tabernacle – building it, decorating it, and knowing what to do with it. David drew the connection that this is God wanting to be with and near us. Unfortunately, God can’t be with us, because our sin makes it impossible – “… But I will not go with you, because you are a stiff-necked people and I might destroy you on the way” (33:3). Moses challenged God and He responded with this great promise in 33:14 “The LORD replied, “My Presence will go with you, and I will give you rest.”  Yes, thank you for the rest, Jesus talks about this rest as well in Matthew 11:28.

Even with this rest that God is giving us and the grace He has shown us, we like the Israelites are quick to forget His goodness and turn the golden calves or other earthly desires.  But God promised that He will always be with us (34:6-10):

And He [God] passed in front of Moses, proclaiming, “The LORD, the LORD, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness,  maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin. Yet he does not leave the guilty unpunished; he punishes the children and their children for the sin of the fathers to the third and fourth generation.”

Moses bowed to the ground at once and worshiped. “O Lord, if I have found favor in your eyes,” he said, “then let the Lord go with us. Although this is a stiff-necked people, forgive our wickedness and our sin, and take us as your inheritance.”

Then the LORD said: “I am making a covenant with you. Before all your people I will do wonders never before done in any nation in all the world. The people you live among will see how awesome is the work that I, the LORD, will do for you.

That is a great promise.  God has shown Himself trustworthy.  He says He will save us if we trust in Him.  He says “I am the way… I will never leave you.”

During the closing songs the singer asked something to the effect of “do we trust God enough to fall back into Him – like in the trust fall.”

David ended the night with this quote which I really like and is a refreshing reminder:

It is not my grip on God that is my hope, but His grip on me.

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