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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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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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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Our church is going to attempt to show how the Gospel of Jesus Christ is actually in every book of the Bible over the next year or so.  It could get interesting as there are 66 books to cover.  I wasn’t sure what to expect as we began the series this week.

A little background

Luke 24:44-49 is kind of the basis for this series:

Then he said, “Everything I told you while I was with you comes to this: All the things written about me in the Law of Moses, in the Prophets, and in the Psalms have to be fulfilled.”

He went on to open their understanding of the Word of God, showing them how to read their Bibles this way. He said, “You can see now how it is written that the Messiah suffers, rises from the dead on the third day, and then a total life-change through the forgiveness of sins is proclaimed in his name to all nations—starting from here, from Jerusalem! You’re the first to hear and see it. You’re the witnesses. What comes next is very important: I am sending what my Father promised to you, so stay here in the city until he arrives, until you’re equipped with power from on high.”

So that is the starting point…

A good place to start this type of study of the Bible is obviously Genesis! What does the creation of the world have to teach us about Jesus? Surprisingly a lot. Every time I read or think about parts of the Bible you can see something new or unique.  If you just read Genesis as a story book you’ll say that was a good story.  If you read it from a missions standpoint you’ll gather some new insights about being a missionary. If you read it while thinking about the Gospel of Jesus you’ll pick out some new prophetic ideas.

Interestingly, Tim decided to read from a new book his family got as most of his message. He read from The Jesus Storybook Bible: Every Story Whispers His Name which really brought out some neat ideas about the Bible and Genesis.  He assures us that he won’t read to us from it each week, but I think it was rather appropriate and easily summarized the 50 chapter of Genesis into a 40 or so minute message.  (The above pictures are from the book and are Abraham taking Issac to the altar)

Below are some of the tidbits I gleaned from the message:

– God wrote “I love you” in all of creation.

– The Bible is about God and what He has done, not about us.

– Most of the people in the Bible aren’t really heroes, just ordinary people.

– Every story in the Bible whispers Jesus’ name.

– Satan wants to end God’s love story.

– When God kicked Adam and Eve out of the Garden, He promised that He would come back and rescue them at some point in the future.

– Jesus was God’s secret rescue plan for His beloved children.

– We are lovely, only because God loves us right now, even in our sin!

Some of those statements are a fresh way of looking at something, offering a new insight.

Some of those are really exciting.

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For the past few months we’ve been attending Seward Church, a new church.  It is both new to us and also new to the community.  It is a church made of some wonderful people and maybe I’ll go into that in more detail in a future post.  I finally remembered to bring a Bible with me, and a pen, but only a napkin for paper!

So throughout the service I scribbled on a little scrap of napkin.  David brought us a good message, throwing in a little VeggieTales to spice things up!!

The theme was appropriately about giving thanks and praising God despite your circumstances.  A lot of verses could have been used to support this theme, but a more obscure passage from Jonah was chosen: Jonah 1:17-2:10.

The whole sections is a song of Thanksgiving and I would urge you to look at it.  But here are the last 3 verses:

When my life was ebbing away, I remembered you, LORD, and my prayer rose to you, to your holy temple.

“Those who cling to worthless idols forfeit the grace that could be theirs.

But I, with a song of thanksgiving, will sacrifice to you. What I have vowed I will make good. Salvation comes from the LORD

We received a good amount of background, which included a lot of good points! David described the Ninevehites as being the enemy of Israel – Jonah was being sent to the enemy to offer them a message of hope and salvation.  Are we taking the Gospel to our enemies? Jesus, in Luke 6:32-36 admonishes His followers to “love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back. Then your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, because he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked. Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.”

We need to remember that without Christ we are no better than anyone else. We are just as susceptible to sin, legalism, selfish behavior, etc. The difference is that by accepting Christ we have become “Sons of the Most High.”

Back to Jonah – remember he tried to run away from God’s command to go to Nineveh.  He somehow thought he could outrun or hide from God.  Well even in the belly of the whale, God was in control.  But first think about being on that ship, when you realize that this Hebrew man is running away from God.  The pagan sailors knew that Jonah was a man of God and that he was running away from God.  Imagine their fear and confusion – I’m sure some wanted to kill him. If you know the story you know that Jonah freely offered to jump off the ship – with the hope that it would save all on board.

Looking at other Scriptures we realize that sometimes we all need to be disciplined for our actions (Hebrews 12:6) sometimes this is a little more dramatic than others – like being swallowed by a whale for 3 days! But at the same time we also realize that with God all things are possible and He is able to take us inside a whale for 3 days and have us spit back out on the beach (Mark 10:27). It is safe to imagine that Jonah’s plea was very similar to Habakkuk 1:2How long, O LORD, must I call for help, but you do not listen?”

Yes, I think Jonah was afraid to speak Truth to his enemies, but while in the belly of a whale I’m sure anything looks better.  Isn’t that true though, in the middle of a crisis almost anything seems better than the current situation.  That job you hated looks better when you are hungry on the streets.  But God promises us in Psalm 50:15 that we should “call upon me in the day of trouble; I will deliver you, and you will honor me.

God saved Jonah despite his guilt, in part to give him a thankful heart. We all should be thankful and rejoice even though we are a part of a wicked generation (Matthew 12:33-41) God wants to work and move in our midst.

Who is your Nineveh today?  Is there a person or group of people that you are afraid might here the good news? Is God calling you to something that seems a little crazy?

Today let us lay down our fear and trust God and remember that with Him, nothing is impossible!

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No not the movie, Deliverance. Nor deliverance from evil, but that’s close.

Deliverance from testing, trial, and temptation. That was the theme of Sunday’s sermon.

Jeff Cowmeadow of Calvary Church has been going through the book of Matthew, hitting pretty much every verse as he goes along. He has spent several weeks focusing on the Lord’s Prayer. He has provided some unique view points throughout our time at the church which has provoked much discussion in our household. I’m not sure if I’ve written about any of his sermons yet – I tend to forget writing utensils! Anyways…

Matthew 6:13 is the starting point for this week: And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one. Which closely parallels Luke 11:4.

Cowmeadow says that the word we translate as temptation can also be translated as test or trial, which has some contextual basis. If you look at the verse in The Message it says: Keep us safe from ourselves and the Devil.

He continued to point out various places where the same word was used, but translated differently such as when Jesus was in the Garden of Gethsemene in Matthew 26:36-41, specifically the two parts where Christ is asking that the cup be taken away but also in vs 41 where he is encouraging the disciples to stay awake: Stay alert; be in prayer so you don’t wander into temptation without even knowing you’re in danger. (The Message)

We must remember though as James makes clear that no temptation comes from God, but He does allow us to be tested, which will strengthen us in the long run for His purposes.

2Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, 3because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. 4Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.

12Blessed is the man who perseveres under trial, because when he has stood the test, he will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love him.

13When tempted, no one should say, “God is tempting me.” For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone; 14but each one is tempted when, by his own evil desire, he is dragged away and enticed. 15Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death.

16Don’t be deceived, my dear brothers. 17Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows. 18He chose to give us birth through the word of truth, that we might be a kind of firstfruits of all he created.

Looking back into the Old Testament there are a variety of uses for the word/idea of testing, it would take a lot of space to expound on them all but here they are:

  • Exodus 17:2,7 Israel’s grumblings about food and water after crossing out of Egypt.
  • Exodus 15:2,13 Israel’s deliverance from Egypt
  • Exodus 16:4 Manna is a test from God

Testing produces character which ultimately produces hope in us for thing that are eternal. As Christians we should help each other pass the test. But what is that test? Jeff never explicitly said what he thought the test was but implied I think that the test is that we trust and follow God.

This came out most clear in his discussion about Exodus 16 and the idea of manna (bread/food) raining down from heaven. I will expound in another post sometime more about his thoughts on manna, but it is important because the Bible said God was testing the Israelites.

Go back and read the text for all the specifics but basically the idea was that each morning God provided enough food/resources for the Israelites to make it through the day. If you stored up extra – it spoiled overnight (except for the Sabbath preparation). It was simple God said only take what you need for today and trust that I will come back tomorrow and take care of your needs again. Don’t be tempted to take more than you need, because it will spoil. Simple trust for something so profound.

The idea from the manna story coincides with Jesus’ parable about the Rich fool who had a bumper crop and lacked storage facilities for it. So he tore everything down and built new – thinking he could now sit back and enjoy life. The story ends like this in The Message (Luke 12:20-21): “Just then God showed up and said, ‘Fool! Tonight you die. And your barnful of goods—who gets it?’ That’s what happens when you fill your barn with Self and not with God.”

Psalm 78 talks about not testing God. We often challenge Him to do something for us if He does this for us. If you heal my grandma, I’ll pray everyday – If you don’t help me pass this test, I won’t tithe for a month, etc. Jesus passed the test, by never testing God’s plan and He is our example while He was being tempted in the desert. He did not give in to Satan’s evil plans but continued to stand on the promises of God.

It is a simple idea, but one that isn’t always so easy to act out in every day life. Help us Lord to trust you for our daily needs. Help us not to look away from You for anything.

I would highly recommend giving Exodus 15 a quick re-read today.

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Ever heard a sermon in the round? This is the place to go if you want to hear one! We went last night (they replaced Sunday morning services with Yoga and Prayer and meet at night!) to Solomon’s Porch a church in South Minneapolis as we continue our search for a new church home. It meets in an old church with the stained glass still there. The pews have been removed and replaced by couches and chairs forming a circle around the middle of the room where a stool is.

It is very focused on community and is very oriented to allow everyone to share insight and input. It is a very art driven church. We met some people and sat on a couch in the back. The worship band only plays song’s they have written – actually pretty good stuff.

Tonight a woman showed photographs of her song, alongside words written about Jesus in the Bible. It was focused on how our lives follow a similar path to Jesus, we just need to look and see the holiness of little moments. It was a great way to see how Jesus really is every where and inside everyone. You know the whole created in his image thing. (For my Indiana friends, it is like Common Ground only a little more artsy and communal focused – I don’t know an Ohio parallel, but similar to the Rockin’ Fish – so maybe their new ministry the Loft?)

The “sermon” was actually pretty good and thought provoking. We might go back to hear him finish the series. Each week everyone is invited to help prepare the sermon through discussion and study. Doug, the pastor, took the Beatitudes from Matthew 5, pulled them apart and briefly compared them to Christ’s final days during the Passion week.

He said that during that week Christ experienced each of the 8 points:

  • the poor
  • those who mourn
  • the meek
  • those who hunger and thirst for righteousness
  • the merciful
  • the pure in heart
  • the peacemaker
  • those who are persecuted because of righteousness

Some very interesting stuff to ponder during the Lenten period.

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