Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Merry Christmas!

So I had this idea and then I saw it wasn't original. Buuut, that isn't exactly new to me. I'm often slow to the hip things. For instance, have you seen this deal called the iPhone? I hear it's got some great application. I went looking for one online and discovered that they just keep upgrading these things.

Sorry for that lttle tangent. Let me get to the idea. I'm going to take a break from blogging. Before you thank me, hear me out...

I'll be breaking until the new year. For starters, you're much too busy to be reading all these blogs. Second, I've once again left Christmas shopping for my wife until the home stretch. Sooo, add it all together and you'll see I'm doing this for both of us.

Now, I've seen where some blogs will post their most popular blogs during their off-time. Here's why I won't be doing that. Again, if you're too busy to read blogs, why would I assume that you have time to read a better blog? If I assumed that, I would just post links to other people's blogs. (Get it? Self-deprecation. It kills, right?)

Oh, the real reason for not posting most popular blogs? It kind of goes against my whole m.o. If I believe (and I do) that this life isn't about me (even mine), then it seems a tad self-centered to offer up the 'best of me'.

So have a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year! I'll see you in 2012!

Monday, December 19, 2011

God First, Man Second: Christmas Edition part 4

This is part 4 of my God First, Man Second: Christmas Editions. You can find the other 3 here, here and here. No matter what you do at Christmas time, no matter what your traditions, I hope that you will take some time to remember why we even get to celebrate this season.

“Glory to God in the highest heaven,
and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.” ~Luke 2:14

This is what it all comes down to. The whole heavenly host come out just to sing it. Glory is given to God. This is right, because God is deserving of our glory. In fact, God is the only One deserving.

What do we get? Peace. This is beyond our undertanding. We can think we understand it. But we know, deep down, we don't.

See, we come to this God-man relationship offering nothing. I could sugar-coat that for you since it's the holidays and all, but let's be honest. We're in a big heap of trouble and we have no actual solution.

But God, planning as only He can, prepares and foretells and gives us Jesus. I'm not saying that our lives as Christians become a cake-walk, though that would be yummy. But now we have an answer. And not a 12-step, apply twice daily, take this pill kind of answer. This is miracle beyond miracles!

God is worthy of our glory. We don't need it anymore. So give God the glory that is due Him.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Practicing the Way of Jesus

To say that this book was read would be a misnomer. This is a book that you experience. That is on purpose by author Mark Scandrette. The title of this book is Practicing the Way of Jesus: Life Together in the Kingdom of Love.

I experienced this book with a small group at my church. The book comes complete with study guide in the back, giving a schedule for which chapters to read and in what order. There was thought put into this. The basic premise that Mark puts forth is the idea that the Christian life is not one lived while sitting in a pew, but one that is lived out.

Mark divides the book into 5 main sections. These are areas that he believes all of us must work on in growing deeper in our faith. Those areas are: Identity, Purpose, Security, Community and Freedom/Peace. He wrote one chapter on theory and one on practice for each area.

One of the first things I said when I read the first chapter was that the book scared me. I believed it was gong to be too fanatical in its approach. The experiments, as Mark calls them, were designed to push, but were not beyond comprehension or capability. Many times, it took our group just collectively talking out the fears and then pushing forward.

Filled with successes and failures, this book certainly did not hold its nose up in the air. Mark was unapologetic that not everything happening in the Church is helping Christian growth. He works a bit more with those who might call hemselves post-congregationalist, but he is not a hater of the Church either.

There are very practical steps for believers in every stage of faith. It's come as you are, but don't become content on staying there. Weird, right? It sounds similar to how Jesus called us originally.

You can check out this book for yourself over at Likewise Books, a division of InterVarsity Press. 

Monday, December 12, 2011

God First, Man Second: Christmas Edition part 3

But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.” ~Luke 2:10-12

Even as a baby, God comes first. It's really amazing when you think about it. The God of the universe, in a way that only God can fathom, left Heaven, a place we can only imagine, and came to Earth.

But Jesus did not come as a grown man, regal and ready to rule. He did not come as an adult.

Jesus came as a baby. He entered the world, yes the world He created. He came as a mortal and left as a Messiah. The good news for us, in fact the only reason we are a part of this story, is that we receive a Savior. We are on the receiving end of the greatest gift ever given.

God gives. We get. We no longer have to fear. We have received good news. We now get to live with great joy. God loved us first. We now live in that love.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Neglectful Parents

Each child is a gift. They are to be prized and protected. They should never be mistreated or neglected. (Did a tear just shed? I was going for a tear...)

If we're up on our Bible-reading, then we'll be familiar with Bible verses that say "with painful labor you will give birth to children" and "he will not give to one of them any of the flesh of his children that he is eating." Wait, not those verses.

These verses. "I was young and now I am old, yet I have never seen the righteous forsaken or their children begging bread. They are always generous and lend freely; their children will be a blessing" (Psalm 37:25-26). Oh, and "And he took the children in his arms, placed his hands on them and blessed them" (Mark 10:16).

It would seem that children are, in fact, the future and should be valued as such. All of them. (Any tears yet? Dang, you are a tough crowd.)
Given all this, it makes this one little story seem a bit odd. We're told about parents who were told they'd be receiving a very special child. This child was not like other children. He was to be given a special mission in life. They should take special care of this child.

Oh, did I mention this child was the Son of God?

I'm not saying I'm the best parent, but I would think the neurotic make-sure-my-child-is-alive meter would be at an all-time high if I was told I was about to play the role of dad for the Son of God! If each child is really just on loan to us, you might think that having God's Son on loan would make you extra careful.

So why do we have this story in Luke?

Every year Jesus’ parents went to Jerusalem for the Festival of the Passover. When he was twelve years old, they went up to the festival, according to the custom. After the festival was over, while his parents were returning home, the boy Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem, but they were unaware of it. Thinking he was in their company, they traveled on for a day. Then they began looking for him among their relatives and friends. When they did not find him, they went back to Jerusalem to look for him. After three days they found him in the temple courts, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions. ~Luke 2:41-46

If I take my kids to the grocery store, we're holding hands in the parking lot, I'm constantly making sure they don't drop sugar cereals and candy bars in the cart and I'm counting heads as we return to the vehicle.

Joe and Mary were an entire day away when they realized they left Jesus behind in Jerusalem!!! Are you kidding me? I suppose, if nothing else, it tells me I should give myself a pass when I'm not the perfect parent.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Church Outside the Walls

I received an ebook copy of Church Outside the Walls by Raj Samuel. Raj is a house church planter who is committed to education and church unity.

Raj has written this short book, just over 100 pages, for the purpose of educating Christians back to their original purpose. But he begins his whole book with a quote by a Hindu. "Christianity has failed in the West. Christians should not try to promote their religion in other parts of the world when it has not worked here in the West."

There are so very many things wrong with thsi remark, none the least of which is the fact that Christianity did not originate in the West, so it is philosophically unsound to argue for it not to be spread farther from here. Since Christianity was begun in Jerusalem and the spread everywhere from there, we should not be so elitist in the West to assume that our successes or failures have any bearing on Christianity worldwide.

Leaving that thought for the moment, Raj spends the rest of his words taking us back to the origins of many Christian practices, including meeting in a building and using leaders to, well, lead. These, and many other practices of the American Church, are pagan in nature, according to Raj, something we've picked up from the Greeks and the Romans and John Maxwell, I would guess.

All of these take us away from a Church body that should be more effective than it is. While I agree that too many people are sitting passively on the sidelines while watching the 'pastor professionals' perform the show, I think Raj has swung the pendulum too far in the other direction.

All that being said, I think Raj provides us with some good food for thought. We should know our purposes. We should know our origins. To take some time and chew on these ideas with other believers is a great idea. Just be careful not to throw out the baby with any dirty bathwater you come across.Because Raj will have you believing that all churches that have any structure are working against the work of Christ, not for it.

I received this ebook for free from my friends at SpeakEasy. They give me books and I review them. Win-win!

You can check out the book for yourself here.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Always Be Prepared

Always be prepared. It's a lot more than just a slogan for the Boy Scouts. It's great advice for anyone hoping not to get caught off guard. Hey, it's even a command given by the Apostle Peter when he tells us to always be ready with an answer for the hope that we have.

My senior pastor was prepared this past Sunday when he discussed being prepared. It would have just been ironic if he hadn't been prepared. But thankfully he was as he discussed the many ways that God prepared Mary for being the mother of the Son of God. That's a tall order.

Aside from being prepared to play the role of such an important mom in history, her and Joe were first time parents. Have you ever considered what it was like for them in this regards? For instance, when they had to flee to Egypt, how hectic was that?

I remember packing up for trips with my first child. There was the diaper bag, complete with enough baby food for 3 days, in case we got stuck someplace where Walmart has yet to find. We had diapers and wipes and blankets and rags, bottles and lotion. Then we had the back-up diaper bag, the stroller and enough toys to distract for any situation. This was just for a routine trip to the post office.

Joe and Mary were escaping to Egypt, but I'm sure they still needed a stroller. More importantly, they needed to be people who could handle the pressure and remember why it was important. We talk about the Reason for the Season. They were holding Him!

Our stress factors will be vastly different than Joe and Mary. None of us should need to escape to another country. Our biggest problem may be figuring out what to get for wives and moms. (I strongly suggest not getting her a vacuum.) Our preparation should also go beyond the giving of physical gifts.

Are we ready to worship the newborn King? Are we ready to share the Joy of the world? Are you ready to give a reason for the hope you have this Christmas?

Let's banter people. What do you do to be prepared for the Christmas season?

Monday, December 5, 2011

God First, Man Second: Christmas Edition part 2

   “My soul glorifies the Lord
 and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, 
 for he has been mindful
of the humble state of his servant.
From now on all generations will call me blessed,
for the Mighty One has done great things for me—
holy is his name.
His mercy extends to those who fear him,
from generation to generation.
He has performed mighty deeds with his arm;
he has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts.
He has brought down rulers from their thrones
but has lifted up the humble.
He has filled the hungry with good things
but has sent the rich away empty.
He has helped his servant Israel,
remembering to be merciful
to Abraham and his descendants forever,
just as he promised our ancestors.”
Luke 1:46-55

Well, here we are in week 2 of the Christmas series. God should come first all year long. Christmas is no different. But this isn't how we always deal with Christmas, it is? When it's our birthday, we get gifts. And when it's Jesus' birthday, we get gifts again. Does that make sense?

But here we read a song by Mary, the pregnant mother of the Son of God. It's a good song. It's great that she was even in the mood for writing songs. Many pregnant women are only in the mood to eat. While they eat, they send their husbands to go get more food, so they can keep eating.

But Mary packs in a lot about the greatness of God in this one song. And we see both positive and negative as regards man. I won't hold your hand and walk you across the street. Simply notice that God does what He wants to with man. Those who are humble see God's good side. Those who are proud experience God like a dad who's been woken up early from his nap.

Mary's soul glorifies the Lord. I hope yours will too this Christmas season.

Friday, December 2, 2011

The Perfect Gift...For Me

Have you ever thought about the perfect gift for that special someone you love? You know, the person you hold most dear? That person that you spend hours just wondering what the absolutely best gift could possibly be? And, of course, I’m talking about me.

I’ve wondered about what I would gift to myself. This is despite childhood training that runs in the opposite direction. See, growing up in my family, gifts only happened on 2 occasions. Christmas and birthdays. This worked out alright for me because my birthday is in June. So I was showered with gifts every 6 months. But one of my sisters has a birthday 4 days before Christmas. (Read: short end of the stick.)

If it wasn’t Christmas and it wasn’t our birthday, our days were marked with rations and needs, but not gifts. Long, arduous days until the next season of gifts appeared. (When you read this, Mom, I’m kidding.) But seriously, we were raised that gifts were for special occasions. You shopped for the other members of your family and depended on their memory to receive what you wanted.

So what would I give myself? I could list the myriad of tech gadgets that would be fun to play with, since I’ll readily admit the truth of the difference between men and boys. It is the price of their toys, although have you tried shopping for young boys these days? It’s not cheap.

I’ve thought this idea through. If I’m going to get myself something, it’s going to be something that someone else wouldn’t get me, no matter how many hints I drop. More than that, I think it should be the thing that only I can get, something only I know how much I need.

So what am I getting this year for myself? It’s a better perspective. It’s the idea that this Christmas season will only last about 30 days, despite the Christmas d├ęcor that retailers put out before Halloween. Since the season has a Reason, I will be sure to enjoy the calm and the chaos that comes this month.

No matter how many versions of The 12 days of Christmas drone on the airwaves over and over again, I will keep in mind the Reason we have to sing about this season.

No matter how crowded the stores become, especially when I shop with 2 days left, I will enjoy the time spent with family and friends, no matter. I will not lose the perspective of why I look for and give gifts, because there was One who gave to me.

Because, when the presents are all opened, some are exchanged and a week later when others are forgotten, the Reason will remain. And once I have this perspective in my mind, it’s one I can keep the entire year. Indeed, Jesus is the gift that keeps on giving.

What gift would you like to get yourself this Christmas?