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Showing posts from 2012

No Vacancy - Oh, Joy...

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One of my favorite "Christmas" hymns is Joy to the World. It's a simple but powerful song. It's few short verses are packed with high Christology, the redemption of creation itself, and the sovereignty of Christ over all the universe.

But the most convicting line in the song, in my opinion, comes in the first verse: Let every heart prepare Him room.

The arrival of Emmanuel is ripe with bittersweet irony. The King of kings, the Prince of Peace, was not born in a palace, but in a stable. He was not birthed in a sterile birthing room in the maternity ward of the local hospital. His first sensations included the scent of day-old animal dung, the sound of domesticated livestock, and the scratching of dried out hay, which was likely infested with small biting insects similar to bed bugs.

God made room within this infantile body, enough room for His fullness to dwell. Yet there was no room in the town for this newborn baby. It's even more heartbreaking to understand that…

Christmas Songs vs. Christ Songs

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I like Christmas music. The music is one of my favorite parts of this time of year. Just like all good movies have killer sound tracks, it isn't really Christmas without those heart-warming songs. But there are a few things that make me sad about Christmas music:

Folks who work retail are sick of it by mid-December.The growing emphasis seems to be on the more secular songs that have nothing to do with the holiday (by which I mean the "holy-day").It's awkward to sing Christmas hymns any other time of the year in our worship services. I want to focus on number 3 for a few blog posts leading up to Christmas. I don't know about you, but in my religious tribe and upbringing, Christmas was met with a certain level of taboo. Most families celebrated it, but as a church we never really did. Some families didn't celebrate ANY holidays, which is fine... But the church didn't emphasize Christmas in order to avoid offending those families, or in order to appear as non…

Time-Out!

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There is a time for everything,
and a season for every activity under the heavens:
a time to be born and a time to die,
a time to plant and a time to uproot,
a time to kill and a time to heal,
a time to tear down and a time to build,
a time to weep and a time to laugh,
a time to mourn and a time to dance,
a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them,
a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing,
a time to search and a time to give up,
a time to keep and a time to throw away,
a time to tear and a time to mend,
a time to be silent and a time to speak,
a time to love and a time to hate,
a time for war and a time for peace. - Ecclesiastes 1:1-8
Time is such a weird thing. It's constantly moving forward, yet there is no end in mind. The more things change, the more they stay the same. There is nothing new under the sun.
Yet this thing called "time," enigmatic as it may be, is of utmost importance to us. Animals don't really have a sense of time. The eat whenever they…

When the Ball Drops

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Ecclesiastes is a journey. Like I said last week, the book of Ecclesiastes mimics life itself - full of twists and turns and loops.

The premise of the book is that everything is Hebel, lit. vapor, breath, wind, mist. Hebel is that which is here for but a moment and then vanishes away. Even the conclusions reached in Ecclesiastes seem to be hebel. One moment, the Teacher tells us that pleasure is meaningless, a chasing after the wind. He says toil is pointless because you don't get to keep that for which you have labored. Everything is hebel, meaningless, futile, a chasing after the wind.

So what's the big conclusion? Enjoy the pleasures of life and find satisfaction in your work.

Wait...what?

Teacher, I'm confused! So are we supposed to enjoy the pleasures of this life or aren't we? Is life meaningless or isn't it? Is hebel a good thing or a bad thing? I don't get it.

The Teacher realized what all lottery winners learn the hard way - more money, more problems.

H…

What's Missing?

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Ecclesiastes can be a very depressing book. At times it feels more like Nietzsche than Jesus. It feels more like nihilism than Christianity; more like existentialism than living for God. It's confusing; very difficult to understand at times. Other times, the point is very clear.

The whole book can make your head spin. It's enigmatic, living comfortably in the paradox of meaninglessness and purpose. Ecclesiastes is not just a book about life, it's a book that mimics life. It's a book that makes me think of a quote from Douglas Adams, author of The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, "I may not have gone where I intended to go, but I think I have ended up where I needed to be." That's true of life, and it's true of Ecclesiastes.

The book opens up with a poem that sounds like it has no business being in the Bible:
What do people gain from all their labors at which they toil under the sun? Generations come and generations go, but the earth remains forev…

Surviving Progress

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I recently watched a documentary on Netflix called Surviving Progress. It gives an interesting perspective to what we have been promised to be a better, brighter, more advanced future. Medical breakthroughs allow people to live longer, healthier lives. Technological advancements allow for instant communication and speedy travel between nations. More cars, more computers, more televisions, more - more - more. Bigger! Faster! Better!

This is "progress."

But what are we to do with it?

An interesting observation from an evolutionary psychologist is that the human brain hasn't changed much at all over the last fifty thousand years. I'm not going to get into the evolutionary debate at this point, but I think the point is very valid. The parts of our brains that still tend to dominate are the more rudimentary regions. The deepest parts of the brain, also considered the oldest, are those that control the "fight or flight" survival system, the sex and pleasure system…

Hips Don't Lie: The Heart of Worship

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I love music.

I come from a very musical family full of people who have been in band and/or choir. My family likes to sing - all of us. When we get together it's like a live-action musical.

Seriously. A few years ago we were all together at my sister's house for Christmas. Her in-laws were also there for a while. One night we were gathered around the table playing a game. At one point in the game, after something funny had happened, my sister's mother-in-law asked, "Oh no, are they going to sing again?"

I love to sing. Dancing, on the other hand...let's just say we weren't blessed with that gene. I played trumpet in high school, and it's no exaggeration to say that the only rhythm in my entire body lies in the index, middle, and ring fingers on my right hand. It's straight up embarrassing when I attempt to move my body to the music.

I'm talking Elaine from "Seinfeld" kind of awful.

That's probably why I love the story in 2 Samuel…

Ghost Stories...from the Bible!

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A long time ago in a far away land there was a king. He ruled absolutely. His word trumped that of God Himself. He was tall, strong, and charismatic. But as his life neared it's end, he began to go through a very dark time. His spirits fell. Suspicion and fear compelled him to act irrationally and recklessly.

Some even say he had an evil spirit possess his soul.

Then one day all his enemies gathered their forces, determined to exact vengeance on this king for all the pain and suffering he had caused them. It was an army bent on destruction with one objective - kill this king.

On the eve of battle, the king and his entourage saw the enemy hordes marching to war. In former years this king would have been confident. He would have craved the opportunity to drive his opponents back once and for all. But these were darker times. His own soul had turned against him and against his God. His most trusted adviser, a wise old prophet, had recently died. The king had no one else he trusted en…

Who Wants to Live Forever?

That's an easy question. I do! As long as that forever is spent in the presence of God.

I devoted a couple posts to breaking down some "favorite Bible verses" - giving a fresh, much needed look at what they might mean in context. Well, now it's time for me to share some about my personal favorites.

Beginning with this one:

ROMANS 8:11
"And if the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, He who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies because of His Spirit who lives in you."

Really, the entirety of Romans 8 is as epic as they come. Read the whole chapter in one setting and try not to get chills.

But this verse in particular stands out to me and has stuck with me over the last few years. There's so much to this one sentence that it needs to be dissected a bit.

First of all, it was God's Spirit that raised Jesus from the dead. Think about that - Jesus didn't raise himself, as I used to think. He did…

Going Up?

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I've been doing a lot of reading and studying recently about heaven and hell. Our youth group kids had a lot of questions about the afterlife, so on Wednesday nights we're diving into Scripture to find out what has been revealed to us.

I am by no means close to reaching any definitive conclusion for myself about what happens when we die, but I'm on that journey. I'm currently reading a book by N.T. Wright called Surprised by Hope: Rethinking Heaven, the Resurrection, and the Mission of the Church. So far, it's very interesting. Wright has already touched on a lot of the questions I have, and I'm excited to see where he goes with all of this.

That being said, I want to simply put my own questions out there. Maybe you've wrestled with some of them yourself. If you have any good book suggestions or any other thoughts on the issue, I would be more than happy to hear from you.

My initial thoughts & questions:

Are heaven and hell only experienced after you die?…

Seeing the Unseen

A lesson by Patrick Mead and our weekly reading assignments at our church have got me thinking about Hagar lately. Hagar gets kind of a bad rap. She was the one that Abraham got pregnant (at the request of his own wife). She gave birth to Ishmael who has traditionally been regarded as the father of the Arabs. Muslims trace the history of their faith back to him. The descendants of Ishmael were violent, aggressive, and territorial. And to this day, many blame much of the unrest in the Middle East on this one son of a slave woman.

Disclaimer: I have no references for the above statements. I have not done the historical research. I am simply passing along what I have been taught, whether true or not.

Regardless of the historical implications of this...subsitutionary impregnation...the story of Hagar is both tragic and beautiful.

Hagar was an Egyptian woman. Kind of. She may not have been Egyptian in nationality, but she was probably one of the "gifts" given to Abraham and Sarah …

2012 Goal: Year to Date (mid-October)

I'm well on my way to completing and surpassing my goal for 2012 of reading 2 books per month or 24 books for the year. Here's my list so far. I try to read one Spiritual/Religious/Ministry book and one fiction novel at a time.

King's Cross, by Timothy KellerForgotten God, by Francis ChanErasing Hell, by Francis ChanCatch-22, by Joseph HellerOf Mice and Men, by John SteinbeckMiracles, by C.S. LewisThe Princess Bride, by William GoldmanAmusing Ourselves to Death, by Neil PostmanThe Hunger Games, by Susanne CollinsCatching Fire   "   "Mockingjay    "    "Technopoly, by Neil PostmanDirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency, by Douglas AdamsLong, Dark Tea Time of the Soul    "   "Shattered, by Dean KoontzBeautiful Outlaw, by John EldredgeThe Practice of the Presence of God, by brother LawrenceTimeline, by Michael CrichtonKingdom Come, by John Mark Hicks and Bobby ValentineEnder's Game, by Orson Scott CardSpeaker for the Dead  "   "

Wibbly-Wobbly, Timey-Wimey Jesus Stuff

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I've been reading through and thinking about the story Jesus tells in Luke 16:19-31. It's commonly known as "The Rich Man and Lazarus." It's a story about...a rich man and a guy named Lazarus. Gotta work on better titles for Jesus' stories.

Lazarus was a poor, disease ridden beggar who stationed himself right at the edge of the rich (unnamed) man's driveway. In a strange turn of events, they both kick the bucket. Angels deliver Lazarus first-class into Abraham's side (the word "bosom" makes me uncomfortable). But the rich man was simply "buried." Guess he had to take a ride in coach for the first time ever. The rich guy wakes up in Hades.

Upon waking up, the rich guy set about doing one thing rich people do really well - he started complaining. It's hot. I'm thirsty. Send someone to serve me right away.

It takes him some time, and a stern lecture from "Father" Abraham, but the rich man finally realizes his fate. H…

Never Meet Your Heroes, Round 3

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Can you believe this guy? He's messing with John 3:16. Who does he think he is?

No doubt, if you went to Sunday school then you probably memorized this verse at one point or another. And it's a great verse. I think it speaks volumes in only a few words - the summation of the entire gospel message.

Here's how it reads in most translations:

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. (NIV 2011)
And here's how some translations have rendered it:
God loved the world so very, very much that he gave his only Son. Because he did that, everyone who believes in him will not lose his life, but will live for ever. (Worldwide English Translation)
It's an English idiom to use the word "so" as a qualifier. I love you soooo much. That soup is sooo gross. This blog post is sooo boring.
When we say "so" we mean "a lot" or "very." This causes us to read this ve…

Never Meet Your Heroes, Round 2

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We Christians, especially in the West, love to try and make Scripture speak favorably of the "American Dream." We take verses like Philippians 4:13, as we saw yesterday, and shove them into a part of the puzzle where they just don't quite fit. I want Paul to be saying that I can be whatever I want to be and do whatever I want to do as long as I'm keeping my eyes on Jesus. That sounds like a brilliant plan for successful "Christian living." But that's simply not what he says.

Another well known verse in a similar vein is Jeremiah 29:11. The unfortunate thing is that most people who claim this as their favorite Bible verse *probably* have never read the context, much less the rest of Jeremiah.
"For I know the plans I have for you," declares the Lord, "plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future." If there ever was a verse indicating that the American Dream is in line with Scripture, it's this one. I…

Never Meet Your Heroes

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According to the popular proverb, "You should never meet your hero." The idea is that this person has become so idolized in your mind and your imagination that you are bound to be disappointed if you actually get to know them. They are human, after all. They will probably end up ruining your dreams and fantasies. You will never be able to watch their movies, read their books, or buy into their hype ever again.
Sometimes that can be a good thing, though.
There are a lot of athletes, pop stars, and movie stars that are brilliant at what they do, but I would NEVER want them to be a personal role model for my son.
And it got me thinking, in a weird "minister's only" connection sort of way... Why do we claim certain Bible verses as our favorites? I'm not knocking the whole "favorite Bible verse" system. I'm just doing a double-take at some of the verses people choose as their faves. The ones they know by heart. The ones they post on Facebook and hi…

Songs We Don't Sing in Church

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As a worship leader flipping through the song book week after week to get ready for Sunday morning, I am amazed at the vast array of songs we don't know. Occasionally one will catch my eye, and I will do a quick search on YouTube to learn it.

That happened to me today. I came across song #93 in Songs of Faith and Praise. The tune was composed in the early 1800s and the lyrics were written in the mid-1960s.

It's called "God, Who Stretched the Spangled Heavens." Not the catchiest title, but check out the lyrics:

God, who stretched the spangled heavens Infinite in time and place Flung the suns in burning radiance Thru the silent fields of space We, Your children, in Your likeness Share inventive powers with You Great Creator, still creating Show us what we yet may do
We have conquered worlds undreamed of Since the childhood of our race Known the ecstasy of winging Thru uncharted realms of space Probed the secrets of the atom Wielding unimagined power Facing us with life…

Destroy Your Ba'als

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“You shall have no other gods before me.“You shall not make for yourself an image in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below.You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me,but showing love to a thousand generations of those who love me and keep my commandments."Exodus 20:3-6 How much more plainly could God put it? He's God. Period. Don't serve or worship or exalt anyone or anything else. Just don't do it! This is one of the most clearly stated commands we're given. He even goes to great lengths to explain all the things we're not supposed to do and the reason for the command.

You don't get that a lot. 

Yet there is one name that keeps popping up: Ba'al.

It literally means "Lord," similar to adonai or kyrios. Various deities were given the title "Ba&…

Bring Back the Real Refs!

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The talk of the NFL season thus far has been the replacements referees. The veteran referees are holding out on some labor dispute with the NFL and have been in a lockout for the past few months. So the NFL decided to bring in a bunch of replacement referees.

I bet football fans never thought they would be wanting their officials back!

The discontent has been growing over the past couple of weeks. A bad call here. A missed call there. Confusion about the call followed by a five minute staff meeting on the field.

But last night and this morning, all of football fandom is in an uproar over a botched call on the last play of Monday Night Football between the Green Bay Packers and the Seattle Seahawks.

On a last minute Hail Mary to win the game, the Seahawks' quarter back tossed a jump ball into the end zone. The Packers' defensive back came down with the ball. Game over.

Except that the Seahawks' receiver had one arm wrapped around the defender with his hand touching the ball.…

The Bigger Picture

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Ya know, there are some verses in the Bible that I think we would rather ignore. I'm not necessarily talking about the difficult parts of Scripture dealing with war, slavery, women's roles, hell, etc. I'm talking about the simpler, toe-stepping passages that make you think, Yeah, but... or even, He's talking about someone else, not me...

As Mark Twain famously stated, "It ain't those parts of the Bible that I can't understand that bother me, it is the parts that I do understand."

I agree, Mr. Twain.

And one of those passages is this:
Do everything without grumbling or arguing,so that you may become blameless and pure, “children of God without fault in a warped and crooked generation.” Philippians 2:14-15How many people in your church need to hear that preached from the pulpit? As you're tallying the number in your head, go on and include yourself in that. I know I sure need it.

How many times have you caught yourself complaining about things at church?…

Joan of Arc was Noah's wife, right?

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Here's a little sneak-peak of my sermon this Sunday morning.

These videos won't be shown, but they will certainly help you understand one of the biggest threats to Christianity in the West.






Wow.

If you are a follower of Christ, a believer in His Word, then these videos should probably give you a sinking feeling in the pit of your stomach. Somewhere along the lines we have failed. I mean, people don't even know their basic info about the Bible - much less how to make it all fit into one coherent story of creation and redemption!

And we like to think that it's just those people over there. Well, take a look around next Sunday. How many folks actually bring their Bibles to class or worship? Of those, how many people actually open them and follow along?

Somewhere along the lines we've gotten confused. We want to read Colossians 3:16 like this:
Let the word of Christ dwell in red ink on paper bound in leather collecting dust on your shelf next to your Grisham novels. Or…