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Monthly Archives: December 2008

Powerful preaching

In the Jan/Feb 2009 issue of Preaching, Ben Awbrey has an article entitled “Preaching with power: The need for unction in proclaiming God’s Word.” I found the following section particularly thought-provoking.

“What makes a sermon interesting? Why do people listen to sermons, or what enables them to listen to them? Enthusiasm, or the obvious demonstration that the preacher is convinced that he is involved in no small endeavor as he preaches God’s Word, is absolutely crucial to preaching with interest and unction.

The greatest producer of enthusiasm for preaching comes from the incomprehensible fact that one has been called by God to preach. Unfortunately, some men have ‘gotten over’ the incredible reality that God has called them to preach His Word just as some Christians have ‘gotten over’ the incredible reality that God has chosen them for salvation. A preacher who has grown complacent with his calling from God will preach complacently, and this kind of preaching will not be marked with unction! A preacher who, in effect, yawns at his calling is a preacher whose hearers will  yawn at his preaching!”

 
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Posted by on December 29, 2008 in Preaching, Quotes

 

Come near

During the Christmas season, are you longing for something that truly satisfies? Do you feel lost and alone in the dark, searching for answers and guidance?

 

The old Christmas carol, “O Little Town of Bethlehem,” indicates that all of our hopes and fears and longings are satisfied through Jesus Christ.

 

O Little Town of Bethlehem

O little town of Bethlehem, how still we see thee lie!

Above thy deep and dreamless sleep the silent stars go by

Yet in thy dark streets shineth the ever-lasting light

The hopes and fears of all the years are met in thee tonight.

 

In the gospel of John, Jesus made seven statements about himself. Each statement seems to address a particular fear and longing that each one of us experiences.

 

On Christmas Eve or Christmas day, most families will sit down to a sumptuous feast. After stuffing yourself, you’ll proclaim that you can’t eat another bite. But a few hours later, you’ll want a sandwich.

 

The feast only satisfies for a short time. You will soon be hungry again.

 

In John 6:35, Jesus said, “I am the bread of life; he who come to Me will not hunger, and he who believes in Me will never thirst.” Jesus, the bread of life, is not merely a spiritual snack that tides us over until something better comes along. He is the one who satisfies our deepest longings. 

 

Some time ago, the power went out in our home during a windstorm. We scurried around lighting candles and looking for flashlights. 

 

In John 8:12, Jesus said, “I am the Light of the world; he who follows Me will not walk in the darkness, but will have the Light of life.”

 

When we are stranded and alone in the dark, lights can attract and guide us to safety. When we are afraid of the dark, we need someone to bring us a flashlight or a candle. We need someone to lead us to the light so that we can once again feel secure. As the light of the world, Jesus guides our path to safety and security.

 

In John 10:7-9, Jesus made another statement about himself. “Truly, truly, I say to you, I am the door of the sheep. All who came before Me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep did not hear them. I am the door; if anyone enters through Me, he will be saved, and will go in and out and find pasture.”

 

A door speaks of three things. It invites us into a place of warmth, security, and fellowship with those inside. A door provides a sense of security. The door can be shut in the event of danger or can remain open, signifying safety. A door also speaks of the provision of daily needs. On the other side of the door is a place of rest and nourishment, a place of pasture.

 

As the door, Jesus furnishes rest, safety, and food for his sheep. As the door, Jesus is the sole determiner of who enters and who is excluded. His purpose is the salvation and health of the sheep. Under his protection and by his gift, we can experience the best life can offer.

 

During the holidays, we long to feel at home. Yet many of us feel disconnected at Christmastime. Perhaps our families are far away or maybe we don’t have fond memories of home. 

 

In John 10:11-14, Jesus said this about himself, “I am the good shepherd; the good shepherd lays down His life for the sheep. He who is hired hand, and not a shepherd, who is not the owner of the sheep, sees the wolf coming, and leaves the sheep and flees, and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. He flees because he is a hired hand and is not concerned about the sheep. I am the good shepherd, and I know My own and My own know Me.”

 

As the good shepherd, Jesus knows us by name. The shepherd cares about the sheep because they are his property and he cares about them individually. We gain a sense of belonging and security because of his personal caring and protection.

 

One of the most troubling questions each one of us faces is, “What is beyond the grave?”  Jesus’ statement in John 11:25 reassures us that there is life after death.  I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in Me will live even if he dies.”

 

For the one who has put their faith and hope in Jesus Christ, physical death is not the end. Jesus gives us hope in death. Jesus’ statement gives us the assurance that if we have trusted in Jesus for our salvation, we will one day see our family, friends, and loved ones who have died in the faith.

 

Today, there are many different belief systems. There are a wide variety of religions clamoring for our attention. How can we know which one is real? 

 

In John 14:6, Jesus said, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me.” Jesus’ statement provides certainty in the midst of perplexity.  It gives us the confidence that we won’t be misled.

 

Jesus’ statement is personal. He explains that the solution to perplexity is not a recipe. It is a personal relationship with Christ. His statement is authoritative. Christ is the only authorized representative of humanity to God. Christ is the God who came near, the one who lived among us so that we could know him better.

 

One of the most common desires of all people is to know that their life counts for something, to know that they have made a difference. In John 15:5, Christ addressed our desire for fruitfulness. “I am the vine, you are the branches; he who abides in Me and I in him, he bears much fruit, for apart from Me you can do nothing.”

 

Jesus’ statement lets us know that if are connected to him through a personal relationship, his life will permeate us, and fruit will be inevitable. If we abide in Christ, we can rest assured that we will enjoy a sense of significance.

 

During the Christmas season, the baby born in Bethlehem attracts our attention. We are drawn to the baby in the manger as a moth is drawn to a candle.

 

This Christmas, come to the Child. You may have been attracted by the lights and the decorations. Come closely and investigate the child in the manger.

 

If you are . . .

Hungry, yet longing for something to truly satisfy

Lost and alone in the dark, searching for answers and guidance

Feeling insecure and defenseless, or searching for security and protection that will be there when you need it

Feel like you don’t belong, and are searching for a sense of family and relationship

Long for the assurance that there is more to life than just this—that there is life beyond the grave

Confused by so many different beliefs and options, and are searching for certainty in an age of perplexity

Wondering if you matter and if your life will make a difference, longing for a sense of significance and a source of fruitfulness

. . . then come to the Child. 

 

Come to the one who said, “I am the bread of life . . . the light of the world . . . the door . . . the good shepherd . . . the resurrection and the life . . . the way, the truth, and the life . . . the vine.

 
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Posted by on December 25, 2008 in Christmas, Scripture, Theology

 

Seattle needs a PR makeover

In the category of “Could things get worse?” department, Seattle and Washington state are becoming the punchline for national headline news. Here’s a sampling of the past few weeks:

Seattle sports – “The worst year ever” - Think the last 12 months were rough. It could be worse. You could be a sports fan in Seattle.

Seattle road conditions – The city of Seattle debates the merits of using salt versus sand on the roadways. In the meantime, no one can go anywhere because of icy conditions. “Seattle refuses to use salt: roads ‘snow packed’ by design.”  and “Sand on roads worse than salt, environmentalists say.” and “Passengers scramble for safety as buses skid, hang over freeway.”

Seattle airports – Sea-Tac airport goes from having not enough de-icer to having the fumes leak into a jet. “Alaska-Horizon shut down flights.” and “De-icer leak causes jet evacuation.”

Washington State capitol holiday displays – Only in Washington State do you have a nativity scene in the same hallway as an athiest sign and three signs protesting atheism. “Nonbelievers’ sign at Capitol counters Nativity.”  and “‘Winter solstice’ sign brings hundreds of protesters to Capitol.” and  “No win in war on Christmas, not even for atheists.” and “Culture war erupts over Christmas.”

 

God’s Christmas gift to us

As we move closer to Christmas, our hearts ache for a season of true peace and goodwill toward men.  But as we know too well, the short days and long nights bring no peace. 

World leaders meet to try and make peace.  United Nations peacekeeping forces try to enforce the peace.  Yet peace and goodwill remain elusive.  If our leaders cannot bring peace, what hope do we have?

In the Old Testament, the prophet Isaiah proclaimed that peace would be brought by a child.  He would be the one to establish a permanent ceasefire.  As Isaiah explained, this child, whose birth we celebrate at Christmas, was God’s gift to us.

In Isaiah 9:6-7, we read, “For a child will be born to us, a son will be given to us; And the government will rest on His shoulders; And His name will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Eternal Father, Prince of Peace. There will be no end to the increase of His government or of peace, On the throne of David and over his kingdom, To establish it and to uphold it with justice and righteousness From then on and forevermore. The zeal of the Lord of hosts will accomplish this.”

Isaiah used four descriptive names or two-word titles which revealed the character of this child.  The child who was born, this son who was given would be both God and man. 

When we are discouraged and ready to give up, we need a counselor who will come alongside and encourage us.    

God’s gift to us is more than just one who dispenses good ideas.  As Isaiah explained, he is the Wonderful Counselor.  He is a supernatural counselor who will implement supernatural wisdom in discharging his office.  He has the wisdom to rule justly.

Where do you need wisdom?  Do you face difficult decisions about your children or parents?  Do you face problems at work for which you don’t have answers?

The promise of Christmas is that we can go to the Wonderful Counselor and know that he will give us wisdom. 

Do you ever feel like David, facing a Goliath with only a sling and a few stones?  Can you identify with Gideon, being heavily outnumbered and short on resources?  Do you face a situation like Mary, having to trust God for seemingly impossible promises? 

Take comfort in the assurance that our Savior is a powerful warrior.  He is the irresistible battle champion who will obtain the final victory in the arena of history.  He is the Mighty God.

Where do you need God to intervene on your behalf?  Do you need him to change the heart of your employer? 

God hears those prayers and it is in just such situations of hopelessness and helplessness that his almighty power is born.  It is there that God leaves his treasure.

The promise of Christmas is that the Mighty God he has the strength that we lack. 

What does a good father do?  A good father protects his children from those who want to harm them.  He provides for their needs and many of their wants.  A good father cares, counsels, accepts, loves, challenges, and encourages his children. 

Yet with all of their good intentions, earthly fathers come and go.  Earthly fathers grow old.  Some become ill and die.  Others serve in the military and are killed in battle.  Still others abandon their children.

In contrast, our Savior is an Eternal Father.  He will never leave or abandon us.  There is no end to his protection and provision.    

Where do you need a father’s touch in your life?  Do you need to crawl up into your father’s lap and pour out your heart to him?  Where do you need your father to step in and tell you that it will be all right?

The promise of Christmas is that the Eternal Father will love and care for his children forever. 

As much as we desire peace, we cannot achieve it through our own efforts.  Fortunately for us, our Savior is the one who brings in and maintains peace.  Not only is he a peacemaker, he is the Prince of Peace.

Where do you need to experience God’s peace?  Are there problems and concerns that are troubling you?  Are there broken relationships that you would like God to heal and restore?

The promise of Christmas is that the Prince of Peace both makes peace and gives us peace. 

More than 2,500 years ago, the prophet Isaiah told of one who would be the hope of mankind, the long awaited Messiah who would establish an eternal kingdom based on justice and righteousness.  Isaiah’s important pronouncement told that this one would be a God-man: a child born, referring to his humanity, and a son given, referring to his deity. The four names ascribed to this one give further insight into His character and ministry:

He is the Wonderful Counselor.  He is our guide through life, and our advocate before the heavenly Father.  He is the one who freely gives wisdom when we ask.

He is the Mighty God.  He is the God before whom every knee shall one day bow.  He is the one who intervenes and works on our behalf.

He is the Everlasting Father.  He is the God of eternity.  He is the Father who cares for and meets the needs of his children.

He is the Prince of Peace.  He is the one who will bring a true tranquility among all nations.  He is the one who brings peace to our troubled hearts.  He is the one who heals broken relationships.

As you long for joy and peace during this Christmas season, remember that Jesus Christ is God’s Christmas gift to us.  The more intimately we know the “child-Son,” the deeper grows our love and devotion for Him.  Worship Him even now and throughout this season as you sing of the joys of Christmas.

 
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Posted by on December 24, 2008 in Christmas, Scripture, Theology

 

A year of regrets

Igniter Media Group has released a new video entitled “Regrets.” The video’s description states, “We often mark our pasts by the regrets we have. Whether its trials we encounter, the disappointments we endure, or the unhealthy habits we foster, we each have lingering regrets in our lives. We allow ourselves to be burdened by our pain, scars and shame forgetting that Christ came to set us free.” It is quite good and thought provoking.

 
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Posted by on December 23, 2008 in Personal growth, Videos

 

Olympic class drivers

Yesterday, I was scheduled to fly out of SeaTac Airport. Due to the snow, ice, and lack of deicing solution, my flight along with countless others was canceled, which is another story for another time. Rather than have my wife drive in the snow and ice, I opted to catch a ride with Shuttle Express. On the trip to the airport, one of the passengers asked the driver about the challenges of driving in these conditions. He made an interesting remark of a man who took pride in his work. “In these conditions,” he said, “you have to be an Olympic class driver every minute if you want to avoid bending sheet metal or rearranging the landscape. If you can, you will do a face plant at the end of the day. But you will feel good, knowing you did a good job.”

 
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Posted by on December 22, 2008 in Quotes, Winter, Work

 

The church may be closed, but God is always open

For the first time in my ministry, we canceled church today because of the snow and icy roads. The Ballard area of Seattle where United Evangelical Free Church is located received 6-9 inches of snow and freezing rain on top of the snow we received last Thursday. Rather than put people at risk, we closed the doors. People seem to expect government offices and schools to be closed for snow, but when a church closes its doors . . . horrors. Actually, most of the congregation readily affirmed the decision.

As I was shoveling my driveway and putting chains on my car this morning, I was struck by a contrast which led to a sense of thanksgiving. While the church may be closed today, God’s presence is always available because Christ opened the door for us. As the writer of Hebrews expressed it, “Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has gone through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are–yet without sin. Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.” (Hebrews 4:14-16)

 
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Posted by on December 21, 2008 in Church, Scripture, Seattle, Winter

 
 
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