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Monthly Archives: December 2012

Wise Men & Foolish People

“To perceive Christmas through its wrappings becomes more difficult with every year.” That statement, penned almost 60 years ago by E. B. White is still true today. Between the grief and mourning over the shooting one week ago in Connecticut, the focus of doomsday prophets last week on the end of the Mayan calendar, and the over-commercialization of Christmas shopping, it is difficult to find the meaning in the madness of the season.

Once discovered, people respond in a variety of ways to the message of Christmas. Some are offended. The Freedom From Religion Foundation takes the opportunity of the holidays to promote their manifesto. Some are nonplused. They know the story but go about their business without pausing to consider the meaning. But those who discovered the savior rejoice in his birth. The account of the Magi searching for Jesus portrays all of these responses (Matthew 2:1-12).

There are three main actors in this part of the Christmas drama—King Herod, the wise men, and the star.

King Herod was not Jewish, but was declared “King of the Jews” by the Roman Senate. He ruled Palestine from 37-4 B.C. He was cruel and merciless; jealous, suspicious, and paranoid. He killed his enemies including his brother-in-law, one of his wives, and three sons.

Rather than kings, the magi were of a priestly caste from Persia or Babylon. They were skilled in astronomy and astrology. The magi probably learned about the one true God and the coming Messiah from Daniel, who was the leader of the magi (Daniel 2:48).

The star was either a natural phenomenon such as a comet, supernova, or conjunction of planets; a supernatural phenomenon; or an angel. Most likely it was either a supernatural phenomenon or an angel.

Verses 1-2 explain that the wise men saw the star and knew it signified the birth of royalty. They correctly interpreted the signs and knew the messiah of Israel had been born. They traveled some 900 miles from Babylon to seek the newborn king.

On December 17, 1903, after many attempts, the Wright brothers were successful in getting their “flying machine” off the ground. Thrilled, they telegraphed this message to their sister Katherine: “We have actually flown 120 feet. Will be home for Christmas.” Katherine hurried to the editor of the local newspaper and showed him the message. He glanced at it and said, “How nice. The boys will be home for Christmas.”  

In the same way, the religious leaders of Israel saw the same signs as the magi but completely missed the point.

Knowing he is not the rightful heir to David’s throne, Herod feels threatened by the birth of a new king (3). He summons the religious leaders and asks them to explain what the magi were talking about (4). The religious leaders know the facts about the Messiah’s birth, but don’t appear overly impressed (5-6).

Feigning interest, King Herod sends the magi to Bethlehem to finish their quest. Once they find the newborn king, they are to send word to Herod so that he can come and pay his respects (7-8). As the text explains later, Herod is secretly hatching a plot to protect his throne by eliminating a supposed rival (16-18).

The star reappears and leads the wise men to the child in Bethlehem (9). The magi honor Jesus as they present their gifts to him (10-11). Their quest ends in worship.

I put together the following chart to compare and contrast the differing responses by the characters in the story. It is difficult not to identify with one of them. 

Foolish people

Wise people

Herod

Scribes & Priests

Magi

Intimidated

Indifferent

Intrigued

Duplicity

Disturbed

Devotion

Troubled

Factual

Rejoiced

Opposing

Ignoring

Seeking

Antagonism

Apathy

Adoration

 The question each one of us must answer is, “How do we respond to the message of Christmas?” Are we antagonistic? Do we reject the birth of Jesus? Are we apathetic to the news of the gospel? Do we know the story so well that we are no longer moved? Are we just going through the motions? Do we express praise and adoration? Like the wise men, do we come and worship the God who sent his son to be our savior?

The magi discovered that those who seek Jesus Christ are invited to worship him. May we seek him and find him and worship him as well.

This message was preached at First Central Baptist Church in Chicopee, MA, on December 23, 2012. It is part of a series, The Mystery of the Nativity. To download a copy of the sermon notes, please click on the link.

 

Extreme Sheep

What do you get when you combine bored shepherds, creative ideas, LED lights, technology, long winter nights, and . . . ? Extreme sheep LED art. It is a short, but very creative video. Enjoy.

 
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Posted by on December 22, 2012 in Videos

 

An optimistic view of the future

Oreo

Combining these two symbols gives new meaning to the phrase, “Eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow we die.”

 
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Posted by on December 21, 2012 in Culture, Fun, News stories

 

The end of the world?

Seems the end of the world is not quite as close as the Mayans and doomsday prophets predicted.

Doomsday weather forecast

Since the forecasters missed again and the world is still turning, maybe I should start my Christmas shopping.

 
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Posted by on December 21, 2012 in Fun, News stories

 

How’s your heart

“. . . remember that a pastor’s ministry is never just shaped by his knowledge, experience, and skill. It is always also shaped by the true condition of his heart. In fact, if his heart is not in the right place, all of the knowledge and skill can actually function to make him dangerous.”

Paul David Tripp, in Dangerous Calling: Confronting the unique challenges of pastoral ministry

 
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Posted by on December 20, 2012 in Books, Ministry, Quotes

 

Are you blind?

Are you blind to your own blindness? If I am honest, I would have to say, “No.” I am not aware of where I am failing and falling short. I convince myself that I am doing a good job, or if not, that I am a notch or three better than the next person. That is one of the insights mentioned in Paul David Tripp’s book, Dangerous Calling: Confronting the unique challenges of pastoral ministry.

While the author is writing to pastors, I think all Christ followers can benefit from his assessment of our tendency to lie to ourselves.

You and I are in possession of two vision systems. There are our physical eyes that enable us to see the physical universe that surrounds us, and there are the eyes of our heart that help us “see” the spiritual realities that are vital to see if we are going to be who we were designed to be and do what we were designed to do. Sin plays havoc with our spiritual vision. Although we are able to see the sin of others with specificity and clarity, we tend to be blind to our own. And the most dangerous aspect of this already dangerous condition is that spiritually blind people tend to be blind to their blindness.

Here’s how it works. My pastor friend did his best to hold onto the delusion that no one had a more accurate view of him than he did. He thought no critique of his thoughts, desires, motivations, choices, words, and actions was more reliable than his own. He thought that the only questions and confrontation that he needed were what he brought to himself. He was all too confident in his vision and all too trusting of his critique of himself. When others would question or confront him, without knowing that he was doing it, he would activate his inner lawyer and generate arguments in his own defense. He often told himself that the speaker didn’t really know him because if he did, he wouldn’t question him in the way that he was. He often angrily said to his wife, “Darling, you just don’t know me as well as you think you do.”

How often do I listen to my inner lawyer rather than honestly listen to others? How often do I stumble around in the dark because I cannot see clearly the things that trip me up?

Help me to listen to those who speak truth.

 
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Posted by on December 19, 2012 in Books, Ministry, Personal growth, Quotes

 

Guess Who’s Coming to Christmas

This year, you were put in charge of inviting the guests to the annual neighborhood Christmas party. As you consider the guest list, who would you include on the “Must invite” list? Who would you keep in the wings on the “May invite” list in case some of those in the “Must invite” group can’t make it? And if we are being honest, who would you place on the “Won’t invite” list? Perhaps their tacky white elephant gifts, out of control behavior at a previous get together, or general social ineptness landed them on the “do not fly” list.

If you or I were in charge of planning the invitation list for the nativity, chances are good that we would not have invited the shepherds to the party (Luke 2:1-20). During that time in Israel’s history, the only people lower on the social status scale were lepers. Shepherds were considered not to be trusted. Not only did their occupation leave them religiously unclean, their responsibilities kept them away from the temple for weeks at a time which prevented them from being clean.

And yet, the shepherds were the first group God invited to celebrate his son’s birth. That fact alone points out that God does not come to the proud and powerful. He comes to the poor and powerless. Grace is given to those who need it most.

According to verses 8-14, an angel appeared to shepherds who were in the field at night taking care of their sheep. The shepherds are understandably scared to death. And that is before the angel speaks one word.

The angel brings a three-fold message. It is a message of joy. The birth of Jesus is cause for celebration. We celebrate because God loves us and is with us. It is a message of hope. A savior has been born. Jesus saves us from our past and gives us hope for the future. It is also a message of peace. Jesus makes reconciliation possible—not only between people and God, but between people and other people.

After hearing the good news, the shepherds waste no time heading for Bethlehem to see the baby (15-20). You feel sorry for the lowest guy on the roster who probably got stuck tending the sheep. The shepherds raced each other to see the new king. After their encounter with Jesus, they cannot stop talking about what the angel said and what they saw.

The shepherd’s experience with grace transformed them from outcasts to evangelists, from spectators to first responders. Their reaction demonstrates that good news is shared best by those who need it most.

This message was preached at First Central Baptist Church on December 16, 2012. It is part of a series on The Mystery of the Nativity. To download a copy of the sermon notes, please click on the link.

 

Creative graphics for evangelism

Once again proving the adages, “I get my best ideas from other people,” and “creativity is forgetting who I borrow things from,” I came across the following creative photos, logos, and graphics for evangelism.

Now I just need a place to use them. 🙂

 
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Posted by on December 15, 2012 in Evangelism, Photos

 

How do you make sense of the tragedy of the school shooting in Connecticut?

How does one process the senseless violence that took place at the elementary school in Connecticut? Here are a variety of random, disconnected thoughts.

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In one of his early novels, author Joel C. Rosenberg staged a dialogue between an American and an Israeli. (I don’t remember the names of the characters nor which book it was in.) The American was trying to make sense of a terrorist attack. The Israeli made a comment that one of the problems with us as Americans is that we do not believe in evil. We want to believe that everyone is basically good. We do not believe that evil exists and that some people are evil.

The shooting today at the elementary school in Connecticut, as well as the one earlier in the week at the mall in Portland, OR, slap us awake to the presence of evil.

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As Christians, we have gotten lazy about evangelism and discipleship. We bought into the notion that if we elected the right President, we could legislate morality. We focused on becoming a political action committee rather than preaching the gospel. We became consumed over worship wars (hymns vs. contemporary music; piano and organ vs. guitar and drums) and lost sight of changing people one heart at a time. By focusing on personal preferences, we lost sight of our mission. As a result, evil has become more and more prevalent. We are reaping what we have sown. We need to wake up and get back to our mission. We need to get back to being the church.

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Whenever a senseless tragedy of this magnitude occurs, God is usually blamed. The complaint is often voiced, “If God is loving, why does he allow things like this to happen?” Perhaps a better question to ask is, “Why does Satan hate God so much that he wants to destroy his people?” But if we don’t believe evil exists, we don’t ask those types of questions.

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2 Timothy 3:1–5 (ESV)

1But understand this, that in the last days there will come times of difficulty. For people will be lovers of self, lovers of money, proud, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, heartless, unappeasable, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not loving good, treacherous, reckless, swollen with conceit, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, having the appearance of godliness, but denying its power. Avoid such people.

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As parents, we can become overly protective of our children after a tragedy such as this. We can pull our children out of public schools, never let them go to the mall, double and triple check the background of all their friends and classmates. We can so guard our children and our own hearts that we never allow anyone to get close to us. While we certainly need to be prudent, wise, and cautious, we need to make sure we don’t become overly cynical, skeptical, and distrustful of everyone. We have to keep our hearts open to people in need. We cannot let fear run and/or ruin our lives.

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As Christians, we are to love one another and “do good to all people” (Galatians 6:10). We are to minister to the least and the lost. We need to remember that ministry is messy and that sometimes it may put us at risk for the cause of Christ.

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We need to learn and make appropriate changes. After the mall shooting in Portland, officials said it could have been worse had they not implemented strategies learned following the shooting at Columbine.

That being said, we cannot guard against everyone. The elementary school had a security system in place where people had to be buzzed into the school. That might keep strangers out, but today’s shooter was the son of a teacher and was well known at the school.

The solution will not be found in dialogue, debate, tougher gun laws, and better security systems. The solution will only be found in Jesus Christ. Only he can heal broken relationships, calm troubled minds, forgive sins, and help people find purpose in life.

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Isaiah 9:6 (ESV)

For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.

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Weep. Weep for the victims. Weep for the survivors. Weep for the school district. Weep for the community. Weep for the state. Weep for the region. Weep for our nation.

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Pray! Confess our sins. Repent of our indifference. Beg God to send revival.

 

 
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Posted by on December 14, 2012 in News stories, Scripture

 

Has the world gone mad?

The headlines of the week loudly proclaim the schizophrenic world we live in:

Washington State celebrated tolerance as same sex couples were allowed to be married and marijuana was legalized. While couples lined up outside Seattle’s City Hall to obtain a marriage license, others smoked pot beneath the Space Needle.

A few miles further south, an armed gunman walked into the Clackamas Town Center in Portland, OR, and started shooting. Were it not for his gun jamming, more people might have died.

On the other side of the country, a gunman walked into an elementary school in Connecticut and took the lives of several children.

On the other side of the world, the Ukrainian parliament meeting turned into a brawl while trying to elect a new speaker. The conflict reflected the divisions between the Russian-speaking West and the Ukrainian-speaking East.

Tolerance and violence. The right to do what I want and the right to bear arms. Morality legislated by popular opinion reflects an amoral world where individuals determine their own definitions of right and wrong.

We desperately need to hear the message of Christmas. It needs to be loudly proclaimed in a world that has stopped up their ears to the truth.

In Luke 2:10–14, we read the message announced to shepherds many years ago.

10 And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. 11 For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. 12 And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.” 13 And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying, 14 “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!”

Our schizophrenic world desperately needs a savior. We desperately long for peace on earth. But we cannot have the latter without the former. There will be no peace on earth until there is peace between heaven and earth. There can be no reconciliation between individuals until God and man are reconciled. There can be no peace of mind until the peace of God reigns in our hearts. Until we acknowledge our sin and receive forgiveness from our savior, we cannot make peace with those who we feel wronged us.

The savior who was born in Bethlehem must be born in our hearts. Until this occurs, schizophrenia will remain unchecked.