Month: December 2012

Who do you serve?

My heart is full and I don’t know how to write about it. I also am not sure how much to write.

It was a devotion. It was one that I knew would elicit reaction, though not this much.

The thrust of the devotion: “We serve Jesus. We don’t serve the church.” I see some tunnel-vision in certain servants of the church. They focus so much on this single congregation that they seem at least at danger of forgetting Jesus. When something bad happens to the congregation, it is the end of the world – because their hope is in this gathering of believers, and not in Jesus, who is eternal.

So I did a devotion pointing back to Jesus. Jesus, Jesus, only Jesus. The church never died for me. The church didn’t save me. The church doesn’t rule the world on my behalf. Jesus does all those things.

The point was not that the church doesn’t matter. The point wasn’t that we shouldn’t serve the congregation. The point was that we serve Jesus first. He’s the reason we do anything; if we’re doing it for the church and that’s the end of it, we’ve turned the church into an idol.

The devotion did not go well.

At the end, one man stormed away. Another openly defied me.

And the sad thing is… their sinful nature has taken a good thing and twisted it. It is a good thing to love the church. It is a good thing to love the gathering of believers that God has joined you to. It is a wonderful thing to serve the congregation you’re attached to. These are good things.

But we must never confuse good things with the one who gave them.

The one who stormed away? He hasn’t been back to church since. I’m making an attempt to contact him this week. We’ll see how that goes.

The one who openly defied me? He’s calmed down.

We’ll see. I have a devotion with this same group next week. And I’m going to hit this again; I’m hoping I will be ever more clear. If any have begun to worship the congregation instead of Jesus, of course it’s going to cause problems. I’m casting down sacred cows. But in the end, it will be worth it. They’ll be faced with idolatry. They’ll have to choose: Jesus or church? What’s their priority?

Because if the priority is church, they need to be shown their sin. And if the priority is Jesus, well, shouldn’t such a message simply bring joy?

It’s sad. It has gnawed at me. Frankly, this incident has poisoned my Christmas celebration. I should be able to focus on Jesus, and what he’s done for me – not on someone storming away because I have the audacity to say that we serve Jesus.

Sin sucks.

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Today.

4 But when the time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under law, 5 to redeem those under law, that we might receive the full rights of sons.

(Galatians 4:4-5)

Now.

The time had fully come. God had waited for just the right moment to send his Son into the world. He had a very specific mission for his Son: to buy back those who had rebelled against him. To buy back those who had chosen shame and fear and guilt over joy.

To buy back us.

God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the same law we’re under. He played by our rules to win us back.

He has taken away your guilt. That baby in Bethlehem grew up. He was on a mission from the moment not just of his birth but his conception. He was thinking of you. He was born to give you the joy he earned.

Your guilt is gone. Your shame has been removed. Your need no longer fear.

God has restored your joy.

But if Jesus came back… if he was born, if he died to take away all these terrible things, if he came back to restore joy… why is there still so much pain? Why do you still hurt?

Because he’s not done yet.

Not yet.

He will return. You will see him coming on the clouds. You will see him, the Child born in Bethlehem, the Child who rules forever… you will see him. He will come, and he will make all things new. He has taken away your guilt… and he will return to take you. And on that day the joy that is already yours will be made greater.

But not yet.

Soon.

Already your guilt is gone.

Already your shame is gone.

Already your fear is gone.

Soon your greatest joy will be restored to you.

Soon.

But not yet.

Now, Part 2

8 And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. 9 An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. 10 But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. 11 Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord. 12 This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”
13 Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying,

14 “Glory to God in the highest,
and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests.”

15 When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.”
16 So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger. 17 When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, 18 and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them. 19 But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart. 20 The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told.

(Luke 2:8-20)

(more…)

Now.

In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. 2 (This was the first census that took place while Quirinius was governor of Syria.) 3 And everyone went to his own town to register.
4 So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David. 5 He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child. 6 While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, 7 and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.

(Luke 2:1-7)

Now.

The time is now.

God has arranged the entire world for this. He’s put Caesar Augustus in power in Rome. He’s arranged the timing of the census so that Mary and Joseph travel together to Bethlehem, so the Child will be born there.

He has spent millennia, so excited about the one who would crush the serpent’s head, sharing more and more about the Child, the one who would restore Joy…

And tonight. Now. That child is here. A baby named Jesus. For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, a child who will take the weight of our guilt and our shame and our fear and instead give us joy. Real joy.

The baby is here. The wait is over.

Not Yet, Part 3

26 In the sixth month, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a town in Galilee, 27 to a virgin pledged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. 28 The angel went to her and said, “Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you.”
29 Mary was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be. 30 But the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, you have found favor with God. 31 You will be with child and give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus. 32 He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, 33 and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever; his kingdom will never end.”
34 “How will this be,” Mary asked the angel, “since I am a virgin?”
35 The angel answered, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God. 36 Even Elizabeth your relative is going to have a child in her old age, and she who was said to be barren is in her sixth month. 37 For nothing is impossible with God.”
38 “I am the Lord’s servant,” Mary answered. “May it be to me as you have said.” Then the angel left her.

(Luke 1:26-38)

(more…)

Not Yet, Part 2

2 The people walking in darkness
have seen a great light;
on those living in the land of the shadow of death
a light has dawned.

6 For to us a child is born,
to us a son is given,
and the government will be on his shoulders.
And he will be called
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
7 Of the increase of his government and peace
there will be no end.
He will reign on David’s throne
and over his kingdom,
establishing and upholding it
with justice and righteousness
from that time on and forever.
The zeal of the LORD Almighty
will accomplish this.

(Isaiah 9:2, 6, 7)

(more…)

Not Yet, Part 1

8 Then the man and his wife heard the sound of the LORD God as he was walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and they hid from the LORD God among the trees of the garden. 9 But the LORD God called to the man, “Where are you?”
10 He answered, “I heard you in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked; so I hid.”
11 And he said, “Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten from the tree that I commanded you not to eat from?”
12 The man said, “The woman you put here with me—she gave me some fruit from the tree, and I ate it.”
13 Then the LORD God said to the woman, “What is this you have done?”
The woman said, “The serpent deceived me, and I ate.”
14 So the LORD God said to the serpent, “Because you have done this,

“Cursed are you above all the livestock
and all the wild animals!
You will crawl on your belly
and you will eat dust
all the days of your life.
15 And I will put enmity
between you and the woman,
and between your offspring and hers;
he will crush your head,
and you will strike his heel.”

(Genesis 3:8-15)

(more…)

Live a life worthy of the heart given you.

Luke 3:7-18 7 John said to the crowds coming out to be baptized by him, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath? 8 Produce fruit in keeping with repentance. And do not begin to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ For I tell you that out of these stones God can raise up children for Abraham. 9 The ax is already at the root of the trees, and every tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire.”

10 “What should we do then?” the crowd asked.

11 John answered, “The man with two tunics should share with him who has none, and the one who has food should do the same.”

12 Tax collectors also came to be baptized. “Teacher,” they asked, “what should we do?”

13 “Don’t collect any more than you are required to,” he told them.

14 Then some soldiers asked him, “And what should we do?”

He replied, “Don’t extort money and don’t accuse people falsely—be content with your pay.”

15 The people were waiting expectantly and were all wondering in their hearts if John might possibly be the Christ. 16 John answered them all, “I baptize you with water. But one more powerful than I will come, the thongs of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire. 17 His winnowing fork is in his hand to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his barn, but he will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire.” 18 And with many other words John exhorted the people and preached the good news to them.

(more…)

No Time for the Miraculous

I light my Advent candles with a lightsaber.

Sunday nights I usually sit down to my keyboard to figure out what happened this week. What did I learn? What event made me smile? What person did I serve or fail to serve?

And right now as I write I’m racking my brain, trying to figure out what happened. And as my brain is being apart on this rack and I demand of it, “Talk!” my brain simply screams, “I don’t know! I don’t have the plans! This is a counselor ship! We’re on a diplomatic mission!”

I then ask in my deadly voice, “If this is a counselor ship, then where is the ambassador?”

I think I mixed my metaphors and got just a teensy bit off track there. (more…)

How do we get ready for Jesus?

Luke 3:1-6 In the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar—when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea, Herod tetrarch of Galilee, his brother Philip tetrarch of Iturea and Traconitis, and Lysanias tetrarch of Abilene— 2 during the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, the word of God came to John son of Zechariah in the desert. 3 He went into all the country around the Jordan, preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. 4 As is written in the book of the words of Isaiah the prophet:

“A voice of one calling in the desert,

‘Prepare the way for the Lord,

make straight paths for him.

5     Every valley shall be filled in,

every mountain and hill made low.

The crooked roads shall become straight,

the rough ways smooth.

6     And all mankind will see God’s salvation.’ ”

(more…)