Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Truly Historical

I don't know if you are as interested in history as I am, but I find the story of today's inauguration of President Obama (no longer President-elect) a truly historical event. Over the course of my life I've witnessed a few of these kinds of things. Often times they have been sad things. I remember all to sadly the funeral of John F. Kennedy, and the coverage of Martin Luther King's assassination and funeral. I remember the TV footage of President Reagan being shot, and the impeachment hearings of President Clinton. I remember the Challenger explosion and been a news witness to all too many "war" stories.
There have a few "good" stories also. The "Miracle on Ice" in the Olympics is forever etched in my mind. The Packer's SuperBowl victories from the 60's and 90's are still there also.
As I write this blog I'm witnessing (online) the swearing in of President Obama and I am excited for what is historically present to me. I have loved seeing what is happening to our country. We have come a long way and while many will admit we still have a long way to go, I am still amazed at what is happening. This is one of those days that won't soon be forgotten. Forget all of the politicalizing that is involved in this. It is another JFK kind of moment.
For me, there is but one obligation. The scripture says "pray for those in authority". I did it for each President in my 37 years of being a follower of Jesus, and I'll do it for him also.

Friday, January 9, 2009

In What Way is Jesus the Way?

I am reading Eugene Peterson's book The Jesus Way: A Conversation on the Ways That Jesus Is the Way. Like most of Peterson's work he is a thought provoking author. This is the third of a series by him in books that he entitles "Conversation". The other two books are Christ Plays in Ten Thousand Places and Eat This Book.

What I love about Peterson is that he provokes me to think. In this case its thinking and asking the question -- In what way is Jesus the way?
It caused me to preach a message in early January on that theme at Mad City Church, where I serve. I got finished and almost immediately thought -- I can't leave this at that, I've got to preach another one, part 2. There's so much that is being stimulated in my thoughts, prayers, and hopes. Bottom line, if Jesus is the way...and he is "the way" in front of "the truth"...then he is both the way To God, as well as the Way From God.

It's another way of saying, if we ever needed a good way of understanding the character and heart of God we only need to look at Jesus. Now, that's not new for many believers, but it is important because it breaks down the false dichotomy of the "Old" Testament and "New" Testament notion of two types of God. That isn't something that most people struggle with as much as it's a silent "wonder". How could God appear so differently in the O.T. than what we see in Jesus. The answer is that Jesus is the one that explains the Father. "When you have seen me, you have seen the Father.".

Stay with me and I'm going to write out some the "ways" in which Jesus is the Way. Or join me, read the book and comment along:

Amazon.com: The Jesus Way: A Conversation on the Ways That Jesus Is the Way: Eugene H. Peterson: Books

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Jack is Back, Alas, So is Lost

The widely acclaimed and hated "24" is about to return to the airways. Jack Bauer is the hero of this returning series...which never fails to entertain me, keep me locked in, and at the same time causes me know end of frustration. I was "caught" in the 24 web by it's unique storyline...that the shows all revolve around one hour of a 24 hour day. When my daughter and son-in-law watch it in England on DVD, it's only 42 minute hours! I get caught up every year in the story line and usually kick myself for watching it...uugh!
NOW, as to New Year's resolutions, I am keeping "Lost", lost...no more will I subject myself to the ongoing "Gilligan's Island with Attitude". done...kaput...time to move on to something that has a goal in mind.

Chalk it all up to grumpy old man

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

The 12th day, Epiphany (& the 11th also)

Happy Epiphany Day
We come to the end of the 12 days of Christmas, and with apologies to all, I am blogging these last two days together.
Epiphany is celebrated around the world in Christian churches as the “revelation”, “showing”, “making known” (all which accurately convey what Epiphany means) of Jesus as Savior and King.
Our reading:
Matthew 2:1-12 (NASB)
1 Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, magi from the east arrived in Jerusalem, saying,
2 "Where is He who has been born King of the Jews? For we saw His star in the east and have come to worship Him."
3 When Herod the king heard this, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him.
4 Gathering together all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Messiah was to be born.
5 They said to him, "In Bethlehem of Judea; for this is what has been written by the prophet:
6 'And you, Bethlehem , land of Judah , Are by no means least among the leaders of Judah; For out of you shall come forth a ruler Who will shepherd My people Israel .' "
7 Then Herod secretly called the magi and determined from them the exact time the star appeared.
8 And he sent them to Bethlehem and said, "Go and search carefully for the Child; and when you have found Him, report to me, so that I too may come and worship Him."
9 After hearing the king, they went their way; and the star, which they had seen in the east, went on before them until it came and stood over the place where the Child was.
10 When they saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy.
11 After coming into the house they saw the Child with Mary His mother; and they fell to the ground and worshiped Him. Then, opening their treasures, they presented to Him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.
12 And having been warned by God in a dream not to return to Herod, the magi left for their own country by another way.

The visit of the Magi – “magos”, was of court officials who probably used astrology to gain guidance in their capacity of advisors to the Persian rulers. [That'll stretch your God box!] It was these “Gentiles” who first came to Jesus to recognize him as “He who has been born King of the Jews…”. It’s interesting to note, most of our manger scenes have the Magi at the stable with the shepherds and the animals; but vs. 1 clearly says they came “after” Jesus was born and later on that Jesus and his parents were in a house (vs. 11). Also interestingly, we sing “We Three Kings of Orient are…”, but there is no number connected with the visitors, only three gifts that are given (vs. 11).
What might be more significant than the number of Magi, is the gifts. Many have thought the gifts to have “prophetic” significance. Gold is for King; Frankincense was a spice used in incense, hence in Worship and fits Jesus’ role as Priest; and Myrrh which is a resin, the sap of a tree, that had usages in incense also, but for over 2000 years was also used as an embalming ointment (as well as in perfumes, lotions, even toothpastes!). Myrrh is used in Eastern Orthodox churches as part of “holy oil” for sacraments and other rites. It is significant as a gift the baby, probably as a lotion, but signifies his fore coming death as “lamb of God”, our Savior who died for our sins.
Also interestingly, is the appearance of the star. Traditions had it that the star “guided them”, but the text doesn’t say that; instead it says that the Magi saw the star “in it’s rising”, i.e., when it arose and therefore saw it as an astronomical anomaly, a sign, that they then traveled towards. There have been a number of theories on the star, but I think it is sufficient to say that God has a way of directing the universe for his purposes.
Of course, for us, today in 2009, Epiphany is the great reminder that Jesus is “revealed” to us as our King – ruling over the Kingdom of God – and as Priest, who ever lives to make intercession for us, and as our Savior, the Lamb of God that has come to take away the sins of the world.
For many places in world, this is really Christmas Day. Last night was “Twelfth Night” in the 12 days of Christmas. It is for all Christians, the end of the Christmas season that we celebrate in Advent and the 12 Days of Christmas.

The song that is referred to as “The Twelve Days of Christmas” concludes with the 11th and 12th days:
On the 11th day of Christmas my true love gave to me...
Eleven Pipers Piping
...which stood for:
The eleven Faithful Apostles: 1) Simon Peter, 2) Andrew, 3) James, 4) John, 5) Philip, 6) Bartholomew, 7) Matthew, 8) Thomas, 9) James bar Alphaeus, 10) Simon the Zealot, 11) Judas bar James. (Luke 6:14-16). The list does not include the twelfth disciple, Judas Iscariot who betrayed Jesus to the religious leaders and the Romans.
On the 12th day of Christmas my true love gave to me...
Twelve Drummers Drumming
...which brings the lesson of these twelve days to
the twelve points of doctrine in the Apostles' Creed:
1) I believe in God, the Father almighty, creator of heaven and earth. 2) I believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord. 3) He was conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit and born of the virgin Mary. 4) He suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried. He descended into hell [the grave]. 5) On the third day he rose again. He ascended into heaven, and is seated at the right hand of the Father. 6) He will come again to judge the living and the dead. 7) I believe in the Holy Spirit, 8) the holy catholic Church, 9) the communion of saints, 10) the forgiveness of sins, 11) the resurrection of the body, 12) and life everlasting.
Happy Epiphany to all.

A Prayer:

"Father, we come to this day of revelation with hearts filled with your goodness and grace. Thank you for the gift of your son, our Savior, Jesus Christ. Thank you for the gift of your Holy Spirit which serves us in bringing us always back to you. We love this season of celebration...the Christmas lights, presents, and season is over, but the incarnation and presence of your son lives on in our hearts through faith. Father, this is you...no wonder we bow in worship before you. Amen."

Sunday, January 4, 2009

The Tenth Day of Christmas

On the 10th day of Christmas my true love gave to me...

Ten Lords A-leaping
Nine Ladies Dancing
Eight Maids a Milking,
Seven Swans a swimming,
Six geese a-laying,
Five golden rings,
Four calling birds,
Three French hens,
Two turtle doves,
And a partridge in a pear tree.

Our Reading:
Deuteronomy 10:1-5 (NASB)
1 "At that time the Lord said to me, 'Cut out for yourself two tablets of stone like the former ones, and come up to Me on the mountain, and make an ark of wood for yourself.
2 'I will write on the tablets the words that were on the former tablets which you shattered, and you shall put them in the ark.'
3 "So I made an ark of acacia wood and cut out two tablets of stone like the former ones, and went up on the mountain with the two tablets in my hand.
4 "He wrote on the tablets, like the former writing, the Ten Commandments which the Lord had spoken to you on the mountain from the midst of the fire on the day of the assembly; and the Lord gave them to me.
5 "Then I turned and came down from the mountain and put the tablets in the ark which I had made; and there they are, as the Lord commanded me."
Deuteronomy 10:10-21 (NASB)
10 "I, moreover, stayed on the mountain forty days and forty nights like the first time, and the Lord listened to me that time also; the Lord was not willing to destroy you.
11 "Then the Lord said to me, 'Arise, proceed on your journey ahead of the people, that they may go in and possess the land which I swore to their fathers to give them.'
12 "Now, Israel, what does the Lord your God require from you, but to fear the Lord your God, to walk in all His ways and love Him, and to serve the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul,
13 and to keep the Lord's commandments and His statutes which I am commanding you today for your good?
14 "Behold, to the Lord your God belong heaven and the highest heavens, the earth and all that is in it.
15 "Yet on your fathers did the Lord set His affection to love them, and He chose their descendants after them, even you above all peoples, as it is this day.
16 "So circumcise your heart, and stiffen your neck no longer.
17 "For the Lord your God is the God of gods and the Lord of lords, the great, the mighty, and the awesome God who does not show partiality nor take a bribe.
18 "He executes justice for the orphan and the widow, and shows His love for the alien by giving him food and clothing.
19 "So show your love for the alien, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt.
20 "You shall fear the Lord your God; you shall serve Him and cling to Him, and you shall swear by His name.
21 "He is your praise and He is your God, who has done these great and awesome things for you which your eyes have seen.
A Meditation:
The tenth day of Christmas is a celebration of God’s law as given in the tablets of stone to Moses. We call them the Ten Commandments:
1) You shall have no other gods before me; 2) Do not make an idol; 3) Do not take God's name in vain; 4) Remember the Sabbath Day; 5) Honor your father and mother; 6) Do not murder; 7) Do not commit adultery; 8) Do not steal; 9) Do not bear false witness; 10) Do not covet. (Exodus 20:1-17)
If you think about it these simple statements of God encompass just about every aspect of human relationships – towards God and Others. They have stood the test of time, now almost 5000 years old, and still relevant today.
A Prayer:
“Lord, we come to you to state anew our desire to honor your word, to discover your ways, and to walk in them. We don’t do it out of a need to gain your favor; we already have that in Jesus your Son. We express a desire to follow you that out of the overflow of gratitude we might honor you and praise you with our lives. In Jesus’ Name. Amen.”

Saturday, January 3, 2009

The Ninth Day of Christmas

On the 9th day of Christmas my true love gave to me...
Nine Ladies Dancing
Eight Maids a Milking,
Seven Swans a swimming,
Six geese a-laying,
Five golden rings,
Four calling birds,
Three French hens,
Two turtle doves,
And a partridge in a pear tree.

Our Readings:
Galatians 5:16-25 (NASB)
16 But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not carry out the desire of the flesh.
17 For the flesh sets its desire against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; for these are in opposition to one another, so that you may not do the things that you please.
18 But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the Law.
19 Now the deeds of the flesh are evident, which are: immorality, impurity, sensuality,
20 idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, disputes, dissensions, factions,
21 envying, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these, of which I forewarn you, just as I have forewarned you, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.
22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness,
23 gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.
24 Now those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.
25 If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit.

A Meditation:
The ninth of Christmas is a celebration of the nine fruit of the Holy Spirit. Among the many aspects of God’s character is the listing of the “fruit of the Spirit” by the Apostle Paul. Like so many pieces of Scripture, the fruit of the Spirit is not an invention of Paul’s imagination, but it is rooted in the Old Testament prophet, Isaiah. It was Isaiah 700 years before who had written about the Spirit of God:

Isaiah 11:1-5 (NASB)
1 Then a shoot will spring from the stem of Jesse, And a branch from his roots will bear fruit.
2 The Spirit of the Lord will rest on Him, The spirit of wisdom and understanding, The spirit of counsel and strength, The spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord.
3 And He will delight in the fear of the Lord, And He will not judge by what His eyes see, Nor make a decision by what His ears hear;
4 But with righteousness He will judge the poor, And decide with fairness for the afflicted of the earth; And He will strike the earth with the rod of His mouth, And with the breath of His lips He will slay the wicked.
5 Also righteousness will be the belt about His loins, And faithfulness the belt about His waist.

The picture of the “shoot” from the stem is an amazing metaphor. A walk in the woods last summer brought me to a fallen tree, but there in the rooted stump was the beginning of new growth, a stem growing up as a branch all over again. It’s a reminder that the fruit of the Spirit at work in us is the work of Jesus who bears fruit within us in even the smallest acts of God.

A Prayer:

“O God, because without you we are not able to please you; please grant that your Holy Spirit would dwell in my heart by faith. I pray that out of the indwelling of your Spirit would emerge fruit, and with it more faith, to believe, to trust, to act in harmony with you, so that I might be walking in harmony with you today, tomorrow and forever. Amen.”

Friday, January 2, 2009

The 8th Day of Christmas

On the 8th day of Christmas
My True Love gave to me
Eight Maids a Milking,
Seven Swans a swimming,
Six geese a-laying,
Five golden rings,
Four calling birds,
Three French hens,
Two turtle doves,
And a partridge in a pear tree.

It’s the 2nd day of January, but it’s the 8th day of the 12 days of Christmas! AND, it’s my sister Phyllis’ birthday! I’ll not post her age…let’s just say she’s older than me and I hit 60 this next year!!
The 12 Days of Christmas is a song that is learned over the 12 days between Christmas day and Epiphany. Epiphany is the “revealing” of Jesus…historically and biblically linked to the visit of the Magi in Matthew 2.
This song was taught by clerics at a time in which teaching faith to the faithful was outlawed, and so each day, and the number, related to some aspect of the faith…The true love is God, the days end each time the same way with Jesus, the partridge in the pear tree.
On day eight, the maids-a-milking stood for the eight blessings spoken by Christ in his teaching on the mountain (the Sermon on the Mount).
Our Readings:
Matthew 5:1-12 (NASB)
1 When Jesus saw the crowds, He went up on the mountain; and after He sat down, His disciples came to Him.
2 He opened His mouth and began to teach them, saying,
3 "Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
4 "Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.
5 "Blessed are the gentle, for they shall inherit the earth.
6 "Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.
7 "Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.
8 "Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.
9 "Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.
10 "Blessed are those who have been persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
11 "Blessed are you when people insult you and persecute you, and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of Me.
12 "Rejoice and be glad, for your reward in heaven is great; for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.
Matthew 16:13-18 (NIV)
13 When Jesus came to the region of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, "Who do people say the Son of Man is?"
14 They replied, "Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, Jeremiah or one of the prophets."
15 "But what about you?" he asked. "Who do you say I am?"
16 Simon Peter answered, "You are the Christ, the Son of the living God."
17 Jesus replied, "Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by man, but by my Father in heaven.
18 And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it.
A Meditation:
Jesus came to show us the “father’s heart”. God is incarnated – made flesh – in the birth of Jesus; and Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the Living God. Think about the word Jesus uses in both the 8 blessings of Matt. 5 and the words to Simon Peter as he responds to the truth of who Jesus is. He uses the word “blessed”, the greek word is makarios, which means “happy”, “fortunate”, and implies the benefit of God’s grace. Looking at the list of the blessings in Matthew 5, we would more likely to look at those things as “unfortunate”, “unhappy” events: “poor in spirit, mourn, meek, hunger and thirsty for righteousness, merciful, pure in heart, peacemakers, persecuted for righteousness”…How many want to line up for those things?
Maids-a-milking refers to one of the lowliest of jobs in England during these times. This day is a reminder that God’s heart is for the servant, the person willing to live for the righteousness of God. While the world may tread on all of those things, God finds them highly treasured.
“Father, at the beginning of this new year, when we’re prone to make resolutions, plans, and create goals for the year ahead; remind us that what you value in hearts and souls is the heart of the servant. I want to serve you today, and this year, and need the work of your Holy Spirit to continually draw me back to what you value the most. In Jesus’ name I pray…Amen.”

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Happy New Year, The Seventh Day of Christmas

Happy New Year! In our modern calendar, 2009, is already a few hours old. In the Church year calendar the new year began with the first day of Advent. We celebrated Advent until December 25th, and beginning on the 26th we’ve begun a celebration of the 12 days of Christmas – the days between Christ’s birth and “Epiphany” on January 6th. Epiphany is the celebration of the prophetic visit of the Magi recorded in Matthew 2.
One writer said it this way: “The 'real' twelve days of Christmas are important not just as a way of thumbing our noses at secular ideas of the ‘Christmas season.’ They are important because they give us a way of reflecting on what the Incarnation means in our lives. Christmas commemorates the most momentous event in human history—the entry of God into the world He made, in the form of a baby. The Logos through whom the worlds were made took up His dwelling among us in a tabernacle of flesh…In Christ, our human nature was united to God, and when Christ enters our hearts, he brings us into that union.”
In the 16th century, with Catholicism outlawed in England, clerics taught the song, “The Twelve Days of Christmas” as a way of reminding the faithful of all that God has given us. You can read the past days in previous blogs, but today – Jan. 1, 2009 – is the 7th day of Christmas, and on this day…
On the 7th day of Christmas
My True Love gave to me
Seven Swans a swimming,
Six geese a-laying,
Five golden rings,
Four calling birds,
Three French hens,
Two turtle doves,
And a partridge in a pear tree.

If you struggle a bit with identifying “7” you are not alone. Creation culminated in 7 days, but it was the six geese a-laying that reminded us of creation. Is it God’s rest, Sabbath, on the 7th day that is commemorated? Possibly, but another possibility – and tradition has it that it is this – is the 7 gifts of the Holy Spirit: prophecy, ministry, teaching, exhortation, giving, leading, and compassion. It is Paul’s reference in Romans that serves as the basis for this; but it is the prophecy of Isaiah that foretold it. Here’s both passages for our readings.

Two readings:

Isaiah 11:1-5 (NASB)
1 Then a shoot will spring from the stem of Jesse, And a branch from his roots will bear fruit.
2 The Spirit of the Lord will rest on Him, The spirit of wisdom and understanding, The spirit of counsel and strength, The spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord.
3 And He will delight in the fear of the Lord, And He will not judge by what His eyes see, Nor make a decision by what His ears hear;
4 But with righteousness He will judge the poor, And decide with fairness for the afflicted of the earth; And He will strike the earth with the rod of His mouth, And with the breath of His lips He will slay the wicked.
5 Also righteousness will be the belt about His loins, And faithfulness the belt about His waist.

Romans 12:1-13 (NASB)
1 Therefore I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship.
2 And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect.
3 For through the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think more highly of himself than he ought to think; but to think so as to have sound judgment, as God has allotted to each a measure of faith.
4 For just as we have many members in one body and all the members do not have the same function,
5 so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another.
6 Since we have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, each of us is to exercise them accordingly: if prophecy, according to the proportion of his faith;
7 if service, in his serving; or he who teaches, in his teaching;
8 or he who exhorts, in his exhortation; he who gives, with liberality; he who leads, with diligence; he who shows mercy, with cheerfulness.
9 Let love be without hypocrisy. Abhor what is evil; cling to what is good.
10 Be devoted to one another in brotherly love; give preference to one another in honor;
11 not lagging behind in diligence, fervent in spirit, serving the Lord;
12 rejoicing in hope, persevering in tribulation, devoted to prayer,
13 contributing to the needs of the saints, practicing hospitality.

Why seven swans?
Swans are one of the most beautiful and graceful creatures of God. They are also zealous and protective of their own. Beyond that, there is much to say, but suffice it that in this “seven graces of the Spirit” we swing on the gate of the new year and pray…
A Prayer:
“Yes Lord, I need your work – the work of your Holy Spirit – in my life every day. Whether in me, to me, or through me, make me a vessel of your grace.”