Archive for November, 2008
We yelled it right before being tagged “it” when I was a kid. It was from free ticket that could be used once each game. But it could only be used once, after that, you were on your own to wriggle away from the person who was “it” and trying to tag you out of the game!
I talk about this, and how we so often use it with God in areas of our lives today, in my weekly Heartlight.org post — Christ in the House. We yell “King’s X” to go in those places of our lives we don’t want to yield to the Lordship of Christ, that we keep secret from others, or even in areas we don’t want to admit to ourselves that we have issues.
I finished the post with these words:
Let’s get real about the places we’ve declared “King’s X” to His Lordship and surrender them. Let’s invite Him in to be Lord of every relationship, meal, and conversation. When this happens, there will be no doubt that Christ is Lord in our house!
Where have you declared “King’s X” with Jesus?
Have you been honest with yourself about that?
What do you need to do to yield to the Lordship of Christ in your life?
Finally, how do yield those “King’s X” areas of your heart to God?
I’d love to get your responses below!
The last two days have been cold, wet, and windy. Typical bad weather for west Texas in late November and early December. Not the kind of days that make you want to fall down on your knees and give thanks, that’s for sure. But both days had moments of stunning beauty that most never saw!
I am a bow hunter — nobody go bonkers on me on that one, it’s mostly bow-sitting and quiet time as you will see. So in the middle of the bad weather yesterday, I slipped out to a beautiful place in the country with hills and trees. About the time I got there, it started sprinkling and gave way to a gentle rain. For brief periods of time, the sky cleared and the sun broke through for a bit, but mostly it was cold, cloudy, and windy. Thankfully I had guessed perfectly on what to wear: I wasn’t too cold or too hot, I was just right!
I crawled into a little pop up blind and spent the next two hours listening — listening to the rain patter on the tent, listening to the birds signaling movement in the trees, listening to the wind, and listening to the soft footfalls of deer. Two healthy bucks showed up, both young — one a six point and the other an eight point. I passed on them both and just watched as they milled about for thirty minutes or so, then meandered on. Then a gorgeousness red fox showed right before dark. His coloring was brilliant. His movements secretive. But he found no rabbit, so he too moved on.
As I climbed out of the little blind in the darkness, I looked to the west. The last rays of sun caught the remaining clouds on the horizon and set them ablaze in purples and oranges. The moon was setting about forty-five minutes behind the sun, and it was a delicate sliver of orange hanging just below Jupiter and Saturn in a sky too wondrous for words.
As I drove in to church early this morning, I was reflecting on the beauty of the sunset yesterday. I knew most had completely missed it. It was just a raw early winter day for them. Yet in the middle of a messy day was a treasure of genuine beauty. Not only did I witness it; it refreshed my spirit. I rejoiced in God’s creative goodness. Then as if on cue, the sun slid from behind the morning clouds and the sky came alive with color. It was too early on a holiday Sunday for most to witness, but it was glorious.
Now the soft rain has set back in, the skies are a hard gray, and the wind is biting and cold. Most never saw either the glorious sunset of yesterday or sunrise of today. They were unaware of God’s gift in the middle of a lamentable weather. But I saw it and was blessed.
Makes me think about the time when Jesus came. Most never saw God’s grace dawn and His glory revealed. But for those that did, there was — and is — great joy … a joy that must be shared and beauty that must be declared.
Makes me think of Zechariah’s song at the birth of John, the cousin Jesus, who prepared the way for the coming of the Lord:
“And you, my child, will be called a prophet of the Most High;
for you will go on before the Lord to prepare the way for him,
to give his people the knowledge of salvation
through the forgiveness of their sins,
because of the tender mercy of our God,
by which the rising sun will come to us from heaven
to shine on those living in darkness
and in the shadow of death,
to guide our feet into the path of peace.” (Luke 1:76-79 TNIV)
Let’s not forget to share what we’ve seen!
12/28 – Star Light, Star Bright – CTT for planners and LIFE Groups
Background reading for worship planning teams Deuteronomy 18:10-15; Matthew 2:1-15; & 28:18-20; 2 Timothy 3:14-17; John 3:16-17; John 5:39-40; and Revelation 22:12-17. One of the strangest stories of all of the Bible is the story of the Magi. Eastern astrologers from Iran coming to worship baby Jesus, the King of the Jews? Incredible! The hope of the world is Jesus!
We’ve lost our sense of this story’s wonderful strangeness, but the ones who come to crown Jesus King are probably from what we would call Iran. Their religion is something forbidden under the threat of death in the Old Testament Law as witchcraft and sorcery. (See the Deuteronomy and Revelation passages above!) Yet in the middle of a story about devoutly faithful Jewish people, we meet strange foreigners who welcome Jesus as royalty. Meanwhile, those who knew the Word of God best were dead set on annihilating Jesus.
Scripture is not going to have its intended effect without a desire to seek and find God. In addition, we must realize that the message of Jesus is for all people who are seeking to find God (remember also how Matthew ends, 28:18-20). Underneath all of this is a reminder that without Jesus, Scripture is an unfathomable mystery and is emptied of its hope. Yet at the same time, the hope of the world is not a political fix, but a Jesus’ fix. Finding Him will help us all find peace!
We Believe in God the Father (Because We Believe), Ancient Words (right before the sermon), Break Thou the Bread of Life (not as a communion song – but sung during the Time in the Word. Two key points of emphasis in this song: 1) Jesus opens our eyes to see the Scriptures and their meaning and 2) we hunger for Him, and the Scriptures point to Him as our source of life – “beyond the sacred page, I seek Thee Lord, my spirit pants for Thee O living Word.”
For possible use in a song set is John 8:12.
2 Timothy 3:14-17
Read or refer to Revelation 22:12-17 and Deuteronomy 18:10-15.
Whoa! Ouch! This is not a very encouraging way to start a message right after Christmas and right before we begin the New Year. Harsh. Clear. Firm. Maybe even judgmental!
Two things we need to hear. First, God had standards, and grace doesn’t erase our call to those standards of holy character. Second, we need to put the story of the Magi, the wise men, into biblical perspective.
The story of the Magi is one of the weirdest and most precious stories in Scripture. Members of a false and condemned religion use their religion to come find Jesus. Members of the political and religious elite use the Scriptures to try to find Jesus. The Magi come to bring Jesus gifts, bow down, and worship Him. The religious used the prophets to determine where the Messiah was to be born and tried to use their knowledge to murder Jesus so they could keep their religious power and position.
Knowing Scripture is important. God has chosen to reveal himself in human words through the Bible. We believe it is crucial and vital and something lacking in our congregational life. That’s why we’re strongly urging everyone to be involved in our Bible reading program for 2009 – every age group.
That being said, knowing Scripture is not the answer to dour deepest needs: seeking Jesus is (John 5:39-40). People have used Scripture throughout history for their own advantage, just like they have used ignorance of Scripture to make religion whatever they want it to be. Rooted in this story is a reminder that the key to all of it is seeking Jesus. He is the key that opens up the meaning of Scripture (2 Timothy 3:14-17). He is the greatest and most complete message of God (Hebrews 1:1-3). He is the one who fully reveals God and makes the Father known to us (John 1:18).
So the call to us is twofold:
- Hear God’s voice in Scripture – He has standards of character He calls us to live!
- Recognize that seeking Jesus is the only way to understand Scripture – Jesus is the answer that Scripture points to!
Why do you think it is so easy to use Scripture simply as a tool to defend or justify what we do?
What makes us blind to certain demands and principles of Scripture?
What can keep us from using Scripture simply as a Law book to defend our own practices?
Does the misuse of Scripture give us the excuse to not know what God calls us to be through Scripture?
What makes it hard to be involved in Bible study?
What are some questions we can ask when we study the Bible to keep Jesus the focus and the key to helping us understand the message of Scripture?
What are some ways that Jesus is an example to us in knowing and applying Scripture?
What is the value of Scripture to us in trying to live for God? (2 Timothy 2:14-17)
What is Jesus’ role in helping us understand Scripture?
Why do you think Paul mentions the examples of those taught Timothy the Scriptures (compare Hebrews 13:7-8 for added insight)?
Hebrews 1:1-3 talks about different ways that God spoke to His people before He sent Jesus:
Why did God send Jesus to be His ultimate message and not another prophet or philosopher or book? (See also John 1:1-18; John 5:39-40.)
Last Updated 12.01.2008
12/21 – The Smell of Sheep (Community Service at the Civic Center)
From Luke 10:21 and Luke 2:8-20 and also Luke 10:25-37.
Luke’s stories about Jesus birth make clear that the ones through whom God chooses to bring the Messiah are those seeking God’s intervention into the awful situation for His people and God’s fulfillment of His Old Testament promises – these are known as the “pious poor” who are people who depended upon God totally. We meet folks like Joseph and Mary, Zechariah and Elizabeth, Anna and Simeon. These are righteous folks and they are looking for the “consolation of Israel” and for God to “redeem His people” – read Luke 1 & 2. But Jesus didn’t just come for this very small group in Israel. He came to them and through them, but he came for everyone! So the shepherds are a crucial part of the story, reminding us of God’s great love for all – these commoners of no account. They are the reminder of what unfolds in the rest of Luke’s Gospel – Jesus comes to seek and to save those who are lost of all walks of life and every nation of people.
While shepherds had a great heritage in the Old Testament – Abraham, Moses, and David were all shepherds – shepherds were not highly regarded in Jesus’ day. They were shunned, avoided, and in some cases despised. This was partially because they smelled like sheep and sheep stink. In addition, they were common, the ‘amme haaretz, meaning “people of the land” (They were the unlearned rural masses … The ‘amme ha-aretz did not give the prescribed tithes, did not observe the laws of purity … from Brittanica Online). They were simple folks. They were too busy trying to survive to have time to occupy themselves with religious stuff like the Pharisees and Scribes and Essenes. They were too poor and common to be good Sadducees.
In our story, the shepherds are part of a chorus of ordinary, everyday folks who recognized Jesus when he came to earth. While the wise and learned could figure out God’s prophecies about where the Messiah was to be born, they did not recognize Jesus when He came (1 Corinthians 2:8). In fact, Jesus rejoiced in the fact that God revealed Jesus to those who were not wise and learned (Luke 10:31). But for those willing to look … to really seek after Jesus, God makes His grace accessible. This grace is for all, but especially for those who are eagerly seeking something and someone to fix their troubled soul.
While it is not on the official schedule, I’d love to see if Rob Marcelain could do the Philip Gulley piece found here:
It fits the theme perfectly.
I will probably introduce the message with one or both of the following press releases from last year:
It’s called “The Stolen Baby Jesus Syndrome” and it happens every year. Baby Jesus is stolen out of nativity sets all over the country. Quite often when reported, the news anchor or newspaper writer says something like, “Who would do such a thing?”
But there is a much bigger problem than plastic baby Jesus figurines being stolen out of fake mangers in nativity sets. Folks claiming to follow Jesus have been hijacking the real Jesus for years with their religion. They want Him to endorse their views, or their politics, or their race, or their particular religious bent … or they simply want Jesus to be religious like they are. So the real Jesus gets lost in religious hype and holier-than-thou posturing. That’s why so many people today love Jesus, but hate churches.
But God made sure the real Jesus couldn’t get stolen or hijacked by religious folks. He did this very simply. While the religious powerbrokers figured out where Jesus was born so they could kill Him, outsiders like Shepherds and Magi found Jesus and worshiped Him. Think of it: dirty, stinky, out in with their flocks at night shepherds saw the angels sing and came and worshiped baby Jesus. Not sure many hospitals would allow them into the delivery room for the birth of any baby today, but God had them handy at the feed trough where the Son of God laid his head His first night in Bethlehem. And the Magi, well they were Iranians who were astrologers – a religion forbidden in Scripture – but who found their way to Jesus and brought Him expensive gifts. These folks remind us of all the common folks who were forgotten by religion and politics and the economic recovery of their day, but were the very folks Jesus ran around with.
Why do you think Luke mentions shepherds and Matthew mentions the Magi in their accounts of Jesus’ early years?
Does it make any difference to your answer to know that Shepherds were considered “stinky hicks” that no one wanted around and Magi were foreigners who practiced a false religion?
Do you think Luke’s reminder of Jesus’ words in Acts 1:8 and Matthew’s reminder of Jesus’ Great Commission in Matthew 28:18-20 has anything to do with us meeting shepherds and wise men in the story of Jesus’ birth?
How can we steal the real Jesus from the story of His life and substitute our own version of Jesus?
What could you point to in Jesus’ birth, and also His life, that would help you answer a person who said, “I’m not sure I’d fit with Jesus, I’m not very religious?”
What do you think Jesus would say to these folks?
What Scriptures could you point to that would help you speak about God’s true love for them?
12/14 – Angels Long to Look – CTT for planners and LIFE group leaders
Background reading for planning teams 1 Peter 1:10-12 and Luke 1 & 2 and Matthew 1 & 2.
The coming of Jesus is something long anticipated. Prophets had spoken of the Messiah. God’s people had anticipated a Savior. Even the angels of Heaven yearned to know about His coming.
The whole Christ birth event is amazing – God enters human flesh in Jesus, the Creator comes to the world as mortal. And the way he chose to do it defies human imagination. In such a world and such a story, we must not lose our sense of wonder and amazement. The fact that we hear about angels all over Luke 1 & 2 are our clue something amazing is up! We sometimes mistakenly think angels appear all over the place in the Bible story. In reality, they show up only occasionally, and often they signal that God is about to do something amazing! Luke tells the story of Jesus’ birth, a story he has researched carefully, intentionally connecting Jesus’ birth to the Old Testament story of God and the fulfillment of God’s promises through the prophets. And to make sure we catch the significance, he reminds of the presence of angels everywhere!
Many folks are amazed at the book of Revelation because of its fantastic images and its view into heaven with the angels and the elders before the thrown of God and the living creatures and the wild prophecies. Luke is making sure we see the amazing nature of Jesus’ birth – there are angels all around and we are invited to join the story and worship Jesus, now, in our time and our world and our lives. We are invited to join the angel chorus in praise of Jesus.
I know we have used “Are You Amazed Video” before, but this might be a good time to bring it back – we have a version with “Amazing Love” a cappella behind it – I have found the video.
“Surely the Presence of the Lord is in this Place” (Brush of angel wings verse) and especially “Holy Ground” (#101). Otherwise, “Amazing Love” is a song that captures some of this sense of wonder if we don’t use the video. Another song, an old one, could be “I Stand Amazed in the Presence of Jesus the Nazarene” (aka “O How Marvelous”).
Only God could come up with such a plan – 1 Corinthians 1 & 2 emphasize the “foolishness” of God’s plan and how it confounds the people who think they are brilliant. And this plan, this person, Christ Jesus, is the center of all of God’s work and all that Scripture proclaims – Hebrews 1:1-3; 2 Timothy 3:14-17; 2 Corinthians 1:18-20.
But think of what this says to us – a poor young couple, from a dumpy forgotten place, facing the challenges of being unmarried, pregnant, having no place to stay, hated by their religious leaders in an empire so big and unfeeling to their plight they have to go to Egypt and hide to protect their child. Can there be anything much more amazing than that?
That God can bring such great things out their circumstances with such ordinary people?
These would be used in song set. Luke 2:8-14 is the classic passage with the angelic hymn. Philippians 2:5-8 might be used to lead into communion and Philippians 2:9-11 to lead out of communion – Philippians 2:5-10 is based on an early Christian hymn probably sung at Philippi in Paul’s day.
1 Peter 1:10-12 and Luke 2:8-14.
Kernel Overview (Heartlight article) of the possible message:
Do the birth stories of Jesus still amaze you?
What is amazing to you about these stories?
Do you have trouble believing these stories?
Why do you think angels are mentioned so frequently in Luke’s first two chapters, the telling of the events that surround Jesus’ birth?
What all do angels do in these first two chapters?
Being witnesses of God’s glory in heaven, why do you think they were so excited with the birth of Jesus?
How can you keep from losing your amazement of what God did in sending Jesus?
John 1:1-18 talks about the coming of Jesus in a different way: what are John’s major areas of focus?
Hebrews 1:1-3 talks about the coming of Jesus as God’s greatest message. What do you think that message really is?
Last Updated 12.01.2008
For Sunday 12/7 – Season of Joy – CTT for worship & LIFE planning teams
Background reading for planning teams Luke 1-2 with possible reading from Matthew 1-2.
Zechariah and Elizabeth, the Shepherds, angels, and simple folk are all are caught up in the wonder and joy of God’s coming. Luke’s account of Jesus’ birth reminds us that the coming of Jesus brought a season of joy to good people living hard lives in a hard time. In tough times like we face, we need that season of joy. But we must know, we will find it only by finding Jesus and recognizing Him as God’s gift to us of incredible joy. Stuff won’t fill it. Things won’t fix it. Family won’t secure it. Only in finding Jesus in the middle of all the mess, mayhem, and stress of this time will we truly find joy. Let’s pray for open eyes to see God’s gifts given us in Jesus.
A key way to see some of these gifts is to look at the description of what God brings through Jesus form Zechariah’s song in Luke 1:67-79: redeemed, raised up, salvation, shown mercy, remembered, rescued, enabled, without fear, forgiveness of sins, rising sun, peace.
A song to consider might be, “Open the Eyes of My Heart Lord.” Let’s seek after Jesus! Let’s hear His invitation to follow Him! Let’s learn to recognize His voice and to be molded into His likeness.
Hymnic passages to possibly include with our song sets: Luke 1:35-37 or Luke 1:76-79.
We will use a video of Zechariah’s song along with a reading of that same passage from The Message.
Kernel of the message can be found here:
Scripture Video Combination:
We will use the following video, Zechariah’s song, immediately following the reading out of The Message version of Luke 1:67-79. The reading of the Scripture gives us the message of Zechariah’s song in today’s language, the video that follows it is the Hebrew of the song sung by a cantor. Beautiful, powerful, and a reminder of the long history of our source of joy!
We find ourselves in two situations that challenge our openness to joy: the current difficult economic conditions and also the “busy-ness” of the season. How do we reconnect to the joy of God during these times?
The story of Zechariah and Elizabeth, as well as the story of Abraham and Sarah that it reflects (Genesis 18), both are told with irony and a touch of humor. Yet frequently we do not notice humor in the great stories of God. Why do think that is so?
Why are awe at the work of God and also the ability to laugh with God both important in our lives and our worship?
Reading Luke 1, how do you think Zechariah and Elizabeth felt about life and it’s disappointments before Zechariah’s experience in the Temple?
What disappointments had they faced?
How does Luke make clear that their own mistakes and sinfulness were the cause of these disappointments?
Do you think they ever anticipated being caught up in God’s story in such a dramatic way?
What does their experience have to say to us about being caught up in God’s story?
Why do you think Zechariah was made where he could not speak after he was told he and Elizabeth would have a son?
Zechariah’s song sounds very much like a quotation of Scripture or an ancient song, why do you think these were the first words out of his mouth?
What is the greatest disappointment you face in your life right now?
What does this story say to you about the work of God in your life?