Saturday, December 25, 2010

What child is this?

Below is the text of the message I shared at Good Shepherd this morning for our Christmas day service.  The Scripture text for the message is John 1:1-14.  Not the 'normal' Christmas text, but a good and important one, I think.  I hope in it you hear God speak to you from the manger this Christmas.  

What child is this? 
               The gospel passage from John this morning is not the typical or traditional Christmas story maybe. But it is the Christmas story.  It is the story of God – the Word – coming to be with us, live with us, die for us and save us. 
               I believe that maybe more than any other ‘Christmas’ story, the opening words of the Gospel of John can answer for us the question that is at the heart of this day: What child is this?
               This child, born in a manger to a poor teenage mother.  Born into a family that was too poor to afford even a room to stay in.  This child, this baby was and is the very Son of God.   This child is the living, breathing demonstration of God’s love for each and every one of us. 
What child is this? 
What child is this that came to be with us?
               The same child that was and is WITH God – We hear in the John passage that this child, this Jesus was ‘In the beginning’ before time itself with God.  Jesus Christ – the Word – is both God and with God.  This child, this baby is God. 
               God, here from the beginning chose to enter into history and be ‘with us’.  The Word, that spoke the universe and all of us into existence, chose to come and live among us.  Sharing his voice and his words with us. 
What child is this that was born in a manger?
               Jesus Christ - the one through which all that came into existence – everything that has been made – was made.  That baby born in a manger was there before time began, bringing the universe and all life into existence
               The creator of everything, was born into poverty and not luxury.  Not out of chance or coincidence, but to clearly demonstrate that the light and life – the Word of God was and is for everyone, everywhere.  No matter the circumstance, no matter their status.
What child is this that was born to die?
               Jesus Christ was born and came into the world to give his life for ours.  The child, the man, the person of Jesus is and was life itself and he came to share that life with us.  Jesus is the originator of life and the sustainer of life.  It is because of Jesus and the Holy Spirit of God given to us through Jesus that we have life at all.  It is because of and through this child that we are able to have life to the full.
What child is this that shines light in the darkness?
               Jesus was born into a world of darkness – oppression, poverty, war, injustice surrounded and confronted him from the moment of his birth.  While much has changed,  the world of darkness remains all around us.
               We live in the darkness much of the time.  Sometimes we are or feel imprisoned by the darkness around us – holding us back, keeping us down and blinding us. 
               Sometimes we choose to live in the dark, so that we can hide and cover up our sins, our shame and our imperfections. 
               The child Jesus came as a light to shine in that darkness.  Jesus Christ is not just a light, a flicker or a struggling flame, but an overwhelming, overcoming light.  A light that can’t be extinguished.   The light of this child overcomes the darkness that pulls us down, trips us up and threatens to overtake us. 
               The light of Christ lays bare all of those things that we would like to keep in the darkness – not to shame or condemn us, but so that we might be fully cleansed, redeemed and freed from those things that keep us from real, full life. 
               Real, full and fulfilled life that can only be lived in the overcoming light of Jesus Christ, the child born in a manger.
What child is this?
               This child is the light of life. 
               The prince of peace
               The bringer of hope
               The embodiment of love
               The source of joy.
What child is this?
               The savior of the universe, Christ the Lord.

Christmas day devotional

Scripture: Luke 2:8-14                                                           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 that will cause great joy for all the people. 11 Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. 12 This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.” 13Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, 14 “Glory to God in the highest heaven,   and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.”

Reflection:  Love, Giving, Worship and all that we have finds its meaning and genesis in Jesus Christ, the creator of the universe.

            That creator of the universe loves you so much that he chose to leave heaven and live among us, leading a perfect life as an example to us.  After all of that, Jesus then demonstrated the limits of love for us by willingly choosing to die, so that you and I may have life – and have it to the full – in relationship to God. 

This Christmas day, take a moment to remember the greatest gift of all – Jesus Christ, and the perfect love of God our creator. 


Friday, December 24, 2010

Advent Conspiracy Devotional: Friday, December 24th

Scripture: Romans 13:8-10                                                                   8 Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for whoever loves others has fulfilled the law. 9 The commandments, “You shall not commit adultery,” “You shall not murder,” “You shall not steal,” “You shall not covet,” and whatever other command there may be, are summed up in this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” 10 Love does no harm to a neighbor. Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law.

Reflection: We sometimes think that following God and doing what God wants is all about following a set of rules.  And that is understandable, God does want us to live a certain way. 

            But Paul, widely known for being a strict rule follower at one point in his life, reminds us that the first rule that we need to follow – and the rule that will lead us to obedience in all of the other areas of our life is the ‘rule of love’ 

            Simply put if we are truly acting out of love for God and love for our neighbor, then we will by default follow the rule of God.  Love is the key to faithfully following God’s call on our lives and love is the key to living into a life that adheres to God’s plan and rule for our lives

Question: Who is it easy for you to show love to?

Who is it hard to show live for? Why?

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Advent Conspiracy Devotional: Thursday, December 23rd

Scripture: Hosea 3:1
The LORD said to me, “Go, show your 
love to your wife again, though she is loved by another man and is an adulteress. Love her as the LORD loves the Israelites, though they turn to other gods and love the sacred raisin cakes.”

Scripture:  In our everyday interaction with others we often give or receive love based on how we have treated the other person. 

            It maybe subconscious, it may simply be practical, but we often base how we treat others based on how they first treated us.  This may be the ‘natural’ or common sense way to view how to share our love with others.  But this is not how God loves us. 

            Through the prophet Hosea’s life God demonstrates the love he has for us – a love that is faithful, not because of our faithfulness but in spite of our infidelity.

            God does not give us love, salvation and blessing only when we are faithful in loving and following him, but rather in spite of our continued unfaithfulness and disobedience, God continues to love us with fidelity and persistence.  God’s love is not a response to our actions of faithfulness, but rather a reaching out into our struggle and faithlessness to call us into a loving, faithful relationship with God

Question: What ‘gods’ do you struggle to leave behind?

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Advent Conspiracy Devotional: Wednesday, December 22nd

Scripture: 1 Corinthians 13:4-8:  Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. 5 It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. 6Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. 7 It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.   8 Love never fails

Reflection: We have spend the past couple of days talking and thinking about who love is - Jesus Christ, and our call to respond to Jesus presence in our lives with love.  And we have thought as well about how love is a verb. 

            God is love, but what is love?  This famous passage from 1Corinthians is full of definitive descriptive statements about what love is. 

            Patience and kindness are the bedrock of a loving attitude towards others, and a good place for us to start.  If we can be patient and kind, we are on our way. 

            There are many other descriptive terms for love as well: not self-seeking, always protects, trusts, hopes and perseveres.  And all of these things have another quality in common: just like Jesus, they put others before themselves.  In all of these things love thinks of the other before itself.  This is who Jesus is.  This is who we are called to be.

Question: what quality of love is easiest for you to live into?  Which is hardest?

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Advent Conspiracy Devotional: Tuesday, December 21st

Scripture: 1 John 4:15-17                                                            If anyone acknowledges that Jesus is the Son of God, God lives in them and they in God. 16And so we know and rely on the love God has for us.  God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in them. 17 This is how love is made complete among us so that we will have confidence on the day of judgment: In this world we are like Jesus.

Reflection: Most of the times God is described in the Bible, there is great length taken to explain that all words fall short.  But here, in 1John, there are no such explanations.  Instead, God is simply defined as love. 

            God is love.  Love is so central to who and what God is that it can be considered the defining quality of God’s.  Knowing God is knowing love.  And if we ‘live in love’ then we are living in the will of God. 

            So, if God is love and we are in God then that means we are called to be love as well.  If, as Christians, we are seeking to be followers of and witnesses to Jesus Christ, then the defining quality of our lives as individuals and together as a community should be the same as God’s.  We are called as individual Christians and as a Christian community to be love to the world around us. 

Question:  How can you ‘be love’ to the world around you?  To your family, friends, coworkers, classmates?

What is difficult for you about ‘being love?

Monday, December 20, 2010

Advent Conspiracy Devotional: Monday, December 20th

Scripture: 1 John 3:16-18  

This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters. 17 If anyone has material possessions and sees a brother or sister in need but has no pity on them, how can the love of God be that person? 18Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth.

Reflection: We have access to love and an understanding of what love is because of God in Jesus Christ.  Jesus is the living demonstration of what love is, a model for us as to how to love. 

            Having Christ as a model, we know then how we are to respond: by sharing and showing that love with those around us. 

            But this call to respond to God’s love with love of our own is not just a suggestion.  It is the only appropriate response.

            This passage also highlights the truth that love is, in fact, a verb.  Love is about action.  As we have received God’s love we are commanded to share that love with others through how we act and interact with the world around us

Question:   How can you act out God’s love to those around you?

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Advent Conspiracy Devotional: Sunday, December 19th

Scripture: John 15:13
Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.

Reflection: Any real and meaningful description of love, what it is and what it means has to begin with God.

            It is because God loves us that we exist.   It is because God loves us that we have any and all of the things that we have.  And it is because of love, God’s love for us that we have the opportunity to have a relationship with Jesus Christ and in that relationship to be reconciled to God. 

            Jesus, on the cross gave us the very picture and definition of what love is.  Love is a willingness to sacrifice.  Love is caring more about the other – what you love – more than you care about yourself.  Even to the point that your love may cause you to be reckless in that love for the other person. 

            Jesus has a reckless love for us – a love that led him to willingly lay down his life for ours, that we might have the full life in relationship with God that we were intended for.  Every effort of ours to show or demonstrate love is based on the love that we were first shown in and through Jesus Christ. 

Question: How have you responded to God’s love for you?

Have you ever shown reckless love for someone or thing?  

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Advent Conspiracy Devotional: Saturday, December 18th

Scripture: Psalm 23:4
 Even though I walk through the darkest valley,I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.

Reflection: The words above are taken from some of the most well known words in the whole Bible, and certainly the most famous of the Psalms. 

            Psalm 23 is a psalm of comfort, but it doesn’t paint a rosy picture with nothing but happy times.  Instead, the psalm actually gives a fairly grim description of the situation that the author is in.  There seem to be difficulties and enemies all around, and those that oppose him are closing in. 

            But the comfort shines through so clearly in the words, ‘but I will fear no evil’.  In the midst of the darkest valley – or the more familiar ‘valley of death’ the author fears no evil, why?  Because God is with him and God, the Good Shepherd’s rod and staff comfort him. 

            In the midst of difficulty and darkness, we have the capacity to be free of fear.  We are able to be free of fear because Jesus Christ, God himself is present with us.  We do not walk through the dark valley of death – or anywhere for that matter – alone.  God is with us and God’s presence protects us.

Question: Do you tap into the power of God’s presence to free yourself from fear?  How do you feel God’s presence?

Friday, December 17, 2010

Advent Conspiracy Devotional: Friday, December 17th

Scripture: 1 Thessalonians 2:8
Just as a nursing mother cares for her children,
 so we cared for you. Because we loved you so much, we were delighted to share with you not only the gospel of God but our lives as well.

Reflection: I don’t know that I have heard or know of a better description of what it means to give the gift of presence to someone than to ‘share our lives’ with them.

            This is a great image of what it means to give someone presence, to share or make them a part of your life.  As a parent, I know that there are few – if any – things that give me as much fulfillment and joy as when my children are willing to share with me their lives. 

            Whether it is as simple as the favorite part of your day or what they want to be when they grow up or whatever random thoughts they might have at that particular moment.  I treasure each of the opportunities I experience one of my children sharing their life with me. 

            We know these things, but we often forget them.  We have a great power to give joy and love by the act of sharing our lives.  And there is no more effective means of sharing our faith in Jesus Christ than authentically sharing your life and letting your witness to God flow from that. 

Question: When has someone ‘sharing their life with you been particularly meaningful to you?

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Advent Conspiracy Devotional: Thursday, December 16th

Scripture: Luke 5:19
When they could not find a way to do this because of the crowd, they went up on the 
roof and lowered him on his mat through the tiles into the middle of the crowd, right in front of Jesus.

Reflection: The above passage is the fairly famous story of the friends of a crippled man that find a creative way to get their friend into Jesus presence, eventually climbing up on to the roof of the house Jesus was in and cutting a hole in the roof to lower their friend down into Jesus’ presence. 

            These friends demonstrated true friendship to their crippled friend.  They must have been present enough with him – and often enough – to not just know him and know his medical situation, but to actually care about it.  They knew him well enough to care enough to do something about. 

            And his friends did go to great lengths to get him to one that could make a permanent healing difference for him – Jesus Christ.  This choice makes it clear that they were not just present with their friend but that they were present with Jesus as well.  They had somehow, somewhere experienced Jesus Christ and new that a few minutes in his presence could provide the gift of healing.

Question: Do you have any friends that need to experience being in the presence of God?  What have you done to share Jesus with them?

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Advent Conspiracy Devotional: Wednesday, December 15th

Scripture: Matthew 1:23
“The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel” (which means “
God with us”).

Reflection: Jesus Christ is God’s perfect representation of love for us.  And Jesus is also the demonstration of the lengths that God will go to be in relationship with us.

            The message that Jesus’ presence and life have for us is clearly delineated in the name that the Angel tells Mary to give her son – Immanuel.  The first message that Jesus sends, before he spoke the sermon on the mount or performed any miracles is the message of his very presence with us.

            The story of Jesus is so familiar to us that we sometimes miss its uniqueness and importance.  God – the very maker of the universe [God whose power is such that the universe was created simply by God speaking it into existence] 

            Our God is not aloof and far away, but because of the desire for reconciliation and the restoration of relationship God chooses to come near to us, so that we may draw near to him.  God loves us and wants to be close to us.

Question: When have you felt that God was drawing near to you?

Is there a time you felt distant from God?   

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Advent Conspiracy Devotional: Tuesday, December 14th

Scripture: Psalm 60:12
With God we will gain the victory, and he will trample down our enemies.

Reflection: When God gives us the gift of his presence there is simply nothing that is impossible for us.  The Psalm above is just one of many of the passages that highlight this truth.

            In Philippians we read that we can do all things through Christ who strengthens us.  These are not meant to be trite phrases that sound good but are really just empty and hollow words. 

            Instead these words are actual truth.  With God all things – if they are in accordance with God’s will – are not only possible but are a reality for us to live into. 

            What that means is that in order to open up incredible and extraordinary possibilities in our lives all that we have to do is ask God to come into our lives and give us his presence. 

            God doesn’t lose and if we are in Christ and asking for him to be present with us we then are part of an unbeatable majority.  A majority with God is one that is guaranteed victory.

Question:  How can you create space to allow God to be present with you in your daily life?  What might you have to put aside to give the room that is needed?

Monday, December 13, 2010

Advent Conspiracy Devotional: Monday, December 13th

Scripture: Ecclesiastes 4:11-13
11 Also, if two lie down together, they will keep warm. 
   But how can one keep warm alone? 
12 Though one may be overpowered, 
   two can defend themselves. 
A cord of three strands is not quickly broken.

Reflection: When we make Christmas lists, whether as children or as adults we very rarely if ever put down things like, ‘time spend together’, ‘something homemade or anything like that. 

            But when we think about it the memories that we have that last, and the memories that are the most special and important to us are usually those that start with someone we care about choosing to give the gift of their presence. 

            Simply put it is in relationship with each other that we find our greatest joy, so it follows that the best gift we have to give to those we care about is the gift of our time and our presence.

            When we do this, when we give of ourselves, we create lasting memories, demonstrate our love and care and we also model the way that God chooses to be involved in relationship with us.

Question: What are some ways that you can give the gift of presence with those you care about this Christmas?

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Advent Conspiracy Week 3 Message: Give More

Below is the text from today's Advent Conspiracy message for the third week of Advent.  The text was Matthew 2:1-12.  

Giving more is about a different kind of giving and a different kind of gift.  It is about relational giving.  It is about giving the gift of presence.
I want to share a few snapshots with you to illustrate what I thinking ‘Giving More’ and ‘Giving Presence’ is really all about.  The first snapshot is from the world of science, one is from my life, and a few are from our Scripture for today.
The first snapshot is from a book entitled ‘Leadership and the New Science’ by Margaret Wheatley.  The book, subtitled ‘discovering order in a chaotic world’, is an attempt to do just that.  The idea being that a new or at least modified paradigm is needed to begin to understand the world we live in.  Wheatley covers a wide variety of disciplines within the various sciences and makes several interesting and enlightening statements – about a number of things. 
But what I wanted to share, what is relevant to us this morning as we think about giving more is the idea of how we are connected to each other.  In her chapter on Quantum Physics she says: "In the quantum world, relationships is the key determiner of everything. Subatomic particles come into form and are observed only as they are in relationship to something else. They do not exist as independent things."
This concept is so interesting to me, to think that at the very core level of the universe meaning and form in derived from relationship to one another.  It is true at the subatomic level and it is true for us as well.  We often talk about independence, our own personal independence, and we lift it up as the highest value. We do this in our personal lives, in business or school.
But according to Wheatley, we are not created to live that way - neither is the universe. In fact, this research makes it clear that we need each other in ways not previously known.  Wheatley goes on to say that the fabric that holds the universe together are "unseen connections between what were previously thought to be separate entities - these are the fundamental ingredients of all creation."
Think about that, this universe was created to be held together – literally – by the relationships we have with those around us.  God created this universe and he choose to build it on relationships.
That means that those things we choose to be in relationship with are critically important.  And it means that there may be no more important or valuable gift that we can give then our presence with someone – giving of our time and ourselves to build those universe connecting relationships. 
We have opportunities to build and create relationships every day.  Sometimes those are long term relationships, sometimes they are relationships that seem fleeting.
Most of you know that we ran the Philadelphia Marathon a couple of weeks ago.  Most of probably don’t know that I – kind of – ran a marathon before.  Traci and I entered and ran in the Charlotte Marathon almost exactly two years ago today.  I don’t really talk about that marathon very often, for a couple of reasons, but basically I didn’t train properly and then picked up a knee injury a couple of weeks before the marathon.
Those things combined to mean that I really struggled through the race in fairly embarrassing fashion.  In fact from about mile 15 on, I really didn’t believe that I was going to make it.
But then, around mile 18, something unexpected happened.  As I was struggling along, I met a man in his 60s named Paul, who was also running the marathon that day.  He caught up to me  (not very hard) could tell I was struggling and asked if he could run with me a while.  I managed to say ‘I guess’.
As we jogged along together I found out that this was not his first marathon, but it was his 932.  And he was going to be running his 933 the next day. 
This amazing man had been running about 100 marathons (or more) a year for the last 6+ years.  I found out that Paul’s goal was to reach 1000 marathons by the end of 2009.  That is pretty amazing stuff, and that kind of accomplishment requires an almost surreal level of discipline and focus on the goal. 
But the really amazing thing is that this amazing man with a ridiculous goal took the time from his efforts to jog alongside of me as I was just trying to finish.  He shared with me that he was inspired by how the solitary act of running could bring people together and he said that helping someone along their way was a ‘pure’ act of love and friendship
In all the time he took to run with me, talk to me and  encourage me I lost track of where we where and how much farther we had to go.  By the time we parted ways, as he ran ahead – (he had a plane to catch to make it to his next marathon) – I was at mile 23 and for the first time in hours finishing seemed like a realistic possibility
Paul had given me a pretty amazing gift.  Paul gave me the gift of a relationship that carried me through a difficult challenge.
There are two kinds of gifts in our scripture passage today.  First are the gifts the wise men bring
The gifts the wise men bring are Rare, expensive, exciting.
Lets give a little background to these gifts; These gifts, which are strange and unusual to us are actually all ordinary gifts for a king — myrrh being commonly used as an anointing oil, frankincense as a perfume, and gold as a valuable. 
The gifts are also prophetic — gold as a symbol of kingship on earth, frankincense (an incense) as a symbol of priesthood, and myrrh (an embalming oil) as a symbol of death.   Sometimes the symbolism behind these gifts are generally described as gold symbolizing virtue, frankincense symbolizing prayer, and myrrh symbolizing suffering. 
So, these gifts did have meaning and in a way were a prophecy – but they are never mentioned again – what use would Jesus and his family have for these gifts and what happened to the wise men after they gave them?
Then there is yet another gift from scripture: The gift of God’s advent – or coming – to dwell among us – to actually live and breath, walk, talk and eat with us.
This is a much different kind of gift.  It is a relational gift – it is about Jesus presence, quite literally, with us – God’s presence with us.
God comes to us in the form of a relational gift because God – our God (just think about that statement – it certainly implies a relationship) is a relational God.  Remember this is the God who created the universe on a microscopic level to be defined by relationships!
At this point, I think it is helpful to picture the Eastern Orthodox image of the Trinity (three people reclining at a triangular dinner table, sharing a meal, all connected – one ending where the other begins, but all distinct as well).  All of this points to the truth that God is at his very nature relational!
So what kind of gift do you think God wants from us?
More than an hour a week
More than a little bit of whatever thought or attention you have each day ( a quick thought in the morning, before a meal or right before bed)
More than some of what is leftover in our wallets and pocketbooks after we have paid for all that we ‘need’ or even want
God came and dwelt among us.  In Christ’s coming God drew near to us, seeking to be in relationship with us.
God asks us to make a relationship with him a priority everyday of our lives
God asks us to share him with others in relational ways – God wants to shine his light through us in every relationship that we have
In the relationships with those closest to, shine God’s light by giving presence.
In the relationships with those you barely even know or might never see again, share the love of God by giving presence and representing Jesus Christ to a world desperately in need of that saving relationship. 
In the miracle of God’s economy when we give fully of ourselves.  When we seek to give all that we have to others in relationship with them: our time, our talents and our presence that adds up to immeasurable blessing for us  in relationship with Jesus Christ.