Archive for December, 2006

1:18 Now the birth of Jesus Christ happened this way. While his mother Mary was engaged to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be pregnant through the Holy Spirit. 1:19 Because Joseph, her husband to be, was a righteous man, and because he did not want to disgrace her, he intended to divorce her privately. 1:20 When he had contemplated this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife, because the child conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. 1:21 She will give birth to a son and you will name him Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.” 1:22 This all happened so that what was spoken by the Lord through the prophet would be fulfilled: 1:23 “Look! The virgin will conceive and bear a son, and they will call him Emmanuel,” which means “God with us.” 1:24 When Joseph awoke from sleep he did what the angel of the Lord told him. He took his wife, 1:25 but did not have marital relations with her until she gave birth to a son, whom he named Jesus. – Matthew 1:18-25

Every Christmas season we read these words out of Matthew. We know the Christmas story backwards and forwards, but I often think we miss something very important that comes from this story. This is the story of the incarnation of our Lord. This is not just about the Christ child being born, but it is about God with us – Emmanuel. Think about it…God actually came to live with us. I know that my words are failing miserably to get the point across that I am trying to make, but let me try some more.

Jesus gave us a new paradigm and that is the paradigm of the incarnation. God did not need to send his son. Sure, we have all heard sermons about how Jesus life and death was necessary for our redemption, but we are talking about God here. He could have easily created another means of redemption, but he did not. He chose to come to us. He chose the incarnation. Let’s take a look at the life of Jesus.

1. Jesus came to earth – incarnational birth
2. Jesus ministered to us where ever we were at physically – incarnational ministry
3. Jesus ministered to us where ever we were at spiritually – incarnational ministry
4. Jesus left the earth to leave us with his Holy Spirit – incarnational death

My main point is that Jesus did not come to a church building where people who already believed were gathered. Jesus did not call the people to come to him. Instead Jesus went to us. However, our churches have been using a “come to us” type of ministry for far too long. Jesus never did a “come to me” kind of ministry. In fact, the only times we see people coming to him is when they wanted a specific healing.

What would it be like if instead of building church buildings in the suburbs maybe we should create our ministries where those who are far from God are at. Maybe we should open an art gallery in the bohemian district, a coffee shop near the local college, or relaxation spa near the business district. We could integrate spiritual aspect into the environment and allow spiritual conversations to develop. These new “churches” may look very different, but they would develop new avenue of Kingdom ministry and more people would meet our savior.

Jesus is a savior of incarnation and so must our ministries be incarnational.

Heavenly Father,

We have help up our ministry models as somehow on par with the Bible. We have said you can only preach this way or that way, when we don’t even need to preach to be a real church. Father, give us a new vision to express your ancient Gospel. Help us Lord. Amen.

2:1 (1:18)1 Solomon ordered a temple to be built to honor the Lord, as well as a royal palace for himself. 2:2 (2:1) Solomon had 70,000 common laborers and 80,000 stonecutters in the hills, in addition to 3,600 supervisors.

2:3 Solomon sent a message to King Huram of Tyre: “Help me as you did my father David, when you sent him cedar logs for the construction of his palace. 2:4 Look, I am ready to build a temple to honor the Lord my God and to dedicate it to him in order to burn fragrant incense before him, to set out the bread that is regularly displayed, and to offer burnt sacrifices each morning and evening, and on Sabbaths, new moon festivals, and at other times appointed by the Lord our God. This is something Israel must do on a permanent basis. 2:5 I will build a great temple, for our God is greater than all gods. 2:6 Of course, who can really build a temple for him, since the sky and the highest heavens cannot contain him? Who am I that I should build him a temple! It will really be only a place to offer sacrifices before him. – 2 Chronicles 2:1-6

Solomon understood something thousands of years ago, that we still seem to have a hard time understanding today. No building can hold our God. The former temples in Jerusalem and churches throughout our world cannot and do not hold God. They are mere instruments of ministry that can be used either for God’s glory or (all too often) as a source of shame and disgrace for Christianity. As I begin to see the church as more and more the the tool of God fulfilling his mission on earth, I begin to see building as more and more of a problem. All too often we spend to much money, time, talent on them. We have churches split over them because of the color of the carpet or some other minor design element. Church building are often built to look pretty for Sundays, but are rather useless Monday-Saturday. I love the looks of stain glass and beautiful buildings, but the church building must be usable as a tool of the kingdom and not just a pretty picture. Even the Temple areas were built with specific purposes and not to just be beautiful.

Heavenly Father,

Help us to remember that you are not a god who lives in a building like worthless idols. Help us to remember that buildings are only tools for your kingdom purposes. Help us to keep focused on your mission and not on useless things. I love you Lord. Amen.

11:1 When Israel was a young man, I loved him like a son,
and I summoned my son out of Egypt.
11:2 But the more I summoned them,
the farther they departed from me.
They sacrificed to the Baal idols
and burned incense to images.
11:3 Yet it was I who led Ephraim,
I took them by the arm;
but they did not acknowledge
that I had healed them.
11:4 I led them with leather cords,
with leather ropes;
I lifted the yoke from their neck,
and gently fed them.
11:5 They will return to Egypt!
Assyria will rule over them
because they refuse to repent!
11:6 A sword will flash in their cities,
it will destroy the bars of their city gates,
and will devour them in their fortresses.
11:7 My people are obsessed with turning away from me;
they call to Baal, but he will never exalt them!
The Divine Dilemma: Judgment or Mercy?
11:8 How can I give you up, O Ephraim?
How can I surrender you, O Israel?
How can I treat you like Admah?
How can I make you like Zeboiim?
I have had a change of heart!
All my tender compassions are aroused!
11:9 I cannot carry out my fierce anger!
I cannot totally destroy Ephraim!
Because I am God, and not man – the Holy One among you –
I will not come in wrath!
-Hosea 11:1-9

The words of Hosea 11:1-9 serve to remind me that we serve a God of unbelievable mercy. Think about it. We screw up every day. We continue to not get it. We continue to sin and destroy our very planet, ourselves and those we say we love. We deserve everything we get, but God still says that he is going to offer us mercy. He offered mercy to his people, Israel, time after time and he does it for us also. We love to focus on the loving part of God and ignore the judging part of God, but I think Hosea shows us the true balance. Recently, I heard it said that when we ignore God’s love and only focus on his judgment we become legalistic. When we ignore God’s judgment and focus on his love we become lawless. God is both loving and judging. He is both merciful and punishing. He is truly the great heavenly Father who knows how to show us true tough love.

Heavenly Father,

I thank you for your tough love. I thank you for being so good to us by being balanced. Help us to stay away from legalism and lawlessness. I know that we must know your love and your judgment at the same time. Help me to serve you each and every day. I love you Lord. Amen.

Sin – Hosea 8-10

10:11 Ephraim was a well-trained heifer who loved to thresh grain;
I myself put a fine yoke on her neck.
I will harness Ephraim.
Let Judah plow!
Let Jacob break up the unplowed ground for himself!
10:12 Sow righteousness for yourselves,
reap unfailing love.
Break up the unplowed ground for yourselves,
for it is time to seek the Lord,
until he comes and showers deliverance on you.
10:13 But you have plowed wickedness;
you have reaped injustice;
you have eaten the fruit of deception.
Because you have depended on your chariots;
you have relied on your many warriors.
– Hosea 10:11-13

I am going to continue on my tirade of human stupidity today. I can’t help thinking about how we do not want to accept that sin is the answer to they question, “Why do bad things happen?” Essentially, we bring it on ourselves. We live in a fallen world that was created to be perfect. However, sin has created the great imperfections. People may say that this cannot be the case because innocent people are killed every day, however, this is exactly my point. Murderers are sinners killing those who do not deserve to die. Diseases are spreading because we are destroying our environment and polluting our bodies. Science is proving more and more that many diseases are becoming more prominent because of our bad deeds. Innocent people and the not so innocent (which is actually almost all of us if you think about it.) are getting what we deserve. Sins like greed, sloth, selfishness, hate, indifference and many more have put us exactly where we are at today. Don’t blame God for this, blame ourselves.

Heavenly Father,

Greed killed the Indians. Hatred killed the Jews. Self-righteousness is causing Muslims to maim and kill for their false God. The truth is we are all guilty. I know that I am. Lord, show us a new, radical discipleship. Help your church to show the world a better way to live in the world you created. Lord, we are desperate and foolish. We are blind. Open our eyes. Amen.

Superficial Repentance Breeds False Assurance of God’s Forgiveness

6:1 “Come on! Let’s return to the Lord!
He himself has torn us to pieces,
but he will heal us!
He has injured us,
but he will bandage our wounds!
6:2 He will restore us in a very short time;
he will heal us in a little while,
so that we may live in his presence.
6:3 So let us acknowledge him!
Let us seek to acknowledge the Lord!
He will come to our rescue as certainly as the appearance of the dawn,
as certainly as the winter rain comes,
as certainly as the spring rain that waters the land.”
-Hosea 6:1-3

We don’t want to repent and follow God. We are acting just like Israel in the time of Hosea. I am convinced more and more that we want to treat God like a magic formula. We want to be able to say sorry and have God bless us. We want to be able to say some magic words (we will call it prayer, but it will not be sincere) and have God do whatever we ask. We just don’t get it. People have been walking away from God because they did not get what they wanted out of God. There is actually a website that purports prove God is false by saying he won’t heal amputees. This website is not only meaningless, but it just goes to prove that we simply don’t understand God and his Kingdom. God has a mission and we must be part of it. It is that plain and simple. When we are part of it we will be in God’s will and not into magical formulas and hocus pocus. Sadly, it is not just unbelievers, but most of those in the church today don’t seem to understand what is means to be in God’s will.

Heavenly Father,

We are truly and ignorant people. I know I am one of them. We refuse to repent of our wicked ways, but we still expect you to do exactly what we ask. We don’t really care what you want, it is all about us. Forgive me. Forgive your church. Help us to understand what it means to be on mission with you. Instead of trying hocus pocus on amputees, help us to really love those who have been hurt and maimed by the sins of war, disease and hatred. Lord, help us to really know you and love you. Amen.

Maintenance or Missional

1. In measuring its effectiveness, the maintenance congregation asks, “How many visitors have we attracted?” The missional congregation asks, “How many members have we sent?”

2. When contemplating some form of change, the maintenance congregation says, “If this proves upsetting to any of our members, we won’t do it.” The missional congregation says, “If this will help us bless and touch someone outside of our faith community, we will take the risk and do it.”

3. When thinking about change, the majority of members in a maintenance congregation ask, “How will this affect me?” The majority of members in the missional congregation ask, “Will this help align our activities around the missio dei — the mission of God?”

4. When thinking of its vision for ministry, the maintenance congregation says, “We have to be faithful to our past.” The missional congregation says, “We have to be faithful to our future.”

5. The pastor in the maintenance congregation says to the newcomer, “I’d like to introduce you to some of our members.” In the missional congregation the members say, “We’d like to introduce you to our pastor.”

6. When confronted with a legitimate pastoral concern, the pastor in the maintenance congregation asks, “How can I meet this need?” The pastor in the missional congregation asks, “How can we meet this need?”

7. The maintenance congregation seeks to avoid conflict at any cost (but rarely succeeds). The missional congregation understands that conflict is the price of progress, and is willing to pay the price. It understands that it cannot take everyone with it. This causes some grief, but it does not keep it from doing what needs to be done.

8. The leadership style in the maintenance congregation is primarily managerial, where leaders try to keep everything in order and running smoothly. The leadership style in a missional congregation is primarily transformational, casting a vision of what can be, and marching off the map in order to bring the vision into reality.

9. The maintenance congregation is concerned with their congregation, its organizations and structure, its constitutions and committees. The missional congregation is concerned with the culture, with understanding how secular people think and what makes them tick. It tries to determine their needs and their points of accessibility to the Gospel.

10. When thinking about growth, the maintenance congregations asks, “How many Christians, who aren’t currently members, live within a twenty-minute drive of this church?” The missional congregation asks, “How many unreached people groups live within a twenty-minute drive of this church?”

11. The maintenance congregation looks at the community and asks, “How can we get these people to come to our church?” The missional congregation asks, “How can we go and be engaged with these people?”

12. The maintenance congregation thinks about how to save their congregation. The missional congregation thinks about how to plant new missional communities to extend the Kingdom of God.

1:10 (2:1) However, in the future the number of the people of Israel will be like the sand of the sea which can be neither measured nor numbered. Although it was said to them, “You are not my people,” it will be said to them, “You are children of the living God!” 1:11 Then the people of Judah and the people of Israel will be gathered together. They will appoint for themselves one leader, and will flourish in the land. Certainly, the day of Jezreel will be great! 2:1 Then you will call your brother, “My People” (Ammi)! You will call your sister, “Pity” (Ruhamah)! – Hosea 1:10-2:1

Surrounding these words in the book of Hosea is God’s condemnation of the nation of Israel. The people had turned their back on God and where worshiping other gods. In fact, God has the prophet Hosea marry a prostitute as a living example to Israel of their unfaithfulness to God. Just as God keeps on forgiving Israel for unfaithfulness, Hosea is to forgive his wife, Gomer, for her unfaithfulness. God continues to act this same way towards us today. We are constantly being unfaithful, but even as he condemns us for this unfaithfulness, he gives us the opportunity for repentance and forgiveness. God always gives us an avenue of restoration as long as we are willing to accept it. God’s amazing love should lead more of us to true repentance.

Heavenly Father,

Forgive me for being unfaithful to you. Thank you for taking me back when I fail. Help me to grow each day to be more and more like you. I love you Lord. Amen.

3 John

This third letter of John is addressed to a particular individual, Gaius. John prays for his friend; he prayes that Gaius will have good health, that all will go well with him, and that all will be well with his soul. John reports that he is experiencing great joy as he hears reports of Gaius’ faithful walk in truth and his hospitality to others who are in the truth.

John then reports that Diotrephes, a church leader, was exercising dictatorial power in the church. He wouldn’t receive John’s letters, choosing not to have anything to do with him. He was gossiping maliciously, and even excommunicating members who showed hospitality to John’s messengers. Diotrephes must have had considerable influence to be able to choose to exclude people from fellowship.

John’s advise is, “Dear friend, do not imitate what is evil but what is good. Anyone who does what is good is from God. Anyone who does what is evil has not seen God.” This statement makes me wonder… does evil activity cause us to be unable to see God, or does seeing God make us unable to continue in evil practices? Or both?

Demetruis is a good guy. (That probably meant more to Gaius than what appears to me. Like my friend Cheryl says – when we study the epistles it’s ‘reading other people’s email’.)

John would like to see Gaius soon. Peace, and greetings….

29:10 David praised the Lord before the entire assembly:

“O Lord God of our father Israel, you deserve praise forevermore! 29:11 O Lord, you are great, mighty, majestic, magnificent, glorious, and sovereign over all the sky and earth! You have dominion and exalt yourself as the ruler of all. 29: You are the source of wealth and honor; you rule over all. You possess strength and might to magnify and give strength to all. 29:13 Now, our God, we give thanks to you and praise your majestic name!

29:14 “But who am I and who are my people, that we should be in a position to contribute this much? Indeed, everything comes from you, and we have simply given back to you what is yours. 29:15 For we are resident foreigners and nomads in your presence, like all our ancestors; our days are like a shadow on the earth, without security. 29:16 O Lord our God, all this wealth, which we have collected to build a temple for you to honor your holy name, comes from you; it all belongs to you. 29:17 I know, my God, that you examine thoughts and are pleased with integrity. With pure motives I contribute all this; and now I look with joy as your people who have gathered here contribute to you. 29:18 O Lord God of our ancestors Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, maintain the motives of your people and keep them devoted to you. 29:19 Make my son Solomon willing to obey your commands, rules, and regulations, and to complete building the palace for which I have made preparations.”

29:20 David told the entire assembly: “Praise the Lord your God!” So the entire assembly praised the Lord God of their ancestors; they bowed down and stretched out flat on the ground before the Lord and the king. – 1 Corinthians 29:10-20

You have probably heard that we live in an ownership culture. In the USA we do our best to own a house, car and as many toys as possible. We are not really big on the idea of renting our homes and definitely try not to rent anything else. There are many good reason for this. Ownership helps us to gain value in our homes for the future. Ownership is usually less costly then renting in the long run. However, there is one big problem with ownership – it simply does not exist. Everything that we have is a gift from God. The skills and abilities we use to make the money that we use to buy the things are from God. We truly do not own anything. The only reason we are able to accumulate any type of wealth is because of what God has given us. We must always remember that everything is God’s.

If everything belongs to God then it is imperative we learn and practice the concept of stewardship. What we own we feel we have the right to use up, destroy, build up, etc. However, those things we have under stewardship require a much hire level of responsibility. We do not pollute land that we are stewards over. We do not use over farm land that belongs to God. We do not over spend on houses, vacations, toys and other items when the money we have is really God’s. the real problem is that our ownership culture has created a selfish, greedy and materialistic nation. When you understand that everything is God’s then you can create a giving, loving, caring and sharing nation. I know I am a dreamer, but I refuse to stop dreaming about what The Kingdom of God (the hear and now Kingdom of God) should look like.

Heavenly Father,

It saddens me when I think about how wrong we really have it. We live in a western culture that believe we own everything and we have a right to do with it as we please. However, you made it clear from creation that we don’t own it. King David made it clear to all of the people of Israel that they owned nothing. Lord, I don’t know how, but please make it clear to all of us, even those who do not call you Lord, that we are stewards of everything around us – our resources, our planet, our relationships and our lives. I love you Lord. Amen.