Thursday, December 24, 2009


Everything that God the Father had commanded had been done. All was very carefully prepared. Gabriel had gone to Mary and explained to her that she had been chosen by God to be the mother of the Messiah. Then he had gone to Joseph and calmed his spirit by telling him that Mary’s pregnancy was a miracle of God. On the night before Christmas Gabriel was occupying his usual place near the throne, waiting to see if he would be needed yet again. Caesar Augustus had been prompted to take a census of his empire which caused the chosen family to embark on their journey to Bethlehem. The caravansary in Bethlehem was filled so Joseph was trying to make Mary as comfortable as possible in a stable. The shepherds were in position; camping in the fields outside Bethlehem. The Christ star was prepared as a signal to God’s magi in Parthia. The angelic host was gathered for their approaching mission to Earth and the fields of Bethlehem. All was in place and the fullness of time was at hand.

There must have been a sense of great wonder and awe in heaven over what was about to happen. The citizens of heaven gathered close around the throne to listen to the conversation between the Father and the Son. The Son was preparing to take leave of his Father and he was saying goodbye. He was about to set aside the glory that had been his throughout eternity. He was humbling himself, preparing to take on the form of a human being. The angels wondered to one another, “How can he do such a thing?” They struggled to understand the mind of God and his plan.

The time had come. The angels were in place. The star was ready. Jesus said goodbye. What did Jesus say to his Father? What were his words? The farewell message had been given to King David as a prophecy and David had written them in one of his psalms, Psalm 40. The Son fulfilled the prophecy by repeating them to his Father and they are recorded for us in Hebrews 10:5-7.

Therefore, when Christ came into the world, he said:
"Sacrifice and offering you did not desire,
but a body you prepared for me;
with burnt offerings and sin offerings
you were not pleased.
Then I said, 'Here I am—it is written about me in the scroll—
I have come to do your will, O God.' "

This is what the Son of God said to his Father on the night before Christmas!

Tuesday, December 22, 2009


The Christmas shepherds were in the fields doing what they did every night when the weather was warm and the sheep had been sent out for the season. They rarely went into town during this time of year. Often, even their supplies were brought out to them so they didn’t have to leave the sheep to go get them. It’s important to try to picture the scene in order to grasp the significance of the event that was about to take place. For the shepherds, this night was absolutely no different from any other night in the fields. They weren’t expecting anything at all. That’s when the angel appeared among them. We almost always picture the angel with wings hovering above the shepherds in midair. It may not have been like that at all. He may have simply appeared in their midst looking just like a human being. The dead giveaway was that “the glory of the Lord shone around them.” The very next words in Luke’s gospel can be literally translated, “and they feared a mega-fear.” These men were stricken with a terror greater than any terror they had ever known! Then the angel said his first words, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy…” That was a real relief! There was a superstition that had been hung onto for generations about supernatural appearances. It was believed that any spiritual manifestation was a sign of certain and rapid death. In other words, people believed that angels only brought bad news. These men were terrified because they were sure they were about to die! But the angel continued, “…good news of great joy that will be for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord!” He had brought good news! Good tidings of great joy for all the people; even them! This was good news, not fearful news! By the end of their night’s adventure the truth of the angel’s message had turned the shepherds’ fear into joy! They had met their Messiah, the Christ!

In these last few days before Christmas, let us remember the message of the angel. He brought good news of great joy that will be for all the people. Like that herald angel, we have been given the privilege of proclaiming the good news as well. Let us not be fearful or hesitant to tell it because it is the message of great joy. People around us don’t really know what joy is. All they know is a shallow form of happiness and empty fun. We have the good news that fills a heart with joy. And let us not ever forget that our good news is for all the people! Spread the news widely and broadly. Tell the story of the angel and his news and let them all know what Christmas really means!

Friday, December 18, 2009


To obey is better than sacrifice
I don't need your money
I want your life
And I hear you say that I'm coming back soon
But you act like I'll never return

Well you speak of grace and my love so sweet
How you thrive on milk, but reject My meat
And I can't help weeping of how it will be
If you keep on ignoring My words
Well you pray to prosper and succeed
But your flesh is something I just can't feed

To obey is better than sacrifice
I want more than Sunday and Wednesday nights
Cause if you can't come to Me every day
Then don't bother coming at all

To obey is better than sacrifice
I want hearts of fire
Not your prayers of ice
And I'm coming quickly
To give back to you
According to what you have done
Remember those lyrics by Keith Green from his album No Compromise in 1978? Keith was a hard-hitting lyricist and singer who had a major impact on my life when I was in youth ministry and I continued to follow his music ministry for years after.

He took the idea for this song from 1 Samuel 15. Samuel told King Saul that God wanted to destroy the Amalekites because of what they had done to the Israelites on their journey from Egypt. Samuel was specific. Saul was to destroy every man, woman, child, infant, cattle, sheep, camel and donkey (1 Samuel 15:3). Saul went on his mission but he and his men saved out the best of the livestock and Saul allowed King Agag to live. When Samuel found Saul after the battle he asked him why he hadn’t done what God commanded. Saul protested that he had done everything God said. And Samuel responded, What then is this bleating of sheep in my ears? What is this lowing of cattle that I hear? (1 Samuel 15:14) Saul defended himself by saying, The soldiers brought them from the Amalekites; they spared the best of the sheep and cattle to sacrifice to the LORD your God, but we totally destroyed the rest. (1 Samuel 15:15) And Samuel said, Does the LORD delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices as much as in obeying the voice of the LORD? To obey is better than sacrifice and to heed is better than the fat of rams. (1 Samuel 15:22) As a result of Saul’s compromise, the LORD tore the kingdom from Saul’s hands and sent Samuel to Bethlehem to anoint David king over Israel.

We could use another Keith Green these days. As I look at the American church I fear we are in more danger than ever of making it our own instead of God’s. There are more leaders shaping the gospel into words they find more acceptable. There are more people using absolutely unbelievable ideas on Sundays and daring to call them worship. More and more entertainment and less and less broken obedience.

To obey is better than sacrifice
I want hearts of fire
Not your prayers of ice
And I'm coming quickly
To give back to you
According to what you have done

Monday, December 14, 2009


I have no text on which to comment tonight. Instead, I’d just like to share what I was thinking about last week and shared during worship yesterday.

Every Advent season my thoughts return to Joseph and Mary, the people. Who were they before the Gabriel came to visit them and change their lives forever? What kind of people were they? Were they serious or lighthearted? Were they popular with others of their own age? Did they have really close friends in Nazareth? Did they ever try to explain to their friends or families that an angel had visited them and revealed that Mary was the one God had chosen to be the mother of the Chosen One, the Anointed One, the Messiah?

Apparently Mary went to Joseph to tell him about the angel’s visit. How else would he have known she was pregnant? There had to have been some time between Mary’s revelation to Joseph and the angel’s visit. Matthew says Joseph took time to consider this. His decision was to quietly divorce her so apparently Joseph couldn’t bring himself to believe her. But what a good man he was! He had no desire to humiliate her any more than she would be humiliated after nine months. What an incredible relief it must have been to this young man when the angel came to reveal all to him!

And how was Mary feeling knowing that her man didn’t believe her? Those days between telling Joseph the truth and seeing him again must have been the most torturous days of her life until Calvary. If Joseph was relieved by the angel’s visit, think what joy flowed out of Mary’s heart the day Joseph showed up at her door and told her the angel had come to him too and they were to get married right away!

Mary was amazed when Gabriel showed up the first time. What a young woman of faith! She said, “I am the Lord’s servant. May it be to me as you have said.” God did something to her and she became pregnant. She didn’t ask for it. She wasn’t asked if it was okay with her. God decreed and Mary responded in faith and believed. Then Joseph didn’t believe her. She must have been heartbroken. I would be amazed if she didn’t go home and throw herself on her bed and cry out over and over again, “God! What have you done to me?” The agony preceded the joy.

Again, she had to travel to Bethlehem when she was nine months pregnant. You know what, she was not required by law to go and register. Although women were included in the taxation, their husbands were allowed to register them. So why did she go? Why would she, most likely a middle teenager expecting her first baby, ever leave home, family, and birthing assistance to make an eighty mile trip? And what kind of husband would ask something like that of his young, pregnant wife? I believe these two righteous, God-worshiping young people knew the prophecy that the Christ would be born in Bethlehem and recognized that the registration was God’s providence sending them there to fulfill the prophecy. And again, the agony preceded the joy.

One more thing that seems extremely significant to me at Christmas time. Jesus’ birth is a type of the new birth. Mary didn’t choose to be the mother of the Messiah. She was incapable of making herself the mother of the Messiah. God chose her. God put life into her through the Holy Spirit. God called her to be what he wanted her to be. God protected her and her baby on the long, dangerous journey to Bethlehem and brought forth life.

We are incapable of desiring God or making ourselves Christians. God chose us. He called us to be his children. He put life into us by the Holy Spirit. And he preserves and protects us every day of our lives until Jesus comes in his second advent or until we die and see him face to face!

Tuesday, December 08, 2009


1 Samuel 14

Saul had led the Israelites out against the Philistines and the two armies were encamped on opposite sides of a pass. His son, Jonathan, was inspired to go over to the outpost of the Philistines and see what the Lord might do. He said to his armor-bearer, Come, let’s go over to the outpost of those uncircumcised fellows. Perhaps the LORD will act in our behalf. Nothing can hinder the LORD from saving, whether by many or by few” (14:6). So Jonathan and his armor-bearer crossed the pass, climbed up the opposite cliff, and with God’s leading, struck down the Philistines. God then put the Philistine army into a panic which resulted in a day of great victory for the LORD and for Israel.

I sense a real need for men like Jonathan in the church today; men who have vision; men who have faith; men who are willing to risk it all for the glory of God. I know men like this. Some of my church-planting brothers are like this. It seems they have God’s vision and enough faith to try anything to reach people for Christ. On the other hand, what good can be done if we sit back and do the same things we’ve been doing for decades, risking nothing? What is it that makes it so difficult for so many of us to step out of our comfort zones?

Jonathan was prepared to return to camp without a battle. Notice he said, “Perhaps the LORD will act in our behalf.” Perhaps! In his plan he provided for the possibility that God did not want them to fight that day (14:9). But he took action! He went out to see if God was working that day! Jonathan believed God would show him what he was supposed to do and he knew he had to put himself in a position to be used by God. So many times we don’t put ourselves in useful positions. There is too much at risk.

We need to ask ourselves if we really believe the words Jonathan said to his armor-bearer. Do we believe that “nothing can hinder the LORD from saving, whether by many or by few?” Are we afraid that we will fail? Do we think victory and success are up to us? It is the Lord who does the saving. It doesn’t matter if there are just two of us or many of us. God wants men and women who are willing to step out in faith and risk all for the kingdom and his name’s sake! Because Jonathan stepped out in faith Israel won a great victory.

I want to be like Jonathan! I want to have a vision of the church’s victory! I want to act, not just sit back and see what God might or might not do. I want to see a great victory for the church and for the kingdom of God in my community! May God grant me the vision, the courage, and the faith to be like Jonathan. May there be nothing in my life that I love so much that I wouldn’t risk it for the sake of the kingdom’s victory.

Thursday, December 03, 2009


John was a lamp that burned and gave light, and you chose for a time to enjoy his light. I have testimony weightier than that of John. For the very work that the Father has given me to finish, and which I am doing, testifies that the Father has sent me. (John 5:35, 36 )

The Jews were persecuting Jesus and seeking to find a way to put him to death. How was he supposed to prove that he was telling the truth? Who will testify for Jesus? Who will speak up to bear witness that he is who he says he is? No man could testify for himself and expect to be believed. There had to be witnesses.

So Jesus pointed to John the Baptist. The Jews already had his testimony. They had sent messengers to him to get that testimony and he had given it. John was a light in the darkness and for a little while the people had flocked to him to enjoy the spiritual light he brought.

But that wasn’t the greatest testimony to Jesus’ words. The greatest testimony to the claims of Jesus was the work he did. The Father in heaven had given him a mission and Jesus was working to complete that mission. His actions spoke for themselves. Those who had ears to hear and eyes to see would recognize that he was the Christ, the Son of God. But the Jews did not have the ability to hear or see. Jesus went on to say, You have never heard his voice nor seen his form, nor does his word dwell in you, for you do not believe the one he sent. You diligently study the Scriptures because you think that by them you possess eternal life. These are the Scriptures that testify about me, yet you refuse to come to me to have life. (John 5:37-40)

This made me think about the mission I/we have been given. We want to be missional. We want to be about the work of the kingdom. We want to complete the work that the body of Christ has been given. So what are we to do?

We live in a world of darkness. But Jesus said we are to be light. You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden. Let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven (Matthew 5:14, 16). We are to bear the same kind of light in our society as John bore in his. The light we bear is shown in our deeds, in the things we do. Jesus said that the greatest testimony to the truth of his claims was the work he was doing, the work the Father had given him. His deeds proved his truth. Likewise, our actions speak louder than our words!

What is it that we are doing? What kind of light is shining from our lives and from our churches? Are we acting and speaking in the love of Jesus? Are we pursuing love and unity in the body of Christ? The church of Christ is one. Our creed states, I believe a holy, catholic church. ONE holy, catholic church! Is our light clear and bright? Or is it dimmed by separatistic pride? Is it clouded by an attitude that we are right and they are wrong?

What is our testimony? What do our works say to the world? Will they know we are Christians by our love? Will they know that the claims of Jesus are true because our unity shouts it out? Or will we continue to keep things the way they have been, at least as long as I can remember?

Tuesday, December 01, 2009


And there was a certain royal official whose son lay sick at Capernaum. When this man heard that Jesus had arrived in Galilee from Judea, he went to him and begged him to come and heal his son, who was close to death…Jesus replied, “You may go. Your son will live.” The man took Jesus at his word and departed. (John 4:46-50)

Here was a member of the court of Herod Antipas. The gospel writers give us the general impression that people associated with the royal court were not very spiritually oriented. But this man turned to Jesus in his time of desperate need. His son was lying near death. He had heard of Jesus’ power and the miracles he had performed. Perhaps he had even witnessed something Jesus had done. His only hope was that Jesus would take pity on him. He traveled from Capernaum to Cana to find Jesus and then he repeatedly begged Jesus to come to Capernaum and heal his son. Jesus challenged what faith the man had. He did not agree to go to Capernaum but he told the man that his son would recover and live. The sign of the man’s faith is found in John’s simple statement, “The man took Jesus at his word and departed.”

I’m impressed. Here is a man who was a courtier of a wicked king who would participate in plotting the death of Jesus. I’m impressed by the work of the Holy Spirit who cannot be prevented from reaching into the lives of the most unreachable. I’m impressed by the grace and mercy of God, that it would find a man in that court and touch his life. I’m impressed that such a man would “take Jesus at his word.” There was much at stake for him and he believed Jesus and went on his way.

I think there are many Christian people who have a hard time taking Jesus at his word. How much different would our lives be if we could just accept Jesus’ word for things? We struggle with doubt and fear when Jesus has said that he will always be with us. He told us that he came so we would have abundant life yet we wrestle with stress and anxiety. Can we learn to take him at his word?

One other thing. Not only do we have a hard time accepting Jesus at his word, we also add to or take away from his word. We have his word in our Bibles but we sometimes act like Thomas Jefferson and cut out the parts that are hard to understand or that sound harsh to unbelieving ears. We soften his word. We try to make it easier to digest. If only we could learn to let the power of Jesus’ word carry the day! Let him speak to our lives and to our communities in his own words and then just take him at his word!

I am the bread of life. I am the light of the world. I am the way, the truth, and the life. I am the resurrection and the life. I am the Good Shepherd.