Monday, November 27, 2017

Tricks for Reading the Christmas Story

Here comes the Christmas season! If  you are like me, you struggle to keep the right perspective during this season. There are so many distractions from the "true meaning of Christmas."

So, here's one idea for keeping your focus. Take time every day to dig into the Christmas story, reading and reflecting. You can just read a few verses and let God take over your imagination as you read. You can find the primary stories in Matthew 1-2 and Luke 1-2.

As you read consider these tricks for deeper understanding.
  • Read the story in an unfamiliar translation. You can find lots of them at
  • Imagine yourself in the context of the first century, as an ordinary person: poor, struggling, powerless.
  • Imagine how the story would feel to different people in the story: Mary, Joseph, the shepherds, the magi, Herod, Herod's court, Mary's family, Joseph's family, Simeon, Anna, etc.
  • Look for some of the familiar story elements and see if they are really in the stories. When did the shepherds see the star? (They didn't.) How many wise men were there? (We don't know.) What was the innkeeper like? (There is no mention of an innkeeper.)
  • Let different family members read different parts.
  • Read the story by the light of an oil lamp.
Let's keep our focus on Jesus this season!

Monday, November 20, 2017

Radical Thanks

There are different levels of thanks. We say thanks to the clerk runs the register or the family member who passes the salt. We say thank you for gifts, and may even write a note. We thank the boss for a raise. We thank our family for understanding when we need to ask forgiveness.

You may thank your spouse for helping with household chores or filling the car with gas. We thank guests for coming to see us. We may also thank them when they leave.

When my first child was a week old, I thanked my mother for all she did for me. I had no idea, and I was only beginning to learn.

Usually an expression of thanks comes with a smile. Our glad hearts shine through our happy faces.

But sometimes gratitude reaches us much more deeply. Sometimes we can't smile. We are humbled. We understand that someone has sacrificed for us, loved us through our indifference, persisted past our pride. That kind of gratitude hits us at the core.

A grateful woman came to Jesus, as he reclined for dinner at someone's house. She came up and stood behind him, crying so profusely that her tears dripped on Jesus's unshod feet. She bent down to wipe his feet with her hair. She opened her expensive bottle of perfume and poured it over Jesus's feet. In her gratitude, she was broken. From the root of her soul, she expressed her thanks to Jesus. She was broken emotionally for the One who had made her whole. She was beginning to understand the depth of Jesus's love for her. And her heart overflowed with loving thanks.

Have you ever been moved to tears with gratitude? Such is the heart that truly understands thanks.

Monday, November 13, 2017

Surprise! It's the Kingdom!

Some things should never surprise us. You get behind a slow poke when you are running late. The children can't agree on a restaurant for dinner. The printer is "off line" when you want to print right now. Murphy's Law is real.

Other things really surprise us.

In Acts 3, Peter and John go to the Temple worship. This is right after Jesus's crucifixion, resurrection, and ascension. The Holy Spirit has come upon the church at Pentecost. So on their way through the Temple courtyard, Peter and John meet and heal a paralyzed man. The healed man is so excited, he runs, jumps, and praises God all around the Temple.

This great miracle shows the Lord's power now flowing through the disciples. The crowds at the Temple notice, and they ask Peter and John what has happened.

Peter's response is striking. "Fellow Israelites, why does this surprise you?" Well, Peter, I can think of lots of reasons this is surprising. The healed man has never walked a day in his life. He's over 40 (gasp!). And we call them miracles for a reason. Things like this don't normally happen.  That's why they were surprised.

But in Peter's brain, this was no surprise at all. He knew something, and it completely changed what he expected from life. He had witnessed his friend and teacher die. Then he saw that man alive again. It was Jesus, but he was...different. Now Jesus had a resurrection body. Jesus still ate and drank, but he seemed less limited by time and space. He could suddenly appear in a room. Sometimes people recognized him and sometimes they did not. Mostly, he was alive. His grave was empty.

Seeing this miracle changed Peter's perspective. Jesus was bringing the kingdom, beginning with his own resurrection. If he is bringing the kingdom, then he will bring wholeness, forgiveness, hope. This world will never be the same. Peter expected to see God at work. 

Of course this man was healed. Jesus is alive, and is living in us! The world will never be the same. Why are you surprised?

May we experience God's kingdom so powerfully in our own lives that we expect him bring healing, hope, and leaping celebrations!

Monday, November 6, 2017

Church Shootings

I was shocked with the news yesterday of the horrific church shooting in Sutherland, Texas. This one hit close to home. If the First Baptist Church in that small town can get shot up, then I wonder who is safe.

Pastors across the country have to consider how to prevent or prepare for such a situation. Will churches now have armed guards or bouncers at their doors? Will they create tactical strategies and make sure that certain members are armed at church services?

Churches will always be soft targets. Attendees gather to worship, to fellowship. They don't expect violence. Preparing to respond to violence would tend to distract from connecting with the Lord. I make sure that I bring my Bible. I don't even think about my .357.

So, it seems that churches can choose how to prepare. At one extreme, they can arm themselves, ready to take out a threat. At the other extreme, they can change nothing, realizing that they are soft targets.

I think I know which course Jesus would choose. He himself was a soft target. He let himself be killed. He trusted his Father, even knowing that he was headed into danger. The Father used his sacrifice to change history.

And this is the Man we are to follow.