Prepare Him Room

One of the great joys of the Christmas season is the arrival of special guests. It may be a son or daughter who has been away at college or in the military. It could be a favorite aunt or uncle who has flown in for the holidays. Friends might be coming to share a holiday dinner. Whoever it is, you anticipate the arrival of your guests and prepare yourself and your home for their coming. And finally, when you hear the knock or the doorbell, you jump up, eager to welcome your loved ones into your heart and home.

That spirit and emotion are at the heart of Advent, a way of celebrating Christmas that may be new to you. Perhaps you’re aware of Advent but don’t know a lot about what it means or what you’re supposed to do about it. When you hear the word, you probably think of candles and calendars. While those are often involved in the celebration, they are merely symbols of what Advent is all about

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A History of Israel's Struggle: Part 2

Previously I wrote on how the nation of Israel received its name, what the name means, and its theological implications.  Jacob was named Israel by the angel who wrestled him, who many believe is the preincarnate Christ.  The name Israel means, he struggles with God.  I then provided a macro view of how the nation of Israel split apart into two different kingdoms, their exile to Babylon, and their return.  The Israelite’s who survived the Babylonian invasion and were exiled off to Iraq, became known as the remnant. (2 Chron. 36:20; Jer. 25:11)

In 539 B.C, a year after Persia’s overthrow of the Babylonian Empire, Cyrus the ruler of Persia, decreed the Israelites who were under Babylonian captivity were free to return to their homeland.  This is all in keeping with the words of the prophet Isaiah who prophesied 200 years before Cyrus’ decree that God himself would raise up Cyrus to bring about God’s purposes of bringing the remnant back to their homeland. (Isa. 44: 28, Isa. 45:1-5)

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Christ's Love and the Blessing of Holy Saturday

Saturday in Holy Week – in between Good Friday and Easter Sunday, it seems like just a placeholder. Why then does the Church call it Holy?

On the Friday we call Good, our Lord laid down his life for us; went to the Cross in love, and there took on all the weight of the world’s sin, and death too, all for us. He died. His heart was pierced by the centurion’s spear, and blood and water poured out. His lifeless body was taken down, covered in blood and sweat, cradled in his mother’s arms, and then, hastily, wrapped up and placed in the tomb.

And there in the tomb he lay.

Jesus had done his work on the Cross – redeeming the world that God had made and called good, but that we had broken; calling all humanity to him, his arms outstretched on the Cross to draw all to himself. In six days, God made all of creation; on the seventh day He rested. And the Son, having done his work on the Cross, rested too.

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The Problem of Christmas

Christmas often reveals our emptiness. In a season dedicated to giving, we discover our own neediness; in a season dedicated to family and friends, our loneliness comes into sharp focus.

Two voices offering solutions to the problem of Christmas can be heard above the background voice of “Jingle Bell Rock” and “Winter Wonderland.” The first is the voice of consumerism. Buy stuff! Find the perfect gift for others, get the perfect stuff for yourself, decorate your house perfectly, and you will happy and joyful. The second voice counters by reminding us that people are more important than things, that we should focus on the really important part of Christmas: love, joy, peace.

It’s easy to critique consumerism, because it’s so evidently shallow. But the problem is that both voices are partly true and partly false.

Preparing for His Arrival

One of the joys of Christmas is the arrival of special guests.  It may be a son or daughter, sister or brother who has been away at college or in the military.  It could be a favorite aunt or uncle who has flown in for the holidays.  Friends might be coming over to share a holiday dinner.  Whoever it is, you anticipate the arrival of your guests and prepare yourself and your home for their coming.  And finally, when you hear the doorbell or the knock on your door, you jump up, eager to welcome your loved ones into your hearts and home.

It’s that spirit and emotion that are at the heart of Advent, a way of celebrating Christmas that may be unfamiliar to some people.  You might be aware of Advent but don’t know a lot about what it means or what you’re supposed to do about it.

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Community Thru A Gospel Lens

I've been thinking about the gospel a lot lately.  And, in fact, I've been doing a series on the gospel in our church.  We're talking about what's at it's core and what it requires of us.  We understand that Christ died for the forgiveness of sins (1 Peter 3:18), but we also understand that he died so that we would no longer live for ourselves (2 Corinthians 5:14-15).  In other words, the gospel is not just about what we are saved from.  It's just as much, if not more, about what we are saved to.

This is important to understand.

We are saved to a life that's lived beyond ourselves.  Jesus says that whoever wants to gain his life, will have to first lose it.  He says that in order to follow him we must first deny ourselves.  This is at the core of the gospel.  Yes, we are thankful for our personal benefits from Christ's death, but we also understand we are called to something greater: a life that's lived for Jesus.

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The Attraction of Atheism

If atheism is true, and there is no God, then everything really is all about me, and what I want, and what I can get. “My will be done, not Yours.”

Put your finger on the pulse of modern culture: it throbs with “me, me, me.” Advertisements tell me: “Indulge yourself! You deserve it!” I can buy my lunch and my coffee made “my way.” I flip open a magazine, or browse the best-sellers, to find ten easy tips on how I can have what I want, right here, right now.  

Put one way, this is selfishness. But it’s spun as empowerment, self-actualization. We are told to follow our hearts, seek our deepest desires, do what feels good. Indeed, if atheism is true, there is no ultimate purpose to life, so we might as well go for self-indulgence, whether through hedonism or through constructing one’s own “meaning” in life.

Jesus in the Workplace

There seems to be a serious conflict with our current lives and strongly held concepts about church and ministry.

So many churches that I know of, which are actually great churches, hold to a local church-centric view of ministry. This means that the goal of the staff is to get the lay people involved in ministry, which is defined as either volunteering at the physical church location or through church organized service projects in the community.

Undoubtedly both of those are valuable and needed avenues. However, this is really what I call "faith addition", living your faith means 'adding' certain activities to your already busy life.

The contrast to this is "faith integration', living your faith means integrating your faith into whatever you are doing.

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General Motors and Jesus Christ

On Monday, June 1, 2009 General Motors unveiled plans to close 14 plants and three warehouses in a move that could ultimately slash up to 20,000 workers from its payrolls, as the company undergoes an historic bankruptcy restructuring.

This is terrible news for just about everyone, most particularly the thousands of workers who have lost (or will lose) their job. As an economically engaged Christian, I do not think that God desires anyone to stay indefinitely involuntarily unemployed and I believe we should be praying for everyone affected.

Here are few points to consider

1) Difficult circumstances are a time to become stronger. A year or so ago, two friends of mine were facing personal finance challenges. Today, one of them is sinking into alcoholism, is divorced, and has little custody of his children. The other is working two jobs, sweating a lot, but has developed more character in the last year than in his previous 34.

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Taking Christ out of Christ-mas

“Happy Holidays"—is what many greeting cards read, and most people say in retail stores. Why is it that in the holiday season about God sending Christ ("the anointed one"), so many are afraid to say a word that includes His name? I think it is because most are fearful of the outcome; they are worried they may offend someone by talking about a religious holiday. I don't know about you, but when my Jewish friends say "Happy Hanukkah," I am not offended. It is a Happy Hanukkah. I join my Jewish friends in celebrating liberty from the oppressive Roman rulers. So then why is “Christmas” and the “Christ” of “Christ-mas” taboo?

The answer is simple: Political correctness drives faith out of people. It is okay to believe in change, or have faith in America, but faith in Jesus is not.

The first time the problem of taking “Christ” out of “Christ-mas” became real to me was in fourth grade when a girl in my class shouted out, "I now know how I can remember to spell Christmas, it is just 'Christ' with 'mas' an the end of the word." My teacher replied, "Good job”; all the while I was thinking, "How did you not know that already?" But the girl wasn't dense, it was that she had never been taught the reason why we celebrate. Her Christmas was likely bleak and full of empty tradition because there was no “Christ” in it.

In the shopping mall, I see bags that say "Believe." But without something to "believe" in, the word is empty, and so is the season. Marketers and politicians love to talk about abstract “belief,” but what is the direct object of belief? Where is our belief heading? If it is not towards a belief in something higher than ourselves, at the end of the season, we will be left feeling empty once again. And worst of all, our spirits, the shelters, and the food banks will be left broken and hurting again.

So where is the "Christ" who is at the root of the word "Christmas"? I often hear people tell me that they can’t feel God, or hear Him, and therefore can’t believe anymore. I usually respond with, “Are you open to feeling Him? Do you listen for His voice? If God came to you, would you recognize Him?” For most people, the answer is "no."

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