When Jesus Comes Knocking

The knock came at the door of the inn. It was late. We can imagine the innkeeper had been burning both ends of the candle. The census crowd had packed Bethlehem and he had finally locked the doors for the night.

Until the knock. He shuffled his feet through the dark and made his way to the door. Opening it with the slightest of cracks he peered out to see a young couple. Looking more closely he saw a young woman who was about to give birth to a child.

Rooms were full. It was late. And they didn’t look very special. He had to decide whether he would find room for them or not.

And you will too. John’s rendition of the birth of Christ comes in a few short words: “The Word  [logos] became flesh and made his dwelling among us” (John 1:14). Greek hearers understood the word “logos” as the representation of God. The essence of God was found in his Word.

Hebrew readers perked up to John’s message too. John writes: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning.” He book ends the first sentence of his book with the phrase “in the beginning.”  They knew it as the words that began the first book of the Torah, or Genesis.

John writes about beginnings. John writes about God’s very representation dwelling among us. And he writes to tell us that we have the same decision to make as the innkeeper. Will we find a place for Jesus in our lives or will we send him away?

Some send him away because he looks too plain. Nothing special about him. Don’t make that mistake. He comes to common places like your home and common places like your heart.

Some send him away because life is crowded. Many demands and many deadlines. And you’re not sure if you have room for him. But he only comes to give you what he has already done. He desires to give you forgiveness.

And some send him away because they think it’s too late. They’ve already done too much that can’t be forgiven. They’ve already gone too far away.

But it’s never too late. Not with the one who comes and makes his dwelling among us. You need only to open the door.

Join us Sunday as we continue The Story at 10:30 am.

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Be Available For God’s Assignment For You

Sally Edwards is a highly esteemed third grade teacher at Jacksboro Elementary in Texas.[1] She was preparing her students for the TAKS test and compiled an exam to prepare them for it. There were twenty questions. Number eleven on the test was this question: “List in any order the four seasons.”

A whopping 67% of her 3rd grade students answered: “Dove season, deer season, duck season, and turkey season.” 1

I don’t know what season of life you are in, but I do know this. God has something for you to do. He did for Jeremiah. He told Jeremiah he had a work for him to do. His assignment? Stand in the rubble of Jerusalem and weep. He was also told the people would not listen to him.

That was it. And oddly enough, Jeremiah did it. As the people of Judah were leaving Jerusalem in single file as captives, Jeremiah stood weeping and reminding them that God would bring them back with these words: “Yet this I call to mind and therefore I have hope: Because of the LORD’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness” (Lamentations 3:21-23).

God had something for Jeremiah to do. And he has something for you to do too. In the New Testament book of Ephesians the apostle Paul writes to the church, “For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God created in advance for us to do” (Eph. 2:10).

In God’s employment contract for us today, he does not ask us to be successful by the world’s standards but rather to be faithful to him to do good things. God is not so much concerned about your ability as he is your availability.

Just like Jeremiah, God is calling you to play a role in his Grand Story. It may be that this is your time to change the direction of your family. Turning from a focus on you alone to a concerning yourself with the things of God. It may be that God is calling you to reach out to a neighbor. Perhaps he is laying on your heart a ministry where there is a need you can’t even see at the moment.

Whatever season of life you are in God is calling you to make a difference. And he is desiring to equip you to make that difference.

Join us this Sunday as we continue The Story.

[1] Story told by Randy Frazee in The Story sermon, Chapter 17.

Can You Hear Me Now?

Verizon Wireless created one of the most memorable marketing campaigns ever in 2005.  In their commercials a so-called ”test man,” accompanied by a crowd of network engineers, travels the country asking the simple question, “Can you hear me now?” in an ongoing exercise to determine the reliability of the mobile phone carrier’s network.

The “catch phrase” caught on. The company’s market share went up and employee turnover went down. It seemed people could relate to the struggle to connect. Folks were tired of dropped calls and unreliable communication systems. And Verizon sent a message that they wanted desperately to connect with its subscribers and wanted its subscribers to be able to connect with each other.

At the risk of selling Him short, God has done the same.  Even when the Kingdom had split in two, He kept sending His message. He gave the people of the Divided Kingdom some 208 years to decide whether they would “accept” or “reject” His call. He sent His own “technicians” to get the message out. We call them “prophets.”

The job of the Verizon technician is unique. But not nearly as unique as the task given Hosea. Hosea, himself a prophet, appeared in a down time in the nation of Israel. The reality is that people often hear best when things are at their worst. So Hosea signed on with God. But God gave him a most unusual assignment. Hosea’s life would be his message. He was to marry a prostitute named Gomer and love her. What an incredible request! (Just imagine a young man with a seminary degree in hand trying to explain that one to a pastoral search committee.)

The tough assignment was made even more difficult as Gomer left Hosea. She would conduct her ‘transactions’ with customers and all the time in her mind believing they were the ones supporting her. In reality, though, it was Hosea who continued to care for her and provide for her necessities even during her times of unfaithfulness.

God tells Hosea to go and demonstrate his love for her, so he does. Now picture this scene, as ugly as it is: Hosea pays some Hebrew “pimp” for some time with his wife, Gomer. When she enters the room expecting her next customer, she comes face-to-face with her husband. It is then that Hosea tells her again he loves her and wants her to come back home.

It’s the lived-out message that Hosea later gives in words. And it’s the same message God sends today. He loves us—even in our extreme unfaithfulness. And he wants us to come back home, even though we have abandoned him. But much like a call on your cell phone, you can hit the “accept” button or the “reject” button. You have the power to send God to voicemail and make him wait. Or you can answer his call today. The people of Israel had 208 years to pick up and they never did. The network is clear. The message is reliable. Can you hear him now?

Join us this Sunday as we continue The Story.

Don’t Forget to Wish for the Best

I remember as a child the excitement that came when the Sears Wish Book arrived at our front door. My sister and I would anxiously mark items and dog ear pages of the things that we wanted for Christmas. When the Sears Wish Book came we knew that Christmas was just around the corner.

The first Sears Wish Book was printed in 1933. (I don’t remember that. I looked it up.) Over time it has diminished in size and was even discontinued at one point. It was revived in 2007, but the one today is nothing in size compared to the books I remember from my youth. Children today don’t really need one. They have the Internet and their high tech toys to cruise the information highway to identify their holiday “wants.” But “back in the day” the Sears Wish Book helped us answer the seasonal question: “If you could have anything for Christmas, what would you ask for?”

You may not need the Sears Wish Book today, but you have some wishes too, don’t you? This Christmas how would you answer the question, “If you could have one thing in the world, what would it be?”

Solomon had to answer that one. He asked for wisdom. And God gave it to him. But by the end of his life he had accumulated more and more: more gold, more horses, more wives(700 to be exact). He had it all and wanted more. In the midst of all these gifts he lost sight of the Giver. He turned away from God and lost it all.

Another King gave us another path to follow. He had it all and gave it all . . . for us. During the Christmas season we celebrate this king. He has taught us to give. You can guard yourself from the tyranny of too much stuff by giving. Simply give so that others can simply live. That’s what the King born as a baby in the manger did.

Now I know that Christmas is still six months away but my wish? That you visit the manger and find him.

Join us this Sunday as we continue our journey through The Story.

What to Do With Your “Third Week of March”

When Pope John Paul died, a man named Rogers Cadenhead quickly registered the web address http://www.BenedictXVI.com, thinking this might be the name chosen by the new pope. When Cardinal Ratzinger was elected Pope, he did choose the name Pope Benedict XVI, causing some to question what the Vatican would do to get the rights to that domain name.

Cadenhead didn’t ask the Vatican for money. Instead, in a humorous manner on his blog he suggested a few things he would trade for:

  1. Three days, two nights at the Vatican hotel.
  2. One of those hats (referring to the bishop’s hat).
  3. Complete absolution, no questions asked, for the third week of March 1987. [1]

Wonder what Rogers did the third week of March in 1987? Me too, but does it really matter? Most of us have at least a week for which we’d love to have total forgiveness.

We discover in The Story that David did. One day when the army is at war, David, who is the commander of the nation’s military, neglects his duties and stays behind. He sees Bathsheba, seduces her, gets her pregnant, murders her husband, and tries to cover up his actions by deceiving his general and soldiers. Then he marries Bathsheba and she bears their child.

It looks as if David will get away with all of this. But he doesn’t. God sends his prophet Nathan to confront David by telling him a story about a poor man with one lamb. David knows something about sheep and shepherds, so he listens. Nathan says that the poor man has a rich neighbor who needs to slaughter a lamb to feed a guest, but instead of taking one of his many sheep he steals the poor’s man’s one lamb.

David is incensed and says that man should be put to death. Nathan then declares, “You are the man!” At that moment David must have wished he had bought a domain name that he could swap for absolution. He may have wanted to make excuses. Explain things away. Blame it on Bathsheba for taking a bath in broad daylight where he could see. But instead of making excuses, David confesses. “I have sinned against the Lord” (2 Sam. 12:13).

And God did with David’s sin what he will do with yours and mine. He put it away (Psalm 103:12-13).

You can do what David did. Whatever your “third week of March” might be, sit down with it, yourself and God. Confess your sin. And then let another shepherd from Bethlehem forgive it. That’s better than any domain name you might secure.

Join us Sunday, May 31st as we continue The Story.

This Sunday, May 24th at 10:30 am We are the Monks will be with us in concert.

[1] http://en.wikinews.org/wiki/American_who_owns_BenedictXVI.com_wants_%22one_of_those_hats%22

Giving an Undistorted View of God

Ever since Peter Stuyvesant visited the Palace of Versailles the world has had a distorted view of itself.

Peter was the governor of New Amsterdam—later to be renamed New York City—beginning in 1647. He was visiting France to discuss colonial land agreements. While at Versailles he was awed by the Hall of Mirrors.

Peter was determined to bring a similarly amazing showcase to his city. In 1651 he founded the Peter Stuyvesant’s House of Mirrors. He charged one Dutch gulden for admission.

This house of mirrors eventually morphed into what we know as a Fun House of Mirrors seen at many carnivals. For a few tickets the fun begins by walking into a maze of mirrors, both convex and concave. We amuse ourselves by looking at distorted images of our figure.

Today you don’t even have to go to the carnival for this experience. A laptop with a webcam and a silly photo feature will allow you to take a picture of yourself that you can manipulate to look odd.

It’s all fun. But sometimes distorted pictures can cause trouble. It did in Israel during the time of the prophet Samuel. One of the major distortions was found at the Tabernacle, that portable place of praise for God’s people.

It was parked at Shiloh and was meant to be a clear picture of God’s holiness and grace. A system of sacrifices had been established that foreshadowed the coming sacrifice of the Messiah. Yet anything but holiness was found there.

Eli the priest had two sons, Hophni and Phinehas, who dishonored God in their treatment of the sacrifices and also engaged in immoral sexual activity with women at the Tabernacle (1 Samuel 2:16, 22). Because the picture of God they were giving was distorted, these two were killed in battle against the Philistines. When news of their death reached Eli, he fell over in his chair, broke his neck, and also died.

Many people often ask the question, “What does God look like?” The question we all need to ask ourselves is do people see God in us.

Just like Eli and his sons we are representatives of God.  We represent Jesus to others.  You may have heard it said that you may be the only Bible those around you will ever ‘read.’  The question is, “Are you giving a clear or distorted picture of the One True God?”

Join us this Sunday at 10:30 am as we continue “The Story”.

When Your Mistakes Land You Before a Judge

Growing up I never got in trouble much with the law. My only problem was I tended to have somewhat of a lead foot. I remember when that lead foot got the best of me.

I was running late for work one morning after staying at a friends house. I was racing home to get ready for work when a police officer pulled me over for speeding. I had to go to court. The day came when I had to stand before the judge and hear his ruling. I was sentenced to 20 days noon detention at school. I never had to appear before a judge again.

Judges elicit a sense of fear, don’t they?  They never call you in for something you have done right.  We think of them as someone who harshly tells us what we did wrong.  And they seem to be everywhere these days on television.  There’s Judge Brown and Hatchett.  Mathis and Christina.  And my favorite—Judge Judy.

Then there are some judges you may not know. They even have a book in the Bible with their name on it. Judges. These judges appeared on the scene to help sort out right and wrong. They also helped people get out of trouble.

God’s people kept putting themselves into a never ending cycle of disobedience, discipline, declaration of wrong, and deliverance. Judges like Deborah and Gideon and Samson helped them find their way back to God.

What did the people do that was so bad they needed judges? Two things. First, they failed to put God first in their lives (Judges 1:28). And secondly, they did not teach their children to know God (Judges 2:10). These two “sins” led to their downfall and ruin.

Are you making the same mistakes they made? If so, you have a judge that can help you––Jesus.

The good news is that when he “calls” you into his office after you have messed up, you will look up to see your judge’s face and see your savior there.

Join us this Sunday at 10:30 am as we continue our journey through The Story.