Better Than a Submarine!

Do they still publish the Neiman Marcus Christmas catalog?  Do you remember the outrageous gift selections for the very wealthy?  His-and-hers submarines, hot air balloons (not a ride, but the balloon itself), an Egyptian sarcophagus, even a trip to outer space…

Maybe these are not on the top of your list this year, but don’t we all have an expectation of hope that doesn’t go away with age?  If our hope is in Christmas, we most likely will be disappointed.  If our hope, though, is in Christ, this truly can be the “most wonderful time of the year.”

Wise men brought unusual gifts to Jesus at His birth.  Have you stopped to think, though, that the very first Christmas gift was not something for Jesus?  The first Christmas gift was Jesus Himself!  At its best, Christmas is a promise of something no holiday or earthly gifts can satisfy.  Galatians 4:4-5 says, “But when the time had fully come, God sent His Son, born of a woman, born under law, to redeem those under law, that we might receive the full rights of sons (and daughters).”

What has God given us in the gift of Christ?  Isaiah 9:6 describes the gift better than any TV ad or newspaper circular…even better than anything Neiman Marcus could come up with:

“For unto us a Child is born, unto us a Son is given; and the government will be upon His shoulder.  And His name will be called Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.”

Each of these names for Jesus deals with an important area of our lives.  They are like five Christmas gifts we can open, and each is special and unusual!

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So Long Billy Goat Curse!

Well, the curse is over.  For a lifetime Cub fan, for all the memories this World Series and Game Seven held, it’s interesting that the emotional part for me focused on memories…

  • As a minor leaguer, I dreamed of playing with the heart and ability of Ernie Banks.
  • As a Pony and Colt League player, I wanted to play with Ron Santo’s enthusiasm.
  • As a Legion team all-star, I heard Jack Brickhouse’s chants as I rounded third base in a homerun trot.

I grew up in daily friendly arguments with Shotgun and Sis, the old couple (in their 60s) across the street who lived and breathed for the St. Louis Cardinals.  Some of my best memories of being 9 or 10 included the daily paper route stop at Swannie’s Tap, where I would spend my tip money on Slim Jim’s, pickled eggs, fresh jerky, and peanuts dumped in an Orange Crush, where I heard the “old farts” arguing about Fergie Jenkins being better than Bob Gibson.  I never argued with them, knowing my place and knowing how intelligent they were.  Most of my coaches spent a lot of time at Swannie’s.  My experiences and best memories of baseball all involve being with folks, good folks who care and have a focus – especially a lifelong focus of winning.  So, as I watched last night’s clinching game with Pat and Mossy, it was even better because of the text dialog I was having for several hours with both our daughters, their husbands, our grandchildren, and friends from church.  A sense of community and a strong focus of that community is tough to beat.

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Being In the World, But Not Of the World

Less than three weeks until the election.  I just wanted to say that because I know so many of you will be wondering what to do with your time.  (Oh, wait!  The 2020 campaigns begin on November 9…Never mind.)  At least this election and its drama will mercifully come to an end soon.

In reflection of the presidential campaign, it’s probably more in order for me to talk about us than the politicians.  Let’s take a moment and consider as Christians in the midst of this year’s political climate, what our priorities may have been.  Think about the conversations you’ve had, the Facebook postings you’ve made, the tweets you’ve sent.  Has it appeared to others that our political position is more important than our witness of Jesus?  Would it appear that we want our particular candidate to win an office more than for Christ to be glorified?  Of course, our answers would seem obvious.  But, if the people we’ve communicated with were to judge our level of passion, what would they think?  Would they make the assumption that you’d rather talk about Trump or Clinton than Jesus?  Have you been able to talk about Trump or Clinton and bring glory to Jesus in the process?

This, friends, is actually a very important time to be a Christian witness.  Our nation and our government do matter, and Christians should care a lot about the election.  But, do we act like a president is more influential, more powerful, more important than the King of all creation?

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Is It Your Custom Too?

“Life’s most persistent question is, ‘What are you doing for others?’” (Martin Luther King, Jr.)

When Jesus is living through us, our lives look a lot like His.  Please don’t get me wrong; it doesn’t take too close an observation to tell the differences between us and Him.  But I do know that when we act like Christ, the family resemblance cannot be denied.

Read Acts 17:2.  You’ll see Paul visiting a village and entering the synagogues there – “as was his custom.”  Read Luke 4:14-16.  You’ll recognize a phrase.  “Jesus returned…in the power of the Spirit…and on the Sabbath day He went into the synagogue, as was His custom.”

Did you notice?  Jesus’ custom became Paul’s custom.  How did that happen?  Did you notice the other phrase in Luke 4?  “…in the power of the Spirit…”  From the point of Jesus’ baptism on into His ministry, the Spirit had been with Him at all times:

  • The Holy Spirit descended upon Jesus. (3:22)
  • Full of the Holy Spirit, Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness. (4:1)
  • Jesus returned to Galilee in the power of the Spirit. (4:14)
  • And Jesus read, “The Spirit of the Lord is on me…” (4:18)

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The Gospel - It's All Good...News!

“And Jesus came to them and said, ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.  Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.  And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.’"  [Matthew 28:18-20]

So, can I make the assumption that you are a Christian?  If that’s true, you understand we’ve been commissioned by Jesus as His “Ambassadors of Good News,” right?  What that means is that you and I are representatives of a message of good news about God.  This is important because many people have an impression of God as bringing bad news to us in the form of judgment.  This is unfortunate because God has been improperly represented.  But, that is exactly why you and I are so important.  We are called by God Himself to change that impression.

The biblical word for “gospel” simply means good news.  And why is it good news?  Exactly because it is the opposite of what people think is bad about God.  God is not all about judgment.  He is all about love, forgiveness, grace, empowerment, and acceptance.  Yes, He is the judge, but He’s already taken out His judgment on Himself in the form of His Son, Jesus – the One who was punished on a cross precisely so He would not have to punish us.  So then, in fact, we are doing God a great disservice when we think of Him as that angry old man in the sky who is ready to stick it to the next guy who sins.  To think and promote that kind of image on God is to discount Christ’s death, saying that He died in vain.

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Appreciation for Those Who "Protect and Serve"

Friends of the Church,

I wrote the following letter this morning, thinking I would send it to the local newspaper.  I’m not sure it will be published, as it goes beyond the 250-word limit of letters on the opinion page.  It is offered here for you to know where my prayers have been directed today.

I awoke this morning to the news of the deaths of five police officers in Dallas, Texas.  This, as a peaceful protest was culminating over the deaths of citizens in Baton Rouge and St. Paul.  The divisiveness and violence we see in our country and the world are not anecdotal nor isolated.  It takes time and it takes the focused energy of those who wish upheaval and destruction to cause the turmoil we see.  Our culture is not one of inclusiveness and caring for one another.  It is marred by those who desire at some level the panic and chaos that exists.  And the degrading of humanity will continue as good folks say or do nothing in response.

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Standing with Jesus - and Each Other

It’s a weird and bizarre world.  The weight of sin this past week has been so evident.  My prayer has been that every evil and bad thing on the news might drive believers and non-believers to their knees before God, as we acknowledge Him, His love, His forgiveness, and His grace in the midst of so much terror and tragedy.

As murder and terror and floods and tragedy claim more lives, and as decent people seem all too eager to debate fault and politics, I am at a place this morning where I must simply rely on God’s Word being what Jesus says it is.  As His time on earth was nearing its end, Jesus prayed to the Father about us: “Sanctify them by the truth; Your word is truth.”  [John 17:17]  There is no way we deserve that kind of prayerful consideration, yet Jesus’ love and forgiveness and grace are greater than our sin.  As God’s own, we are redeemed.

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