Just five miles south of Jerusalem. Located in the Judean hills, lies a small town. At the time of Jesus’ birth, no more than 1,000 people called Bethlehem home. A place where shepherds watched their flocks and farmers tended their fields. Bethlehem was a humble city. One prophet called it a small village among all the people of Judah. (Micah 5:2b) Whether he meant to or not, the Episcopal Priest and poet cemented the phrase we sing every Christmas season, “O little town of Bethlehem.”
By today’s standards Bethlehem continues to remain small, not exceeding a population of 30,000. But its size means nothing compared to what happened there. Within the borders of this sleepy village God chose to do something great. Something that would change the world. This small village, this little town of Bethlehem, became the birthplace of the Son of God, the Savior of the world.
It’s not the things we do that make us great. It’s not the amount of money we make, the horses within our cars’ engines, the number of rooms in our houses, or how many friends we boast on our Facebook page. We can write books, sonnets, plays, and even a few songs that make the young girls cry. And while these can bring us fame and recognition, they can’t make us great.
In a world that values SUVs, big screen TVs and supersized meals, you may feel irrelevant, insignificant, even overlooked. But remember Bethlehem, a modest city tucked away in the hills of the Judean countryside. A place that would otherwise be unknown, not because anything the city did, but because of what God chose to do there. You too, can find value and significance. Because true greatness doesn’t come in the things we ourselves can do. I comes in allowing God to do for you what he did to Bethlehem; to place his Spirit within you, and have that greatness shine through.
Something to think about has you head into another week.
Most people believe in God. In fact, 9 out of 10 Americans answer “yes” when asked the question, Do you believe in God?
Another study shows that less than 2 out of 10 people regularly attend church.
Somewhere there is a disconnect between believing in God and participating in a church. People are leaving the church. Many of these people feel like they need to recover from their experiences. Enter Recovering from Religion.
Recovering from Religion is a group of atheists who plan to start a 24 hour 1-800 hotline to counsel people struggling with religious doubts. It’s an opportunity for people questioning their faith to talk to someone.
The idea may be crazy genius. It certainly will provide someone to talk to in a faith crisis. But should the person that helps you in your faith struggle be devoid of faith themselves? I can at least tell you this; the receiver on the other end won’t be struggling in their faith. Perhaps in a weird way, that makes them qualified.
What do you think? If you struggled with your religious views would you be comfortable talking with your pastor about it? Do you have a friend strong enough in the faith to talk to? Or would calling a self described, trained atheist be an option?
I never really struggled with my belief in God. But sometimes it seems that religion challenges my relationship with Him. This may sound a little on the Mad side, but come Christmas, when I’m working on several services and dealing with religious business that oftentimes doesn’t have much to do with the birth of Jesus, I may just pick up the phone and dial. (Complaints and hate mail may be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org)
It's Wednesday of my final week with Bethany. Will I find the faith and courage I need?
The lone prophet Elijah challenged King Ahab and 450 prophets of the god Baal and the base of this mountain.Elijah challenged them to a contest. Each would build an altar to their own god, Elijah to the one true God and the 450 prophets to Baal.
The 450 prophets went first. They slaughtered a bull, placed it on the altar and prayed to Baal to send fire. They danced, they sang, they shouted, they cut themselves with knives and spears. They did this all day. Nothing happened.Then it was Elijah’s turn. Here’s what 1 Kings says happened:
30 Then Elijah called to the people, "Come over here!" They all crowded around him as he repaired the altar of the LORD that had been torn down. 31 He took twelve stones, one to represent each of the tribes of Israel, 32 and he used the stones to rebuild the LORD's altar. Then he dug a trench around the altar large enough to hold about three gallons. 33 He piled wood on the altar, cut the bull into pieces, and laid the pieces on the wood. Then he said, "Fill four large jars with water, and pour the water over the offering and the wood." After they had done this, 34 he said, "Do the same thing again!" And when they were finished, he said, "Now do it a third time!" So they did as he said, 35 and the water ran around the altar and even overflowed the trench. 36 At the customary time for offering the evening sacrifice, Elijah the prophet walked up to the altar and prayed, "O LORD, God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, prove today that you are God in Israel and that I am your servant. Prove that I have done all this at your command. 37 O LORD, answer me! Answer me so these people will know that you, O LORD, are God and that you have brought them back to yourself." 38 Immediately the fire of the LORD flashed down from heaven and burned up the young bull, the wood, the stones, and the dust. It even licked up all the water in the ditch! 39 And when the people saw it, they fell on their faces and cried out, "The LORD is God! The LORD is God!" 1 Kings 18:30-39
Church on top of Mount Carmel
Perhaps you need to rejuvenate your faith. Maybe you lost your faith and you want to find it again. Where have you been looking? Are you dancing around all the options? Where are you placing your faith?
I encourage you to stop dancing around your problems. Stop cutting yourself with the dagger of doubt and drop the spear of a wavering faith. Place your fears upon the altar. Call upon the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and may His Holy Spirit come down on you like fire and burn away every doubt and fear so there is nothing left but His presence.
May you filled with the fire of His Spirit today.
…I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me… Deuteronomy 5:9
This is a tough passage to read in today’s world. Why should we be punished for the sins of our parents. It doesn’t seem fair. But it happens. Read on…
I must say that I received some good wisdom on this passage from a book I’ve been reading called, The Year of Living Biblically by A.J. Jacobs. Here’s the book on Amazon. A.J. is a self proclaimed agnostic. But he wanted to learn more about himself and faith so he ventured into writing this book. As he ponders God, he came across this passage. He likens the relationship that God has with his children and that A.J. has with his own.
If you interpret this passage to mean that a child would be struck down with a disease if his grandfather did something morally wrong or corrupt than such a God would seem cruel. If God is a fair God as the Church teaches, wouldn’t each person be born with a clean slate for themselves to tarnish? But A.J. (and I) don’t think that God is threatening us with such an outcome.
Think about a child. A child’s behavior is learned, usually by their parents. If you as a parent cuss, then get ready to hear those same words coming from the mouth of your three year old. If you cheat on your taxes, you’re teaching little Suzy to do the same. Men, do you ogle women? Chances are, Jr. is going to view women through the same set of glasses as you. I think you get the point. Children, whether they like it or not, often grow up to be the parents that shaped them.
Let’s go back to that verse. God is talking about worshiping other idols. If we worship idols, then God will punish “the children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation.” This could mean that when parents act badly, their bad behavior will be passed down to the next few generations. Consider how the New Living Translation interprets it, “I lay the sins of the parents upon their children; the entire family is affected—even children in the third and fourth generations of those who reject me.”
Do I believe that my children will face some kind of retribution two generations from now if I ignore the speed limit? No. I really don’t. But I do believe that behavior is learned and we pass down our behavior to our children. When they act bad, isn’t it fair to say that there is a part of us acting through them? And isn’t it fair to say that our children will face the consequences of our lifestyle?
Now don’t read too much into this. We are responsible for our own behaviors. Plus, I don’t think this kind of defense would hold up in court. “Your honor, the reason that I stole that loaf of bread is because 75 years ago my great grandfather didn’t return that wallet he found with all the money in it.” (Of course, if you think that kind of defense would work, please let me know when your court date is. I want to be there when try it out.)
I do believe this. I am called to live with Jesus Christ as my measuring stick for my behavior. The more I model Christ, the more the generations that follow me will also model him.
God’s words in Deuteronomy serve more as a love warning than anything else. Your behaviors follow you. You have a responsibility to those that come after you. Change your behavior and you will change for family tree in a way that it will produce abundantly.
A woman faces a possible fine and jail time for baptizing her two children (ages 5 and 7) without first notifying her ex-husband. According to www.foxnews.com Lauren Jarrell, a Presbyterian, “must face a criminal contempt hearing for violating a court order that said major decisions regarding the religious upbringing of her two children should be made jointly with the children's father.” The father, Emmett Blake Jarrell, a Methodist, preferred the kids be baptized when they are older and can better understand the significance of the sacrament.
Speaking as a Presbyterian pastor, we believe that when a young child is brought to be baptized, that child is presented on behalf of the parent’s faith. I have to wonder, did Lauren’s pastor ask where the dad is? If the pastor knew the father disapproved and proceeded with the baptism, why is he/she not being charged with violating the court order also? Because the pastor is not mentioned in this story, I am assuming he/she was not aware of the court order. But it is an observation worth noting.
Assuming Lauren withheld the information of the court order from the pastor, how can she in good conscious and Christian faith bring her children forward to be baptized? One of the questions she would have answered as part of the ceremony is, “Do you intend to provide for his/her Christian nurture?” Call me crazy, but deception is not part of Christian nurture.
The father is not upset that his two kids are baptized. Emmett is upset because they were not baptized in a way that he himself wanted them to be baptized. He wanted them to first have a better understanding of the sacrament. It should be noted that both the Presbyterian and Methodist Churches practice infant baptism. We baptize infants because we believe that God Himself initiates our relationship with Him and grace works in our lives before we are even aware of it or can understand it. If the father is a good Methodist he should not have issue with his children being baptized. This is not to side with the mother; I just question the father’s motives.
Then there are the kids. They will grow up viewing this event not as a ceremony in which they were brought before God to be received into His family but as an event which divided their parents and introduced court proceedings. What do you think that will do to their faith? If these children are being brought up on their parent’s faith, I wonder if they will ever want to have a relationship with God, let alone be baptized if given the option.
This is a sad story. Infant or adult baptism; we believe that God is doing something. At a minimum Christians believe that God is symbolically claiming the baptized person into His family. Can we trick God into accepting someone? Doesn’t God have a say in this? If God is all-knowing, would he willingly accept a child into his Church knowing the child’s father was being deceived? God is not a God of deception, but a God of truth. If I was the pastor who baptized these two children, I would be conflicted. Should I sign that baptismal certificate and record it with the church or tell the mom God won’t honor her deception? These parents have made the sacrament of baptism not about God or their children, but about themselves. They have used deception and revenge to try and control God. If God is the one central to baptism, why is He being left out?
…whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” ~ Mark 10:43-45
In the town I grew up there was a Denny’s. Open 24 hours it served every walk of life. People ate breakfast and grabbed their coffees on weekday mornings before heading off to work. Teenagers hung out on weekend nights getting ice cream with their friends because they weren’t old enough to stay out past their curfews. After 2:00 am when the bars closed there was a whole new group of people who arrived. (I think this group might be why there are pictures of the food on the menus. They can just point at an item and say, “I want that.” Face it, it’s hard to say Moons Over My Hammy” when you’ve had too much to drink.) I was a part of the crowd that showed up on Saturday mornings before soccer games. Denny’s is for everyone. It’s a church of fellowship of sorts.
I know a lot of people who treat their church like Denny’s. They always expect the church to be open when they arrive. They sit at their “table.” They may even have a waiter, aka usher, bring them to their seats. They see their friends and talk about the week in between Sundays. Everyone has a good time and everyone enjoys the fellowship. After a cup of coffee, they go home with the expectation of repeating the process the following week.
There’s nothing wrong with the fellowship of the church. Without fellowship, there’s something missing. We need that human interaction to feel human ourselves. But everything I just described can take place at Denny’s. The friends, the food, the fellowship…
If we want to get real about our faith, we have to accept the fact that the church is more than a place to serve up fellowship. You can get that at the church of Denny’s.
When you walk into your church are you ready to do more than receive something for yourself? Are you ready for yourself to be the offering? To give yourself over to Christ? To let him take you, not just your order or your tip, and use you to do his will?
Call me mad, but the church is not just a place of fellowship. And to go to church for the fellowship alone means that you haven’t grasped what it means to be a follower of Christ. The church is a place to feed our faith yes. But it’s a place where we go not to be served, but to learn how to serve others.
Are you ready to cancel your membership at the church of Denny’s? Then put on your apron, come into the church of Christ and be his servant.
My wife and I are thinking about getting a dog. Dogs can be a lot of work. But there are a few things about dogs that really rock; dogs love you. They always want to be near you or play catch. Dogs are loyal. I have seen dogs that have been mistreated by their owners; yelled at, swatted on the nose, even kicked. But when the owner comes home, the dog wags his tail.
Dogs can be trained. I knew a pastor in Iowa who owned a beautiful Akita. The dog went with him everywhere. If there was a long meeting, the pastor would take his dog and sit him down in front of the church. He would tell the dog to stay and there Fido* sat until the master returned.
Maybe this is why we love dogs. They will always love us. They are loyal, even when mistreated. They can be trained to do what we want them to do. Oh how we wish that Jesus could be like that.
Let’s face it, if we’re not really serious about our relationship with Jesus, we treat him like a dog. I don’t mean dog in the sense of a girl who dumps her cheating boyfriend, “I dumped that dog!” I mean dog in the sense that we can treat Jesus any way we want knowing that he will always love us and be loyal to us. And if we act just right or say the right things, we might even be able to train Jesus to do what we want him to do.
How do you know if you treat Jesus like a dog? Ask yourself the following. Do you
· Ask Jesus to wait in the car while you go into work?
· Put him in the back room of your house when friends are over?
· Expect him to love you even when you don’t treat him like you should?
· Expect him to come running to you when you call his name?
· Expect to be able to train him to do what you want him to do?
When you think about your relationship with Jesus, what images come to mind? Is he walking along side you on a leash so you can keep some control over him, or do you cut that leash loose and allow him to establish the course of your journey? Are you willing to follow him for a change and allow him to set the direction of your life? Perhaps we are the ones who should show a little loyalty and eagerly await for Jesus to call our name. What would you say if he did?
* I don’t remember the dog’s actual name. But I think we can all agree that Fido is the universal name for dogs. And if you’re concerned, I don’t remember the pastor’s name either. But it was Iowa and the story is true
The other day I noticed my laptop was running out of power, but the power cord was inserted. Great, my laptop is dying. I can’t live without this thing. How am I supposed to write all these great articles for you to read without my computer right?
I double checked the cord. It was pushed into the laptop. I checked my settings. Everything seemed fine. Maybe my battery was going dead. But that doesn’t make sense, it’s plugged in. So why was the unit about to die? Well it turns out the other end of the cord wasn’t plugged into the wall. Hey, at least I figured it out before the pc died.
How many times do you find yourself running out of power? When your battery runs down, what do you plug into? Better yet, is what you plug into enough?
The world offers a lot of power sources. Some good, some not so good. We have self help books, therapy, prescriptions meds and friends. These are great power boosters. But they can’t be our only source. When we treat them as the sole source of our power we can become addicted to them or wear them out. When we abuse them, they will fail us.
We need a power source that never goes out. Not when there’s a storm, high winds, or too much demand. We need a perfect source; a clean, steady stream of energy that gives us the power we need.
Jesus said, “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die; and whoever lives by believing in me will never die. Do you believe this?” (John 11:25-26) Right after he said this, he raised someone from the dead. The world has a lot of power, but I’ve never seen one that raised someone who was dead a few days.
Plug into Jesus. His power never runs out. The only thing left to say is the question Jesus asks, “Do you believe this?”
I bought a new snow blower this year. I was tired of having to take a shovel to the ice and snow at the end of the driveway that my smaller blower couldn’t handle. I made the plunge and bought a big metal, 208 cc, rust resistant snow blower with 11 in. steel serrated augers, electric start, and alloy steel gears….(caveman sounds) AAAUUUggggg Aarrrggh, Ahhh ah Ahhhh ahhh!!!
Boy did that baby blow! (Insert your own joke here.) I could practically hit the neighbor’s house across the street! Yes! No more shoveling for me!
I pulled my new snow blower out this weekend for the second snow of the season. Four inches. No problem. My baby can handle it. I was half done with the driveway when I noticed something…. the whole machine was wobbly. It was bending sideways back and forth. It looked more like a slinky than a snow blower. The bolts holding it together were literally breaking apart and falling off. My precious snow blower was about to be in pieces!
Turns out the bolts that held the machine together were not properly heat treated when they were made. They were brittle and couldn’t take the stress of a moving machine. Because they were falling apart my favorite new winter machine was falling apart. It didn’t matter if the engine was strong and the transmission worked, the machine as a whole is only as good as the bolts that hold it together.
What are the bolts that are holding your life together? Can they handle the stress of life? Or are you risking falling apart because the bolts of your life are overburdened, overstressed, or just not properly made?
We all have something to keep our lives together. Sometimes its family, work, church, friends, even alcohol and drugs. We use any manner of things to keep it together. But everything, eventually will fail us. Nothing can compete with the stress of life. Except the One who made life.
In speaking of Jesus, the apostle Paul said, “all things were created by him and for him. He is before all thins, and in him all things hold together.” (1 Corinthians 1:16b-17)
If you are looking for something to hold your life together look to the one who created life. He understands you. He made you! And if he can hold the universe and all creation together, think how much he can do for you!
By the way, I took my failing snow blower back to the store and they traded it for an upgrade at a deep discount for my inconvenience. I almost can’t wait for it to snow again. And just to be sure, I swapped out some key bolts with new stainless steel ones.