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.
We all hope for something. We hope for a better job, a bright future for our children, early retirement, a long, rich life.
Did you know that when you hope, you are modeling God’s character?
Let’s take a look at the Christmas story as an incredible example of God’s hope.
By today’s standards, Mary is a girl. A teenager at best. Perhaps a high school student. She’s engaged to be married. She’s never been a wife. She’s never raised her own children.
Joseph is the man to whom she’s engaged. We don’t know much about him. He’s not a rich man. But a man with skill in a trade. A man who comes home and shakes the sawdust off his jeans and washes the sweat off his face. Who has callused hands from his work as a carpenter.
This is the couple chosen to raise the Son of God.
Not a King and Queen
Not the president and the first lady
Not William and Kate
Not even Brad and Angelina
Just ordinary Joseph and Mary.
This is the couple God has chosen. This is the couple in whom God has placed his hope; who will raise the Son of God, the Lion of Judah, the Savior of the world, Immanuel, God with Us.
A young girl who has no experience in raising a child herself. Whose child would be doing homework before she herself graduates high school. And some guy who, until an angel sets him straight, seriously considers walking out on her because the child she carries is not his own.
God certainly knows how to create a situation that requires hope. Not just a situation that requires Mary and Joseph to place their hope in God. But for God to place his hope in them.
And God places his hope in you as well. Every talent you possess, every day you have been given, is an opportunity for you to fulfill the hope God has placed in you.
Hope is not wishful thinking. It is trusting in the promise of God. That he has a future and a plan for you. God has placed his hope in you. What will you do with it? Something to think about as you begin your week.
Outside my church office is our kids playground. That playground is surrounded by a fence. We see fences lots of places; around gardens, schools, entire neighborhoods. We see fences around prisons.
Fences keep things that are on the inside in, and those things that are on the outside from getting in.
Just like the fence around our playground, most fences have a gate. If you control the gate, you control what can go in and out of your fenced area.
Jesus shared a story about a gate; a gate and two men. One man was rich. He lived in his house behind a gate. Everyday he sat at his table and ate an extravagant meal. The other man was a beggar who sat on the other side of the rich man's gate. The beggar woke up every morning to hunger. The gate between them was closed.
I think this gate symbolizes the rich man's heart. He could have helped the beggar at any time. But, like the gate, his heart was closed to helping others.
Take some time this week to think about the gates in your life. Is there someone to whom you need to offer forgiveness. Unlock the gate to your heart and let that forgiveness pour out. Is there someone or something in your life that needs to come in? Open up that gate and let it in.
I don't know what the situations in your life are but I do know this. You and only you control the gate to your heart. Isn't time to unlock some of those gates and enter into a life that God has prepared for you?
Sea of Galilee
One day, along the shore of the Sea of Galilee, Jesus made the disciples get in a boat. He didn’t say, “When you’re ready, get in the boat” or “After you’ve gathered everything and said your goodbyes to everyone you’ve met, get in the boat.” Jesus made the disciples get in the boat. A more accurate translation would read, Jesus forced/compelled/urged/insisted that the disciples get in the boat.
It was this very boat trip that the disciples got caught in the storm. All night the boat was tossed about by the wind and the waves. The disciples remained far from the land because the wind was against them. There’s a sense that the wind has been personified. It is against the disciples. It’s personal. It does not want them to make it back to shore where Jesus is.
What has always amazed me is that Jesus must have known this was going to happen. Yet, he made the disciples get into the boat. Jesus knew the disciples were going to suffer. He wanted them to experience life in the world without him. And the disciples learn that the world is against them.
When Jen and I were in Israel we took a boat ride on the Sea of Galilee. I could picture the disciples out on the middle of this sea. For us, it was a calm day. But the thought of a storm coming up and swallowing our boat did come to mind. Then our guide shared something I never knew before. The wind for this particular sea comes from all four directions. I thought of the disciples. They truly were being persecuted by the world.
There is good news to this story. In the middle of the night, at the darkest, windiest hour, Jesus came walking on the water toward the disciples. When the disciples see Jesus they are afraid, they think he’s a ghost. I suppose that’s not a stretch considering that this really was an unholy storm. But Jesus calms their fears when he identifies himself by saying, “Take courage. It is I. Do not be afraid.” (Mat 14:27) Once Jesus is in the boat the wind dies and the sea calms down.
This begs the question, has Jesus made you do something that you’re afraid of? What is the boat that Jesus is making you get into? Is it a conversation with someone? Is it facing your addiction? It won’t be easy. You know it, Jesus knows it. But we know that while we may have to face something, we won’t have to face it alone. Before hope is lost, Jesus comes. If we let him into our lives, the storms of life will calm down.
The miracle in this story is not that Jesus walked on water. I’ve seen that done by other magicians. I even saw a guy make a train disappear. Don’t get me wrong, Jesus did something amazing by walking on water. But other people have mimicked that. The miracle of this story is that Jesus brought order out of the chaos of the world. That’s power my friends.
Do you need a little more order in your world? Then get in the boat. Face your storm. It’s not an option. But then again, if you look, you’ll see Jesus coming toward you. Let him in.
Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and
eat with him, and he with me. ~ Jesus, in Revelation 3:20
The world is full of options. Just try to order food at a restaurant without hearing the words, “Do you want a side with that, we have several options…” Things are the same when it comes to finding purpose in your
personal life. There is no shortage of choices when it comes to finding meaning in life. As the Mad Pastor,
I want you to consider Jesus to be your last option.
Many people look for meaning in their families. I’ve known moms and dads who have found great comfort in raising their children. Kids make mistakes and shame their parents. They grow up and move out. When that happens, those parents struggle with living in an empty home. Purpose is lost.
Couples without kids may find happiness in their relationship with each other. But people fail us.
Relationships end. Husbands grow old and frail. We’ve all known a man or woman who has face great hardships after the loss of a loved one. When we lose another, we lose ourselves.
Money and power are tempting options. We all seem to envy those with big houses, nice cars. We’ve all dreamt of winning the lottery and what we’d do with our newfound riches. And yet, have you ever seen the documentaries on those who have won the lottery and found themselves devoid of any true relationship or even filing for bankruptcy?
Yes, the world provides a lot of options. I’ve touched on just a few. Many options are even good ones… for
a season. But all options run out at some point. There is an option beyond this world.
Often times, people go to Jesus Christ when all other options have run out. They’ve tried everything else, there’s nothing left so they turn to him. It’s then that they find true life, true purpose in living in Christ. Sometimes you’ll hear someone say that they would have saved a lot of time if they had gone to Jesus sooner.
If you’re looking for purpose in your life, if you want to find meaning you’ll find that there are an almost unlimited number of options waiting for you. Why don’t you respond to the option that is not just waiting for you but looking for you… even knocking on your door? Save yourself a lot of time and disappointment, open the door to Jesus and make him your last option. Once you found him, you won’t need anything
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
Every Sunday I stand before the congregation and I give a sermon on what I believe God is telling me to preach. It takes a lot of prayer and discerning to get a sense of what God wants me to say. But one thing I’ve always been convinced of, God does not want people in the church to simply know about Christ…
I grew up knowing a lot about Jesus. I knew he was the Son of God. I knew he was born of a virgin. I knew he taught people and healed them. He managed to get 12 men to follow him who were so devoted that they dedicated the rest of their lives to continuing his ministry. I even knew Jesus died on the cross and was raised from the dead 3 days later. I knew a lot about Jesus.
The problem was, I didn’t know Jesus. I knew about him. Unfortunately, I wasn’t aware of this simple fact.
When I was a teenager I went to church camp. I was a great church camper. I was a good student. I knew all the answers. I paid attention. I listened. But one night I heard. I don’t remember the speaker’s name, the stories or jokes he told. But I remember hearing what he said about Jesus.
I always knew Jesus died. But I learned he died for me. For me! I knew he was raised from the dead. I could be raised from the dead too! That night I went from knowing about Jesus, to knowing Jesus.
Do you know about Jesus? Maybe you go to Church every Sunday. You might even volunteer with an organization or two. You may know a lot about Jesus. You may know more than the pastor preaching the message. But do you know Jesus?
Jesus wants you to know him. He knows you. He loves you. He came to prepare a way for you to know him. He died for you. He defeated death for you. He is preparing a place for you. Do you want to know about those things? Is it enough to know about all the things that Jesus has done? Or is it something more to know him, to live with him, to go to the place he has prepared for you?
Jesus said, “I am the Good Shepherd, I know my sheep and my sheep know me.” (John 10:14) This know is an intimate kind of know. He knows their name, what they like, what they fear, what they need. If Jesus is your shepherd, he will know you. He will know what makes you happy, what brings you peace, your favorite movie line (He knows my favorite movie line is: King Arthur to God: “Good idea Lord;” God to King Arthur, “Of course it’s a good idea!”). He will know your favorite song, your hopes and dreams. And he knows how to save you.
Jesus doesn’t just know about you. He knows you. Do you know him?
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.
Ever have one of those conversations when you ask someone how they are doing and they look back at you, shrug their shoulders and say, “I’m surviving.”
We’ve all had seasons in our lives when things are tough. We’re glad just to make it through the day. We know things will get better, but for the time being we’ll get by with just surviving.
I’ve had those times. But the thing is, I don’t want to live my life “just surviving.” I don’t want to look back on my years and see a life of no substance. Because a life of survival is a life without significance. I don’t need to be a rock star, but I want my life to mean something. In order for my life to be more than it is, I have to be more than I am. And the best way to be more than I am, is to let Christ live in me. Because if I have Christ in me, I am more than the sum of my genes. I am a new creation filled with the Spirit of God himself.
Jesus wants you to be more than the flesh and blood you are. Surviving is not what God has called you to do. He has created you to live. He has created you to experience the life he has laid out for you. And just to make sure you got the message, he sent his Son to give you His very life. So that you can be more. So that you can have more.
Jesus said, “I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.” John 10:10b
Jesus doesn’t want you to survive. He wants you to have an abundant life. Are you ready to live it?