Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Joyful Urgency

Mark 6: 7-13 (from The Message)
Jesus called the Twelve to him, and sent them out in pairs. He gave them authority and power to deal with the evil opposition. He sent them off with these instructions:

“Don’t think you need a lot of extra equipment for this. You are the equipment. No special appeals for funds. Keep it simple. And no luxury inns. Get a modest place and be content there until you leave. If you’re not welcomed, not listened to, quietly withdraw. Don’t make a scene. Shrug your shoulders and be on your way.”

Then they were on the road. They preached with joyful urgency that life can be radically different; right and left they sent the demons packing; they brought wellness to the sick, anointing their bodies, healing their spirits.

From my journal: 12/14/2000

Now here's something worth emulating: "They preached with joyful urgency...." Not intense warnings of doom; not flaming arrows aimed at the heathen culture. Instead, a declaration of Good News; of escape and improvement from the evils of the day; of faith that lends assurance and strength.

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Truth is...I'm not sure if anyone has ever come to faith in Jesus because of losing an argument. The world could use a lot fewer preachers yelling at non-Christians for behaving like non-Christians and a lot more people who proclaim with lives of joyful urgency that there's a better way. "For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him." (John 3:17) Or, as Peterson puts it in The Message, "God didn’t go to all the trouble of sending his Son merely to point an accusing finger, telling the world how bad it was. He came to help, to put the world right again."

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

How Scriptural IS Your Nativity Scene?

A San Diego-based company is getting a lot of press...and a lot of flak...concerning its 2016 creation of a Nativity set designed as if Jesus were born to a Millennial couple in 2016. The wise men are on Segways, bearing gifts from Amazon Prime. A shepherd is posting the event on Instagram. The "100% Organic" cow is eating gluten-free feed.

And at the center of it all, in a solar-paneled stable, are the new parents, sipping a Starbucks and taking selfies.

Not surprisingly, there are two equal and opposite reactions to this product. Some think it's hilarious and they're buying the sets as fast as they can be produced. Others think it's sacrilegious and are condemning it loud and long.

But before anybody gets out the tar and feathers, maybe we should stop and consider...just how Scriptural (or not) are the "traditional" Nativity scenes (which have only been around for about 700 years or so)?

It's nothing new to mention that the Bible does not specify the number of wise men, just the number of gifts. And it's probably good to remind ourselves that there's no Scriptural precedent for having the wise men and the shepherds visiting the baby at the same time.

But how about that meeting place? Why have it all take place in a stable?

Presumably, because of Luke 2:7, which in the King James translation says, "And she brought forth her firstborn son, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes,and laid him in a manger; because there was no room for them in the inn."

We read that and in our minds we think, "No vacancy at the local motel; a manger is a feeding trough for animals; that adds up to Mary and Joseph being in a stable, right?"

Not necessarily.

There are some other factors to put into our mental equation:

  • Bethlehem was Joseph's ancestral home. (That's why they were going there to register with the government.) He had family there.
  • Extending hospitality to family members was (and is) very important in the Semitic culture.

Joseph and Mary would be staying with family, not in some generic "inn". And that makes the NIV's alternate translation of the word "inn" more likely: "...there was no guest room available for them."

"But wait a minute!" you interject. "If they were at a relative's house, what's the deal with laying the baby in a manger?"

Good question...and here's what I think is a good answer.

According to my Adult Bible Fellowship (aka Sunday School) teacher, who got his info from N. T. Wright's Luke for Everyone, a standard house in first century Palestine would have two rooms: the main room where all the cooking and living took place, and a guest room/sleeping area where the family was always prepared to accept guests and offer hospitality. Also likely was the existence of a kind of lean-to along the outside of a wall of the main room that served as shelter for any animals a family might have. And in that wall would be an opening or two that the sheltered horse or mule or whatever could stick its head through to eat hay or feed from the manger that was on the INSIDE of the wall of the main room.

So here's how it could have all gone down...

Joseph and the very pregnant Mary arrive at Joseph's relative's house and are welcomed to stay in the main room, as the guest room is already filled because of the massive influx of people coming to register with the government. Mary delivers her baby (Jesus), wraps him up, and lays him in the only available cradle: a feeding trough.

An extra point in this interpretation's favor is that it eliminates the need for Mary and Joseph to purchase a house and live in Bethlehem for two years before the wise men show up.

Truth is...this isn't going to change anyone's life, unless it causes someone to be a little less judgmental and self-righteous. And in that case...have yourself a merry little Christmas!

Tuesday, December 13, 2016


The challenge was simple: Describe yourself in three fictional characters.

Fairly quickly, I came up with my answers and posted them on Facebook. Then a friend from church said, "I want to hear at least two reasons for each character you've selected. Though I think you've chosen wisely."

That's when the REAL introspection began...


A truly honest man, who possesses a deep appreciation for friends (and whose friends return that love and respect); also feels like he kind of fell into his career without having pursued his childhood dreams


Adores his wife unceasingly; takes joy in being creative, even if he looks foolish at times


A real rule-keeper who isn't as influential as he likes to think he is

Truth is...it was a good exercise, and only coincidental, I trust, that all three are in black and white.

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Church is Not an Option

Many are the times I've heard someone say something to the effect of "I don't need to be part of a church. The forest [or mountain or beach or prairie] is my sanctuary. I can worship God wherever I am."

True enough...if we just consider the last sentence. But if we are to worship God "in spirit and in truth" (John 4:24)  -  with our hearts, yes, but also rightly/Scripturally  -  we cannot do it completely on our own.

And I'm not just talking about checking off church membership on a list of required duties. There's something in it for us besides just keeping a rule or obeying a command. In The Normal Christian Life, Watchman Nee writes about the personal benefit of being a Christian as part of a larger group.

Romans 12:3-6 draws from the figure of the human body the lesson of our inter-dependence. Individual Christians are not the Body. They are its members, and in a human body "all the members have not the same office". The ear must not imagine itself to be an eye. No amount of prayer will give sight to the ear  -  but the whole body can see through the eye. So (speaking figuratively) I may have only the gift of hearing, but I can see through others who have the gift of sight; or, perhaps I can walk but cannot work, so I receive help from the hands. An all-too-common attitude to the things of the Lord is that, "What I know, I know; and what I don't know, I don't know, and can do quite well without." But in Christ, the things we do not know others do, and we may know them and enter into the enjoyment of them through others.

Let me stress that this is not just a comfortable thought. It is a vital factor in the life of God's people. We cannot get along without one another. That is why fellowship in prayer is so important. Prayer together brings in the help of the Body, as must be clear from Matthew 18:19-20. Trusting the Lord by myself may not be enough. I must trust Him with others. I must learn to pray "Our Father..." on the basis of oneness with the Body, for without the help of the Body I cannot get through. In the sphere of service this is even more apparent. Alone I cannot serve the Lord effectively, and He will spare no pains to teach me this. He will bring things to an end, allowing doors to close and leaving me ineffectively knocking my head against a blank wall until I realize that I need the help of the Body as well as of the Lord. For the life of Christ is the life of the Body, and His gifts are given to us for work that builds up the Body.

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Truth is...we are all individuals, and God certainly saves each person, not just a faceless group of people. But the New Testament tells us nothing about such a thing as a Lone Ranger Christian. As Nee puts it: "God does not blame me for being an individual, but for my individualism. His greatest problem is not the outward divisions and denominations that divide His Church but our own individualistic hearts."