Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Archive for the ‘Advent/Christmas’ Category

This is how the birth of Jesus Christ came about: His mother Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be with child through the Holy Spirit. Because Joseph her husband was a righteous man and did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly. But after he had considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.”
All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: “The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel”–which means, “God with us.”
When Joseph woke up, he did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took Mary home as his wife. But he had no union with her until she gave birth to a son. And he gave him the name Jesus.
Matthew 1:18-25 (NIV)

 Joseph’s reaction and actions were determined by him being a “righteous man. What are you known for, identified as? A patient woman will react and act differently than a woman known for her temper. A generous man’s reactions and actions will not be same as the those of a miser or greedy man. A wise person will make different choices than a fool.

Joseph had a reputation of being a “righteous man.” It is one thing to be righteous in your own eyes (Luke 18:9) and quite another to be called righteous by God, your family, and the people in your town. You can’t get a “righteous’ man/woman reputation overnight, it requires acting righteously consistently over time. But you will never have that reputation if don’t start sometime, like today.

When we meet Joseph in the Word of God (the Bible) he already has this reputation of being “a righteous man.” Notice, it did not protect him from bad news and hurt. His fiancé told him she was pregnant and he knew he wasn’t the father, which could only mean one thing, she betrayed him – ouch! How would you handle that? We know Joseph handled it as a “righteous man.” Which meant what?

  • Right Actions – Regardless of how he felt, he didn’t act in inappropriate, vindictive, ugly, kneejerk, foolish, sinful, and regrettable ways.
  • Right Heart – Her betrayal and his hurt didn’t snuff out his compassion, his dislike of public mudslinging, his love of mercy and grace.
  • Right Reaction – He pushed the pause button, he “considered,” his options, what godliness looked like in this situation, and most importantly Mary, the woman who betrayed him.

Joseph’s righteous disposition, his righteous habits, his righteous heart enabled him to handle the situation in a righteous way. Because he was and acted righteously, he was;

  • Able to hear God – I don’t think it too far fetched to imagine Joseph praying about what to do, bringing his hurt and confusion before God, asking him to help and direct him.
  • Able to believe God – Accepting that your fiancé’s pregnancy is a result of the Holy Spirit’s action is some serious faith.
  • Able to follow God – which meant he would change his plans, marry Mary instead of divorcing her, raise the child as his own, and put his own dreams and needs on hold.

It is a lot easier to be unrighteous than righteous, but it is a lot better to be righteous than unrighteous. Before Christmas we do a lot of wrapping, Joseph had been wrapping himself with righteousness, and what a difference it made.

Merry Christmas. Love you, Pastor Hans

 

Read Full Post »

Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, wise men from the east came to Jerusalem, saying, “Where is he who has been born king of the Jews? For we saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.” …  going into the house they saw the child with Mary his mother, and they fell down and worshiped him. Then, opening their treasures, they offered him gifts, gold and frankincense and myrrh. Matthew 2:1-2 & 11 (ESV, italics mine)

“You shall have no other gods before Me. You shall not make for yourself an idol, or any likeness of what is in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the water under the earth. You shall not worship them or serve them; for I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children, and on the third and the fourth generations of those who hate Me, but showing lovingkindness to thousands, to those who love Me and keep My commandments.” Deuteronomy 5:7-10 (NASB)

We are all worshippers; it is what God created us to be. This means we all worship someone or something. It is not a matter of if, but of who or what you worship. Maybe you’re already strongly objecting, “Not me, I’m not even religious!”

Worshippers bow down, prostrate themselves, pay homage to someone or something. They honor, respect, and submit to a reality greater than themselves. Their hearts embrace, ‘kiss’ (literally in ancient times), and acknowledge a superior power. You don’t have to be religious to that, you can even worship yourself, but that would be a serious delusion.

The Eastern Wise Men who sought to worship the infant Jesus were not atheists, few people in the ancient world were, most likely they were polytheists (believing in many gods). What we know for sure is that they were intelligent enough to know that it makes no sense to worship just anything. They understood enough to know that whatever they worshipped had to be greater than the stars and universe they were observing. They followed the evidence the universe and all of nature presents, namely, that before and behind all we can see and observe must be something or someone much greater, much older, and much more powerful. They also understood that we don’t get to choose who or what that is because he/it already was, and all of the universe, including you and me, is subject to him/it. And, these wise men knew that the universe testifies to more than a lifeless beginning, it does not declare an it but a HIM, because it drips with wisdom, with design, with creativity, with imagination, and, especially for us to see here on earth, with life. The most natural response to these truths and realities is to worship at the feet of the one who made all of that.

Modern man likes to think of him/herself as more advanced but in truth, we are not far removed from the those who worshipped and still worship rocks, fetishes, ancestors, handmade idols, nature, or gods who resemble narcissistic flawed human beings more than the divine, all of them part of this physical world and mere human imagination. We moderns have built different altars but of the same kind and with the same limitations, altars of scientific knowledge, academia (please note I am not against either), personal spiritual truth, or general godlessness that allows to us worship whatever we want. None of these can transcend this creation but are merely part of it.

When those wise men worshipped Jesus, they worshipped him “who was and is and is to come” (Revelation 4:8), the one true beginning from whose heart, mind, and power everything we see and perceive with our senses has originated, who will judge the living and the dead, and who alone is worthy to be worshipped, “whenever the living creatures give glory and honor and thanks to him who is seated on the throne (of eternity), who lives forever and ever, the twenty-four elders fall down before him who is seated on the throne and worship him who lives forever and ever. They cast their crowns before the throne, saying, ‘Worthy are you, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for you created all things, and by your will they existed and were created’” Revelation 4:9-11 (ESV).

Christmas is and always has been a call to forsake idolatry, personal spiritual preferences, and ideas and instead worship Jesus Christ, God in the flesh, God with us, God Almighty, God alone.

Merry Christmas. Pastor Hans

 

 

 

 

 

Read Full Post »

Christmas and the Revelation and the Knowledge of God

The revelation of God, the knowledge of God comes to us in four ways: The Cosmos, Scripture, Experience, and Jesus Christ:

  • Creation, the cosmos, the physical world

“Where is the newborn king of the Jews? We saw his star as it rose, and we have come to worship him,” the wise men asked Matthew 2:2 (NLT2, italics mine). The entire cosmos, from what is seen through the most advanced telescope to what is revealed under the most powerful microscope or super-collider, reveals God, “… ever since the world was created, people have seen the earth and sky. Through everything God made, they can clearly see his invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature. So they have no excuse for not knowing God” Romans 1:20 (NLT2). Every sunset picture you snapped, every night sky you looked up into, every facet of the natural sciences is an invitation to discover God, to search for this amazing Creator and life-giver until you find him.

  • Scripture, the Bible, is God’s written revelation.

King Herod called a meeting of the leading priests and teachers of religious law and asked, ‘Where is the Messiah supposed to be born?’
‘In Bethlehem in Judea,’ they said, ‘for this is what the prophet wrote: And you, O Bethlehem in the land of Judah, are not least among the ruling cities of Judah, for a ruler will come from you who will be the shepherd for my people Israel.’”
Matthew 2:4-6 (NLT2, italics mine). Scripture, the Bible, gives an understanding of God, his nature, his ways, and his plans we cannot get from observing our physical world alone. You can’t learn God’s name from reading DNA, nor can you learn from astronomy God’s workings in human history. Among many things, apart from scripture we wouldn’t know the depth of our depravity and sinfulness or its consequences, we wouldn’t know our true identity of being image-bearers of God himself, and we wouldn’t know of God’s great love for us and his provision to save us from our sins.

  • Faith Experience

“We saw his star as it rose, and we have come to worship him.”…
“When they saw the star, they were filled with joy!  They entered the house and saw the child with his mother, Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasure chests and gave him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh”
Matthew 2:2&10-11 (NLT2). There is a knowledge of God that only comes through faith, through trusting what he says, following his directions, doing what he tells us to do and be (as opposed to what not to do and be). The Eastern wise men didn’t travel for hundreds of miles to merely have someone tell them about Jesus, they wanted to see him, worship him, and honor him with their gifts. They experienced Jesus by putting together what the night sky declared, what scripture confirmed, and then responding to that revelation and knowledge through faith. They experienced the reality of the living God and Jesus Christ by believing what they saw and heard enough to saddle up their camels and beginning a whole new life of faith.

  • Jesus Christ

“Now the birth of Jesus Christ was as follows” Matthew 1:18 (NASB). Jesus Christ is more than a mere man, more than a prophet, more than the leader of one of the world’s great religions, he is God incarnate, God in human flesh, Immanuel – “God with us” (Matthew 1:23); it is what Christmas is all about. There is no greater and more personal revelation of God than Jesus, that is why you can’t claim to follow God and bypass Jesus Christ, they are inseparable, “For in Christ lives all the fullness of God in a human body” Colossians 2:9 (NLT2). No king has ever been announced and predicted like Jesus, that is because there is and never will be a king like him, he is Jesus Christ is dressed in a robe dipped in blood, and his name is the Word of God … On his robe and on his thigh he has this name written: KING OF KINGS AND LORD OF LORDS” Revelation 19:16 (NIV); “… at the name of Jesus EVERY KNEE WILL BOW … and that every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” Philippians 2:10-11 (NASB).

How have you responded to God’s revelation of himself? Be a wise man, a wise woman today!

Merry Christmas! Pastor Hans

 

 

 

 

 

 

Read Full Post »

How much time of your life have you spent waiting? On the phone being on hold? In a car stuck in traffic? In a doctor’s office or hospital waiting room? In a checkout line? For a reply to an email, text, an application, or test? For someone to show up?

How good are you at waiting? Are you the patient or impatient kind? Do you progress from irritated, to grumpy, to nasty rather quickly? Let’s face it, we live in a most impatient culture, time is money, waiting wastes the most precious resource of them all – life itself. We want it now, not later! We want things to be in stock or qualify for free same or next day delivery. Heck, we get irritated if the confirmation text or email takes longer than 30 seconds.

Have you ever considered how much waiting God has woven into the fabric of life? How much waiting there is in the Bible? You have to wait nine months to see and hold your baby. Almost everything we eat didn’t grow overnight, needed time to grow and ripen. You can’t speed up the seasons, you have to wait for each one to arrive and take its turn. The earth turns and circles at its own steady pace, it will take 364 from Christmas to Christmas, from New year to New Year. The ancient Israelites yearned for deliverance and freedom for hundreds of years, the Jews were looking for the Messiah for over a thousand years before Jesus appeared. The martyred saints, who have been crying for justice under the altar of God for who knows how long (Revelation 6:9-11), were told to wait a little longer.

From as far back as can remember an Advent Calendar (it counts down the 24 days before Christmas) is part of my Christmas memories. At first, it had just pictures in it, until someone had the bright idea to put a piece of chocolate behind each calendar window – needless to say, some days were raided prematurely, we couldn’t wait. But, Advent still takes 24 days, even though Christmas shopping has sped up, Black Friday shopping now starts early in the week and Cyber Monday will try to catch up.

Waiting slows us down but it does not necessarily mean doing nothing, especially when you are walking through life with God. Since patience is a fruit of the indwelling Spirit of God (Galatians 5:22-23) whenever and for whatever God makes us wait is not without purpose. It is a great paradox that in a world were everything seems to speed up God slows us down, that in a culture that hates to wait, God refuses to speed things up, for people who want things now, God has not opened a convenience store nor offers same-day shipping to expedite answers to prayers.

We are no longer waiting for the first appearance of the Christ (Messiah), we merely remember it, but we are waiting for the return of Christ, the consummation of the ages, the completion of salvation, the execution of complete justice. In that waiting impatience is a dangerous thing, it sidetracks us, gets us out ahead of God, has us running through life at a crazy pace like the rest of our world, with little time for prayer, for worship, for anticipation, reflection, and dependence. Our impatience wants to cram our lives full of what we want. In having us wait, God is trying to create room in our lives for what and how he wants it. We want life to take place at our pace, God is continually inviting us to slow down to his.

How we wait tells a lot about whose agenda we are on, who and what we are most concerned about. How we respond to being slowed down says a lot about what is going on inside of us. What are you waiting on God for this Christmas season? Whose pace are you on during this Advent?

Have you not known? Have you not heard? The LORD is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He does not faint or grow weary; his understanding is unsearchable. He gives power to the faint, and to him who has no might he increases strength. Even youths shall faint and be weary, and young men shall fall exhausted; but they who wait for the LORD shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint. Isaiah 40:28-31 (ESV)

To God be all glory, even when waiting. Love you, Pastor Hans

 

 

 

 

 

Read Full Post »

Christmas – Jesus, the Great and Most Needed Interruption

I remember the look in my kid’s eyes saying it all, “Somebody please stop him!” when I was on a parental roll, taking charge of the situation (usually without consulting Susie), laying down new rules, unleashing a fresh wind in the Frei household.

Have you ever wished for someone to stop you, interrupt you? Like when your mouth just wouldn’t shut up? When you were throwing a fit? When you were making a complete fool of yourself? When you were making lousy choices, spending too much, eating too much, texting while driving, …? When you were mean, petty, arrogant, unkind, or plain dumb or acting stupid?

Of course, there are much weightier things that need interrupting, like addictions, dysfunctional habits, violence, injustice, exploitation, oppression, tyranny, hatred, ignorance, poverty, excuses, lies, unforgiveness, hypocrisy, evil. However, just because something needs interrupting does not mean the interruption is welcome, darkness will fight the light to the bitter end, wrong and evil have no tolerance for interrupters.

“There was no room …” (Luke 2:7) for Jesus Christ in ordinary life, in political life, religious life, and in most people’s personal life. There was no room for the personified Word and will of God no matter how much it was, and still is, needed. Jesus Christ, Son of God, Creator, Source of all life and light came into this world, stepped into history, but he was not understood, human darkness recoiled at his light, and his own did not want him. The “grace and truth”, the innocence, goodness, righteousness, and hope interruption our world so desperately needs still finds few takers, few who will make room for it, welcome it, Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God” John 1:12 (NIV).

It’s striking, unless we outright reject it, how much we dress up Christmas, the incarnation of God, in sentimentality, quaintness, and feel good. Let’s make it a superficial, fleeting interruption. But Christmas, Jesus is about God interrupting us at our core, our worst, in our deepest depravity, in our evil, at our most sinful, our total helplessness, our utter hopelessness, and in the darkest reality of ourselves and all humanity. Will we welcome him there? Will we make room for Christ there? Will we praise God for interrupting us through Christ and proclaim the excellencies of him who called (interrupted) you out of darkness into his marvelous light” 1 Peter 2:9 (ESV, parenthesis mine).

Merry Christmas! Love you, Pastor Hans

 

 

 

 

Read Full Post »

The Interruption of Me, My, Mine

It is an amazing thing to watch the acquisition of the words me, my, and mine.  If you happen to attend a Christmas gathering inhabited with a number of kids below the age of five you will have a front row seat to watching, me, my, and mine.  I guarantee, sooner than later there will be a ruckus because one child will play with a toy given to another child. Then the owner child will inform the taker child that the toy s/he playing with belongs to him/her, “That’s mine!” or simply, “Mine!” will be followed by a determined grab. But the rightful owner is unaware that the usurper is claiming the unofficial rule, or even natural law, that anything left unattended long enough to be taken and played with constitutes a transfer of ownership. Thus the determined grab by the rightful owner will be met by a jerk in the opposite direction and a claim, “No, mine!” And before you know it there will be a physical altercation accompanied with tears and screaming. At this point, the inattentive adults, who were happy that the children were  “playing so nicely together,” are alerted and jump in to correct the situation with various, although often ineffective, strategies.

Of course, these little people have been working on the concept of these words since birth, long before they can articulate it into words. They figure out very quickly who is “my Mommy,” which Mommy might interpret as her being super special (which she is, really), but it really is about that little cutie making sure about “me,” that s/he gets taking care of, is being fed, burped, changed, and cuddled. If you think I am being too cynical just watch what happens when someone comes along and does a better job of the things that are important to that little “me (first).”

Now check out the child who was jealous as she saw her sibling or cousin unwrap a present she really wanted. She is looking for an opportunity, the moment her cousin lays down the coveted toy, she looks around, sees that no one is watching, and swoops in. Meanwhile, the owner child is engaged in playing with something else, happy as can be, until she spots cousin with the toy she wasn’t caring about at the moment. Did you see her mood change? The different look in her eyes? The indignation? Me, My, Mine taking over? She glares with disgust at the intervening adults who are trying to encourage her to share. “Hypocrites,” she thinks, although she doesn’t know that word yet, “Let me see you do that when someone uses your toys without asking! It’s my toy and I get to use it when I want to use it.”

While addressing the child owner the adults are also trying to persuade or sidetrack the jealous taker child, who instinctively has tightened his grip. She’s not giving it up without a fight, logic and property rights be damned, in spite of not knowing those words either.

Human history, our personal history is marked and marred by the Me, My, Mine cycle and all the ills that accompany it. Many, if not most, of our laws mean to curtail it, rain it in, yet none have been able to eradicate it. Even the youngest, most untarnished members of our society are unable to be happy and generous in the midst of abundance.

Christmas – Jesus interrupts this Me, My, Mine cycle. It is one of the major reasons we struggle with Jesus (the real Jesus, not the one we have reshaped). He prayed, “Your (God the Father’s) will not mine.” He cared about God’s glory and honor not his own. He gave his life so sinners could live. He exhausted himself by helping, healing, caring. He lived a life that wasn’t about me and calls us to do the same. He didn’t hang onto what most of us wouldn’t dream of letting go. At no time in his life did he succumb to the Me, My, Mine cycle, nor did he excuse us to continue in it, instead he died trying to deliver us from it. “You are familiar with the generosity of our Master, Jesus Christ. Rich as he was, he gave it all away for us—in one stroke he became poor and we became rich” 2 Corinthians 8:9 (MSG).

Merry Christmas. Love you, Pastor Hans

 

 

Read Full Post »

 

In two decades of substitute teaching, I developed a morning introduction, “Good Morning class, I am Mr. Frei. I am not Ms…, I don’t look like her, I don’t walk like her, I don’t talk like her, I don’t smell like her, I don’t do my hair like her (I am bald), in fact I am nothing like her, so don’t be surprised that I don’t do things like her! Today, please don’t tell me, ‘But Ms… doesn’t do it that way. But Ms… always does it like this. Ms… lets us do that.’” But after this preemptive introductory speech, I would try hard follow as many of the routines the regular teacher had implemented in her/his classroom because the fewer routines I violated the better things usually went. We are creatures of habit, not just from K-12th grade but throughout life, and when our routines are interrupted we become somewhat disoriented.

Zacharias and his wife Elizabeth were good at the religious routines. In fact, their religious routines shaped all the other routines of their lives (a good thing), and their observances of religious routines sprang from sincere hearts, “they were both righteous in God’s sight …” (Luke 1:6). As a priest, Zacharias was in the middle of rotation of tending to the Altar of Incense, an assignment that was all about very specific routines, and it was then that God spoke to him. He clearly had no expectation for a personal God moment to occur, even though he was in the Holy Place of the temple (Luke 1:12). As helpful as routines can be, they can also be a hindrance, they can confine us, especially when it comes to God, and they can make us reluctant to and even reject the very voice of God.

Zacharias and Elizabeth did not only have their routine interrupted but also their resignation. They were childless, which was considered a blemish in their time. His response to the angel’s announcements that within the next year they would have a child was, “I am old and so is my wife” Luke 1:18. They were resigned to childlessness, to old age, to the stigma. God interrupted that too. Makes me think back to my substitute teacher days, one of saddest things to see is a young child already resigned to limitations real or imagined. Zacharias, who as a priest should’ve known better, got a stern nine-month rebuke for letting his resignation to childlessness diminish his faith in what God could do in his and Elizabeth’s life.

If we are honest, we don’t like our times of rest, of relaxation, of recreation be interrupted. We can get very grumpy, unkind, short, and irritated when that happens (probably not you), after all, that’s kind of “our time.” The night Jesus was born there were shepherds outside of Bethlehem watching their sheep (Luke 2:8). Sheep corralled and settled down it was time to get off the feet, sit by a fire, get out the harmonica, eat a snack, share some stories. The folks in Bethlehem were fast asleep, shops closed down, shutters closed, doors locked, comfy cozy under the covers in bed (Luke 2:17-20). Then the midnight ruckus of angels, the glory of God, and hollering shepherds in the streets. Goodbye sleep, adios relaxing, sayonara “my time.”

Christmas – Jesus is the great interruption, including our routines, our resignation, and our rest. The question is, “How do we handle it when God interrupts them?” Do we quickly return to what we are comfortable with? Temper God to our limitations? Try to get back as fast as possible to whatever we were doing? Grumpily crawl back under the warm covers? Or are we embracing God’s Jesus interruption and in the middle of the night are found responsive to his voice, adjusting to his will, and shouting his praises?

Merry Christmas! Love you, Pastor Hans

 

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »

%d bloggers like this: