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Archive for the ‘Christmas’ Category

Now the birth …. Matthew 1:18 (NASB)

 Before you can have a birth, you need conception and nine months’ worth of amazing development from a single cell to billions of cells organized in mindboggling complexity and endowed with a soul. All of it designed and overseen by God himself, “For You formed my inward parts; You wove me in my mother’s womb. I will give thanks to You, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made; Wonderful are Your works, and my soul knows it very well” Psalm 139:13-14 (NASB).

Despite having watched videos of births in Lamaze class and on PBS, I was still unprepared for the birth of our first child. As they pulled him out I heard him take his first breath, make his first sound, and watched him turn from blue to pink. When they put him in my arms I couldn’t help but feel I was holding a little miracle in my hands. The second, third, and fourth time I was more prepared, but that feeling of holding a little miracle only grew stronger. However, the birth of Jesus Christ was a miracle of entirely different dimensions.

Back up nine months from “the birth,” zoom in on an obscure village called Nazareth in ancient Galilee, look for the carpenter shop, and there you find a happily engaged young man named Joseph, counting the days to his wedding. If you want to know where his fiancée (his “betrothed”) lives with her family you need to ask him for directions.

Fast forward a few weeks and go find Joseph again in his carpenter’s shop. He is clearly preoccupied, something is weighing on his mind, and it is not what he learned in Lamaze class or on PBS. If you could read his mind you would know that he is trying to break the engagement to Mary with as little fuss as possible. She told him that she is pregnant and he knows he is not the father. Her explanation that things are not what they seem and that she’s pregnant with a child conceived by the Holy Spirit makes no sense.

Since by now you know your way around Nazareth go back again a few months later and order some breakfast at Malachi’s Dinner and Bagel shop. Ask the waitress, Abigail, also known as “The Nazareth Daily News,” if she knows Joseph and Mary’s wedding date. Watch her scoot into your booth with her coffee pot in hand and listen to her tell you in a whisper that it turns out that little good girl Mary turned up pregnant and rumor has it Joseph isn’t the real father. “Can you believe that young fool is still willing to marry her when he could have almost any girl in town,” she says wagging her head. “Supposedly, he claims, God told him to her marry her anyway. And, sad to say, it sounds just like him. But if you ask me, that’s taking the whole God-fearing thing a bit too far,” she says while sliding out of your booth.

“So you liked Nazareth so much you had to come back eight months later, eeh?” You went by the carpenter shop but it had a “For Sale” sign in the window. So back to Abigail it is. “They went down South, Bethlehem I think, with her eight months pregnant, can you believe that. Fools I say! They don’t know a single soul down there. I tell you she is going to have that child down there, and then what?” she says shaking her head, “For the life of me I can’t figure out why either of their folks would let them,” and off she goes coffee pot in hand.

“I knew it; you’re already googling Bethlehem, aren’t you?” Abigail was right, by the time you get there Mary had that baby, in the middle of the night, in a strange little town, and in a barn no less. When you get to the barn you’re surprised to see that Joseph and Mary already have a bunch of visitors. Maybe Abigail wasn’t as right on as she thought she was. It’s a bunch of shepherds with a strange story of seeing the glory of God in the middle of the night and an angel telling them about this baby being born, and more importantly him being the Savior, the Christ, the Lord (Luke 2:8-20). You know what Abigail would say, “Don’t you know the only guys that drink more than fishermen are shepherds.” But these guys are sober, no doubt about it. They didn’t just witness a birth, but the birth, the miracle of the incarnation of God. They got to see more than the face of brand new baby, they got a glimpse of God.

How many babies were born the past week? Who knows? Each one is a precious life made in the image of God. Each one should be important and feel like a miracle to his or her parents, but it is not important for everyone to know about their birth or know their name. What is important is that you and I know about THE BIRTH, the birth of the Son of God, the Savior of the world, whose name is Jesus Christ.

Merry Christmas. Love you Pastor Hans

 

 

 

 

 

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See, the virgin will become pregnant and give birth to a son, and they will name Him Immanuel, which is translated “God is with us.”
Matthew 1:23 (HCSB)

 I tried to console her, but she informed me through her sobbing, “I just need my Mama.” Her older sister at her age was more demanding, “I want Mommy!” In either case Dad wouldn’t do, wasn’t the one needed or wanted.

Lovers know the feeling of, “I want to be with you forever and ever,” and often quickly change to, “I never want to see you face again!”

Some people you can’t wait to be with, while with others we are perfectly fine if they don’t show up. Some people’s presence is like a shot in the arm, an automatic lift, sheer joy, others are real challenges, drags, and some are pure downers. Some folks’ mere presence inspires, cause you to dare, to dream, while some cause you to doubt, to tip-toe, and at times feel like you are in a nightmare. With some you are overjoyed when they arrive, while with others you wonder, “When are they going to leave?”

It makes a difference who you’re with. You’d think people run to be with God, especially when he shows up “in the flesh,” when he takes the time to meet you on your turf. But the exact opposite is true, God it turns out is intimidating, challenging, and frightening t us, even when appearing as a baby. The Apostle Peter’s first encounter with Jesus Christ caused him to exclaim, “Go away from me Lord, for I am a sinful man!” (Luke 5:8). Think about it, how sexually promiscuous are you going to be with God right there? Would you throw your usually temper tantrum or would you exercise greater self-control with God next to you? How dishonest would you be in your business dealings with Jesus sitting right there at the table? Would the quality of your work improve working side by side with God? Would you treat your wife and children different in front of God? Would you clean up your mouth, be more patient, less full of it in the presence of God? How would your party plans change if you were certain that God would show up in the flesh? If Jesus were to be physically right beside us would there be a gap be between how he and we talk about and treat the poor, the immigrants, those with different skin colors, homosexuals, and even our enemies? Having God around stifles the sinners sinning. It is bothersome enough to have your conscience prick you, but when God’s right there our conscience wants to rejoice and do flips while our sin ducks and hides, wondering, “When is he going to leave?”

God is holy, glorious, perfect, even when compressed into human flesh that did not change. Jesus Christ, Immanuel, God incarnate, God with us, was tempted and tried – “yet without sin” (Hebrews 4:15). God’s holiness, God’s glory, the light of his presence exposes sin, strips you, “Nothing in all creation is hidden from God. Everything is naked and exposed before his eyes, and he is the one to whom we are accountable” Hebrews 4:13 (NLT). Jesus always has known what is every person’s mind and heart (John 2:25). Immanuel sees right through us, all our excuses, cover-ups, making jokes about our sinfulness, declaring God’s backwardness and our rightness, and our own wisdom and self-reliance evaporate in his presence. We are forced to choose to either worship him or reject him, to proclaim him or deny him, to genuinely follow him or settle for just being religious.

In spite of our qualms “God with us” is incredible God news. It means God has come looking for us, God deeply cares about us, God has made a way to be “with him,” and he is eternal. “He (Jesus Christ/God) came to his own people, and even they rejected him. But to all who believed him and accepted him, he gave the right to become children of God. They are reborn—not with a physical birth resulting from human passion or plan, but a birth that comes from God. So the Word became human and made his home among us. He was full of unfailing love and faithfulness. And we have seen his glory, the glory of the Father’s one and only Son” John 1:11-14 (NLT, parenthesis mine).

Merry Christmas, Pastor Hans

 

 

 

 

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“They Presented Gifts” (Matthew2:11)

There are all kinds of gifts, like:

  • The “just because I can” gift.
  • The surprise gift.
  • The “You are worth it!” gift.
  • The “I want to spoil you” gift.
  • The “I want to honor you” gift.
  • The reciprocal gift.
  • The obligatory, “can’t leave him/her out” gift.
  • The gift for the occasion, like birthdays, weddings, graduations, etc.
  • The gift that totally helps.
  • The gift at the perfect time.
  • The “stupid” gift that makes you laugh.
  • The creative gift.
  • The “love you” gift.
  • The monetary gift.
  • The thoughtful gift.
  • The gift given at the perfect time.
  • The sacrificial gift.
  • The practical gift.
  • The re-gifted gift.
  • The inspiring gift.
  • The gift of time, skills, help – of self.
  • The gift of listening, caring.
  • The “WOW!” gift.
  • The “No Way! You’ve got to be kidding” gift.
  • The perfect gift.

Christmas, the celebration of God giving himself through the incarnation of his Son, Jesus Christ, is the “indescribable gift” (2 Cor 9:15). Then of course there is young Mary giving her entire life to God to use it as He sees fit (Luke 1:38). The Motel manager usually gets a bad rap, but somehow he just didn’t have the heart to turn away a highly pregnant woman, even though he had zero vacancies, and quickly made a spot in the storage shed out back so they would have at least a dry roof over their heads (Luke 2:7, a very liberal paraphrase). We certainly know about the wise men’s gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. These were extravagant gifts for a carpenter’s family, but then they were gifts meant to honor a king. No, these wise men did not go cheap, but maybe they should have listened to their wives on the practicality. Gold is okay, because it is like cash, and cash can be very practical. But myrrh for a baby king? That wise fellow should have listened to his wife and bought that two-year supply of diapers along with a weekly massage for the mom. Frankincense certainly hit the nail on the head in terms of Jesus being God and worthy of worship, but maybe he too should have gotten some baby king gift ideas, like maybe gold plated Tonka trucks. Finally, those shepherds (Luke 2:1-17) who came to the storage shed behind the motel. As far as we know no gifts were exchanged, except that they showed up in the middle of the night to rejoice with a lonely, worried, and exhausted young couple who just had their first child.

We are capable of giving terrific, extraordinary, and even extravagant gifts that have an impact and make a difference. Especially when we engage our minds, our hearts, and strive to emulate the greatest giver of all, God, who in Christ wrapped up the most perfect, most holy, most loving, and most needed gift and gave him to us for a Savior.

Merry Christmas. Love you, Pastor Hans

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If you are searching for that that last minute or super special Christmas gift you might want to consider having a star named for the person you have on your mind. You can choose between an “Ordinary Star” (from $19.95), and “Extra Bright Star” (from $39.95), or a “Binary Star” (from $64.95). If you want go all out with this idea you can go with the gift sets (from $74.95, $84.95, $124.94 respectively).  You could join 17,000 others who plunked their money down to have someone’s name attached to a real star by this independent, albeit unofficial, star registry. Yes, you could brighten someone’s Christmas Day, more accurately night, in a way they never imagined. And if you ever misplace or lose your “Star Deed” you can contact the good folks at STARNAME Registry.org and they will help you. I am sure the passing along of this ordinary, extra, or double “bright idea” will be another reason why you so value my Pastor’s Notes.

I wonder. How much money have stars generated over time? How many other clever star schemes have people come up with? Astrology is alive and well even today, and suckers are still being borne every day. But the stars themselves, the universe as a whole does declare truth, The heavens proclaim the glory of God. The skies display his craftsmanship” Psalm 19:1 (NLT); “The heavens proclaim his righteousness; every nation sees his glory” Psalm 97:6 (NLT); “The basic reality of God is plain enough. Open your eyes and there it is! By taking a long and thoughtful look at what God has created, people have always been able to see what their eyes as such can’t see: eternal power, for instance, and the mystery of his divine being. So nobody has a good excuse (for not acknowledging and worshiping God)” Romans 1:19-20 (MSG, parenthesis mine).

Regardless of the tendency of sinful human nature to either exploit and pervert spiritual things or to disregard God and explain him away, the testimony of the stars stands, God is real, his power and wisdom are both incomprehensible and immense, we are accountable to him, and the most proper response to God is to love, worship, and obey him. “Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the reign of King Herod. About that time some wise men from eastern lands arrived in Jerusalem, asking, ‘Where is the newborn king of the Jews? We saw his star as it rose, and we have come to worship him’” Matthew 2:1-2 (NLT). That star was visible to anyone who cared to look, but it seems people came to vastly different conclusion and vastly different responses. Most wise men from eastern lands stayed home, kept peddling the same astrology they had for centuries, it is difficult to adjust yourself to spiritual truth. King Herod saw the very notion of a new king as a threat his godless world of politics and power, it is difficult to submit to divine authority. The Jewish elite and scholars did not want their personal, political, and religious world be turned upside down, so they also gave it no significance, it is difficult to take God at his word.

For this Christmas I challenge you to look up into the night sky and see and hear its declaration of God, to pursue spiritual truth, to lead you to worship. If you follow that path it will still lead you to Jesus Christ, God incarnate, the ultimate revelation of God, the one who can save us from our sins.

Merry Christmas. Love you, Pastor Hans

P.S. If you are tempted to go the Star Registry website, RESIST! Instead look for ways to give those $20-100 or so to your church, a missionary agency, the Salvation Army, Red Cross, Doctors without Borders, World Vision, Compassion International, or help someone in your community, or find a way to help the millions of refugees of our day.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for behold, I bring you good news of great joy which will be for all the people; for today in the city of David there has been born for you a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.” Luke 2:10-11 (NASB)

Chances are high that you have a Christmas list, if not on paper then at least in your head, of people you intend to give a gift or send a card. It might be a very long list or one that is very short. The card list is fairly easy, the only challenges are to get the cards and get them out on time. The gift list, on the other hand, can be quite challenging. Some people are notoriously difficult to find gifts for, they either have most everything already or are simply not easy to please. Some folks have very high expectations which add significant pressure. Others we feel obligated to have on our list but if we are honest our motivation level toward them is not very high. There are of course those to whom we want to give nothing but the best, pull out all the stops, stretch ourselves financially beyond what is prudent. But no matter who is on your list chances are high you will need only one sheet of paper to note all of their names, maybe even the fingers of your hands will suffice to count them all up.

Go back and read the scripture at the top again and check out God’s Christmas list, “Good News” “Great Joy” “A Savior” – “for all the people.” No one left out, no one overlooked, no one in the obligatory category, no one designated for “card only.” Everyone on the major, lavish (Ephesians 1:3-8a), all out gift list. It is astounding that anyone would end up on that list. None of us is deserving. For each one of us God (who knows us completely) has many and convincing reasons to leave us off the list, to take out a pen and cross out our names. But somehow, graciously, gloriously God has put your and my name, along with everyone else’s on his Christmas giving list.

Answer honestly. Have you ever gotten a Christmas gift you didn’t really care about, for which you were not all that grateful? Does that include what God gave at Christmas, his Son Jesus Christ, the Savior you and I need? Has it ever struck you how much God cares about you, and how much you and I need what he has given? And what hope can we have if we disregard God’s ultimate gift, that which we need most?

And one more call to Christmas honesty. We struggle with God’s Christmas list because it includes those we don’t like, our enemies, evil doers, haters, ingrates, brats, the lazy, the unjust, the …. It includes those we’d leave off, those whom we label as “undeserving.” It is a list we would have never compiled on our own. How compatible is God’s Christmas list with your and my worldview, our politics, our level of compassion, our willingness to be “lavish” when it comes to mercy, grace, love, and giving?

Merry Christmas. Love you, Pastor Hans

 

 

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“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. John 3:16-17 (NIV)

What gift for whom? What color? What brand? What price range? By something or make something? Give something that makes the person laugh, or something they could use, or something they need? How many choices did you face, how many decision did you make about the gifts you will be giving this Christmas?

We love the freedom to make decisions, to have lots of choices. It is one of the reasons we love money, the more we have the more choices we have. Most of us are familiar with wanting to buy something but being unable to do so because our wanter was bigger than our funds.

Christmas is about God giving all of mankind a choice we did not previously have. None of us has the resources to acquire eternal life. None of us is able to extricate him/herself from God’s judgment. We don’t lack the want to, most of us do want to have God on our side, most of us do want to go to heaven, if for no other reason than to be united with those whom we loved but who have died.

I was standing in line at In & Out Burger with a little boy in front of me. When it was his turn he plunked down a handful of coins and asked for a chocolate milk. “We only have chocolate shakes,” said the girl at the cash register. He decided that‘s what he wanted. She counted his change, “$1.27. Sorry, that’s not enough for a shake.” He just stood there. All his wanting was not going to get him a shake, he did not have that choice because he did not have the means to make that choice – unless – someone was willing, someone was gracious, someone cared. “A chocolate shake it is,” I said, and plunked down a couple of bucks. When I had sat myself down, he looked over at me and said, “Thank you.”

Spiritually we are in far worse shape than that little boy at the counter: “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” Romans 3:23 (NIV). “As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, … But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions–it is by grace you have been saved” Ephesians 2:4-5 (NIV). God sent his Son, not because the world needed one more religion, but because of our total helplessness. In him, in Christ, we have a choice we would otherwise not have. That’s why the coming of Christ is such good news, that’s why he is the most incredible gift. Will you believe in Him?

Merry Christmas, Pastor Hans

 

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“For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life. For God did not send the Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world might be saved through Him.” John 3:16-17 (NASB)

God loved, God gave, God send his Son to save – that is the reality of Christmas, it is the essence of the Good News, the Gospel. Out of all the messages you and I get throughout our lifetimes that’s the most important one.

Maybe you are the kind of texter whose thumbs move as fast as the wings of a hummingbird, but I am dismally slow, keep hitting the wrong keys, and frequently manage to send my texts before I am ready. Ready or not, once the send button is pushed there is no stopping it, it is unleashed. Christmas is about God pressing the “send” key.

Love made God do it, his love recognized the need, his love compelled him to give, his love pushed the “send” key. Real love is not blind, God’s love is not blind, it recognized that we are indeed perishing. Our mortality, our finiteness, our imperfection, and our sinfulness all testify to the reality that we are perishing. We are completely powerless, utterly impotent to change any of them. God could have sent his Son, Jesus Christ, to judge the world, you and me, but he send him to save us. The judgment we deserve the saving we need, his love made that decision.

Maybe you are among those who think that you do not need Christ, that you have no need to be saved. Maybe you have decided that all of this is just a bunch of hogwash, religious baloney, or outright #^@#*! If so, that puts you at odds with no one else but God himself; it has you defining spiritual reality in complete opposition to God. It is vastly more probable that you are wrong and God is right. What is amazing that, in spite of our arrogance, denials, and outright rejection of truth and God himself, he still pressed the “sent” key; he still addressed our need, our helplessness, our perishing, by giving his Son.

How many Decembers have you lived through? 10, 20, 30, 50, 90, or more? Did December ever have just 28 days, or 30? In my 54 Decembers it has always been 31 days? And nothing has changed about both our need to be saved and God’s love willing and able to save us through Christ. He pressed the “send” key, not accidently, but deliberately, and out his unfathomless love. All that remains is for you and me to receive the message and believe in his Son. That’s the wonder of Christmas. “But as many as received Him (Jesus Christ), to them He gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in His name” John 1:12 (NASB, parenthesis mine).

Merry Christmas, Pastor Hans

 

 

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