Tuesday, December 18, 2018


                For most of us, the story of Christmas is just that, a story. When we read the accounts of Jesus’ birth in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke, everything seems so neat and clean. We can sit in the comfort of our home and read the story and feel all sentimental and warm. In fact, most of our images of Christmas are of families gathering together in joy, peace, and harmony. Christmas is a time when people generally treat each other well. We actually go out of our way to be nice to others. There is much to be said for the positive influence that the Christmas season has on us, even if it is short-lived.

                The reality was very different for Mary and Joseph. They didn’t get to read the story in a comfortable setting; they lived it moment by moment. They did not know how the story would end. They didn’t know what would happen along the way. They had to step out in faith and trust God to lead them.

                For Mary and Joseph, Christmas was a total disruption of their lives. It would be an understatement to say that the news of Mary’s pregnancy or the edict of Caesar that set them on the road to Bethlehem was inconvenient. The realities of that first Christmas were life changing in every way.

                In a day when a girl could be stoned for becoming pregnant outside of marriage, Mary was placed in an extremely vulnerable place. In a time when the marriage covenant was taken far more seriously than it is today, Joseph risked everything to take Mary as his wife. In a time when God had been silent in Israel for 400 years, to believe that an angel from the Lord had spoken directly to you was an enormous leap of faith. The reality of Christmas was anything but comfortable or warm and cozy. Mary and Joseph staked the rest of their lives on the message they had received from God, knowing that no one else would or could really understand.

                We are in the enviable position of being able to be spectators to the Christmas story. We can watch it unfold, without the drama of having to face the difficult steps along the way. But I believe that God is inviting us to not just observe Christmas, but to live it ourselves.

                John 3:16 tells us, "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.” God sent Jesus into the world to radically change our lives. To have eternal life is to allow God, through the Holy Spirit, to take up residence in our lives. When we place our faith and trust in Jesus, the trajectory of our life is changed, just as it was for Mary and Joseph. The message of Christmas is that God is calling us to carry Jesus into our world.

                Mary and Joseph were entrusted with Jesus. It was their responsibility to care for him. They were given the enormous responsibility to prepare Jesus for the day that He would step out of the shadows and into the spotlight of His public ministry. In a similar way, we have been entrusted with the task of taking Jesus into our world. Our job is to prepare the way so that others might encounter Him. As Jesus said in Acts 1:8, “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth."

                The Christmas season gives us an awesome opportunity to carry Jesus into our world. We do not have to settle with being observers to the Christmas story. We can live out the Christmas story through our lives today. Just as Jesus invaded our world so long ago, He continues to invade our world through each one of us. The message of Christmas continues to ring loud and clear. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord. Luke 2:11

Tuesday, December 11, 2018


1 Corinthians 1:26
Brothers, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth.

                I have been average most of my life. For the most part, I was an average student at school. I graduated from college with an average GPA. I wasn’t inept at sports, but I wasn’t great either; I was average. I have always been of average height and weight for my age (except at birth, when I weighed in at over 10 pounds). The last half marathon that I ran, I crossed the finish line in the middle of my age group and in the middle of all of the runners; average. There are a few things I do very well and many things I don’t do so well. On balance, I am a pretty average guy.

                I have sat through a number of talks from key, church leaders who have told me that unless I am excellent at what I do, I am wasting my time. At one of those events the speaker actually informed the crowd of pastors that the majority of us should quit because we were, at best, average.

                Larry Osborne, in his book “Accidental Pharisees”, reminds us that, by definition, the majority of us are average. It is impossible for everyone to be above average. If you are familiar with the Bell Curve, you will remember that the big bubble is in the middle and not the ends. As human beings, we tend to congregate in the middle.

                One of the problems that we have in the Church is that we elevate certain aspects of ministry and downplay all of the others. A person who excels at preaching or teaching is seen as a more excellent Christian than a person who cannot speak in front of a crowd, but is excellent at showing mercy. We elevate the evangelist who stands in the spotlight, while we forget the sound guy who sits in the shadows and makes the big guy look and sound good.

                You can make a compelling case that we should strive for excellence in everything that we do. Afterall, if we are serving Christ, shouldn’t we give Him our best. But the dark side of striving for excellence is pride and arrogance. There is a difference between striving for personal excellence and measuring your excellence against others. In truth, everyone who proclaims the goal of excellence in their area of giftedness is often blind to how they are less than excellent in a number of other areas.

                One of the reasons I like to compete in long-distance races is that everyone is a winner, not just the person who crosses the finish line first. When I run, I am not competing against all the other runners, I am competing against one runner; me. In the Christian life, we are not in competition with one another to see who is the better Christian. We are competing for the goal of being the best Christian we can be.

                The truth is, in an age that worships excellence, we will not all be excellent. As believers, we will not all attain the level of excellence of Billy Graham or Rick Warren or John Piper, and that is okay. The Bible is full of average people, who put their faith and trust in Christ, and faithfully followed Him. That is what Jesus is expecting from each of us. It is okay to be an average Christian as long as you are being the best, average Christian you can be.

                Paul reminded the Corinthian believers that they were nothing outstanding or special, but God used them to do some amazing things. As Paul said: But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. He chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things--and the things that are not--to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him. It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God--that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption. Therefore, as it is written: "Let him who boasts boast in the Lord." 1 Corinthians 1:27-31

                It is a good thing to strive for excellence in your life. Be the best you can be, but then be content with that. There is some God-given ability in all of our lives where we will excel beyond the norm, but in the majority of our lives we will be average. Too often the quest for excellence puts the focus on us instead of God. We need to think less about ourselves, our personal score card, and think more about glorifying God in all we do.

Romans 12:3
For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the measure of faith God has given you.

Tuesday, December 4, 2018


Isaiah 7:14
Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel.

                We have fully entered into the Christmas season. A sure sign of this is the proliferation of “Christmas” movies that are now appearing on TV. If you happen to have access to Netflix or the Hallmark channel, you can fill your days with such movies. Many of these movies are rather sugary sweet. The prevailing message is that Christmas is a time for sentimentality. I would like to suggest that the true message of Christmas is not sentimentality but courage.
                Sunday was the first Sunday of Advent. The purpose of Advent is to prepare us for and lead us to the birth of Jesus. Unfortunately, we have a rather sentimental view of the Christmas story. We focus on an idealize image that sanitizes the realities of the genuine event. The truth is that God asked two people to be extremely courageous in the face of challenges they would rather avoid.

                In Luke’s gospel, we are invited to listen in on a conversation between the Archangel Gabriel and a young girl named Mary. Mary is pledged to be married and is looking forward to all that entailed. Marriage meant security for the future. It meant the promise of children and establishing a home. Mary’s expectations were most likely pretty simple. She would live an uneventful life as the wife of the local carpenter. She would have children and raise her family. She would live out her days in the familiar surroundings of her community. When Gabriel showed up, all of that changed.

                Look carefully at what God was asking Mary to do. He was asking her to risk her marriage to Joseph, her security for the future, her reputation in the community, and her dreams of a quiet, simple life. To accept what God was asking her to do was to take a very difficult path. God was asking her to risk everything and trust Him beyond trust. For her to accept was a supreme act of courage.

                In Matthew’s gospel, we get to see Joseph’s side of the story. Joseph was living in anticipation of his marriage to Mary. According to tradition, he would have been preparing a home for them to live in. As a carpenter, he may have been spending all of his extra time crafting the furniture that would equip their new home. Joseph would have been anticipating having children who would carry on his name. He would pray that God would bless him with sons. He anticipated living a simple life as the village carpenter in the familiar surroundings of his community.

                When Joseph discovered that Mary was pregnant, his dreams evaporated. His dream of establishing his family within the community, with the woman he loved, was shattered. Everyone would know that Mary was pregnant before the wedding. The tongues of Nazareth would be wagging. Either Joseph had failed to exercise self-control or Mary had been unfaithful. Either way, their marriage was ruined before to had a chance to begin. Matthew tells us that Joseph struggled with the decision about what to do. He really loved Mary, but he could not marry her under these circumstances. It was just too big of a hurdle to get over. He had no choice but to end their relationship.

                But God stepped in and challenged Joseph to set aside his fear and to trust Him. He informed Joseph, in a dream, that this was all a part of God’s plan for the redemption of Israel. The road before them would be hard, but God would go with them. He was asking Joseph to exercise unprecedented courage and to go forward with his marriage to Mary.

                Both Mary and Joseph had a decision to make. Both had to make their decision alone. Both had to trust God and trust each other. Both had to exercise courage. Both chose to risk everything to do what God was asking of them.

                There is very little value in this season if our focus is on temporary sentimentality. It can make us feel all warm and fuzzy for a time, but it will not change our lives. But if we understand that this season is calling us to be people of courage in our world, then it can change our lives. Just as God asked Mary and Joseph to trust Him completely, He is asking us to do the same thing. He is asking us to carry Jesus into our world. It will mean that we will not fit the common patterns of life. It means that people will misunderstand and even find fault with us. It means that our plans will be altered. But it also means that we will step into the most exciting adventure possible.

Luke 1:38
"I am the Lord's servant," Mary answered. "May it be to me as you have said." Then the angel left her.

Luke 9:23-24
Then he said to them all: "If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will save it.