Saturday, December 1, 2012

The worship of "outsiders"

Advent Conspiracy (www.adventconspiracy.org) is at its heart a call to worship. Mary worshiped, even as she struggled to comprehend what was happening as God announced that she would be the mother of the Son of God. The shepherds worshiped and couldn’t contain the wonder of that night in Bethlehem. Another group worshiped when they discovered the birth of Jesus. In the second chapter of Matthew we are introduced to a group of men who traveled a great distance to find the king of the Jews. Mary and the shepherds were Israelites. They knew the prophesies of a messiah who was to come one day. But these men we could call “outsiders.” They were Gentiles known as magi, wise men, or scholars. Some would even call them magicians. They came out of the pagan nations of Babylon and Persia east of Israel.

They seemed to be men of some influence. Contrary to the popular thought that there were three of them, very possibly there were more. It seems they had quite the entourage as they entered Jerusalem and caused a stir in the whole city (Matthew 2:3). They didn’t seem to fear King Herod as they openly desired to worship this new king. King Herod was known to kill anyone he perceived as a threat, even his own family members. He even ordered the execution of all babies age two and under in and around Bethlehem in an attempt to eliminate this new king of the Jews.

These magi – these outsiders with some influence – were willing to pay a price to come and worship Jesus. They risked their very lives by declaring allegiance to a king other than Herod. They were willing to give their time and effort to study, to travel great distances, and to search and find Jesus. And certainly their gifts were costly. Some have suggested that these gifts could have been valued at more than one million dollars by today’s standards. Whatever the monetary value of these gifts, their greatest gift was their worship. I love the picture of Matthew 2:11 which says, “And going into the house they saw the child with Mary his mother, and they fell down and worshiped him.” These wealthy travelers fell before this baby and worshiped him.

This Christmas will you seek to fully worship Jesus our Messiah? Mary was poor and powerless, yet she broke out singing in worship before God. The shepherds were the undesirables of society, but they dropped what they were doing to worship Jesus. The magi weren’t even Jews; they were the Gentile pagans – outsiders – yet they sought to worship Jesus no matter the cost. The simple question to us at Christmastime is this: Will we worship King Jesus? No matter our status in life, no matter where we have been or how far away from God we may have wandered, no matter our background, will we worship Him fully?

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Worship from undesirables

Leading up to Christmas in our church, we are sharing a series of messages that a few hundred other churches are sharing this year. The emphasis is called Advent Conspiracy, and it is a call to "conspire" to turn the commercialism and consumerism of Christmas upside down, at least in the lives of our church family. The heart of Advent Conspiracy is to worship fully. For many people, when confronted with the birth of Jesus, the result was worship - true, spontaneous, life-changing worship.

Chapter 2 of the Gospel of Luke tells us about shepherds in the fields outside Bethlehem and how angels appeared and proclaimed, "Today in the city of David a Savior was born to you who is the Messiah, the Master." On the night Jesus was born into our world God chose to appear first to a group of shepherds. He didn't choose the king of the land; he didn't choose the powerful or elite of society. He chose some shepherds. Nothing wrong with shepherds. Shepherding has a long and distinguished history. Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and King David were all shepherds. However, in first century Israel, the title and position of shepherd was a little less than honored. A rabbinic teaching from Jeremias says that most of the time shepherds were dishonest and thieving. A midrash, a Jewish teaching on Psalm 23 states, "There is no more disreputable occupation than that of a shepherd." In Israel in their day, a shepherd's testimony was not allowed in court. These guys most likely were not the owners of the sheep. Rather they were hired to do the hard work of leading sheep all over the countryside to find food and water. They spent weeks unsupervised and were often accused of taking from the flock or taking some other land owner's food and water for their sheep. Even Jesus distinguishes between the good shepherd and the hireling in John 10:11-13. Certainly not all shepherds deserved dishonor. The shepherds outside of Bethlehem may very well have been devout, God-honoring men who realized the animals in their care would possibly be used as a holy sacrifice at the temple just a few miles to the north in Jerusalem. At the same time, it seems that God often chooses to use unexpected, even undesirable people when He delivers His message. Abraham, Moses, Jacob, King David, the Apostle Paul and many others had some serious issues at some point in their lives, yet God chose each one to unveil His work in our world and in our lives.

Back to shepherds: These lowly, disreputable, distrusted hired hands, who were considered outcasts and Wby and large shunned by the mainstream, believed the message they heard from God that night. They went to Bethlehem and found Mary, Joseph and the baby just like the angel said. When they left they couldn't help but tell everyone they met and they worshiped.

When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them. But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart. The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told. (Luke 2:17-20, NIV)

I hope you have met the Messiah and I hope you will continue to worship at Christmas and all year long.

Monday, November 26, 2012

A teenager’s worship experience

Advent Conspiracy is a concept developed by three pastors who have challenged hundreds of churches to take a step back from the consumer culture that dominates the celebration of Christmas and instead seek to make a real difference as we focus on the arrival of Jesus into our world. The four themes of AC are Worship Fully, Spend Less, Give More, and Love All. I want to share a few thoughts from this message series over the next few weeks leading up to Christmas Day. Today let’s begin thinking about worshiping fully as we celebrate Christmas.

Christmas should be the easiest time of the year for Christians to truly worship God, but because of all the distractions, it may actually be the hardest. So just what do we worship at Christmastime? We want to say “Jesus,” right? But that would be the “Sunday School” answer – you know, the answer that we know is the “right” answer, but not the real answer. I read where someone said, “We spend our time and energy on what matters most to us.” So what does our time, money and energy say about who or what we really worship? Advent Conspiracy is a call to come and truly worship Jesus – God who became flesh – no matter how strong the cultural pull to worship anything or everything else. When we look at the Christmas Story, we realize that nearly everyone who was confronted with the birth of Jesus had the same response: worship. Let’s take a look at the worship that resulted in the lives of some of those people.

In the first chapter of Luke, the Bible tells the story of a young girl named Mary who was chosen by God to miraculously give birth to Jesus, who would be called the Son of God. After asking the angel Gabriel, “How can this be, since I am a virgin?” her amazing response was, “May it be to me as you have said.” Then when she went to visit her relative, Elizabeth, who would soon give birth to John the Baptist, Mary breaks out into spontaneous worship. Her words recorded in Scripture have become known as Mary’s Song, or The Magnificat. Her outbreak of worship begins with the words, “My soul glorifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior!” I invite you read her words in Luke 1:46-55. Mary sang of her state as God’s humble servant, yet she realized that God was mindful of her. She celebrated the fact that she would be called “blessed because the Mighty One has done great things for me, holy is his name.” She reminds us all that God is merciful to all who fear him and that he will fulfill his promises to Israel.

What an amazing display of worship from a young girl in her teens living in a seemingly insignificant place on the far edge of the Roman Empire. The most significant thing in her life so far was her upcoming marriage to a young carpenter – and she must have wondered if that was in jeopardy because of this baby she was now carrying. Yet when faced with something strange and amazing which God was doing, she chose to worship.

This Christmas season, I choose to worship. Will you?

marshfieldfirst.org
adventconspiracy.org

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Dima

I recently returned from a trip to Belarus, a former Soviet nation located between Poland and Russia. Our church and association of churches has had a ministry partnership with the Baptist Union of Belarus for many years. This was my fourth trip there. Each trip leaves me wanting to go again and do more. This was no exception. On this trip we interacted with more children, teens and young adults than ever before, which is extremely encouraging. God is certainly at work there. It was exciting to see growth among the churches and a new generation of young people living out their faith.

One task we had was to be part of a Vacation Bible School for three days. Through that experience we met several kids from around the area and one of those kids gained a special place in my heart. He was 12 years old, had a blonde mullet hairstyle, big blue eyes and a big smile. His name is Dima. On day one I immediately recognized him as a standout among the 50+ kids. He was the "class clown," being loud and funny and unafraid to speak up, often interrupting or distracting the group leader. Of course, everything was in Russian, so I understood very few words, but his behavior was internationally recognizable. I could see the mischief in his eyes and I immediately liked him!

We soon played a game and I was totally in the dark --- Russian, remember? Dima appointed himself as my guide, tutor and Russian translator, even though he spoke almost no English. We communicated roughly with lots of gestures and hilarious facial expressions on both our parts. When we had to choose an animal name for the game, he dubbed me "muka," which I later learned to be a fly! He would attempt to explain instructions very loudly and hilariously, which made me laugh and got him called down by the teacher. I didn't get in trouble because I was the visiting American pastor who didn't know anything.

Dima was rambunctious, enthusiastic and a little bit out of control. He would pull the girls' hair and when they turned around, he pointed at me. When we sang songs, the only English song he said he knew was "I'm Too Sexy" which he managed to say in pretty good English! He tried to teach me the word vodka, which got us a stern look from the teacher and to which I replied, "nyet." During prayer once, I heard some noise and opened my eyes in time to see him "shoot the bird" to another boy. Apparently that's another international symbol. With all of this - maybe because of all of this - Dima found a special place in my heart.

On our last day, I asked our translator to help me talk to Dima. When I motioned for him to join the two of us away from the other kids, I could tell he thought he was in some kind of trouble. I simply told him thanks for being my friend and my helper. When I asked him about his faith in Jesus, he indicated he was a believer. I encouraged him to honor God with his life and told him I would be praying that God would use him to bless others in a big way. He smiled that big smile, we hugged and said our goodbyes.

I look forward to seeing Dima again one day. I continue to pray that God will do great things in Dima's life and that God will bless others through Dima's life. Join me in praying for a boy on the other side of the world whom God will use for His glory.



Thursday, March 8, 2012

Celebration Day

Wow! My last post was wedding day. We were celebrating our daughter's wedding. It was pretty much the sole focus of life for many weeks. That's "ancient" history now - over six weeks ago. So on the heels of wedding day now comes celebration day! What celebration? There are a few. Today is my brother, Darrell's, birthday. Happy birthday, Darrell. God bless you today. Also, today I begin a week of vacation! Kim starts tomorrow. One more day of school before spring break. When school is out tomorrow we head off for a little vacation for the two of us. While the masses are heading south, we are going north. Maybe even a little snow skiing in our future!

The other celebration is one I have never before paid attention to. For over a year I have been developing friendships through a ministry here in our city called First Fruits of Zion. Their office is here. Their ministry is world-wide. First Fruits is a Messianic Jewish ministry to Jews and Christians, teaching about the Hebrew roots of faith in Jesus and pointing people around the world to Yeshua Meshiach - Jesus Messiah. More than ever I have been opened up to the beauty of the Hebrew Scriptures (Old Testament) and its consistency and relevancy to our life today and to faith in our Messiah, Jesus. This exciting journey has caused me to pay attention to "God's Appointed Times," the festivals and celebrations God has given for His people to celebrate. Today is the celebration of Purim, the celebration of the deliverance of the Jews from a plot of extinction by the hand of Haman. All around the world today, Jews are celebrating and reading the book of Esther. Through faith in Jesus, Gentiles like me have the privilege of being grafted in to the covenants and promises between God and His people. I am so thankful to be included with the people whom God has chosen and preserved. Join in the celebration today by reading the book of Esther and recognizing how good God is to His people!

Here's a link to the book of Esther:
http://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Esther%201-10&version=ESV

And here's a link to my friends at First Fruits of Zion:
ffoz.org

Chag Sameach! It's celebration day!

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Wedding Day

It's wedding day. Today Kim and I "give away" our daughter, but more than that we add a son-in-law to our family. These last few weeks have been filled with wedding details. Over these last 24 hours, our nearly single focus has been wedding preparations. Yesterday was filled with hauling decorations, setting up tables and chairs and asking our daughter a thousand questions like, "Where does this go?" and "How do you want this?" It was a day filled with the anticipation of the arrival of family. With all of that going on, it was already a day of celebration. I thoroughly enjoyed "hanging out" with Anna's new in-laws whom we already consider beautiful friends. It was a joy to spend time with the special friends of our daughter and her fiance. Kim and I were able to go to sleep last night with the very comforting thought: "We did all right." We are so very grateful to God that He has blessed us with a beautiful, godly daughter, who today marries a young man whom we are very delighted to call our son-in-law. We look forward to a day filled with celebration with friends and family. We look forward to how God will bless our daughter and son-in-law, Anna and Isaac, in the days and years ahead. And we say "thank you" to so many of you who have been a godly influence on Kim and me for many years as we have raised our kids, as well as being a godly influence on Anna and Isaac through their lives.

It's wedding day. I've got to go practice my dancing.