Serial vs Self-Encapsulated Story

I enjoy binge watching shows through Amazon or Netflix. I bounce between liking shows that have a long story arc that the screenwriters spread across  several episodes and shows that self-encaspsulate a story into each episode. Recently I started watching a show that started as a spy show with each episode being self-contained. Slowly this show introduced a story line that ended up taking them four seasons of episodes to complete. I did not want to pay attention that long to figure out what sinister conspiracy was behind everything. I gave up watching the show. I read the episode recaps on wikipedia to find my desire for resolution satisfied.

I want television shows to find a way to wrap up their storylines after a couple of episodes or one season. Stretching across several seasons to solve the purpose for the show wears me down. I think the television show “Lost” is a great example of a show that started off with a good balance between long story arcs and individual storylines that could be finished up each episode. Unfortunately the show “Lost” became lost in its own story after a while and ended up being a self-indulgent mess.

So I have been thinking about my disappointment in shows that can’t figure out how to tell a story with conclusions and then reflecting on what this means for my preaching. I know as a person in the pew listening to another preacher that I am not very patient with the preacher that has several false endings. I watched a person preach online, and behind the preacher I saw the band shuffling towards their instruments. The band thought the sermon was wrapping up. They knew the cadence of the preacher, or at least they thought they did. The preacher went on for several more minutes. I wonder if that preacher went on with his sermon as punishment to the band that assumed they knew where the sermon was headed.

Humbly, I notice that when I preach I have had this problem. I look at the people shuffling and moving in the pew. I want to tell them, “Oh no, you think my sermon is almost over but I have two more pages of notes. Buckle up and get ready.”

In my own life, I wish each day had a neat conclusion. Days blend into months. Years slide into decades. I still have not found too many neat conclusions in my life. Some stories just seem to disappear because sadly friendships slide away. I wish I was better at nurturing friendships. Other stories in my life keep showing up, even though I want to move on. Satan is amazingly adept at repeatedly turning up in my life.

Some days do develop as self-encapsulated plots. I am glad my marriage has been a long arc in my life that has no end in view. I think my marriage will not become like a show that has gotten lost in its own story because we have made a commitment to each other to remain faithful to the covenant of love. Each story in our marriage has its roots in our promises of love. The stages in our love to each other remain fresh and exciting because we are also connected to the great story that is developing between us.

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I trust that the long story arc of my relationship with God will remain fresh and exciting. I know the end. God is my eternal salvation. I know some days I don’t see the plot, and I get worried that my life is going nowhere special. But during these aimless wandering moments, I have found tremendous strength in rooting myself to God’s promises. The Spirit of God strengthens my soul in dark moments by keeping in my view the light of God’s love. I live in the light of the resurrection, but some days the shadows of betrayal on Holy Thursday seem to hang heavy.

My story with God is different than the television shows I binge. I don’t know how the shows will end, and when I do anticipate the ending the show loses my interest. I know how my story with God will end, but amazingly my interest in God does not get exhausted. I love God revealing the adventure of every day. I think God has figured out how to balance revealing the long story arc and the self-encapsulated story.

Do you see the story that God writes in your days? I hope you see that God fills the story of your days with His love.

Remembering 9/11 – Lost and Found

The fifteen year anniversary of 9/11 causes me to remember how I was a young pastor that struggled to find words to place this attack into any sort of narrative that made sense to me. I was in the third month of being the new pastor at Grace Lutheran Church in Niagara Falls, New York. On that day and the days afterwards, I found that Western New York felt both very far away and very near to New York City, Washington DC, and Shanksville, Pennsylvania.

I was driving north on the 190 towards Niagara Falls. I was about to go over the north bridge off of Grand Island when I heard on the radio that a plane had struck a building in NYC. I was just a few minutes away from my office at Grace. When I entered the church building, I immediately went towards the garage sale donation pile. I remembered that Carl had donated a television for the upcoming garage sale. I plugged the television into the wall. Lisa and I tried to get the antenna positioned to receive the signal from one of the news channels. Lisa returned tried to get some work down, what could we change by staring at the fuzz on the television. I went to my computer to see if I could find out more information. Every page was loading painfully slow. I knew we had slow internet, but every moment I pressed refresh on the browser I waited and waited for any news that this was just an accident. 9/11 was not an accident.

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Randy called and asked me to find a way to join the community in prayer. He wanted his kids to place their trust in God. He understood that trust would be easier to find if we were together. We quickly made calls and arranged for a prayer service. I don’t remember much about the prayer service. I do remember that none of us tried to fill the moments of prayer with cliches, people were honest in silence. Words cold not fill this moment unless there was trust. The trust we had in God did not require that answers would be found. Our trust required that we were not alone.

That same week I was scheduled to host the monthly gathering of local Lutheran pastors. The circuit meeting begins with a worship service. After the service, there is a Bible study and chance to share about our unique contexts. At the service I was expected to preach a sermon. This was the first circuit meeting I had either attended or hosted as a pastor. Remember, I was only three months into the ministry. I expected that pastors who host the circuit meeting would plan to use the sermon from the previous week or test out on the brothers the sermon that would preached on the upcoming Sunday. I knew that last week’s sermon seemed odd to use and I still did not have a bead on the upcoming sermon. Before I left the house, I looked one more time at the upcoming gospel lesson from Luke 15:1-10. Jesus shared with his followers the parable of the lost sheep and the lost coin. I did not think I could preach about the celebration after the sheep is found or the coin is discovered. I didn’t see anything in the text besides the celebration. I looked one more time and then I prayed for the Holy Spirit to bring wisdom to my heart and words to my lips. I left the house for the meeting at Grace.

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When the circuit meeting worship service began the words of the liturgy carried us into God’s promises. We confessed our sins, and we received the promise that we are forgiven children of God through the mercy of our savior Jesus. I spoke the the words of Ezekiel 34:11 and following, “For thus says the Lord God: ‘Behold, I, I myself will search for my sheep and will seek them out.”

I shared the words of St. Paul to Timothy, “The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinner, of whom I am the foremost” (1 Timothy 15).

It was time for the gospel reading from Luke. I spoke the words of the shepherd searching for the lost sheep, and the woman that searching for the coin. I knew we were not yet in a moment of celebration because the rescuers were still frantically searching the rubble where the planes brought destruction. I knew that there were people around the world feeling lost and disconnected from any narrative of hope. This disconnection did not just come from 9/11. Too many people are living disconnected from hope and are just ghost walking to the next day. How can we bring people back towards seeing tomorrow and the next day as moments kept safe by God?

It was in the words of God I found my story that day, and it remains my story whenever I am feeling disconnected. God is looking for you. I know that this sounds simple. Knowing that God desires to be with me takes away so much anxiousness. We are not alone. The first responders that walked into danger on 9/11 were not alone. The people descending staircases to nowhere where not alone. The people on the plane flying over Pennsylvania were not alone when it was time to act bravely to save lives on the ground. Jesus Christ has come in the flesh, taken upon himself the very loneliness of our suffering, so that we never have to stand alone against Satan and his evil minions.

God is searching. Now you may imagine your story is too small compared to the big stories that others are living. Even if you imagine your story too insignificant, remember the woman searching for the coin. I wonder what her friends thought when she called them all together to have a party after she found the one missing coin. To those friends the coin may have sounded silly. To that woman searching for the coin, the lost coin was worthy of a party. God wants to find you, and you are not insignificant to him. No one has a story too small to be include in the story of God. God is searching for you, and he want to hold a party for you.

Trusting in the Armor of God

“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope. Then you will call upon Me and come and pray to Me, and I will hear you. You will seek Me and find Me, when you seek Me with all your heart.” — Jeremiah 29:11-13

The needs are so great in this world it is remarkably easy for us to get frightened and leap directly into danger. A newspaper in Columbia, Missouri had an article in 2013 about why the armadillo can’t cross the road. The nine-banded armadillo over the last 30 years has marched its habitat north into Missouri. I learned that the armadillo often dies on the road for a reason I did not expect. I thought armadillos perish because they bundle into their shells and wait for the trouble to come. In fact, when danger approaches the armadillo will leap 3 to 4 feet into the air. In a nature habitat this leap startles other animals, and it gives the armadillo time to flee. This leap into the air does not frighten the approaching car, so that this defense makes the car even more deadly. The leap puts the animal at the right height to get hit by the bumper or underside of a car. The behavior of the armadillo to leap at danger gives this animal a decided disadvantage in an encounter with a car.

800px-armadillo_at_kennedy_space_center_ksc-07pd-2276The armadillo is a little creature equipped with a number of armored plates that interlock but move independent so that the animal can move about. Unfortunately the armadillo does not always use this armor effectively and instead leaps into danger. God provides armor for us. St. Paul wrote to the Ephesians, “Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil” (Ephesians 6:11). God equips us to move about and stand strong by providing to us truth, righteousness, the gospel of peace, faith, salvation, the Word of God, and prayer. You have been clothed by God to live everyday day in His promises and to share the truth of God’s love with others. Putting on the armor of God means having a deep, ongoing, life-changing relationship with Jesus.

Do you use the armor that God has provided to you to move about and stand against the wiles of the devil, or do you arrogantly act apart from God’s gifts and foolishly leap into danger?

c7f1a8703d59db7fe9ce280a5e28f122I encourage you to consider what God says about the power of His truth, righteousness, peace, faith, salvation, and Spirit to protect you from the spiritual darkness of Satan. Satan is a dangerous enemy. I do not want you to leap into the approaching danger of Satan. Gather with other Christians and find the strength of the interlocking pieces of Christian community. It is in the church that you can hear God’s Word and receive the gifts of God. Inside this community we find a safe place to pause and consider some of life’s big questions: Who am I? What is the role of faith and church in my life? How does my faith impact what I say or do every day? These questions are answered together as we hear God’s Word and find nurturing in the promises of Jesus. Together we receive from God His gifts of grace. These gifts of grace are received in Baptism, Confession and Absolution, Holy Communion, and through the Word of God. We participate in this community to not only experience a conversion from death to life but also for life each and every day.

It is impossible for me to imagine life lived without a community of faith. I know that in this world there is pressure to have enough beauty, power, wealth, and stuff. There is pressure to do everything and to do it all perfectly. This quest to be significant and special fails when it depends on our own efforts. As Christians we venture into our callings with humility. We acknowledge that we are not perfect and that we daily need God’s forgiveness for ourselves. We also recognize that the people around us will not be perfect. No doubt the sins, troubles, and despairs of this age could flood us with doubt, but we trust that the Holy Spirit empowers us to refocus our vision and energy to meet the needs of those we encounter each day.

We do face battles here on earth. There is approaching danger on the paths you are walking. You do not need to leap in fright into these dangers. Trust in the armor of God. You are interlocked together with other Christians. You are a part of the body of Christ. You have the ability to drive back darkness and boldly reach out in service to the sick, abused, imprisoned, and others in need. You can do all things through Christ who strengthens you.

What time is it?

Apple is coming out with a new watch that is intended to make the watch accomplish so much more than just tell us the time. What do you want to know when you look at your watch, a clock, or the sun in the sky? I know I am seeking more than just an understanding of what hour, minute, and second it is at that particular time. When I look at my watch, I am often trying to remember what moment is coming up next. Am I late to pick up the kids? Are the Red Wings about to play? Do I have enough time to leave the office to go for a run around Kensington? What opportunity is next? What have I missed?

The ancient Greeks used two words to understand time. Chronos and Kairos. Chronos refers to the the sequential character of time. Kairos refers to the opportunity of a moment. Kairos is used to describe time 81 times in the New Testament. Time in the New Testament usually does not refer to simply a specific moment of time but rather a season or moment of opportunity when God has entered into our world to show us eternity.

When someone asks me what time the services are at St. Paul Lutheran Church, I quickly answer on Sunday morning at 8:30am and 11am. I also find myself thinking that simply offering a time of day is not enough of an answer. Worship in the Church reveals the promises of God. I do not find our worship services defined only by the time of the service, although are two services do have different styles of music. Sometimes I will think of people as the 8:30 crowd or the 11 o’clock crowd. In the midst of the divisions of services and styles, I hope the time of day does not define our worship service. In the Christian church the worship service is defined by finding ourselves at the appointed moments when God’s promises are delivered to us in the Word and the Sacrament.

On the first day of the week we regularly gather to receive the good news of Jesus. The theme for each week at the congregation I serve is developed by using the Christian calendar. Every year we rehearse and realize the reality of the promises of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Year by year we find our salvation in the work of Jesus Christ confirmed as we celebrated the seasons of Advent, Christmas, Epiphany, Lent, Easter, and Pentecost. We anticipate Christ coming to reveal the kingdom of God for us. We rejoice with the angels and the shepherds that the kingdom of God comes to us in the flesh of the infant Jesus born to the Virgin Mary. We marvel at how this good news is a beacon of light for all the nations. We reflect upon our own steps and find when we have faltered the Lord continues to set His face towards Jerusalem and our cross. At Easter I am jolted away from my self-examination and find myself exclaiming, “Alleluia! Christ is risen!” Christ is not dead, He is risen just as He promised. Then between Pentecost and Advent we hear Sunday after Sunday that God has equipped us to be His people. Every year we cycle through these promises to set the pace of our Christian life just as a pacemaker supports the rhythm of a tired heart.

This year we enter the season of Lent on Wednesday, February 18. For centuries, Lent has been a time of preparation for the Church. We gather for the special occasions of worship of this time to prepare ourselves to receive the gift of Christ dying on the cross and rising from the dead in victory. We prepare ourselves to receive the gracious gift of Christ at Easter. Ash Wednesday is a meaningful time of devotion with the ashes placed on the foreheads. The ashes call to mind our mortality and dependence on God for our life and salvation. Each following Wednesday night in Lent is a time for short services that have traditionally focused on themes circling around the cross or the catechism.

Each year we make this movement towards the cross and the tomb and the resurrection. Every time I find myself singing praises to the Lord. Thank God He has found me lost and condemned in the ashes and He has made me a new creation.

Unity in the Cross and not the Ceremony

Amos was a prophet who spoke against the vanity of big ceremonies when the lives of the people are filled with injustice and unrighteousness. Amos 5:18-24 was the Old Testament read yesterday in my congregation. I preached on this lesson, and I found myself still circling around this text when I woke up today. I want to figure out how to bring unity to worship and life so that the promises of God are found in more than just the words of worship.

I think it is important to wrestle with the struggle between words and works. Many people struggle to bring unity to worship and life. I do not want to be content with big ceremonies that are matched with lives weak in justice and righteousness. So I think congregations will be stronger when we are united in more than just the externals ceremonies and rites.

Our true unity is found when we are assembled by the rescuing words of Jesus. My connection to God is not found in the beat of the song that I sing, the flowing of my robes, or the particular posture of my hands when I pray. The foundation for my unity with God is not found in my works. I am one with God because of the work of Christ. How does this unity with Christ through His work change the works of my own hands?

Congregations must find unity in the work of Christ. The work of Christ is the lens through which we are called to understand ourselves and also how we are called to see others. I am tired of seeing my enemies in fear and worry, I want to see all people as ones whom Christ loves and seeks to redeem. I think the only way I can change how I see people is to trust in the work of Christ to be the one who brings rescue.

I am not seeking a unity in just externals. I am not seeking a unity built on an empty promise of acceptance. I am seeking unity in the forgiveness of sins found in Christ Jesus. I want to be united in the truth that we are all sinners, and only through the working of the Spirit of God will we repent of our sin and trust in Jesus.

I am confident the culture of a congregation can be transformed when the unifying principle is no longer driven by fear or comfort. The culture of a congregation can be turned towards justice and righteousness when the cross cultures us to see how God is at work among the weak, broken, and struggling.

Justice will roll down like waters, and righteousness like a stream in our lives when we find ourselves united to the work of Christ on the cross.

Building with the love of Christ for the weak and struggling

WelcomeI want the congregation I serve to be a community in which young children are encouraged to be present in worship. I understand that this summer two different young families left a worship service after others made them feel decidedly not welcome with their children. I understand the frustration of trying to focus during the Divine Service while distractions swirl in the noise scape. I think though that if a young mother is approached about her child being too noisy, the effort should be aimed towards help and aid. If a young mother leaves the worship service in tears and anger then something has decidedly gone wrong.

So this Sunday I used the occasion of the gospel text being Matthew 18 to preach about how our community of believers must be built on the foundation of the love of Christ. The sermon was heavy on the law. I do not think I brought the healing and strengthening and transforming gospel well enough forward in the sermon.

I began the sermon talking about how we have been created for community in the very ordering of creation. We have been made male and female; we have been made to be in relationship with others. Relationships become broken because of sin. When we attempt to rebuild relationships to have them center around ourselves, these sorts of relationships cannot stand for long. The tower of Babel in Genesis 11 is an example of people failing to build community because they sought to make a name for themselves instead of seeking to honor God. Relationships that are built on selfish pursuits instead of seeking the strength of the other are scattered by God.

God, in His mercy, seeks to bring healing to our broken relationships. Jesus Christ has come so that we might be reconciled to God and so that we might be reconciled to one other. While we ruin our relationship with God and with one another through our vain selfishness, God restores us to a right relationship through the self-sacrifice love of our savior Jesus.

In 1 Corinthians 3:10-14 I am reminded of the danger of starting to build our community on Christ but then setting aside His love to finish the task of building using our own vanity. St. Paul points out that anyone who builds on Christ with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, or straw will be found to be a fraud on the day of judgment. We are called to build on Christ and continue to daily build our lives on the forgiving love of Christ. When we use the love of Christ for the weak and struggling among us we will find that the big bad wolf can huff and puff but he cannot blow our house down. We must build and continually seek to build our community of faith through the love of Christ. When another among us is weak or hurting our aim is to restore him or her.

Thinking of how a community of people building on the love of Christ should respond to a mother struggling with her young children in the worship service, I ask that we consider how our response could help to build that mother up or tear her down. I hope we can build up young families by building them up in the love of Christ.

Sermon September 7, 2014 from St. Paul Lutheran Church on Vimeo.

Paid endorsements

blog-twitter-paid-endorsementAt the Oscars this year Samsung paid $20 million dollars to ABC for advertising and product placement. Ellen, the host, prominently used a Samsung phone during the broadcast to tweet pictures and updates. The preplanned Oscar selfie that was quickly retweeted by thousands was a paid product placement.

Product placements are not new. Coca-cola clearly is on display during American Idol broadcasts and Chrysler cars are used during all the NCIS shows. Paying for influence is taken for granted on television shows. Of course paying for influence is not only experienced on television. Companies employ lobbyists on “K” street to influence politicians in Washington and sometimes write the legislation. Boeing crafted the talking points recently for a Washington politician and she did not successfully hide that her speech was written on Boeing letterhead. Senator Murray denies getting her talking points from Boeing, but her statements are unconvincing to many people.

There recently was a news story about Elevation church. Elevation produced a document titled, “Spontaneous Baptisms — A How-To Guide” and the church
shared it freely on the Sun Stand Still website. It would appear that Elevation plants people in visible seats to “spontaneously” get up and encourage others to go forward to be baptized. After being baptized at Elevation, people receive a t-shirt and bumper sticker to influence others.

I want people to be influenced by the love of God in Christ Jesus revealed on the cross and the empty tomb. I want people to love because they have first been loved. Here is something I think I think: People will see through the inauthentic paid influence of those who peddle a product because they have been paid to market the product. I think people are hungry for an authentic message of hope that is true and wasn’t just paid to sound true. I do not think people will see through the lies on their own. We are sinners and we are attracted to lies like a moth to a bright light. As a pastor I know that I must trust the Holy Spirit to be at work in the Word of God to reveal the truth and hope of the good news of Jesus. The gimmicks, lies, and deceptions of false, planted, or paid testimonials will not transform hearts captive to sin.

Amazon.com product reviews now have a notation next to a review if the person actually bought the product being reviewed. It is fascinating to think a special note is needed for the truth. Forbes.com did an article in January revealing that Amazon has trust issues. Amazon has developed an avenue for trusted reviewers to share their stories. It is called Amazon Vine. Members of the vine receive free products as long as they promise to post reviews of at least 80% of the products they receive. I like the vine imagery for trusted reviews. Jesus told his followers about how vines and branches are connected, and we can only bear good fruit as we are connected to Jesus. I like that the Jesus’ vine existed before the Amazon vine.

As I prepare to preach on Ash Wednesday I have looked at these  words from the prophet Joel and I have thought about how the LORD God does not desire us to be paid product endorsers,

“Yet even now,” declares the LORD, “return to me with all your heart, with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning; and rend your hearts and not your garments.” Return to the LORD your God, for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love; and he relents over disaster.- Joel 2:12-13

We are challenged in these words to come to the Lord with sorrowful hearts and discover that He is gracious and merciful and slow to anger. We do not need to be paid product endorsers of this good news because we actually are transformed by Jesus.

I have noticed that in commercials that utilize a testimonial format there will often be small print notifying us that the actors are not actual clients but paid actors. When you share the good news of Jesus Christ, will people need to look for the fine print at the bottom of the screen notifying them that you are only a paid actor?

There should be no small print in our lives expecting people to dismiss the truthfulness of our hope in Jesus Christ. In a world muddled with paid endorsements of false promises, I rejoice that the good news of Jesus Christ is an honest and free gift.

New Year’s Eve 2013 Sermon

Psalm 90:1-12
Numbering our Days

The Lord is our dwelling place. He has been our shelter since the beginning of time, because through him the mountains were brought forth. From everlasting to everlasting he is our God. An opinion, a feeling, a personal experience, or any other truth we design for ourselves cannot erase the truth that the Lord God is God. There are individuals that believe that reliance upon God negates a persons individual strength to do things for themselves. There are some that believe that God is just a simple addition to their lives. God is not a negative in the equation of our lives. God is not just another factor to add to our lives. God is our dwelling place and without him, we are without a home for eternity.

While you cannot understand his wonderful was and his unsearchable judgments, find rest and peace tonight in the truth that his intentions are always good and his purposes do not fail. Continue reading

Sermon from 1st Sunday after Christmas

A study in Joseph’s movement through
Law and Gospel
Love of God in free service to neighbor
Obedience in suffering

Intro the scene: Today we continue the celebrations of Christmas as we become witnesses to the reality that Joseph raised this holy child in a world which provides grave threats to the child born to his beloved wife Mary.

Jesus was born in Bethlehem. The shepherds visited. Mary treasured all these things in her heart and the shepherds returned glorying and praising God.

Later, when the Holy Family are in a house in Bethlehem, wise men visit bringing gifts of gold, frankincense, myrrh.

Then a difficult transition is made that seems so jarring in the midst of the carols and presents. Joseph is warned in a dream to take the child and his mother and flee to Egypt and remain there until told. For Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him.”

Herod’s desire to destroy this child is an indication that opposition will follow Jesus throughout his life.

Joseph rose and followed the commands of the angel. The family remained in Egypt until the death of Herod, interestingly we can use this information to help understand when Jesus was born. Herod died in 4 BC. So certainly Jesus was born before Herod’s death and so born before 4 BC.

There is a child’s story told about the Holy Family hiding in a cave. A spider was there in that cave and wanted badly to do something for the little King. The spider decides to give what he can – he spins a web at the entrance of the cave, creating a curtain that keeps out the evening cold. Then some soldiers come looking for the Holy Child and approach the cave. Seeing the spider’s web is undisturbed, they assume the cave is empty. The spider saved the little King’s life! So as the legend goes, this is why we put tinsel on our Christmas trees, recalling the glistening web of the spider at the cave’s entrance. There is of course no corroboration for this story, but it is lovely to tell how this little child, in whom heavenly and earthly had become one, humbled himself to need the care and protection of Joseph and even that little spider.

The fright of Joseph and Mary, as the rose with the child to flee to Egypt, is so jarring against the backdrop of the visit of the shepherds and the wise men.

Some families have known first hand the two-fold reality of Christ being born and specifically being born into a world full of sin and struggle. On Christmas Eve there were people in the emergency rooms of the hospitals around us. On the day after Christmas I was in a hospital visiting someone and I was struck by the reality that even while I enjoyed opening presents with my family and enjoyed a peaceful Christmas day, there were many who were suffering and dying.

I was also grieved to read that there were Christians in Iraq that heard the sounds of bombs jarringly disrupt their worship and kill 37 people.

This first Sunday after Christmas with its gospel reading from Matthew reveals that we cannot be blind to the real world in which Jesus is born.

How do we worship the newborn king while we live in a world filled with so much evil?
We will answer this question as we move from the majesty of the miraculous birth of our Lord and him receiving of the gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh, to Joseph being warned in a dream to take his family and flee to Egypt.

Joseph and the Holy Family experience the grave struggle against sin. Herod was breathing his murderous threats against this child knowing that he has been deceived by the magi who, having been warned in a dream, returned home by another way.

We continue to live in a world with Herod type men and women who seek to harm the good news message of Jesus. We continue to live in a world in which people still must seek refuge, shelter, protection from the dangers of this world.

Joseph is a witness to us that we cannot control how the good news is shared in this world. Jesus arrived in the midst of an evil world. We can respond like Herod and so see Jesus as a threat to our power and selfish desires. Or we can respond like Mary who pondered everything in her heart, or like the shepherds that returned glorying and praising God for all that they had seen and heard, or like Joseph we can rely on God to guide us.

Joseph did not rely on his own strength to defeat the threat of Herod. He trusted in the word of God that was delivered to him by the angel. Our deliverance from the evil of Herod continues to have trust in the Word of God.

The response to Jesus being born can be either to breathe murderous threats of Herod or care taking of Joseph. Which response will you make?

God will continue to bring into his world the good news of Jesus, even while the threats of evil seem to silence the celebrations. The Gospel of Matthew shows God’s controlling hand works so that even the evil of Herod would serve his divine purposes. There were prophecies that the messiah would be born in Bethlehem, come out of Egypt, and be a Nazarene. God worked through the treachery of the world to yet accomplish his purposes.

The plan of God for salvation through Christ moves relentlessly forward. The evil in this world cannot stop this good news and will only find themselves unwittingly used by God to fulfill his promises in even more remarkable ways. Men who fight against the promises of God will fail.

Herod the Great died. Jesus and his family were able to return. They did not settle in Bethlehem because they heard that Archelaus was reigning over Judea in place of his father Herod. Archelaus was known for his evil and in AD 6 the Jewish leaders in Jerusalem forced Rome to recall him and he was exiled.

As dependent as a child is in this world, God yet reveals that he can fulfill his promises. Our greatest strength is found in humbly trusting in the plans and purposes of God and so trust him to be our salvation. In the trust that God is our salvation, we will love God and serve our neighbors. Our obedience may bring us into frightful moments of suffering, but we will trust God to be our protector and guide. Even in the midst of the greatest of evils and treachery we can remain faithful to God. The work of Jesus was not filled with interruptions or detours. God worked through the weakest moments to reveal his ability to bring about our salvation.

In your weak moments that jolt you away from the praises of the glories of the angels, trust in God to be your salvation.

What does the Gospel Look Like in a “Me” World?

I recently watched the online video of a nearby non-denominational church’s Sunday morning worship service. The service started with the worship band singing a cover of Gavin DeGraw’s song “I Don’t Want to Be.” The narrator in the song celebrates that he does not want to be anyone else besides “me.” For instance, one line in the song goes, “All I have to do is think of me and I have a peace of mind.” You can read the rest of the lyrics here.

The song has a fun beat to it and drives forward with a guitar that desires listeners to cheer along with this “me.” I wonder if this song demonstrates the modern gospel, the modern attempt at good news to brings rescue from the hurts and harms that we have done to others and what has been done to us?

I hope not, because I find no rescue from death or the devil at work in this world when I look into me. I do not find good news for my relationship with other people by looking in me. I do not find peace by looking into my mirror in the morning. It is not that I am filled with self-loathing or hate myself. I am honest. I am not perfect. I am not looking to become a better me to find my place in the world. It would be unfair to people I love if I demanded that they just accept me for who I am. I am a sinner. In my thoughts, words and actions I miss the mark. In my own nature, in my own me, I will not find rescue for my sin, my death, or from the devious attacks of the devil. I cannot just become a better me.

God in his mercy has seen the trajectory of “me” is not headed towards peace. So Jesus became flesh and lived and died and rose again for me. I have been washed in the love of Jesus so that I have been joined to Jesus dying on the cross. I trust that if I have been joined to the death of Jesus then I certainly have been joined to the resurrection of Jesus. This Jesus is my good news.

Jesus does not condemn me. Neither does Jesus desire that I remain a sinner. Jesus loves me to save me from me. The message in the song “Jesus love me” is not about how Jesus loves me as a sinner. Jesus loves me entirely from his nature to love and not because of anything I am. The divine love of Jesus that rescues me from myself is the love that Jesus has for me entirely apart from what I have done or who I am. I worry that the modern gospel has become a celebration of “me” instead of a celebration that Jesus loves us while we were yet still sinners. I follow Jesus, because if I followed myself I would just go in circles and get no closer to becoming the man that God has created me to be. I follow Jesus because he is the way to eternal life.