Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Terrible Nights (Part 2) - A Christmas Sermon

Matthew 2: 14 - 18

So Joseph got up and, taking his child and his mother with him in the middle of the night, set off for Egypt, where he remained until Herod's death. This again is a fulfillment of the Lord's word spoken through the prophet -- Out of Egypt did I call my son.

When Herod saw that he had been fooled by the wise men, he was furiously angry. He issued orders, and killed all the male children of two years and under in Bethlehem and the surrounding district - basing his calculation on his careful questioning of the wise men. Then Jeremiah's prophet was fulfilled:

A voice was heard in Ramah,
Weeping and great mourning,
Rachel weeping for her children;
And she would not be comforted, because they are not.

It saddens me to say that what happened on Friday, December 14, 2012 in Newtown, Connecticut is almost identical to what happened not long after Jesus was born. There was a man filled with jealousy and a need for control and power. As a King he took it upon himself to annihilate any and all threats to his throne of power. Innocent lives were lost at the hand of King Herod just as innocent lives where lost in Connecticut at the hands of a man who was filled with rage.

This passage from Matthew shows us that evil exits. It will exist until Christ returns. So what do we do? How do we find comfort in the midst of such pain, grief and despair? The day after the massacre I made my first tandem jump. After Friday I was ready for it. All last week the excitement and anticipation was so overwhelming and when Friday came it completely disappeared. I needed Saturday. I needed something to distract me, f only for a moment, from the chaos. Well, as God always does, he met my need in and through that jump.

Before I tell you how allow me to back track. In my first sermon, "Terrible Nights", I talk about how God can deliver us in the same way he delivered Joseph, Mary and Jesus. Today I want to talk about how God can comfort us during our terrible nights.

After the 60 second free fall the parachute opens and I and my jumping partner float for 6 - 7 minutes to the ground. It is actually a lot of time to view the world. Though jumping keeps you in the "real world" you are removed from the reality on the ground. I noticed how the horizon went on for days. I saw the curvature of the earth that we take for granted when our feet are firmly planted on the ground. I saw different types of soil, grass, waterways and ponds. I saw creation in a bigger and fuller way. What I saw was beautiful.  In God's creation there is beauty and through that beauty I was comforted. In the midst of my deep pain and unrelenting darkness God's creation became my comfort.

My prayer for all of you is that God will reveal to the beauty of creation and in that beauty you will find comfort in the midst of great tragedy and darkness. For the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness does not extinguish the light. - John 1: 5

My prayer: Come Lord Jesus, Come quickly!

O Come, O Come, Emmanuel

For more Advent and Christmas thoughts visit a fellow blogger here.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Look What I Did This Weekend!

On Saturday, December 15, 2012 I took my first tandem jump.

The jump was @ Triangle Skydiving Center in Louisburg, NC.
(WARNING: This is not for the faint of heart)

You will notice that the audio did not work so I can't hear what I sad when talking to the videographer. The main thing is that I plan to do this again. It was so much fun.

Friday, December 14, 2012


I sit here in a Barnes and Noble Starbucks cafe trying to figure out what I should say in the wake of the shooting in Connecticut but I can't. The irony, coincidence or providence, whatever you want to call it is so thick for me in light of the sermon I preached this past Tuesday and then posted yesterday. The message was aptly titled, "Terrible Nights" (Click Here to Read). No doubt tonight will be a terrible night for 20 families.

Sometimes I put responsibility on myself just because I am a minister and this is one of those times. I should say something to bring comfort to a nation that is grieving right now. But I can't. My grief is so raw it is all I can do to not sob uncontrollably in this Starbucks cafe.With that I leave you with this post I found on a friends Facebook wall.

"Some days dark tremors sweep across our lives. Troubling events accost us. We have grown accustomed to such things, and often we have fenced off our natural sympathies with the thought: this belongs to somebody else.

But now a crisis of life brushes close to us, touches us, befalls us and those we love. We want, now, to know: how, and what, and why? We want an explanation, though we know that all our explanations put together do not finally explain. They but fend off worry, anger, and grief. The mysteries of evil and innocence remain. The darkness of being at a loss remains, and in this abyss of the heart we can but pray for light.

This is when I pray, and this is my prayer.

Let me be patient of all these feelings that drive me hither and yon. May I be at peace, more patient with myself. Let me live within the questions that promise no answers but only signal the mystery that gave them birth. Let me turn from every pettiness of the heart, willing to see and accept that the world does not revolve around me. Let the grief, the pain, and the nameless trouble that overcomes me also open me to feel what others have felt.

Giver of being and freedom, unbind my compassion for all beings about me, and again set free the child of grace within me. Amen." -George Kimmich Beach 

Thursday, December 13, 2012

"Terrible Nights" - A Christmas Sermon

This is the message I brought at HopeTree Family Services Annual Christmas Service on Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Matthew 1
18 This is how the birth of Jesus Christ took place. When Mary his mother was engaged to Joseph, before they were married, she became pregnant by the Holy Spirit. 19 Joseph her husband was a righteous man. Because he didn't want to humiliate her, he decided to call off their engagement quietly. 20 As he was thinking about this, an angel from the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, "Joseph son of David, don't be afraid to take Mary as your wife, because the child she carries was conceived by the Holy Spirit. 21 She will give birth to a son, and you will call him Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins." 22 Now all of this took place so that what the Lord had spoken through the prophet would be fulfilled: 23Look! A virgin will become pregnant and give birth to a son, And they will call him, Emmanuel. (Emmanuel means "God with us.") 24 When Joseph woke up, he did just as an angel from God commanded and took Mary as his wife. 25 But he didn't have sexual relations with her until she gave birth to a son. Joseph called him Jesus.     
Matthew 2
1 After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in the territory of Judea during the rule of King Herod, magi came from the east to Jerusalem. 2 They asked, "Where is the newborn king of the Jews? We've seen his star in the east, and we've come to honor him." 3 When King Herod heard this, he was troubled, and everyone in Jerusalem was troubled with him. 4 He gathered all the chief priests and the legal experts and asked them where the Christ was to be born. 5 They said, "In Bethlehem of Judea, for this is what the prophet wrote: 6You, Bethlehem, land of Judah, by no means are you least among the rulers of Judah, because from you will come one who governs, who will shepherd my people Israel." 7 Then Herod secretly called for the magi and found out from them the time when the star had first appeared. 8 He sent them to Bethlehem, saying, "Go and search carefully for the child. When you've found him, report to me so that I too may go and honor him." 9 When they heard the king, they went; and look, the star they had seen in the east went ahead of them until it stood over the place where the child was. 10 When they saw the star, they were filled with joy. 11 They entered the house and saw the child with Mary his mother. Falling to their knees, they honored him. Then they opened their treasure chests and presented him with gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. 12 Because they were warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they went back to their own country by another route. 13 When the magi had departed, an angel from the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, "Get up. Take the child and his mother and escape to Egypt. Stay there until I tell you, for Herod will soon search for the child in order to kill him."     

This would be her second child but this delivery would be very different from the first delivery. The second child was coming so fast there was no time for an epidural, something this mother had for the first delivery. When I got to the hospital she said, "Dell, I thought I was losing my mind!" I thought to myself, "How Terrible!" Here a woman is bringing life into this world and she thought she was losing her mind. It makes me think of another woman who's first delivery was probably terrible too. That woman would be Mary, the mother of Jesus. We know the story well, Mary and Joseph were on their way to be counted for the census and Mary was great with child but there was no room for them in the Inn. All they had for shelter was a stable. This stable had livestock in it and you know it smelled. Even cute sheep smell. This is where Mary would give birth to Jesus, in a stable with livestock, strong smells and hay that pokes you in your skin and scratches you. That is how our Savior came into the world and this was Mary's "delivery room". That was terrible. But lets backtrack 9 months when Mary first learned from the angel that she was with child, conceived by the Holy Spirit. It is concluded that according to Jewish customs and law that Mary was around the age of 13 when she received this message from the angel. That is not the kind of news I would have wanted to hear when I was 13 and I imagined no other woman would want that either. As favored as Mary was in the eyes of God I imagine in her native language she had a few choice words upon hearing this news. See, in 2nd century Palestine it was not unheard of for a woman who was pregnant outside the bonds of marriage to me stoned to death. Our passage from Matthew eludes to this indirectly by telling us of Joseph's compassion by him deciding to send Mary, "quietly" away so as not to shame her.

Once Jesus was born the Wise men came to see Jesus and upon their leaving God order Joseph to take Mary and Jesus and flee to Egypt, for Herod wanted Jesus dead. Why do I tell you these terrible things during a wonderful holiday season? Context! See, blessings and thanksgivings have no meaning without the context of the struggles and obstacles we have overcome or are currently in. If we are to begin to understand the MAGNITUDE of God's love for us then it helps to understand the circumstances Joseph and Mary find themselves in within their culture and community. Just as women can deliver children into this world, God who gives that gift of delivery, can also deliver us from whatever circumstances we find ourselves in. Through this one family, Mary, Joseph and Jesus we see to what lengths God will go to deliver those that he loves. God literally delivered both Mary and Jesus from immanent death. Jesus himself was born with a death threat on his head, but God saw to it that Mary would carry Jesus to term and that Jesus would not succumb to an early death. God also delivered Joseph. He delivered Joseph from the law of his day. Make no mistake, even the laws of our day can be oppressive or unlawful and God delivered Joseph from the oppression of Jewish law by giving Joseph permission to take Mary as his wife, though she was with child outside the bonds of marriage.

If God can deliver Mary and Jesus from certain death and Joseph from oppression under the law will he not deliver you? God can deliver you from death, whether it is an early physical death due to health problems or emotion and spiritual death. God can also deliver you from any oppression you experience from the laws of our day. GOD CAN DELIVER YOU! Will you let him?

Monday, December 10, 2012

To Tell the Gospel

What does it mean to "Tell the Gospel?" Furthermore, what is the Gospel?

John 3:16 says, "For God so loved the World that he gave his only son, that who ever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life."

Most Christians I know say that the gospel is summed up in this verse, but I would like to add something else. Jesus commanded us to love our neighbor as ourselves. This too, for me, is gospel also.

So then, if loving our neighbor is also good news, what then does it mean to "Love our Neighbor?"
Jesus taught that loving our neighbor included not loving just those we like but also people who we did not like, or even those who hated us. It is very tempting to stop here but I want to explore this further. Jesus said a lot of things but he was also an example for how we are to live as Christians. If we only look to what Jesus said and repeat it, I am afraid we have fallen short of what we are called to do when sharing the Gospel. Based on the 4 gospels; Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, we read of Jesus' interactions with people. More specifically we read about his relationships with those he encountered and those he lived with. The commandment, along with Jesus' example on how to live lead me to believe that loving our neighbor includes interaction that leads to the building of relationships. To tell the Gospel is to interact with people, have conversation and build relationships. I believe so strongly in this that it is the basis on which I do ministry. It is also why I was so thoroughly offended by the actions of a few this past weekend.

This past Friday I went to a Christmas Parade to see an entry in the parade. Just prior to the start of the parade I had been talking to a couple when a young lady came by and gave each of us what looked like money. Upon further reading there was the figure of $1,000,000 and Santa Claus on the bill. On the opposite side, in small print, was a list of sins that could send you to Hell should you commit them. (It really said that) Then in one sentence said how you could avoid Hell; confess your sins before the Lord, ask for forgiveness and declare the Lord as your Savior. Now I imagine you are all wondering how I would be offended by this by the fact that I am a minister and this is in the Bible. That is for another post except to say it was not the content on the paper that offended me.

Not long after that lady came by, about 5 minutes till the parade started a man on the street corner yelled very loudly in an attempt to get peoples attention. I assumed he was associated with the parade as I think most people did, as the crowd drew quiet and began to listen to the man. Very quickly, it became apparent he was not but was what I used to call, a Street Preacher. Very quickly people went back to the conversation including the couple and I that I had been conversing with.

I want to say very clearly that while I do not know these two people I encountered on Friday night, I do not hold any ill feelings towards them but their actions were hurtful to me and I will now explain why. Keep in mind that I believe that when we tell the Gospel relationship is a part of it.

The woman who, as quick as she gave the paper bill to me, left without having a conversation neither did the man. He stood on a street corner with an audience that was not going to leave because they were there to see the parade that would start in less than 5 minutes. He took advantage of the situation and talked at/to us and never had a conversation with us. What offends me about this is that neither of these people, in their attempt to tell the Gospel, learned anything about me. They don't know that at the age of 6 I heard the voice of God calling me to salvation. That at the age of 7 I followed Jesus' example and was baptized. They don't know that I heard the call to full time Christian Ministry and that I followed it to Ordination to the gospel ministry. And because they don't know any of these things about me, I don't know anything about them either. When it comes to sharing the Gospel that makes me sad as a minister. All the blessings that have come from God have come through the relatiosnhips that I have with people in which we share our lives with one another. If we are to truly bless the world we live in with the Good News of Jesus Christ we must be intentional about building relationships. Anything less and we all lose out. They missed out on getting to know me and I missed out on getting to know them as well.

One last note:

In the greek the word euangelion means "good news". How is it good news to tell people everything that will cause them to perish rather than what has been done for them so that they can know the grace, love and salvation of Jesus?