Friday, December 23, 2011

"Real-izing" Christmas (2)

One of the ways we “real-ize” (yes, that is an intentional hypen) Christmas is through gifts. It’s how we express love tangibly. Yes, physical gifts are a good way to bring meaning to the words we say at Christmas.

In fact, this Christmas Julie already gave me Matthew Wests's new Christmas CD. She knows how much I like the seasonal sounds, so she showed me her love by giving me that gift. (Nice, honey!)

I also recall another gift that is quite a bit older – the watch she gave me 23 years ago (which also served as a wedding gift since we were married the week after Christmas). Both are very different, yet both hold a similar quality in that show me Julie’s love. They help me see how real her love is. In that way her gifts help "real-ize" her words.

The wise men were these kind of men. They real-ized that first Christmas when they made it tangible and physical. How? Through their gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. (Matthew 2:10-11)

A few general words about these gifts are in order. Not only were these gifts the physical expression of their worship, I believe these gifts may have also been profitable to them in that may have been used to help Mary and Joseph financially when they fled to Egypt. They were also prophetic. Specifically, gold spoke to Christ’s royalty, the frankincense to his deity, and the myrrh to his humanity, especially his death. For even though myrrh was often used in biblical celebrations, it was also often an embalming spice, ointment, or perfume.

But more importantly, the gifts speak to me principally, teaching me something about "real-izing" Christmas (i.e., making Christmas real, not merely redundant or ridiculous): We must give in a way that is costly and concrete. Truly, that’s what worship is – a costly and concrete giving of all that we are and have to all that God is and does.

Perhaps you're thinking, "Todd, I plan to have a very real Christmas when I give some some costly gifts in a concrete way. Isn’t that making Christmas real?” On a horizontal level and from a chronological perspective, I think so. It’s what we do for those we love each year at this time.

But the worship this passage describes has far more than a horizontal goal. It is vertical in its nature. It’s the costly giving of concrete things to Jesus. Granted – he was right there in human flesh, so it seems they had it easier than us in actually giving something costly and concrete to Jesus. Yet, I think the text lays out a principle that we cannot escape: True worship is both costly and concrete. It was for them, and it should be for us.

Which is why, on this Christmas day, evaluating your love for your family and friends by the gifts you give them on this one day of the year isn’t really the focus of this blog. Rather, I'm here to ask you to evaluate your worship of Jesus and the gifts you give him on all the other days of the year. That’s really the question: Is your worship of Jesus costly and concrete throughout the year?

The answer to that question really can’t be answered without at least one more question, the one most of you are asking right now: How do you give to Jesus in a costly, concrete way? After all, you’re reasoning, he’s not here, and he doesn’t really need anything. So how do you give to God when he isn’t visible or needy? Simply put, you give to his kids who are exactly that – visible and needy! That’s right - you give to God in costly, concrete ways by giving to his people in costly, concrete ways.

Jesus actually taught us this when he said in Matthew 25:40, "And the King will answer them, 'Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.'”


· When you give to help our Zambian team build, in partnership with the residents, a well in the village Chishiko so the families there can build a sustainable living environment, you are worshiping God in a costly, concrete way.

· When you donate to our benevolence fund to help FF families that are going through difficult times and need help from the body, trusting the deacons as they administer these monies, you are worshiping God in a costly, concrete way.

· When you bring in clothes and food every fifth Sunday that go to help local families in need and also aid the clothes closet at our local men’s and women’s prisons, you are worshiping God in a costly, concrete way.

· When you give your Saturday – or any other day – to roof that house of a friend, make that meal for a neighbor, visit that family, help that sick person – you are worshiping God in a costly and concrete way.

The point? One of the best ways to give to God is by giving to his children. That’s how it is costly and concrete.

Incidentally, this is exactly how God gave to us. Consider the costliness and concreteness of John 3:16:

“For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son…”

Now that’s a costly, concrete gift – a son!

Paul echoed this in 2 Cor. 9:15 when he said, referring to Jesus, “Thanks be to God for his indescribable gift!”

And it’s precisely that gift – Jesus – who gave just like his Father. No doubt the cross is the evidence that Jesus gave in a costly, concrete manner as well. And he provides all the reason we need to give just like he and his Father gave: in a costly, concrete manner.

Merry CHRISTmas!

Thursday, December 22, 2011

"Real-izing" Christmas (1)

Christmas, at least in America, is a time of great imagination. From flying reindeer to a fat man down a chimney to the magic of mistletoe…it’s a season of make believe. Movies like The Polar Express, It’s a Wonderful Life, and Miracle on 34th Street all highlight this obvious seasonal tendency (which, by the way, is a tendency I like and those are all delightful movies I enjoy.) All that to say this – Christmas is rampant with many items not rooted in reality.

This is why I find some elements in Luke's account of Christ's birth – the time we know as Christmas -- very intriguing, for they are elements rooted in the reality of that time. Look at Luke 2, and notice, for instance,

• Caesar Augustus (sounds like a dressing and a calendar had a crash)

• Quirinius (quite a quirky name)

• Syria (no, not the satellite radio, but the country)

• Bethlehem (yeah, the little town known for it's unhospitality)

The real question is ‘Why?’ Why did Luke feel the need to incorporate so many historical markers – “tags” if you will – into this inspired account of Jesus’ birth? In my opinion, it was to bring credibility to what no doubt could easily have been turned into urban legend. It was so that the mysterious wouldn’t become fictitious. After all, as a doctor, Luke wasn't about to lend his name to superstition. So he wrote, under the Holy Spirit's inspiration, with certain first-century "tags" that credentialed the people and places of this incredible story. Think of how we “tag" people in Facebook. It’s one way of “proving” that you were either there, know the person, and/or saw it happen. You know, supporting evidence. And these ancient “tags” were Luke’s unique way of saying, "This really happened in actual time and space. It's verifiable. True. And here's some ‘tags’ to prove it."

These tags are not to say that the supernatural didn’t occur. Not at all! No doubt some supernatural items accompany Christ's birth. His virgin birth, the incarnation, the dreams, the angelic appearances, and the star in the east are all miraculous things. But the supernatural isn't unreal, just more than real. And it happened – and happens -- in the reality of their normal life. Ah, the supernatural intersecting with the natural! Now that's Christmas.

Though I choose not to take the time to "add up" all these tags in this blog, my opinion is that they all lead to the real time and space date of about 6 or 7 BC as the timeframe for Christ’s birth. That’s right – the natural environment that hosted the supernatural event we have come to know as Christmas.

Personally, thee kinds of tags add a dimension of concreteness to my faith. They “shore up” my beliefs. They don’t comprise the core, but neither do they compromise the core. In fact, I find that that the historical reality surrounding the coming of Jesus always serves to support the spiritual redemption that is the crowning significance of Jesus. Truly, the natural and the supernatural work together to showcase the eternal (Ps. 19, Rom. 1). The result? My hope grows and faith deepens.

It’s not just me, though. This is what happened in the account Luke relays to us as well. Remember the shepherds? Yes, their hope swelled. They weren’t left with disappointment, but rather anticipation. Recall their response? "Let's go see!" (Luke 2:15, Stiles paraphrase)

In current nomenclature, they were saying, "So this is what happens when God shows up! Let's check it out!" And check it out they did when they went to real animal stable in a real town to see a real baby in a real feeding trough. Sounds unreal, doesn’t it? But it’s not, no, not in the least; too many tags scream this must be true. Real. Historical. Believable.

Make no mistake about what we’re believing occurred on this real date while a real man named Quirinius was really governing: God became a man. As a baby, of course, to start; but God nonetheless. This was the ultimate merging of the natural and the supernatural, the human with the holy. Theologically, it's known as the Hypostatic Union – two natures in one body. All of God and all of man in one human, Jesus. Practically, however, it’s known as salvation. For when God came to man – when the supernatural chose to invade the natural – when the ‘more than real’ took on the flesh of ‘real,’ one thing was sure – he would save his people from their sins (Matthew 1:21)

Sounds too good to be true, doesn’t it? Almost impossible, eh? But its not. It’s real. Believable. True. Possible. Frankly, this is what all the "tags of evidence" are pointing to – the reality of what really happened on that first Christmas: God came to man, and he has a name – Jesus – and Jesus saves.

This means a lot to me personally, for there are times when, perhaps in weeks when I am dealing with my own escalating stress, a family’s severe illness, or heightened conversations with a wayward sheep, I quietly question, What if all this is false? Is everything I'm teaching and preaching really true? It's in those times I come right back to this very passage and truth – the reality of Jesus. For it is his historical reality as attested to by inspired Scripture that emboldens my faith and gives it the footing it needs. Frankly, when the whole of the evidence is seen, it is nonsense to place Jesus anywhere else but squarely on the throne. History, archeology, science, and literature, to name a few, actually pour fuel on the fire of my faith and I see, more than ever that my belief in this God-man isn't misplaced at all, but rather focused perfectly on the only One who has ever brought the supernatural to the natural in a prefect, holy manner.

What about you? Faith dwindling a bit this season? See Jesus “tagged” by many people and places in Scripture and let your confidence grow again.

Still holding out that it's really not true at all? Well, are you willing to deny the existence of Bethlehem? Syria? Caesar Augustus? Yeah, even the quirky governor, Quirinius? There are too many “tags” to take time off from reason. Believe, and watch faith ignite in your life.

May we all consider, in this season of advent, not only the scriptural truth of Jesus, but the historical evidence for Jesus. Both are seen and woven in the Bible for this purpose – that in hearing the real message of Christ, our faith in him would really grow (Romans 10:17).

Have a really merry CHRISTmas!

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

36 Christmas Day Services

Every time Christmas falls on a Sunday, it seems there is an increase in the conversation about when to hold church services. For some reason, we question our normal operating procedure when the annual "big day" falls squarely on our weekly "big day."

Don't read that and think I'm about to attack the dialogue that occurs among church staffs every 5-6 years. Not at all! In fact, I think it is a conversation you should have. After all, the normal logistical issues of the holidays are exponentially heightened when Christmas lands directly on a Sunday. And knowing how to adjust to have maximum impact is what any good team does. Still, I have found that asking questions or making suggestions about the corporate services on Christmas Day can breed a lot of various opinions.

Additionally, I have discovered, strictly through personal and very informal surveys, that this seems to be a more concentrated issue for churches that 1) have multiple services, 2) hold Christmas Eve service(s), and 3) aren't located in the southeast. [It seems that more churches in that region don't hold Christmas Eve services than do.]

It is to that issue that I relay the following story, not to suggest that what we did works every time or that this type of idea "suffices" for corporate worship. I share it to simply say that what you think may be a day of negative adjustments could be a day of positive additions if you will think and talk through the possibilities.

This was powerfully brought home to me back in 2005, the last time Christmas was on a Sunday. We were just one year old as a church, and were discussing when to have services that weekend. Both Christmas Eve and Christmas Day? Only one day? We were probably only running around 125 in attendance, but our community was very supportive of Christmas Eve services. So we knew we had a strong potential.

Yet, with many traveling, we wondered how we would staff multiple services, not just on one night, but on the next day. Plus, since we were renting space, there were other logistical issues that needed addressed. It was in the course of that discussion that, almost out of the blue, someone said, “Why don’t we just have a Christmas Eve service, then have all our Lighthouses (i.e., our small groups) hold their own service on Christmas Day by taking a gift to someone who has to work on that day?” I could tell there was a play on words there, but something about that idea took root in our group.

Suddenly, the room was abuzz with even more ways to hold a service, ways to minister to people and in places where traditionally they missed church. The people at convenience stores, the staff at the theaters, the hotel clerks and cleaners – these were all people who would be working on that day and could use the gift of someone and something serving them. Smiles and nods continued, and before long we had worked out a plan.

Let me cut to the chase and simply say that on December 24, 2005, our church held a beautiful, traditional Christmas Eve service. But on the next day, December 25, 2005 - Christmas Day - we held 36 “services.” That’s right – 36 places were adopted by our small groups, and each one got a visit, a gift, and a visible expression of the love of God. No, not in our rented facility or on our current site, but in 36 different places around our city where many of God’s people were working. Yep, people who don't normally get to be in a church service on Sunday were served by the people of God in the power of the Spirit and in the name of the Son. It was quite a Christmas "service" that meant a lot for our city and our church.

We're well past 125 in attendance now, and though we're holding a corporate worship service this year on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, I hope we're never too far past serving in Gods name on the day of the year that bears his name best - Christmas!

To all my fellow pastors who have adjusted and tweaked their schedule this Sunday, enjoy your Christmas "service," whenever and wherever it is. Merry CHRISTmas!

Friday, December 16, 2011

Christmas Hope

Hope. Even the sound of it rings with promise and expectation. And it’s especially vibrant at Christmas.

Webster’s definition of hope, based on their online dictionary, is “to cherish or desire with anticipation.” Of course, there’s nothing wrong with that definition. In fact, this kind of hope, what I call Webster hope, abounds at Christmas. “I hope I get an iPod.” Or, “I hope I get some new clothes.” Sometimes Webster hope reveals itself in more serious areas of life. “I hope I keep my job next year.” “I hope I get married.” “I hope I can beat my cancer.” For sure, Webster hope is not trivial. It weaves its way into all areas of our lives.

But the problem with Webster hope is that, at best, it is based on an uncertainty. For instance, let’s say a couple says, “I hope we get pregnant soon.” That kind of hope is a wish, not a certainty. Granted – you can do everything humanly possible to help that hope along; you can do everything in your power to make that wish come true. But at its fundamental level, it is still simply a wish.

And, unfortunately, sometimes these wishes – our Webster hopes – are left unfulfilled. Do you know why? Because Webster hope, that mere human wish or hunch that something better is just around the bend, is based on an uncertainty.

There is something different about biblical hope. Biblical hope has as its foundation a promise. It is a present confidence about the future based on past promises. I take this from Hebrews 6:19: “We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure.” Believe it or not, the Bible says hope is an anchor. That’s a lot more secure than a wish.

Why is this true? Hebrews 6:18 explains – because this hope rests on an oath made by God. Truly, our hope as believers rests on someone not something. That’s why we can have present confidence about the future – because it is anchored in the past promises of God.

In fact, throughout the New Testament, the early writers referred to Christ as “our hope.” Paul told Titus that “the glorious appearing of our great God and Jesus Christ” is the blessed hope. Paul calls Christ in us “the hope of glory.” And John said, “Anyone who has this hope purifies himself.” On earth, until we see Jesus, our hope is, like it or not, left partially unrealized. But there’s a day coming when we will see Christ face to face. At that moment, our hope will be realized fully. Completed 100%. That’s why the songwriter could write:

It will be worth it all when we see Jesus,
Life’s trials will seem so small when we see Christ;
One glimpse of his dear face all sorrow will erase,
So bravely run the race till we see Christ. 

This season, I extend to you the hope of God in the pages of Scripture and in the person of Jesus. From things regarding your eternal destiny to how to get along with your spouse to how to spend your money to how to find the right job, God’s Word and God’s Son hold the key to biblical hope, not only at Christmas time, but all year long. Merry CHRISTmas!

Thursday, December 15, 2011

The 12 Days of Christmas (Service Project Style)

Many student groups engage in various Christmas projects each year. In fact, lots of beneficial projects happen annually. Unfortunately, these projects, while they serve a good cause, are typically short-lived and unchallenging. In other words, most are simply too easy. Here's a way to help your students engage in a project that centers on developing a sacrificial spirit for more than a couple of hours. This project targets the development of a sacrificial lifestyle, the formation of servanthood, and the birth of the courage necessary to combat consumerism during the most commercialized season of the year.

1. To start, think of at least 12 ideas/ways your teens can exhibit a sacrificial attitude during the Christmas season. Bring your top teens together for this, letting them brainstorm various possibilities with you. Sending cards, visiting hospitals, delivering food, collecting coats and gloves, baby sitting, and cleaning houses are just a few ideas. Remember -- the more the merrier!

2. With the list before you, encourage your students to select 12, adopting these ideas as their "12 Days Of Christmas" service project. Ideally, the 12 ideas that comprise this project should be the student's choice. However, you may need to help with appointments, transportation, arrangements, etc. if duty calls for it. Of course, let them take the initiative and do the bulk of the work. Otherwise, it's simply your project with their name on it. Additionally, all involved should start on the same day: December 13. Following this format enables everyone to wrap up his or her 12 individual ideas on Christmas Eve.

3. Beginning December 13th, each student participating in this effort works toward this goal: Accomplish one sacrificial project each day, with an eye to finishing all 12 by Christmas Eve.

4. Each student is to try and do three things each day, but in reality the first one is the one that matters most:

a. Accomplish the specified service project/idea.

b. Call another student on the team and share their experience, listening in return for the blessing received by the other student. This also aids in accountability.

c. Chart their progress and impact by journaling. Students who write down meaningful experiences typically benefit from them longer.

A project of this nature does so much to help young people develop sacrificial habits and attitudes that start becoming part of their lifestyle. After all, isn't that we're after -- believers who sacrifice year round, not just during the Yuletide season?

HINT: Make this project a volunteer-based effort; don't force kids to be involved. Because you're trying to instill attitudes and build habits, ask for only the ones willing to work hard at sacrifice. This will take more than the desire to look good in front of the youth pastor and more than the need to gain a holiday "feel-good" before they open up their 19 Christmas gifts worth more than $600. Once the serious have volunteered, meet together and charge!

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

The Gift of Simplicity

Smartphones, with all their flash, features, and advantages, have created dumb people. Yep, I'm one. It seems I have become so dependent on these devices to remember my details that I sometimes can't even recall my parent's home phone number. See what I mean? A smart phone attached to an increasingly dumbed-down man (and a technologically spoiled one at that).

Okay, so I’m being somewhat facetious. But here’s my point. Sometimes flash and image can actually take away something’s original attractiveness: its simplicity. What once was inviting because of its clear focus and simple clarity gets less appealing as it gets "upgraded."

Christmas can get that way sometimes, can’t it? Truth is, life can get that way, eh?

Know what else can get that way? Our relationship with God and our worship of him! It did in Micah’s day, and this is what the final two chapters of the book are about: Simplicity, especially in worship. What should have been a focused response to the character and conduct of God became a complicated and corrupt performance. And it angered Jehovah! In fact, Micah 6:9-16 details the punishment that God brought because they persisted in their corrupt complexity. Their man-made "upgrades" actually become their #1 enemy!

When I read Micah 6, I think about all the "upgrades" that have actually contributed to the erroneous and complicated messages people get about Christianity. About salvation. About God. For instance, be good and you'll get in. Get wet and you'll get in. Get in and you'll get rich.Think positive and you'll get rich (in the name of Jesus, of course). Ad infinitum and ad nauseum.  All of it runs contrary and complicates the real message of the Gospel. 

Fortunately, Micah writes a last chapter of hope as he closes out the book, and in this last stanza of his prophetic song we see Micah personifying simplicity in his third description of Jesus as our Shepherd. This final "refrain" found in Micah 7:7-20 centers again the Shepherding work of Jesus Christ as the only means by which we can escape our corrupt and convoluted idolatry. Yes, the only way out of our complicated mess is the simple salvation provided by Jesus. He simply saves all who repent and believe. Nothing more and nothing less than grace alone by faith alone in Christ alone.

Remember humility? Taking the escalator down! Remember security? Taking a look up! Here's simplicity -- It's taking a trip to the cross. That’s where it all gets simple!

Merry CHRISTmas!

Monday, December 12, 2011

Christmas and Leadership

We all know its Christmas. Just look around and you can easily see its December.

But guess what else is going on right now? I’ll give you one guess: (this is where you say) "Elections!" Just check out your TV, inbox, or radio and you’ll see an infinite number of ads for an incredible amount of candidates, at least on the Republican side. And some of the ads are quite interesting…
  • Rick Perry says he can solve the border problem. 
  • Mitt Romney assures us he can create jobs.
  • Michelle Bachman claims she can get the budget balanced.
  • Ron Paul says he will end the IRS mess and finally simplify the tax structure. 
If you were an average American, you’d think that people really believed a human was the answer to the mess we’re in! (Now that’s funny!)

That’s no different than what the people in Samaria and Jerusalem were experiencing during the time of Micah and the reign of three kings. They were sure the answer to their real needs was wrapped up in a man – a human leader. But that type of thinking is a fallacy, and Micah attacks this fallacy head-on in chapter 3. He shows them that ...
  • The kings were cannibalistic (3:2-3)
  • The priests and false prophets were materialistic (3:5) 
  • The authority was duplistic (3:9-11) 
Undoubtedly, the system was broken (3:11). Oh, the price of poor leadership! Everyone suffered because everyone was surfacy! People were thinking that a man was the answer – and the men were enjoying that type of praise – but nothing could be further from the truth. It was a fallacy to think that their real needs could be met by a mere man.

Here’s that same fallacy in today's political terms: “Vote for me, and I’ll make sure your economy is better, wages are high and expenses low, I’ll cut taxes and still increase services, provide perfect healthcare, and keep your social security perfectly safe.” Yeah, right!

In today's church terms, here’s the same fallacy: “As your pastors, we’ll make sure the music is never too loud (or too soft), it’s never too hot (or too cold), you’re never on the spot (but never left out), it’s not too large (or too small)…” Get the picture? Again, yeah, right!  

You see, leaders are men at best; but at best, they’re still men. And because of that, men can never really provide what we really need. They can help us with what we temporarily need, but never with our real needs. In fact, I’ve noticed that man-made leadership and God-ordained leadership is often a contrast between what is temporary and what is permanent; what is short-term and what is long-term; what is immediate and what is eternal. Truly, the test of leadership is this: can we get people thinking beyond today? Make no mistake – that’s what real leaders need to do and how they need to lead! 

The "beyond today" goal is summed in one name: Jesus. Micah does exactly this in chapters 4-5 when he points them to the shepherd from Bethlehem. He was the only one who could provide all they needed. Yep, all

And the Good Shepherd is the only one who can provide all we need. So as leaders, especially at Christmas, let's lead people to see through the fallacy of man-based hope to the finality of Christ-centered contentment. Let's look past the gifts and through the ads to the ultimate Shepherd, Jesus.

Merry CHRISTmas! 

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Taking the Escalator Down

Few prophets describe humility better than Micah. In the last part of chapter 2, he essentially says...

1. Humble people submit to God’s provision as their Shepherd (2:12). They enjoy his role as supplier, and gladly say, “He takes care of me.”
2. Humble people submit to God’s authority as their King (2:13). They embrace his role as ruler and gladly say, “He rules over me.”

When these things are our mindset, we don’t have piles of pride blocking our view of God. All the ‘stuff’ and ‘self’ is flattened, and God alone is lifted high. We see clearly that God is all we need and God is all we heed! 

Jesus did exactly this, and no there’s no better picture of it than the one painted for us in Philippians 2. He humbled himself – he flattened himself – and became obedient to life as a mere man and death on a cruel cross. He took the “down escalator” from heaven’s throne and embraced the Father’s authority and provision. Why? So that we could be saved! Have you allowed his humility to take hold in your life?

Once saved, we can then live humbly like Jesus, our prime example of humility. And I can think of no better time than Christmas – or is it Me-mas? – to model his behavior. He took the escalator down. We can, too!

And that’s really what humility is – taking the down escalator! In fact, I thought back to my first memories of escalators – Wow, I thought. A moving staircase! I don’t know how old I was exactly, but I remember stepping toward the edge, wondering if those metal teeth were going to eat me up. Once I get on, can I get off? What about the end – will my shoes get caught and will I be trapped under the escalator? Yet, my dad was already on it, and if I was going to stay with him, I had to take the ride down. So I choose to step towards the descent, even with my questions and fears.

Humility is like our ride on the ‘down’ escalator – we step towards it and embrace the descent, no doubt wondering what might happen, but always trusting and obeying in our Shepherd and King.

Merry CHRISTmas!

Friday, December 9, 2011

Christmas or Me-mas?

The current commercialization of Christmas makes me wonder if we shouldn’t call it “Me-mas.” From many angles, December can be an awfully self-centered time of the year, can’t it? It can produce the very thing God hates – self-centeredness and pride. Let’s be honest – when you spend ...
  • $24,500 on a genuine Lost in SpaceB-9 robot, or 
  • $27,000 on a life-size (6’- 6”) Lego Batman, with only a $2700 shipping charge, or 
  • $98,000 Ferrari Testarossa Two Seater Car for Kids, or 
  • $250,000 on this Dance-On Piano (that’s $2841 per key and it comes with a private one-hour lesson) … 
…well, about the only thing that can result is a false and warped sense of our own importance. In a word, P-R-I-D-E!

(NOTE: These are actual Christmas gifts that can be bought (maybe not by any of us). Check for more outrageous gifts ideas.)

Pride is unpacked rather clearly in Micah 2. After all, it was the pride of his people that God took a stand against (Micah 2:3). It was the fundamental problem in Judah (with Jerusalem as the seed bed), and it was rampant in the northern kingdom as well (Samaria being the heart of the problem). In fact, we see throughout the first two chapters of Micah a clear oracle against the pride of these two capital cities.

But it's especially in chapter two that a more complete description of the proud activities that went on in these cities is given. Things like …
  • Sinister planning and corrupt use of authority/power (2:1) 
  • Wrongful seizure of property and houses (2:2) 
  • Deceptive deals and contracts (2:2) 
  • Blatant robbery (2:8) 
  • Outright lies (2:11) 
For sure, there is some good insight in these verses about pride and how it piles up in our life. Essentially, we need to understand that pride …
  1. Is birthed in selfishness,
  2. Is often heightened with stuff, and
  3. Is usually evidenced by what I say.
The consequence? We’re pulled away from God! Truly, that’s the plague of pride – it piles up in our life and pulls us away from God!

The antidote? Somebody or something needs to flatten the piles of pride around us. That is called humility, and the honor of humility is in this: in the flattening of us and everything around us, we only see God. It loosens our grip. It takes us down. In fact, we should embrace this posture, for we are commanded to “humble ourselves before the Lord” that he may lift us up. Good advice since it is clear that God will if we don’t! Is that scary? Yes. But necessary! So it is “neces-scary!”

This Christmas, embrace humility. Find the flat posture before God. Be content with the escalator down.

Merry CHRISTmas!

Saturday, December 3, 2011

O LITTLE Town of Bethlehem (for sure!)

His name was Phillips Brooks. And the year was 1865. It was Christmas Eve, and Philips was riding horseback from Jerusalem to Bethlehem, where he was to assist with the midnight Christmas Eve service. The memorable journey impacted him, and though he tucked away the inspiration from that night for three years, finally in 1868 Phillips Brooks shared that experience in the song, “O Little Town of Bethlehem.” Originally a 5-stanza poem, he gave it to the church organist, Lewis Redner, who gave the poem its musical background.

In fact, Phillips writes about this experience… “I remember standing in the old church in Bethlehem, close to the spot where Jesus was born, when the whole church was ringing hour after hour with splendid hymns of praise to God, how again and again it seemed as if I could hear voices I knew well, telling each other of the wonderful night of the Savior’s birth.”

Ah, Bethlehem…the Christmas City. Small, but oh, so important. After all, it was the birthplace of a King. It's also the subject of the literary apex of Micah's prophecy (i.e., the climax of what comes before and after) -- Micah 5:2 - "But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are small among the clans of Judah, out of you will come for me one who will be ruler over Israel, whose origins are from of old, from ancient times.”

Culturally and geographically, Bethlehem was nothing compared to Jerusalem (Judah’s capital) or Samaria (Israel’s capital). It was a small town just south of the main city. Yet, it would be the centerpiece of the Savior’s birth! (It is actually set against these two major cities in 1:1.)

And Bethlehem isn’t the only small thing going on in this book. Professionally, Micah was not a major player compared to other prophets (like his contemporary Isaiah). Meaning ‘Who is like the Lord?’, Micah was one to do exactly that – lift up the Lord and hide himself behind the great character of God. He never left Judah from what we know, and doesn’t mention a single of Israel’s kings in his opening verse. He was a prophet without much attention.

Politically, his message wasn’t ringing well with the hearers. With all the kings in power at that time of Judah (Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah as described in the books of the Kings and Chronicles), who was going to listen to a lesser-known prophet from the region of Moresheth-Gath?

But God sees things differently, doesn’t he? Possessions, position and performance don’t make me more valuable to God, for he sees through the outer layer to the heart. Could there be any better message at Christmas?

Think about it – When most of the world will be wrapped up in these very things – possessions, position, and performance – does anything speak more powerfully to the message of Micah than a lowly manger in a stable, the air around it filled with the cries of a little baby? What could appear to be more “insignificant” than that? But the reality is this – nothing is more significant or important than the child in that manger!

No wonder the carol “Away in a Manger” became an immediate Christmas favorite when it was published. Though the actual author is unknown, verses 1 and 2 appeared anonymously in Little Children’s Book for Schools and Families in 1885, and verse 3 was later added by John Thomas McFarland. James Ramsey Murray printed all of them together in Dainty songs for Little Lads and Lasses: For use in the Kindergarten, School and Home in 1887. With no original tune, it was sung to tunes well-known already in England and America. Yet, the carol that seems to be a “lucky” collection of words and music from all over captures the heart of what really matters – the significance of a baby in a manger, the Christ child!

That’s where I want to start this Christmas season – and that’s where I want to stay -- at the seemingly insignificant manger in the small town of Bethlehem, where possessions, position and pride are all debunked and where true significance cries. Won’t you join me there this December – at the manger in Bethlehem – and let’s learn to value the significance of small things, not only this month, but all year long.
Merry CHRISTmas!

Friday, December 2, 2011

One Small But Significant Action

Few people in the early 1900's knew the hidden power of a single, small action better than James Flannigan, a pastor in Omaha, NE in 1917.

You see, while most of America was wrapped up in World War 1, checking the papers daily to see if their boy was on the list of those killed in Europe, Rev. Flannigan was concerned about the orphan boys right under his nose; the lonely, homeless, hungry children who sat right in the path he took everyday to his church.

Know what he did? He invited six of them over to his house on December 12, 1917. And that was the beginning of Boys Town USA. Yes, he simply saw a need – one that most thought was insignificant – and met it. And he's been meeting needs ever since.

Merry CHRISTmas!

Thursday, December 1, 2011

The Small Gifts of Christmas

Small things can make a big difference! And small books can have a great impact. Such is the case with the short, self-titled book by the prophet Micah. In fact, it’s small things that Micah brings attention to throughout the three sections of his prophecy.

Micah is best understood based on its three divisions, each one marked off by the words “listen” or “hear.” And in each division Micah talks about the big, obvious, and loud – possessions and things (1:2-2:13), position and titles (3:1-5:15), and pompous worship and rituals (6:1-7:20). Yet, as an answer to each one, Micah shows that a simple shepherd will arise from a small town and simply save the day!

This shepherd theme runs through each of the divisions, showing us that our Savior was not an executive, a stylist, a showboater, or a self-absorbed egomaniac. He was a shepherd. Common. Plain. Probably ‘small’ in the eyes of man. But real. And really significant. And of all the verses in this little book, Micah 5:2 stands out as the significant text underscoring this principle, for it was the “little town of Bethlehem” that gave birth to the single greatest life in human history.

Truly, significance is wrapped in small things.

Merry CHRISTmas!