Archive for the ‘Sermon Nutshells’ Category

Reflecting Resolution for the New Year

January 2, 2016

I don’t mean to brag but I am known for my brain power. When it comes to interesting biblical tidbits particularly in grammar, history, and culture I’m rather sharp. But when it comes to remembering personal life events or names and such things I suffer from Teflon-of-the-Brain; it just doesn’t stick.

Every Thanksgiving when I was growing up my mother had a tradition to encourage us to be grateful. She would take dried Indian corn kernels and divvy them up between the family members. We took turns sharing one memory at a time from the past year and placing the kernel in the dish. It was a lovely tradition. I hated it. I would furrow my brow all day thinking, reflecting, and trying to conjure up memories to share that evening at dinner, hoping mom had dropped a few kernels before they got to the table. It isn’t that I am not grateful, I just have a difficult time remembering.

The Psalms are filled with history lessons. Some are Laments where the writer remembers when God came to their aid in the past and look to God’s faithful help again. Others are Thanksgiving Psalms that recount the heroic deeds of God for his people that helped define a nation and a religion. Socrates said, “the unexamined life is not worth living.” I’d adjust it to say, “a life without reflection wasn’t one.”

When we come to New Years it is good to reflect upon the past year recounting the blessings and losses, the trials and triumphs, both great and small. It is important to remember those moments where God felt close and those times he silently led us through shadow-covered valleys. But if you are like me sometimes it is hard to keep track of such things and the end of the year seems like just another revolution around thus sun – different year with the same view.

So, this year I’m going to try something new and thought I would share with any of you who may also suffer from Cranium Teflonitus. I’m not one for keeping a personal journal so I’m going to keep a jar with a pen and post-it note pad or maybe use the unused Reminders app on my phone. When something happens (be it a prayer answered, a personal moment of blessing or loss, etc.) I am going to jot down the date and brief description. Now I know I will not be good at keeping a daily resolution but my goal is a couple random notes a week and forcing myself to think of at least one from the past week every Sunday. Then come next December I’ll have hopefully 50-100 or so memories to read under the glow of the Christmas lights with my wife and children. And, if my mom brings those pesky corn kernels, I can impress her too. But mostly it’s for me to know that through gain and loss God was with me yesterday and will be again tomorrow.

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Advent: The Unexpected Appearing

December 1, 2013

no-vacancy1Today we begin the celebration of the Season of Advent. This is that splendid time of year punctuated on the four Sundays leading up to Christmas. The word Advent comes from the idea of a personal visitation, of the coming of Christ. Advent comes from the Latin translation of the Greek term, parousia. This word, parousia, is often found in the study of the last things (eschatology) concerning the Second Coming. At Advent we celebrate the first coming of Christ, born of the virgin Mary and we also look forward to the Second Coming.

Just as Christ’s first advent seemed unexpected so too is his second advent. “But of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, but My Father only.” (Matthew 24:36). The Christ child came in a crowded town bustling with visitors for the royal census. Joseph brings Mary to his hometown and finds no accommodations until someone graciously allows them the use of their currently unoccupied basement (which is a seasonal pen for their livestock). This is no place for the king’s mother to give birth.

The real question is that if at the second coming of Christ, after his long hiatus, whether we will have room for him in our schedules as well. Jesus is returning and Advent is just at the right time of year.

Between Thanksgiving and Christmas is the busiest time of year as we fulfill familial obligations of gatherings and worry about the proper gift etiquette for coworkers and neighbors. Its time we worry about meeting estranged family at formal gathering. Its the time filled with gluttony and greed, of commercialism and community. Its a time of hustle and bustle to make things look prim and proper and decking the halls. What a perfect time to test our loyalty the keep our eyes on the Kingdom of God amidst the consumerism of modern life.

We are awaiting the unexpected Jesus. Will there be room for him at our crowded table of to-dos? Are we bustling about our Father’s business amongst the mores of modernity? Advent reminds us to keep our priorities in line. Yes, eat and drink and be merry. Enjoy the lives God has given us but watch lest we become so comfortable we forget that we are here with a mission, to witness to the work of the heavenly Christ and prepare the way for the return of the King.

Making Room for Jesus (Luke 2:7; 22:11)

December 24, 2010

It says in the Gospel of Luke 2:7 that “there was no room in the inn” for Mary and Joseph to stay and eventually have the baby Jesus. The word from the Greek for “inn” is kataluma which could mean inn or guesthouse or family living room. Since Bethlehem was a small town and off the beaten path, chances are there were not a bunch of inns. Most of the time when people were traveling through they would bunk with family – after all, due to the census, Joseph came from that neck of the woods and would inevitably have close family living there. Whether it was a hotel with no vacancy or a home of shirttail relatives that are just too full with out-of-towners who arrived earlier for the census, Jesus and company were settled in with the livestock downstairs. I think it is interesting though that this word kataluma is used in only one other place – the guest room rented by the disciples for the Passover. Since an inn usually goes with another word (pandokion) in Luke 10 for the story of the Good Samaritan who dropped off the injured man at a hotel, and the kataluma is where Jesus has His Passover, I think its safe to say the nativity story is more about an inconvenient place to put up Jesus’ parents in the homes of relatives.

Two things I want to get from this passage as we understand the words used behind it. First is that kataluma bookends the story of Jesus’ life. Family doesn’t have room for him in the beginning, and so there is no room for him there. Again, at the end of his life he must rent someone else’s kataluma but at least he is there with his friends, the disciples. He may begin in the garage but he ends in the living room.

Which leads me to a thought to ponder: Are you making room for Jesus? Where will you let him stay in your life? Does he get the living room, or the basement? Can he sit and eat at your table, or does he get to sleep on the table of your grazing goats? Do you let him into “your crib” or is he relegated to the corn-crib because you just can’t be inconvenienced by him?

Jesus’ entry into this world was inconvenient. It was messy. It was lousy timing. He had to come at that time, when everyone was coming over from out-of-town because of the census and we just don’t have everything decent and in order. Of all the times for the divine to show up! I wonder if anyone from upstairs came down to see that babe that night the shepherds paid a visit. Maybe they were tired from tending to the other people they were putting up (or rather putting up with). And you can’t just have a baby in the living room – totally not sanitary nor a joy for the rest of the family to be a part of. Why, to soil the good linens with the divine blood of the baby king is unthinkable. Why not use the straw – the goats wont mind, they’re dirty creatures anyway. And then Mary can have some peace.

Jesus’ entry in the world, and yes, into our hearts is usually inconvenient. Yup, it is messy too. And boy does God need to work on timing. I think that every time I pray. But Paul reminds us, “but when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of a woman, under the law.” (Gal 4:4). Next time God knocks, think twice — are you going to offer him the livestock or the living room? Too busy right now? Too complicated? Don’t miss your opportunity. You never know how he may change you and through you the lives of so many. Just like good ‘ole Zacchaeus, don’t miss the invitation of Christ, “hurry and come on down, for I must stay at your house today.” (Lk 19:5).

Make room for Jesus. In all its mess, inconvenience and lousy timing is a blessing beyond your sacrifice.

Wait and See — or Come and See? An Advent Response (Luke 2:15)

December 4, 2010

Luke 2:15, “So it was, when the angels had gone away from them into heaven, that the shepherds said to one another, “Let us now go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has come to pass, which the Lord has made known to us.” And they came with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the Babe lying in a manger.”

Today, the challenge of the gospel reading is simply this, “how do you respond to the Gospel?” About this time of year as I walk the aisles of our department stores there is one phrase I hear over and over again, “Wait and see.” A young child wants the newest toy fad and pleads with his mother. Her response, “We will have to wait and see.” Although these words are a subtle copout by the parent, it is an expression of hope for the child. The parent neither confirms nor denies and hopes to diffuse the situation. The child on the other hand thinks since it’s not a “no” then there is a glimmer of hope they can wear down the parents to give in. Christmas is the day of expectation, the day of hopes realized, or shattered. “Wait and see” are the words that remind us our only power is in the asking.

How you experienced Christmas and those moments of “wait and see” as a child affect how you interpret those same words as you grow older. If “wait and see” turned out to be a pair of socks instead of a rock ’em sock ’em robot, well, your heart usually falls at the sounds of those words in your later years. So when your loved one says the doctors need to run more tests and you ask what the outcome will be you hear, “We will have to wait and see.” When you are waiting word from that job interview, everyone asks how it went and all you have to say is, “wait and see.” That loan, those hopes for graduate school, the promotion you’ve worked extra for… all “wait and see.”

Enter the angels. They come down from the starry night proclaiming something new, something you’ve been waiting for. They say that God has entered into their reality, that God has stepped into their neighborhood, that God is doing something new just around the corner. If those shepherds had been tainted by long awaited promises never fulfilled the story would have read differently. But the response of the shepherd was “let us go and see” not “let us wait and see if its true.” Herod, he waited, he skipped the six mile hike to see the Messiah. But those shepherds, those low class, simple men and women decided to go.

My question for you today is about how you define hope. Has your hopes been dashed one too many times and you are resigned to a gloomy “wait and see?” No longer is hope that confident expectation of those children tugging on the heart strings of their parents, running down the stairs in the early morning hoping their favorite toy is wrapped and under the tree. Has your hope turned to a powerless wish or is it excited and confident expectations? How do you respond to Jesus today?

The shepherds heard and responded with a “go and see” mentality. God had broken through their everyday routine, their seemingly insignificant lives. Why would angels come to them of all people? How will these shepherds change the world? They change the world because when God beckons, they respond. They go, they see, they answer the hope in their hearts. This Christmas God is breaking through. This Advent Jesus is showing up in all our ordinary lives. This year is going to end well because God has proclaimed peace and goodwill to you in whom he is well pleased. How will you respond? When the doctors say you need more tests. When the letter never seems to come in the mail, when the “jury is out” on the big decisions of your life… will you consign yourself to their latent answers and make a wish? Will you just wait and see? Or do you believe God is working on your behalf? That God is breaking through your everyday with something spectacular bundled in lowly and ordinary wrapping? Come and see what God is doing.

Have hope that God is bringing about true peace in your life and the lives of your loved ones. Join the shepherds and seek out the King. He may not be found in the common answers and common places you might expect. This king is a child. This king is not dressed in fine silk snuggled in a warm bed surrounded by a mighty fortress. He is found in a manger, in a barn. Christ dwells in the hard to believe places. Maybe you are in a place where you think it will be hard to believe God is there. Maybe you are awaiting more bad news, maybe you are telling yourself to wish it all better, to “wait and see.” God is not in the test results, in the application you filled out, in the phone call you’ve been waiting for. Seek God out and follow the shepherd to “go and see” where God is at work.

Put your trust in Christ who will not disappoint. Have hope in God. Be confident in your hope for he will bring lasting peace to your soul. Even when the answers do not come, if your hope is in Christ you have a present peace. So often we “wait and see” with anxiety and fear. This Advent season remember that Christ has come, that Christ is come, that Jesus is called Immanuel, God with us… God with You! As you wait, wait upon Him with a heart full of faith and a mind filled with peace for your hope is founded upon the God who is breaking through your situation, breaking through the darkness. Come and see, Go and find, ask, seek and knock for Jesus is waiting to answer, to be found and to let you in.

And the shepherds said, “Let us now go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has come to pass, which the Lord has made known to us.” Do you need some peace? Do not “wait and see” if it just happens, go and seek the savior for by your response of hope shall you find peace. Amen. Amen.


How do you spend your life?

February 25, 2008

Today’s Sermon: Our Motivation in Giving… Today I spoke on 2 Corinthians 9:5-13 and Paul’s discourse on three ways to give rightly and three ways not to give. Verses 5, 6, and 7 each give one good way and one not so good way to give. In the negative, 5 says not as an exaction. This I call, “giving because I have to” – sort of like God is the IRS. 6 says not sparingly. To me, this is, “Giving with me in mind.” Someone asks for my help and I say, “If I can spare the time.” I get first dibs, you get leftovers. 7 says not reluctantly or our of compulsion. I call this, “giving because I ought to.” Compulsion… another great word for guilt, which we all know that, “guilt is the gift that keeps on giving.”

Let us try to follow the positive views by Paul. Think of giving as a gift (v 5), bountifully (v 6), and cheerfully (v 7). When we give to the Lord of all of our resources let us give as if we were picking the perfect Christmas present – thoughtfully, specially, and excitingly.


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