Dec 242016

The Birth of Jesus

Merry Christmas! May the Good News of Christ’s birth bless us all.

“In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered. This was the first registration when Quirinius was governor of Syria. And all went to be registered, each to his own town. And Joseph also went up from Galilee, from the town of Nazareth, to Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and lineage of David, to be registered with Mary, his betrothed, who was with child. And while they were there, the time came for her to give birth. And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.

 And in the same region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with great fear. And the angel said to them, ‘Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.’ And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying, ‘Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!’ ” (Luke 2:1-14)

The Gospel or Good News is a supernatural sermon which reveals Jesus as both Christ and Savior. On the night of His birth, that sermon was delivered by a supernatural messenger – an angel of the Lord, because aside from Mary and Joseph, no one else knew that Christ was born in Bethlehem.

The world is far too busy to notice its Savior. There is an emperor with his demands, travel plans to make and a tax registration to complete. There is the magnificent Temple nearby with its high priests, and the inns are busy serving their wealthy guests. There is no room in the world for the entrance of the poor King of the Jews. Christ’s kingdom does not threaten Rome, but submits to its demands. Christ was not born of one of the daughters of Annas or Caiaphas in a palace in Jerusalem, but of a poor young virgin in a stable located in the small town of Bethlehem. Jesus was born in a room used to shelter animals and is placed in a manger used to feed them.

Had God not sent the world His heavenly messenger that night, Christ’s birth would have gone completely unnoticed by his own nation.

“For thus says the Lord of hosts: Yet once more, in a little while, I will shake the heavens and the earth and the sea and the dry land. And I will shake all nations, so that the treasures of all nations shall come in, and I will fill this house with glory, says the Lord of hosts.” (Hag 2:6-7)

So the world went about its business that night clueless to the fact that in Bethlehem (which means “House of Bread”) Jesus (who is the “Bread of Life”) was born. On the other hand, the reaction in heaven that night was completely different. There, a heavenly host was preparing a celebratory concert, and a messenger of the Lord (i.e., an angel) was about to proclaim the Good News to a few lowly shepherds (and to all of us).

“And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with great fear.” (Luke 2:9)

 The shining of the Lord’s glory on the shepherds must have startled as well as terrified the shepherds. Fallen humanity cannot endure the unmediated glory of God. God’s perfect holiness shined its light on the sin of the shepherds, instilling in them great fear. But it is the fear of God’s judgment that prepared the Shepherds to hear the consolation of the Gospel.

And the angel said to them, ‘Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. (Luke 2:10-11)

For the Gospel to accomplish its supernatural work of engendering, strengthening and preserving faith in a human heart, a preacher must “bring you” the Gospel. In other words, the Gospel is just news if it is preached as an historical event or for someone else. But the Gospel is good news if it is brought to you and specifically for you. The angel emphasizes this point when he says that what he brings you is good news “of great joy”. The Gospel is both good and joyous news when it is proclaimed for you.

The angel further comforts the shepherds with the words: “for all the people.” Christ is the Savior for all people. Some people may think they have no need of a Savior, while other people may think they are beneath or beyond God’s saving grace. The words “for all the people” plainly state that all people need of a Savior, and Christ has come to be the Savior for all people. He has come to be your Savior and mine!

The angel next explains the Gospel: “For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.” The angelic preacher begins with the words “For unto you”. The NASB has “for you.” Both of these translations convey the fact, once again, that Christ was born specifically for you; He is your Savior. Is that not good and joyous news?

All that Christ is (e.g., the Way, the Truth, the Life, the Resurrection, etc.) and has is yours. You should regard Him as your Savior, because He can deliver you from sin, death and the devil, and give you forgiveness, life and salvation. Although your Savior is Christ and Lord, He was born for you and is yours with all He has.

“Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!” (Luke 2:14) Amen.

 “And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” (Phil 4:7)

Dec 242016

Had we the chance, we would have rushed to Bethlehem to see this thing that had come to pass.

Had we been it day later, we would have found the manger empty and the family departed.

We would have learned that they fled to Egypt, warned that the baby was endangered, sought by the establishment of the day that understood how his very life threatened the way things are. We would have paused at the empty stall and pondered how this baby from the very beginning was under threat.

The powers understood that his grace threatened all our coercions; they understood that his truth challenged all our lies; they understood that his power to heal nullified our many pathologies; they understood that his power to forgive vetoed the power of guilt and the drama of debt among us.

From day one they pursued him, and schemed and conspired until finally … on it gray Friday … they got him! No wonder the family fled, in order to give him time for his life.

We could still pause at the empty barn and and ponder that all our babies are under threat, all the vulnerable who stand at risk before predators, our babies who face the slow erosion of consumerism, our babies who face the reach of sexual exploitation, our babies who face the call to war, placed as we say, “in harm’s way,” our babies, elsewhere in the world, who know of cold steel against soft arms and distended bellies from lack of food; our babies everywhere who are caught in the fearful display of ruthless adult power.

We ponder how peculiar this baby at Bethlehem is, summoned to save the world, and yet we know, how like every child, this one also was at risk. The manger is empty a day later … the father warned in a dream.

Our world is so at risk, and yet we seek after and wait for this child named “Emmanuel.”

Come be with us, you who are called “God with us.”

Walter Brueggemann. Prayers for a Privileged People (pp. 73-74). Kindle Edition.


Dec 242016

Matthew 14:1-21

The Death of John the Baptist

1 At that time Herod the tetrarch heard about the fame of Jesus,

  • Remember, Jesus is ministering in the boonies and word does not travel fast.

and he said to his servants, “This is John the Baptist. He has been raised from the dead; that is why these miraculous powers are at work in him.”

  • Herod must be paranoid – he now sees the things John the B spoke of coming to life in Jesus.
  • Our sin makes us paranoid.
  • I killed God’s man, John the B and now god has raised him back up to get me.

For Herod had seized John and bound him and put him in prison for the sake of Herodias, his brother Philip’s wife,

  • No matter what John said about sin, it didn’t matter to Herod until it got personal.
  • Aren’t we like that? Conviction makes you look over your shoulder.

because John had been saying to him, “It is not lawful for you to have her.”

  • Today we cannot get people in the church to say adultery is wrong – let alone the kind that involves your brother’s wife.
  • John the B was trying to call Herod to repentance.

And though he wanted to put him to death, he feared the people, because they held him to be a prophet.

  • I found it interesting that the people still recognized a prophet — after no prophet for 400 yrs. Think back 400 years to 1616 – what is in our collective memory?
  • And that Herod was sensitive to the thoughts of the people.

But when Herod’s birthday came, the daughter of Herodias danced before the company and pleased Herod,

  • This is not some formal proper British tea party.
  • The booze ran freely and the daughter was probably a pole dancer.

so that he promised with an oath to give her whatever she might ask.

  • Was it a fool’s promise? Is Herod an idiot?
  • I am sure he is drunk, lustful and out of control.

Prompted by her mother, she said, “Give me the head of John the Baptist here on a platter.”

  • This is a spiteful woman.
  • Don’t mess with me and my affairs … literally.

And the king was sorry, but because of his oaths and his guests he commanded it to be given.

  • Oath my eye – he was prideful and uncaring.

10 He sent and had John beheaded in the prison,

  • He made John shorter by a head.

11 and his head was brought on a platter and given to the girl, and she brought it to her mother.

  • The king’s promise fulfilled to the letter.

12 And his disciples came and took the body and buried it, and they went and told Jesus.

  • I wonder. When they came to pick up the body, did they also claim the head?
  • And they went and told Jesus.

Jesus Feeds the Five Thousand

13 Now when Jesus heard this, he withdrew from there in a boat to a desolate place by himself. But when the crowds heard it, they followed him on foot from the towns.

  • To get a moment to handle the situation of what just happened to his cousin.
  • He removes himself for some time to be by himself.
  • But… the crowds heard and followed him.

14 When he went ashore he saw a great crowd, and he had compassion on them and healed their sick.

  • Even in his time of grief, Jesus has great compassion for those in need.
  • So he hangs out his messiah shingle and heals the sick … and remember, at an earlier time he links healings with the forgiveness of sin.

15 Now when it was evening, the disciples came to him and said, “This is a desolate place, and the day is now over; send the crowds away to go into the villages and buy food for themselves.”

  • An all day healing session
  • Why would anyone send someone away from Jesus?

16 But Jesus said, “They need not go away; you give them something to eat.”

  • Jesus didn’t just hang around – he ate and drank with sinners – these are my people.
  • Table fellowship. This is where we see true worship. God comes on the scene, in our churches to give to us – in this case, Jesus came to give us a 2nd birth – not we come to church to give God something.

17 They said to him, “We have only five loaves here and two fish.”

  • They need more Joel Osteen thinking
  • The Power of I Am.

18 And he said, “Bring them here to me.”

  • What does Jesus say to us? What you have, bring it to me and I will cover you.
  • The problem – going back to the manna – Jesus provides out of nothing.

19 Then he ordered the crowds to sit down on the grass, and taking the five loaves and the two fish, he looked up to heaven and said a blessing. Then he broke the loaves and gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the crowds.

  • Notice Jesus didn’t ask for power to do this – he didn’t ask the Father to do it.
  • He just raised his eyes and blessed what was to happen.

20 And they all ate and were satisfied. And they took up twelve baskets full of the broken pieces left over.

  • They were all satisfied – These are the ones who hunger and thirst and they commune with Jesus and they are satisfied.
  • Relief for their sin and burdens.
  • When Jesus eats with his people, he is communing with them
  • Here you have church.
  • Note that they picked up more than they started with.

21 And those who ate were about five thousand men, besides women and children.

  • 5,000 men + Women + Children = perhaps 10,000


Dec 232016

Now when they had departed, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, “Rise, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you, for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him.”And he rose and took the child and his mother by night and departed to Egypt and remained there until the death of Herod. This was to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet, “Out of Egypt I called my son.”

Then Herod, when he saw that he had been tricked by the wise men, became furious, and he sent and killed all the male children in Bethlehem and in all that region who were two years old or under, according to the time that he had ascertained from the wise men.Then was fulfilled what was spoken by the prophet Jeremiah:

“A voice was heard in Ramah, weeping and loud lamentation, Rachel weeping for her children; she refused to be comforted, because they are no more.”

(Matthew 2:13–18 ESV)

This event does not make for a lovely Christmas card, but for me, it’s the key to understanding what Christmas is really all about…the Incarnation.

God becoming flesh and dwelling among us.

This is no scene of quiet sweetness, this is a scene of mass murder.

It’s called “The Massacre of the Innocents”.

This is the world that God entered.

A violent and harsh world of poverty, oppression, and blood.

A world where mothers were weeping for children slain in a political holocaust.

A world of corruption and false messiahs, a world void of comfort except for a select few.

A world that was not far removed from our own.

When He came he did not stop all the evil, He experienced it.

He experienced the worst this world could throw at Him so that when He left He could be the God who could sympathize with all of us left behind.

He knows how bad it hurts.

He left having not changed any of the systems,but having radically changed a few people.

They too would have to overcome the world with sacrificial love.

That…was the only weapon He left us.

He’s coming back and will finish what was left unfinished the first time He came.

He will bring the day when tears and mourning are no more.

In the meantime, He’s left us to occupy this veil of tears with the power of the Spirit and the sacrificial love that He modeled for us.

He’s still God with us.

God for us.

God with me, God with you.

God for me, God for you.

He is the gift among the tears.

Merry Christmas, my friends…and make your own application…

Dec 222016

Make Straight the Way of the Lord

As we prepare to celebrate the birth of Christ, let us prepare our hearts and minds by reflecting on the birth of evangelical preaching. By “evangelical” I am using the word in its original sense as a synonym for Gospel or good news.


John the Baptist was our first evangelical preacher. His preaching is not only the paradigm for all evangelical preaching, but his sermon is timely during this fourth week in Advent.

 “And this is the testimony of John, when the Jews sent priests and Levites from Jerusalem to ask him, ‘Who are you?’ He confessed, and did not deny, but confessed, ‘I am not the Christ.’ And they asked him, ‘What then? Are you Elijah?’ He said, ‘I am not.’ ‘Are you the Prophet?’ And he answered, ‘No.’ So they said to him, ‘Who are you? We need to give an answer to those who sent us. What do you say about yourself?’ He said, ‘I am the voice of one crying out in the wilderness, “Make straight the way of the Lord,” as the prophet Isaiah said.’

 (Now they had been sent from the Pharisees.) They asked him, ‘Then why are you baptizing, if you are neither the Christ, nor Elijah, nor the Prophet?’ John answered them, ‘I baptize with water, but among you stands one you do not know, even he who comes after me, the strap of whose sandal I am not worthy to untie.’ These things took place in Bethany across the Jordan, where John was baptizing.” (John 1:19-28)

The purpose of John’s ministry and preaching was the revelation of the Christ to his people: “I myself did not know him, but for this purpose I came baptizing with water, that he might be revealed to Israel.” (John 1:31) By reveal, John does not mean merely to identify or introduce Jesus to the crowds; but by reveal John means that through his preaching the crowds might believe that Jesus is their Messiah. Thus, John’s preaching is evangelical, because its sole purpose is the revelation of Christ to his listeners through the presentation of the Gospel: “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29).

Evangelical preaching is a voice with an urgent message – a cry: “Clear the way. Listen, your Lord and Savior is coming. Now pay close attention.”

“Make straight the way of the Lord” (John 1:23)

Most people who encounter Jesus, whether in person during the first century or today through preaching, do not receive Him. As we have said before, Jesus did not come after the fashion of an earthly king. While John said of Jesus in comparison to himself, “the strap of whose sandal I am not worthy to untie,” the wise and religious of the world say: “that poor fellow Jesus is scarcely worthy to shine my shoes.” Therefore, John cannot present the Gospel to the crowds until the way of the Lord is made straight.

As long as men hold on to their way, the world’s way, the devil’s way, and not the Lord’s way, they will not receive Christ. To such men, all John’s crying sounds crazy: “He has a demon.” (Matt 11:18) Therefore, before John can preach the Gospel to the crowds, he first must prepare the way for Christ by preaching the Law to them.

“For the Lord will rise up as on Mount Perazim; as in the Valley of Gibeon he will be roused; to do his deed—strange is his deed! and to work his work—alien is his work!” (Isa 28:21)

Evangelical preaching uses the Law to reveal to men precisely where they stand with God: “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Rom 3:23). The Law accuses, judges and condemns all men. “None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God.” (Rom 3:10-11)

Whereas the Gospel is Christ’s proper work and office (i.e., to redeem sinners), the Law is His strange and alien work. Its purpose is to convict and humble the world and to proclaim that everyone is a sinner, lost and damned. But although the preaching of the Law is meant to humble and convict, it is done for our benefit. The Law never has the last word in evangelical preaching. The purpose of preaching the Law is to: “Make straight the way of the Lord”; that is, to humble and remove our own way so that we might see and believe Christ’s way as revealed to us in the Gospel. As Christ said: “For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.” (Luke 18:14) And Peter: “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.” (1 Pet 5:5)

Therefore, John began by preaching repentance to the crowds. In Matthew and Luke’s Gospels, John is recorded as using some very cutting language with the Pharisees and Sadducees. John knew that the Pharisees and Sadducees, a “brood of vipers” (Matt 3:7), required a lot of humbling before the way of the Lord could be made straight for them.

“Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29)

When John finished preaching the Law to the crowds, he began his proper evangelical office as a preacher of the Gospel. John directs the crowd away from himself and to Christ who John says ranks before him (John 1:30). Evangelical preaching always points to Christ alone. John then reveals to the humbled the Lamb of God who takes away their sin and baptizes with the Holy Spirit. If we are able to believe that this voice of John speaks the truth, and if we are able to behold the Lamb of God carrying our sin, then we too have life and salvation. Amen.

“For to us a child is born,

     to us a son is given;

and the government shall be upon his shoulder,

     and his name shall be called

Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,

     Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.

Of the increase of his government and of peace

     there will be no end,

on the throne of David and over his kingdom,

     to establish it and to uphold it

with justice and with righteousness

     from this time forth and forevermore.

The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this.” (Isa 9:6-7) Amen.

Dec 212016

My love for sports has been plainly (or painfully for some) obvious in my writings here.  When I get the chance to watch tv I will frequently choose sports over most other programming. 

When I am driving in my car I sometimes will listen to a game or even sports talk radio. 

When surfing the internet, I will often go to various sports websites to get my fill of scores and stats and news and information. 

(Of course, only after I first check the Phoenix Preacher. 🙂 )

One thing, however, that makes me quickly change the channel are many of those sports debate shows.  Not that I don’t like a good sports debate, but the problem is that many of these debates fall well short of being anything approximating “good”. The reason is that the debates aren’t constituted by well thought out and reasoned contentions.  Rather, they are based on one commentator making an over the top, sometimes even completely ridiculous assertion, and then boldly and arrogantly defending it.  The opposing commentator will attack the assertion of the first commentator and tell them how stupid it is and then when it’s their turn, give their own over the top, sometimes even completely ridiculous assertion.  Back and forth, over and over again.  It is completely inane.

Now, not all tv and radio sports debate is to this extreme, but unfortunately, seemingly more and more of it is.  Nothing can make me reach for the remote or the buttons on the radio any faster than to see the face or to hear the voice of Skip Bayless or Screamin’ A. Smith or some of the hosts of the local sports talk radio stations.

I was reminded of these jokers once again when I read an article about how Bayless accidently praised himself on Facebook when he seemingly was meaning to do it under a dummy account in order to make it look like other people were praising him.  So not only do these guys need to carry themselves in self-promoting and arrogant and condescending fashions, they then need to resort to deceptive practices to do it even more so.  Please God, give us more Vin Scully’s than Skip Bayless’s.

I believe these sports personalities and shows are a symptom of the culture in which we live.  While having stupid arguments about sports is usually relatively harmless, we see similar tactics employed in politics and other realms of life which impact people in more real and meaningful ways. 

In order to better the chances of winning, we must be increasingly haughty and outrageous in our arguments.  We must do whatever it takes to bring more attention to them and to us.  Who cares about solid facts and lucid reasoning, being louder and more brazen will be the key to winning.  Or so the thinking implies, judging by the behavior we see.

In a culture that is more and more losing its attention span, the go to technique seems to be to make a quick statement or to post a meme that boldly states how right we are and how wrong the others are.  Scarce with facts but full of bravado and flamboyance.  And to promote ourselves or our cause or organization to no end in order to build credibility and to show how good or smart or cool we are through means of inundation.

All the more problematic when thinking like this infiltrates Christians and the church, and it does.  When we try to make our point or win the argument with a cacophony of force and loud noise and antagonism.  When we go over the top in pointing out just how bad those other people or groups are, often times misrepresenting them or portraying them to be worse than they really are.  When our promotion focuses more on how good or smart or cool we are or our church or group is and Jesus takes a back seat.  When we must put on an act to show just how “authentic” we are.  A whole lot of bluster with little substance.

We can think of some of the most ridiculous examples in the church where churches or church leaders or just Christians in general do or say outrageous things in order to make or draw attention to their point or cause or even just themselves.  From Ed Young’s challenge to married couples to have sex every day while he and his wife broadcast from a bed on the roof of their church, to John Hagee blaming Hurricane Katrina on homosexuals or an ebola outbreak on President Obama’s position on Israel, to the increasingly crazy things that come out of the mouth of Pat Robertson.  But thank you, God, that we are not like these men.  Because our words are always pure and precise and well formulated and we would never do anything with the unrighteous intent to make others look bad or the selfish motive to draw wanton attention to ourselves.

Yes, there may be some segments of the church that have a bigger problem with attention seeking and over-the-top bluster and bravado.  But when thinking on these things, probably all of us could gain in one way or another by watching how we carry ourselves and interact in personal conversation or on the internet.  There may be times where it is necessary and righteous to get loud or forceful or to promote why we are right.  Other times, however, I think we misappropriate such tactics.  We can do better. 

Lord help us to do so.    

Dec 202016

Mary and the divine inversion…

Why the mainline shrinkage?

God with us…a challenging blessing.

Stetzer’s ELF…

Sproul Jr. done…

Lesson in tolerance from two lesbians…

Babylon Bee’s Top Ten Books of 2016

How the war on Christmas started…

What’s in the Book of Common Prayer…

Marginalizing Russell Moore…

Why Advent is more Jewish than you think…

What we’re missing when we call Jesus “teacher” or “rescuer”…

Seven ways God may tell a pastor to move on…

Spend less, give more…

What’s a recombobulation area?


How to celebrate Christmas when you don’t have a home…

Santa Claus vs. St. Nick…

Huge thanks to EricL for the link help…support him at top right…

Dec 192016

This week, Phil and I discuss what to do about the holiday blues and answer the question “can you think prayer is pointless and still be a Christian?”

Download the mp3


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