Pursuing Answers to Questions of Faith & Life

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

How Well Do You Know the First Christmas?

How Well Do You Know the First Christmas?

There is so much in these birth narratives of Jesus that we miss or read over because we think we know the story already or because our mind has been so cluttered by the popular depictions that we don’t study carefully what the text actually says. These questions show my thinking behind the non-traditional elements described in the Joseph Monologue from the previous post.

1. What is the traditional biblical story of the journey from Nazareth to Bethlehem?

The traditional picture has a tired and desperate Mary & Joseph trudging/rushing into Bethlehem. They are all alone, there’s no AAA Roadside Assistance, there’s no hospital, they know no one. All the Inn’s or Motel 6’s have No Vacancy and so thanks to the backhanded generosity of a sour innkeeper, Mary & Joseph are banished to the barn where she is already in labor and almost immediately has the baby Jesus. Then the Shepherds appear following a star because not far behind them are the 3 Kings bearing gifts. They all form a nice little huddle around the Manger and the baby Jesus.

There’s nothing inherently wrong with this picture—it’s the most popular—but is it the most accurate to the biblical texts?

2. Were they traveling alone? What biblical evidence do you have to support this?

We get a few clues to suggest they were not traveling alone.

First, in Luke 2, since everyone had to travel to their own hometown to register—it’s safe to assume that other people had to do some traveling to register as well—including their family who also would have to go to Bethlehem.

Second, Bethlehem was full of travelers—they had to get there somehow—they would have used the same roads that Mary & Joseph used.

Third has to do with the time of year the events actually occurred which we’ll get to later—let’s just say that in order for them to get to Bethlehem, Mary & Joseph had to pass through Jerusalem (Bethlehem is about 5 miles South of Jerusalem whereas Nazareth is considerably north of Jerusalem)—Jerusalem was the center of political and religious life in Israel so pilgrims of all sorts were on the roads to Jerusalem all the time.

Fourth, most people traveled in family groups or with friends whenever possible. You see evidence of Joseph & Mary doing this just a few verses later (Luke 2:41-44) when Jesus was 12 years old. Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem when J & M left for home. They were traveling in such a large group, they couldn’t see Jesus and assumed He was running around with someone else.

3. When was the baby born?

a. Mary barely made it into town
b. The first night
c. Some time later

Luke 2:6 says “while they were there, the time came for the baby to be born”. The implication of that statement is that M & J arrived in Bethlehem and sometime before they went home, Jesus was born. Luke was a very precise writer—and even though he’s giving a quick summation of some things—if there was a panicked rush to get to Bethlehem, he could have said so. The language is of a much slower series of events. So the idea that she was in labor as they ran into Bethlehem, desperately pounding on doors is not particularly accurate. So they may have been there for a few days or even weeks before she went into labor.

Given the later accounts of the Magi in Matthew—it’s obvious that J & M stayed in Bethlehem for a long time.

4. Does that change the nature of the location of Jesus’ birth if it happened some time later—in other words, couldn’t Joseph had found some other place after a while?

If they had been there for a few days at least, then the likelihood that Joseph couldn’t find any place to stay is a stretch. After some time, he would have been able to find something and they would not have been cast out to the animal pens. Why would they go there then? We’ll talk about that later.

5. Were Mary & Joseph alone while in Bethlehem? What is the likelihood that they knew anyone in town?

The traditional picture is them alone and afraid. But why were they going to Bethlehem in the first place? It was their family home. They both were of the line of David. Not all of the family would have moved away from Bethlehem. Some of them stuck around—and they would have had some good records or tradition of who is related to who and where they are in the line of potential successors for David’s throne. Family relationships and connections were important for that culture and Joseph or Mary probably had relatives that still lived there that they could have gone to and asked for a place to stay or help with the pregnancy. With annual pilgrimages, they would have visited family often.
Yet if that were the case, why would they have to go out to the animals? That would be affected by several things one being the nature of the place they were staying.

First, let’s look at something that isn’t obviously related, but it is.

6. Luke 22:10-12—What was this room like?

In this passage, Jesus is preparing for the Passover feast and He sends Peter & John in to find the right place—He says—“He replied, "As you enter the city, a man carrying a jar of water will meet you. Follow him to the house that he enters, 11 and say to the owner of the house, `The Teacher asks: Where is the guest room, where I may eat the Passover with my disciples?' 12 He will show you a large upper room, all furnished. Make preparations there."

This “guestroom” was a large room that many houses had for family gatherings, meals, or visiting relatives—it was big, generally open and several families could sleep there at the same time.

If you didn’t know, Luke uses some of the best Greek in the New Testament, fitting for his life as a physician. He is precise in his words and this is important.

7. Back in Luke 2, what is meant by the word “Inn”? Is there any other possible meaning?

Interestingly, the word that Luke uses in ch. 22 translated “guestroom” is the same one used in ch. 2 translated “inn”. The problem is that “inn” carries many different connotations—our mind pictures something like a Motel 6—large building with many small rooms that you can rent for the night. If Joseph was there for an extended stay—at least 33 days according to Leviticus 12 for Mary’s purification (Luke 2:22) this would quickly become an expensive venture.

As shown by their sacrifice of 2 small doves in the temple and not a lamb—they may not have been well off financially—much less able to stay in a Bethlehem motel for several months.

But if the word is not translated “Inn” but guestroom, then the situation changes. If they really had family in town, then that would have been the place they would have gone for lodging. And if the family’s upper room/guest room was full—it was probably full of other family. There’s a reason why all those family members would have been there in Bethlehem, which I’ll get to in just a moment. But it’s very likely that these people were not strangers but cousins, aunts, uncles, and others who would be traveling to Bethlehem.

8. Typically we see Mary & Joseph as being banished to the stable. How could it have been a good thing for them?

The problem wasn’t that they were alone and desperate, or that there were cruel, heartless innkeepers who wouldn’t bother to find them a spot—the greater problem was that there was a lot of people—and even a lot of family and friends is no place to have a baby!

How many women do you know that want to have a baby in a crowded room where everybody and their dog could watch. Sure, some have given birth on a plane, in the mall, but certainly that wasn’t their first choice!

So going to the room for animals—likely something built onto the house itself or even under the upper room—was a good thing, a helpful thing, a privacy thing. There, they won’t have to worry about people watching, kids tripping over them or all the other inconveniences a woman in labor would want to avoid. Not to mention all of the ceremonial uncleanness that a birth brings with it (I don't have time to look it up right now)

Similarly, since the birth didn’t happen the moment of arrival, I’m sure they had the opportunity to make sure the place was cleaned up or prepared for Mary to have a baby down there. Going to the stable was a good thing for Mary.

The stable would have given privacy, if they were really around family, then Joseph would not have been the only attendant Mary had, but other related women who had been through the process before themselves. They may even have known a local mid-wife to assist in the delivery.

9. Was Jesus really born on December 25th?

The likely time that shepherds would be out in the fields at night is springtime, while the lambs were being born. The shepherds were out to guard and assist their flocks in their deliveries. That would put Jesus’ birth closer to Passover.

In which case—the reason that Bethlehem was crowded would not have just been because of the census—but because of all the travelers going to Jerusalem for Passover. It would have made the roads packed with faithful Jewish men and women who were required to go to Jerusalem for the observance. So the image of the lone travelers is even more unlikely. It also makes the ceremonial uncleanness of the birth all the more significant--perhaps even excluding Joseph from assisting her if he intended to participate in Passover.

The census was taken over a period of time (even years from its issuing) so there was not a hard deadline for Joseph to meet—so presumably, he combined his registration in Bethlehem with his regular/annual trip to Jerusalem.

The other interesting imagery is the fact that one of the titles Jesus is given in Scripture is the “Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world”. To participate in Passover, Jewish family had to sacrifice a year old male lamb. These sacrifices were to Atone for the sins of the family. The sacrifice only covered the sin—the unintentional sins. There was no sacrifice for deliberate sins and they certainly didn’t take away sin or it’s consequence. But that is what Jesus, the Lamb of God was promised to do.

The very lambs that the shepherds were watching born in front of them would be next year’s offering—but they were able to bear witness to an even better Lamb, that could do even more.

10. Why is it unusual for shepherds to be witnesses to this event?

Ironically, even though the shepherds provided the most important element of the festival, by this time, shepherds were not high on the social ladder in Jewish society. They were the fringe elements, not a part of the upscale, city community.
These were the elements called to be the first witnesses and first testifiers to the Messiah. Why them? In many ways, it was a call back to or a reminder of their roots. Shepherds may have been outsiders to the community, but they were the original foundation of the community. Abraham, Isaac, Jacob were all shepherds. As was Moses—as was the great King David.

To reject the shepherds was to reject their roots. The community had not grown past them, they still needed them and in many ways, needed the simplicity of faith and trust in God they represented, which the Jewish community had once had, but had in many ways lost.

11. How did the Shepherds find Mary, Joseph & Jesus?

The traditional nativity scene has M & J, the shepherds and the wise men all gathered around a manger. Often, when you ask this question, many will say the shepherds were guided by the star, just like the wise men. But as we’ll get into in the next question—they didn’t get there on the same night of the birth (for that to happen, the “star” they saw would have to have appeared months before Jesus’ actual birth—God could have done this, btw).

The shepherds were just told about the 2 signs—wrapped in cloths & lying in a manger. They didn’t get an address, a street name, or a general vicinity of where they would actually find the baby. There was no star mentioned in Luke that guided them to the right house.

So, how did they know where to go? At most Bethlehem was a few thousand people—maybe they listened for the cries of a newborn. Maybe they looked for the only ones with a fire still lit. Maybe God picked them on the side of the town that they would reach first. Maybe they tried several places before finding the right one.

Or, speculatively speaking, since this was M & J’s family town—what if these shepherds were relatives and merely went home first, or relatives who already knew they had a visitor who was expecting a baby. Shepherds returning from the fields probably would go into the animal’s room first. Interesting possibility.

12 How many Magi were there?

We sing, “We Three Kings” so it must be three, right? Tradition even gives us names. But Scripture never says how many Magi came, just that they brought 3 different types of gifts—gold, frankincense and myrrh. Ancient depictions, stained glass and such—teaching tools with limited room depicted one person to hold a gift each representing the different types.

But again, by custom, most traveled in large groups. These were practically ambassadors and political representatives, as evidenced by the fact that they first went to Jerusalem and sought Herod. A small entourage, would not do for such dignitaries.

The amount of their gifts was not necessarily something one man could carry despite the many inescapable pictures that suggest otherwise.

I’m of the mind that there wasn’t only 3 representatives, but more.

13. When did the Magi arrive?

As mentioned, unless the star appeared months before Jesus’ actual birth, there’s no way they could have been there the night of. In the east, the wise men saw a star that pointed them to a King being born to the kingdom of the Jews. They would have to see it, interpret it, decide what to do about it, prepare for the journey and then make the trip up the Euphrates river, west along the fertile crescent, then south through Syria and the coastal territories—a several month long journey.

This would put Jesus a year old or more by the time of their arrival—they had to wait for circumcision, they have to wait 30+ days for Mary to be purified so they could offer their sacrifice. When Herod later gave the orders to kill any boy under 2 years—you’ve got to figure that this is an effort to cover His bases and not miss anyone.

14. Why Magi and why would they care what was going on in Jerusalem?

For some reason, these Magi—practicing astrologers, interpreted their signs to point to the Kingdom of the Jews. But why would that sign have sent them off on such a long and uncertain journey? Hey, a new king in Israel… that’s nice… somebody hand me the remote. Why would they care so much about the goings on in Israel that they would go there?

It’s important to remember where they were supposed to be from. It is generally understood that these men from the east were in the Mesopotamian river valleys… between the Tigris & Euphrates rivers. What would have been prominent territories in the biblical kingdoms of Assyria, Babylonia & Persia. In other words, modern day Iraq and Iran

This is the general area and territory where the Jewish exiles were taken by different governments. Most of the Jews never returned home even after they were given special permission by King of Persia. They didn’t leave, but stayed with many keeping their faith, their traditions and even Scriptures. So there was an Old Testament witness and community where these Magi were from. If I’m not mistaken, even today some of these countries have a small Jewish population.

So if nothing else, these Magi would have had access or awareness of Jewish teaching and Scripture—making the homeland important. With the influences of people like Daniel or Esther in high government—some may have begun to take them very seriously.

Of course, another powerful possibility is that these men were themselves Jewish or had some Jewish heritage. In other words, their ancestors had watched other Jews pack up and go back to Jerusalem because they had a desire to be restored to God. I’m sure there were many who talked about it for generations, many who wondered what it would have been like if they had returned. In reading the scriptures, the psalms, the laments, the prophets and their heart for the land, the Temple, the Promise of God—even these Wise Men may have had their hearts wondering about the glory of the Temple.

If they were themselves Jewish—it is an awesome reminder of God’s call to come home.

Even though most stayed behind and didn’t return with the remnant, God still found a way to reach out to them—that hope that they had heard of, the promise of a Messiah for their people—was still something God would remind them of.

And so their hearts—longing for the fulfillment of God, longing for the homeland, wondering if God would still be faithful to His promise, wondering if God would still allow them to be a part of it—drove their hearts to make such a long and uncertain Journey.

15. Why did they go to Herod first?

It’s no wonder they went to Jerusalem first. Jerusalem was the center of religious and political power. A future king would more likely be born to the current king. But God doesn’t work the way we think He should—the obvious is rarely what He uses.

So they went to Jerusalem, alerted King Herod, gained further specifics from scripture—Micah 5:2 that the Messiah would be born in Bethlehem and continued.
But there’s something else interesting here. It seems the star that started their journey did not guide them all along the way. If so, they would never have stopped or turned aside to Jerusalem. Maybe they couldn’t interpret what a stopped guiding star would look like. But in any event, they were asked by Herod to make a careful search for the child. If they were relying on the star at that point, then why would they have to “search”.

But upon leaving Jerusalem, something changed—now the star was much more specific. In fact it led them and hovered over a specific house. This is no longer something high up in the sky unless it is using a powerful spotlight—but gently hovering over the exact place where they were staying.

Again, Mary & Joseph had to stay for a while in Bethlehem. This would be an expensive venture if they had to “rent” or buy a place to stay, but would be easily accommodated by family. But the star directed them directly to their destination.

This was the guidance of God they had hoped for.

But I’ve always wondered, were they the only ones who could see the “star”? Wouldn’t Herod or his officials seen it and followed it to the baby Jesus?

Which leads me to consider whether, at least this second, localized guidance was not a literal “star” but a manifestation of the Glory of God, perhaps the Holy Spirit alighting on the place like He did later at Jesus’ baptism, or possibly an angel. The original sight that started the journey could easily be too.

Which could mean that only the Magi saw it. They eyes of faith were needed as well as the choice of God and whom He chooses to reveal it to. There's a common phrase--some say they have to see it to believe it--but some things have to be believed to be seen.

Remember, those on the road to Damascus with Paul had a vague sense of something happening, but couldn’t really tell you much about it, whereas Paul’s awareness was very acute and specific.

But the Wise men were called home to Worship just as the Shepherds had been called. Both great and small were bowing before Jesus—God drew both the heritage and the remnant back to their Savior, the Messiah.

16. What is the significance of the gifts?

While I have seen several possible meanings of the gifts, I have a preference. This doesn’t mean the others are wrong or should be written off—after all, since the Scripture doesn’t itself assign meaning, it’s all an educated guess.

Remembering also that we don’t know the amounts of the gifts involved—the depictions of the men carrying a small box doesn’t seem to fit with travelers from such a great distance. I’m of the mind that 2 of the gifts declare WHO Jesus, and His role is and the third declares What He will do to accomplish the will of God in those roles.

Gold—a gift fit for a King. Jesus is called the King of Kings and Lord of Lords in the New Testament.

Frankincense—incense in the Old Testament was used in prayer and worship in the Temple—the smoke represented the prayers of the people. The one who administered this incense and smoke was the Priest. This is another aspect of His identity and role in the world. The book of Hebrews tells us Jesus is the Great High Priest in the order of Melchizedek—greater than the Levitical/Aaronic priesthood—and able to enter the very Presence of God and grant us access in His Name.

Myrrh—was a burial spice. Many ancient cultures began preparing for their eventual death very quickly. The Pharaohs of Egypt began building their monuments immediately. But for this gift to Jesus, it signifies the death and burial that is in Jesus’ future in His role as Messiah—He will lay down His life on the Cross, shed His blood, take away our sin, and prepare a place for us in eternity. His death and subsequent resurrection is the fulfillment of God’s plan in sending Jesus in the first place.

Again, there is so much in these birth narratives that we miss or read over because we think we know the story already or because our mind has been so cluttered by the popular depictions that we don’t study carefully what the text actually says. If you’ve made it this far, I hope that you have benefited from this breakdown of the text and related cultures.

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

New Joseph Monologue - Perspectives from the First Christmas

If you have any questions about points I make in this presentation, I'll be posting a reasoning of it shortly.

Perspectives on the First Christmas

Matthew 1:18-24—Announcement to Joseph
Luke 2:1-7—Travel to Bethlehem
Luke 2:22-24, 39—Proof that Joseph Treated Jesus as his own

Testimony of Joseph—to be acted out in costume

I’m just a simple man. I like to work with my hands, to transform a piece of wood to something my friends and family can use. I want things real that I can see and touch. That’s what made what you call the “First Christmas” difficult for me.

See, Mary was something special. You would not believe how excited I was about our engagement. In my culture… I was 10 years older than she was and that gave me time to get my business established so I could provide for my family. And I had great dreams of providing for her happiness.

But all those dreams came crashing down when I found out she was expecting a baby. You’d understand if I told you I was more than a little upset. My dreams had come shattering down in that one moment. All I could think of was getting my hands on the guy that did this. So I demanded that she tell me what happened, and who did this to her so I could make it right. But she couldn’t tell me what I wanted to know. All she would tell me was that God told her she was going to have a baby. She actually claimed that she had never been with a man before. Now come on, I’m not stupid—I know how the process works. How could I believe that?

I figured she was lying to protect someone or maybe someone attacked her and she was afraid or ashamed. Another man I can understand, I can touch that, fight back. But God… what do I say to that???

I was still pretty mad… after a few days, my anger went down and I remembered how much I already cared for her. So I decided to break our engagement quietly. A girl in her position could be in a lot of trouble in our culture. She would be labeled an adulteress. I didn’t want that to happen. So I was going to make sure she was taken care of without everybody knowing about it.

Now comes the interesting part. You know how I couldn’t handle Mary’s answer about God because I have a hard time understanding what I can’t see or get my hands on. I guess you could say God took care of my shortcoming. See, that night, God sent an angel to let me know that Mary wasn’t really lying after all.

He said to me, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.”

Let me tell you, when an angel of God visits to give you a message, you don’t have to wonder whether you were dreaming or not. This angel was more real than any dream I’ve ever had, before or since. Even with this angel coming to me, it wasn’t any easier to understand what was going on. Why would God do something like this? What would He hope to accomplish? How would this baby save our people from all our sins? Why would God use a girl like Mary… my Mary?

As soon as I woke up, I started trying to make sense of it all. I realized quickly I couldn’t. All I did know was that I had a decision to make, should I do what the angel told me to do and take Mary as my wife and face that scandal or do I not.

And then it hit me. As much as God chose Mary to be His instrument in this process, he must also have chosen me. Me, a simple carpenter. He expected me to play a part in this process too. He expected me to care for Mary and be her husband. He expected me to be a father to this boy. And suddenly I felt the weight of what was being asked of me. This special child was going to grow up in my house under my care, with my family name. Everything I did in life he was going to watch. These Hands were going to hold the Son of God!

I don’t know if it’s changed for your time, but just thinking about being a father was intimidating enough, but Jesus was going to be a more than just a special boy.

You also need to know that it was going to cost me to do what the angel told me. I had to ignore the stares and comments from other men and women in town who figured out Mary was pregnant before we were married, just like she would have to. Some people, people I thought of as my friends, stopped talking to me, I even lost some business because of it. My hands are good at fixing things, but this… I couldn’t fix.

But even despite all the glances and whisperings, trusting that God knew what He was doing and being obedient to Him was more important to me than anything. I don’t know how He could use a man like me, especially b/c it didn’t all make sense to me, but He did. I just hope my life through it all was pleasing to Him. It didn’t take long, but my happiness returned, and so did my dreams.

I wish I could say this situation was easier after I decided to go along with the angel’s announcement. But it didn’t. Mary was nearing the end of the pregnancy when our hometown of Nazareth received notice that everyone, had to register in their hometowns for the Roman Census. For tax purposes of course. I hear you have the same trouble today… does nothing ever change?

Let me tell you, that posting caused a major uproar in town. Most Jews hate the fact that the Romans are in Israel. Most are waiting for the Messiah to come and restore the Kingdom to Israel and get rid of the Romans. Others are glad because they like the commerce and riches the Gentiles bring. Both groups started arguing about it. I had to see and hold the notice for myself because I didn’t like what it required of me.

It required me to go back to my family’s hometown. Both Mary and I can trace our family tree back to David. That meant we had to go back to Bethlehem. I hear you can just put your taxes in the mail—we had to travel.

We decided to time our trip for taxes with a religious festival in Jerusalem we were required to go to. So the whole family (who also had to be counted and pay taxes) came with us. And the roads were crowded—because others were going to Jerusalem for the festival too.

We would have to walk for over 3 days just to get to Bethlehem from Nazareth. We had to pass through Jerusalem to get there.

What really complicated things was the fact that Mary was getting much larger. Walking around town was getting difficult for her, much less a long journey on difficult roads. So the trip had to be even longer so she could rest from time to time. I really didn’t like it. Travel was going to be hard on Mary and on the baby.

What’s worse is the fact that we would be exposed to robbers and bandits on the road. That’s putting her at risk too. And, I’ve heard many stories over the years of large groups and whole families being killed on the roads by bandits. I don’t know what I would do if anything happened to Mary and the baby. These hands may be strong, but there are only 2 of them. The whole time I thought, surely God will keep us from going and risking this baby of His. What could be accomplished by our travel to Bethlehem just before the baby is born?

We prayed before we left and asked that God’s guiding hand would be with us. And it was; we eventually made it to Bethlehem though it was very hard on Mary. I could tell she was exhausted. We really needed to find a place to stay so she could rest.

Since Bethlehem was our family home, we actually had family still living there. But with everyone coming in for the Festival, everyone traveling for the Census… even our relative’s home, their guestroom—which you translate as Inn— was crowded with family we hadn’t seen in years. “When the Time came for the baby to be born” that guestroom was no place to have a baby.

It was actually a blessing for us to stay in with the animals—since there was really only one large common room, the stables meant privacy—would you want to have a baby in a crowded room?. Mary looked it over and said it would be fine.

But I did let her make that decision. I let her look it over because I’ve made the mistake of picking something that didn’t meet her standards before. I would pick some furniture for the house and say, “this is nice” and she would say, “we are not putting this ugly thing in my house”. At this point though, I don’t think she really cared. She needed a private place to have a baby

I noticed that she started breathing harder and wincing from time to time. I asked her if she was OK and she said she wasn’t sure. Mary was young and had not seen too many babies born, so she wasn’t sure what was happening. Being a man, I didn’t know anything either. I was out of my element.

For all the skill of my hands, I didn’t know the first thing about delivering a baby much less how to hold or care for one afterward. We were both scared.

I felt like an awful husband. How could I let this happen to her? Why wasn’t I taking better care of her, seeing to it that she was safe at home? What if she died? What if the baby died? I questioned why God would let this happen now, so far from home, when we were most vulnerable.

Fortunately, we did have our family—we weren’t totally alone. I was relieved at this point because neither of us knew what to do. I stood around pacing, wringing my hands, feeling useless and getting whatever they needed to work off my nerves.

Finally I heard the baby cry. Mary was OK and I was able to take a peek at Him. He looked so helpless and small. The angel said this baby was supposed to be our salvation. How is that possible? What is so special about this child? I know I didn’t feel that special. Just as I was beginning to relax, Mary asked me to come closer. She too Him out of the manger—that was the best we could do for a bed, and she held the baby up for me to hold. He looked even smaller in my hands.

Even though I had spent years working with small tools and delicate things, I felt so clumsy trying to hold him. I was so afraid of dropping him, or hurting him somehow. At that point, I’d bet I looked more helpless and awkward than the baby. He looked perfectly at peace sleeping in the soft cloths we had to wrap him in. I was so proud I almost cried, but don’t tell Mary I admitted that.

Fatherhood makes you realize your weaknesses and new responsibilities. Those dreams I had changed in an instant. It was a little overwhelming.

As morning neared, I heard a group of voices near the door. They sounded like they were arguing. I did hear one of them say…“I’m going back to the flocks if we don’t find the right place soon,”.

I was afraid they may have been coming to start some trouble or to steal the animals. I started praying that they would just keep on going—take their problems somewhere else.

Mary was not on her feet yet so I put Jesus back down our makeshift bed. A feeding trough for the animals, a manger, and looked around for something to defend my family with if I had to.

Of course, as soon as I put Jesus down, he started crying. Oh great—sshhh—it’s OK--

Then they stopped… “Do you hear that?” one of them said and I could tell they were coming toward the stable. Now I was really nervous. I put on the meanest voice I could and called out, “You’d better keep moving if you know what’s good for you!”

“We are looking for a newborn baby,” one of them called out. “May we come in?”

“What do you want with my baby?”

“An angel,” they said, “appeared to us in the fields telling us that a Savior has been born this morning. We’ve been looking for Him ever since.”

Mary and I looked at each other, she nodded, and I said, “Come in”. 6 of them came in from the outside. They were a rough looking bunch. The first one that came through saw Jesus in the manger and fell to his knees. “It’s true” said one, “just where the angel said he would be, wrapped in cloths lying in a manger”

I looked at Mary, then down at Jesus. I didn’t think much of it when I put Him there, but apparently that seemingly insignificant moment had been foretold by God’s messenger. God’s miracles so often work that way… they’re usually not flashy—how could they be, when so often God wants us to play a part in them?
“What’s His name?”, they asked me. “The angel told us to call Him Jesus”, I said.

“The LORD Saves,” they marveled. “Truly that is the right name for the Savior.” Suddenly all of them fell on their knees beside the manger and began to worship. Let me tell you, I was stunned; these grown men worshipping God because of our little baby.

I say “our” little baby because I already saw him that way. Technically he wasn’t mine, but I remembered that God had chosen me for this task as much as Mary. God wanted me to be a part of this baby’s life. To be a father for Him. I felt honored to be a father and I prayed that God would give me the wisdom to be a good one.

Jesus was the greatest gift on that first Christmas. I still don’t understand everything. I still don’t understand how God would choose to use Mary and I to accomplish His Purposes. We just had to be obedient to what He wanted us to do.

You know, He wants the same thing from you. Miracles were happening all around us and we would have missed it all if we hadn’t obeyed His word to us.

I was able to see Jesus’ entrance into this world and hold Him with my own hands. It is my understanding that you know how things resolved; how Jesus really did become the Savior of the world and cleanse the people from their sins.

I wish I could have seen that. I’ll bet it was glorious, I’ll bet it was beautiful. “Lord God, You sent Me to save the people from their sins. Forgive them!” I’ll bet the Temple was rocking that day. The priests were so amazed at Him when He was a boy, I’ll bet the Priests were so happy to know that sacrifices for sins would no longer be needed.

I’ll bet it was beautiful (holding arms straight out to sides). Knowing my Son, there was nothing He couldn’t do—I was always so proud of Him.

But I’ve been wondering something since I came in. Everything in this room is so beautiful, so nice. I can tell you are very blessed. But I have to ask…

What is that doing in here? (pointing to the cross in the Baptistry) Where I come from that’s not something you want to see, it’s not something pretty for decoration. It’s how the Romans execute criminals.

What does that have to do with my Son and how He has saved us from our sins?

Monday, December 07, 2009

Nick Saban knows who will win the BCS

Here's proof! And no, it's not Photoshopped

It's just Vince Young's Pro Day when Saban was with the Dolphins.

Monday, July 06, 2009

Compartmentalized Life?

I was listening to the radio the other day and the person mentioned something about a compartmentalized life—keeping God in His box, work in one box, family, money, career, etc. That’s a concept that I have heard many times. But in my head, it connected to another passage that I had never thought of before.

Luke 11:17 Jesus knew their thoughts and said to them: "Any kingdom divided against itself will be ruined, and a house divided against itself will fall.”

When we divide ourselves, we are guaranteeing our own failure—guaranteeing our divided house will fall. We have so many differing priorities—so many different things that pull and hold our attention rather than the important things.
If we do not have an overarching, controlling, guiding factor—our house is divided and we will fall. We see this all too often—from mid-life crisis, to moral failure, to nervous breakdown.

What happens when the Temple of God wants to do something other than it’s intended purpose? What happens when the Temple is used to improve personal wealth, or become a Marketplace? When rooms & courtyards that are supposed to house temple artifacts or priests and other servants of worship are instead rented out to travelers, to store personal wealth or some other unholy purpose, a change is necessary. Jesus comes through, looks at the house divided and wants to clean it out. He sees that it is not fulfilling its purpose as a House of Prayer and a Light to the Gentiles—it is divided.

Even after it’s cleansing, it can just revert back to its old way. As a result, the temple was destroyed. It fell and has not been rebuilt in over 2000 years.
But the opposite of that can also be true. If a house divided will fall, then a house united will stand.

Scripture describes our bodies as the Temple of the Holy Spirit, it functions best and ideally when the temple is devoted to one goal and purpose: the Glory of God. Our lives then become something useful and capable of great things. Even if our circumstances are not good, we can still bring glory to God.

As individuals, imagine what we would be able to accomplish if we were truly undivided in our heart, soul, mind & strength? If we would really love Him with all of those parts, fully and not holding back, then we would truly be a fragrant offering to Him.

This is true for us as individuals, it is true also for us as the Body of Christ. That’s why Unity was such an important part of Jesus prayer in John 17. If not for the power of Christ and the work of the Holy Spirit, Christianity and the Church would have failed long ago. We would have fulfilled the words of Gamaliel in Acts 5:38-39—“Therefore, in the present case I advise you: Leave these men alone! Let them go! For if their purpose or activity is of human origin, it will fail. 39 But if it is from God, you will not be able to stop these men; you will only find yourselves fighting against God.”

We are standing solely because Jesus promised that the gates of Hell would not be able to prevail against the Church He was establishing by His Blood. May we truly be a house undivided and instead a house united around our love for Jesus and our desire to fulfill our Calling to the Commission of proclaiming Him to the Nations.

Wednesday, July 01, 2009

Movie Review: Transformers 2 : Revenge of the Fallen

Review: Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen

My son and I have been waiting for the new Transformers movie for some time. He’s been a growing fan ever since my parents brought my box of transformers from the 1980’s.

Though there are a few parts in the first movie that are a little mature for my son (like the parents conversation with Sam while the autobots are outside his room) overall, it was pretty tolerable and those parts are easily skipped on DVD.
Vicky and I went to go see Transformers last Thursday (6/35/09) in order to see if it’s appropriate to take my son to see it. Let me say that it lived up to its PG-13 rating.

The Good:

1. The Overall Story was pretty solid. It connected to the previous one and promises a third. It’s pretty quick and fast moving. For a lifelong Transformer fan, yeah, there were a few discontinuities with canon and character—one big one I’ll get to later. I liked the search for the Matrix of Leadership and the sacrificial nature of heroism.

2. The Fight Sequences—much better than the previous—more hand to hand combat and a better view. The best fight scenes are reserved for Optimus Prime, of course but there is a good one involving Bumblebee which we actually get to see this time, unlike the previous film which cut out his fight with Barricade. It was frustrating that they went a bit too quickly and you couldn’t see them as well as I’d like. I doubt that Michael Bay (the Director) would ever film a fight sequence involving humans to look like this—if he has, give me an example.

I must say that the Decepticons were much easier to defeat this time—they were not the powerful imposing war machines which could easily overpower the autobots and humans in the first film.

The Bad

There was a fair amount of bad in this one. After reading the book/screenplay adaptation—I believe the producers & editors took out significant good elements but made sure they left in the Bad & the Ugly.

1. The Language in the movie was a lot worse. Some of the cussing was edited out at the last second in the first movie, but they didn’t bother this time and put them front and center. If you want a full listing, see the website:


and read the review for the movie. The only autobots (besides Optimus) that has more than one line are the “twins”, Skids & Mudflap. The two of them combine for a whole lot of the offending language and crude behavior. Despite some potentially solid autobot characters, these two are the only ones to get more than one line and it is very unfortunate. Even though Bumblebee could talk at the end of the first movie, he is once again relegated to saying nothing and using the radio. Presumably this is because the filmmakers wanted to keep using the radio speech feature from the first movie. What a waste, it was used successfully only once. Him talking would not have precluded this.

2. The Sexual Imagery, Language and Innuendo—this is related to the language issue but again was very frustrating. Showing the dog dominance once was irritating enough, but going back to it again was trashy. This of course came back in the late middle of the movie when the small robot Wheels switched sides to the autobots and proceeded to jump on Mikeala’s leg and do the same thing. That was just unnecessary and plain dumb. There’s one more here that is the worst that I will save for “Ugly”.

3. The Editing & Transitioning—there are far too many hard jumps and changes in camera angles. It’s like Bay believes the audience can’t hold their attention for more than 2-3 seconds before giving an alternate angle even within the same conversation. There is little fluid movement and the dialogue shots are usually tight on the character’s face and you can’t see the other person’s response without a hard edit jump. That’s annoying.

4. Megatron being a Servant—to the Fallen—umm… that is somewhat contrary to his whole character. Prime also whipped him way too easily, even breaking off an arm. Still no arm cannon in the traditional sense.

5. The Theatre—Macomb has a new theatre and on the whole it was very nice. Good seats, not too big and cavernous. They actually started the movie less than 5 minutes after the official start time—Vicky and I actually missed the beginning as they were not debit card capable yet and we had to scramble to get cash. We had actually shown up early to buy tickets, then drop the kids off. Had they had their act together we would not have missed the opening scene. Also, the sound was terrible. For a small theatre, it was as if they only had the front speakers on, the ones behind the screen. It was not very loud and much of the time, I had difficulty hearing the dialogue (though the cussing was the most articulate part). Very disappointing for the otherwise nice theatre.

The Ugly

1. Slobbering Robots—for some reason, the Decepticons were filled with dripping lubricants—it came out of their mouths while they talked and slurped around during fight scenes. Primarily it was to increase the “gore factor” and was not consistent with the first movie and wasn’t that attractive visually anyway.

2. Agent Simmons Exposed—being stripped down to his boxers in the first film had to be bested in this film. Without warning, the camera jumped to a close up of his thong/jock strap as he took off his pants. Honestly, I cannot believe how this 2 second moment made it past test audiences. Most of our theatre cried out in disgust in some way or another. With several making loud comments expressing their disapproval—and it wasn’t just prudish old ladies either—many of the college guys who thought the other stuff was great were grossed out by this.

3. Michael Jackson’s Death—how is this related you ask? It’s not related to the movie but to those forementioned college students. The news of his death was announced while we were in the movie. As people were standing up and filing out many were checking their phones and the internet. One of the college guys called out something like, “Oh yes! Michael Jackson is dead! Yeah, gimme five!” Several of his buddies joined him in the celebration. I’m not a MJ fan by any means, but the callousness expressed there was really ugly.

4. Optimus Prime, the Executioner

As a long time fan of the story lines, Optimus Prime is obviously the most important, noble leader. He is for the Autobots, Abraham Lincoln, Patton, Caesar & Billy Graham rolled into one. Every noble essence and honorary character trait he led by example on and off the battlefield. Reading the book before seeing the movie gave me no indication that there would be anything different. But the first fight sequence set in Shanghai had Optimus doing something that really bothered me. Screenit describes the resolve of the fight like this:

per screenit: “until the Decepticon is damaged and then killed with a final blast.”

The final blast came from Optimus. I wouldn’t have a problem with this if it was done in the heat of battle, but it wasn’t. It was after the decepticon was badly injured, defeated and incapable of attacking in any way. The robot gives his final warning: “The Fallen shall rise again” and Prime walks up and shoots him in the face (the book had him merely fading off-line). Excuse me????!!! Since when is Optimus Prime an executioner? I remember this one time and I’m not sure if he did it again later.

One of my co-workers is in the Army Reserves and I asked him what would happen to him (by the book anyway) if after a firefight with the enemy he found one wounded combatant who was unarmed and dying and rather than capturing him just walks up and shoots him in the head. He said, accurately that he would be court-marshaled. It would be news of the like of Abu Grahaib and protests of Guantanamo Bay. A private would receive a strong sentence, but if it was the General or Commanding Officer, he would receive a greater sentence as one who should know better.

Now you could argue that Optimus had nothing to do for him, no means of imprisonment or rehab. But when is giving quarter to the enemy ever convenient or easy? It is still the right thing to do.

There is a scene in “The Patriot” with Mel Gibson that speaks to this. In Mel’s forces, there are two types of people: ones whom his son recruited at church, and those Mel recruited at the tavern who fought with him before. When some British soldiers were surrounded, were on their knees, guns up and about to surrender, Mel’s character and type walked up to them and killed them. The church group, including his son, were appalled—“these men were about to surrender”—“Maybe, we’ll never know” came the response. “That’s murder,” said the minister. “We’re better men than that” came his son’s reply.

To treat wounded & dying enemies as an executioner says more about you than about them. Our country has been struggling with that for the last several years. And it is just plain wrong to depict Optimus Prime as one who does not understand that and would so callously execute one of his own kind, even if on the other side.
Overall, I was very disappointed with a potentially good movie. I will not be taking my son to see it and I doubt I will be buying it when it comes out. I know the movie is getting bad reviews across the board and is still doing very well financially. So once again, reviews do not correspond to box office success, but neither does box office success mean a good movie.

Overall I’d give it a 4 out of 10.

Monday, June 29, 2009

The Pursuit Needs Your Help

The days are approaching when God will finally get our family onsite to start The Pursuit in Shorewood. It is truly an exciting time – I know I am looking forward to God bringing this vision to life – taking ideas and making them reality.

As always, I ask that you would continue to lift up the sale of our house. That is a big hurdle keeping us from getting on site.

I wanted to let you all know that one of our biggest hurdles in all this is Funding. Shorewood is an expensive place to live and do ministry.

Our funding will be coming from 3 primary sources:

1. Strategic Bi-vocational Job –
I am hoping to find a job that will let me interact with people on a daily basis – from coworkers to frequent customers. Some possible positions include a restaurant waiter to a front desk worker at the local fitness club. Currently, I am working the night shift at Wal-Mart and there is a good possibility that I may be able to transfer that position to a local store in the area. However, it is not ideal in that while the night shift pays a little more than days there are fewer people to meet and talk with. Secondly, it just doesn’t pay that much. Currently I take home a little more than $1100/month working about 38 hours/week – this doesn’t leave much time for family and ministry, especially once you add on sleeping during the day.

2. State and Local Support –
Southern Baptists have a great funding system called the Cooperative Program. Almost all Southern Baptist churches (35,000+) give money into this program to support missionaries at home and abroad, as well as seminaries and other entities. As North American Mission Board Church Planters in the Illinois Baptist State Association and Three Rivers Association we will start out as of now receiving $750/month. This will increase as milestones are met over the next year to $1400/month and then finally $1700/month the third year.

Vicky and I estimate that we will need at least $3600/month (after taxes) in order to live and do basic ministry. Of course, more funding will help us to minister more effectively. So at the start, that puts us about $1750/month behind what we need. That’s what makes the third primary source so important.

3. Financial Partners –
We are asking friends, family & some churches to prayerfully consider overcoming this difference. That’s why we are starting the 40x40 concept of giving, in which we are asking 40 people or churches to give $40/month. This will provide the necessary funding we need to be viable. That’s essentially $1.33 a day – I know some of you who are addicted to coffee contribute more than that to Starbucks every day! Please prayerfully consider if you can be one of our 40x40 partners. If that’s too much, but you can do less – by all means – we will be grateful. God may tell you that $40 is not enough – We won’t turn you down! In any event – you may be a needed part of God’s plan for The Pursuit and we would consider it an honor and a blessing to partner with you in God’s work.

Of course, as we are meeting and discipling people and developing participants in The Pursuit, we will be adding a fourth source.

4. Tithes and Offerings –
At first, this will be just our family’s offering. In fact we are already giving our tithes and offerings to The Pursuit, but these won’t amount to much, especially at first. As we grow and God blesses, The Pursuit will rely more and more on these tithes and offerings. Again, this source will be small at first, but we trust that after a few years, this source will be the only source we need.

Please ask God how He would have you participate in The Pursuit.

If you do decide to help fund The Pursuit, please let us know what you are going to send and when it will start. You can send it to:

Three Rivers Baptist Association
1106 Curtis Ave
Joliet, IL 60435

I know some of you live a great distance from where we’re going, but that doesn’t mean you can’t be an important part. Here’s some other ways:

Sending Partners
Are you looking for a place to take a group for short-term missions, for Spring Break, outreach, worship or other ministry opportunities? Perhaps The Pursuit is the answer you have been praying for.

Equipment Donation Partners

Churches looking to update equipment and want to donate their old—from video, music and sound equipment to children’s play places

Relocating Partners

Feel like going on an adventure with God? Perhaps in praying about your part in The Pursuit, God is convicting you to share in the effort by moving up to Shorewood and participating in what God is doing here to reach those in need of Him.

Thank you for all your prayers and encouragement. Check out The Pursuit's group on Facebook for updates and events or see:


Pursuing Answers to Questions of Faith & Life,


A Love Worth Pursuing,
A Life Worth Living
A Faith Worth Dying For

Monday, June 22, 2009

New Glasses

This is a big day in the Reed family. Our daughter Moriah, now 4 years old, just got glasses today. She doesn't have a very strong prescription and it may eventually correct itself. She's about 20/40 with a slight astigmatism. Our ophthalmologist said that without the astigmatism, she might well do without. But here we are.

We tried to get some that are stylish and near pink--her favorite.

I don't know where this idea comes from, but when she first came over and showed me her new glasses I told her that she looks pretty and cute in them. "No", she said, "I look smart." We certainly didn't plant that idea.

Anyway, I'd say she looks good and smart!

Saturday, May 23, 2009

The Armor Fits!!!

I was thinking again about King David and his youthful days. Particularly the part where he is about to fight Goliath. In leading up to that moment, then King Saul wants to help out, even honor David by allowing him to wear the King’s armor. But unfortunately, the armor didn’t fit him well and he couldn’t really use them. So David declined and he was right to do so.

What about us? Are we ever given the King’s armor? Yes! Ephesians 6 talks about putting on the full armor of God. Now the big difference between the armor that God gives and the armor that someone like Saul gives is the fact that what God gives fits. Do you really think God would give you armor that didn’t fit?

Ephesians 6:13 Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. 14 Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, 15 and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. 16 In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. 17 Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.

He won’t give you a belt for a 48 inch waist when you’re a 36—you’re still able to buckle it. Even though it’s His righteousness and not ours, the breastplate still fits snug and “in place”. Our feet have been “fitted” and we’re able to go for great distances as required by the gospel. The shield of faith is one that we can lift up and carry and still hide behind. It grows as our faith grows. Our head is covered with the helmet of salvation—it’s going to be better than anything the Army or Marines can hand out.

There is only one thing among God’s armor that may not fit properly. Can you guess what it is? It’s because it doesn’t depend on us. It is what it is.
The Sword of the Spirit which is the Word of God.

Our weapon, the sword, is one in which many people say—“it’s too big. I don’t understand it.” There are many reasons people give for why they are not more familiar with the Word--I'm sure you can think of or have heard many.

It’s like we’re a young David trying to wield the King’s sword. The problem is not with the Sword, the problem is with the one trying to wield the sword—we’re “not used to them” as David puts it.

David would have lost trying to fight a battle with a sword too big for him. I’ve held a few that weren’t too big, but just the weight and movement of them throw me off balance, and I would be quickly defeated by someone with even some ability with a sword (which may be why so many Christians are so easily swayed by cult groups who “explain” the Bible to them)

Of all the armor and weaponry we are given in Eph. 6—the Sword is the only thing that does not conform to us—we must conform to it—we can’t make it shorter or longer, we can’t take out the parts we don’t like. Instead, we must become more and more comfortable wielding it—through reading, study, memorization—familiarity. It’s just like a warrior training with his sword—or the old samurai who sees his spirit or fighting ability in his sword.

I remember hearing that during the filming of Lord of the Rings that “Aragorn” or Viggo Mortensen practically lived with “the sword of Elindil” and carried it with him wherever he went—even though it was a very large sword.

In the end of filming, apparently, they gave him the sword to keep. It had become his. The first day, it was awkward, the last day—he knew exactly what to do with it.

We must become more familiar with our sword, given by God, so we can know how to use it effectively and in the right circumstances. It is a gift, it is an honor to be given the sword of the King.

But when David was given the sword by Saul—he didn’t know how to fight with it. And just like him, we’re tempted to put those things aside and use our own weapons.

But there’s a problem…we’re not fighting against a giant or any other human being or institution or nation— Eph 6:12 “12 For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.”

Our weapons won’t work in the real battle—not the best gun, sword or tank. Jesus fought off the attacks of Satan with His knowledge of the Word of God. He wielded it effectively in the moments of temptation. It gave Him confidence in facing His execution. It gave Him words to share from the Cross—Psalm 22:1 “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

May we all put on the armor of God and may we all learn through diligence and training how to effectively wield the Sword of the Spirit.

Friday, May 08, 2009

Recent Pictures

Here are a few pictures from life recently. Gabriel's catch v. my catch and Moriah's missing tooth which apparently is terribly traumatic. She's very upset about the prospect of losing her other front tooth (which is about to happen)

My big catch

Gabriel's bigger catch

Moriah's new smile

Moriah's new piratey look--"aaarrgghh!"

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Changing Perspectives--The Warrior Shepherd

In yesterday’s post, I talked about a new perspective on the 23rd Psalm and the phrase, “even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death”.

From that line of thinking, my mind went to another familiar story: the Parable of the Lost Sheep—Luke 15:3-7. The reason the sheep was lost is never given, but it’s always spoken of in terms of the poor little guy just wandered off and wasn’t paying attention. Suddenly he looks up and realizes that he’s all alone, or maybe he’s fallen down a ledge and can’t get back up. The Jesus, the Good Shepherd comes and lowers His hand or His staff and lifts the sheep to safety.

In the artist renditions of this, I’ve seen pictures of a smiling Jesus, casually carrying the lost sheep on His shoulders—looking like he’s having a conversation along the lines of:
“You silly little sheep! What were you thinking wandering off like that?” Kind of like this.

But what if the circumstances of why the sheep is missing changes? What if it is more like when David described himself to Saul before facing Goliath; paraphrasing, “when a lion or a bear carried off a sheep—I went after it, grabbed it by the throat and killed it.” Those moments of facing down the lion and bear—knowing that God was with him and had his back—it was in those moments that David knew he could defeat Goliath.

Back to the lost sheep story—I considered—maybe the reason why the sheep is lost is more like David’s experience with the lion or the bear. What if the reason that the sheep is lost is not because it is just wandering around not paying attention but instead because it is carried off by a hungry predator?

Does that change the mental image of this picture? It does for me. A predator was one of the greatest enemies of a shepherd. And once a predator began to see the flock as an easy meal—it would continue to pick them off until it is killed.

So a predator, a lion is an enemy of the shepherd. Then I turned to 1 Peter 5—Paul is giving instructions to the elders of the church to “Be shepherds of God’s flock under your care.” He then says in vs. 4—“And when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the crown of glory that will never fade away.”

It makes sense then that in v. 8—Peter brings up the subject of a lion. 1 Peter 5:8—“Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.”

Applying that passage and David’s description of the life of a shepherd to the story of the lost sheep changes it’s tone. In this scenario, the Good Shepherd is not just thinking, “the poor little guy has wandered off again” but instead sees signs that the sheep has been attacked and carried off. He picks up his staff and begins to follow the trail of blood, looking for footprints to let him know what He’s dealing with, hoping that He’ll find his sheep in time before the predator kills it.

His face is stern and ready for a fight. When He finds the sheep, He first has to fight and kill the predator, a daunting task for a single shepherd with a staff and His bare hands—much like David. The shepherd’s body is charged with adrenaline and is now focusing on the probably injured sheep.

So now, when I think of this parable and the description of the Good Shepherd carrying the sheep on his shoulders—it’s no longer the casual, smiling face—it’s the stern face of someone who has just come out of a fight. There is blood on his hands and there is a dead lion a short distance behind Him. He is rejoicing because He has rescued His sheep. From certain death. Once again, we are rescued from the dominion of darkness by our Warrior Shepherd.

A friend from work, Sharon, worked with me for a month to get this concept down.  This is done in colored pencil.  She did an amazing job!

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Changing Perspectives--Who's Got Your Back?

Something hit me today that has changed the way I think… and no, I wasn’t hit by a rock or some other flying object.

It started when I was thinking about the 23rd Psalm and the phrase, “even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for You are with me.”

I’ve always pictured this in my head as a great peace amid turmoil, strife, danger or even in dying. That Jesus is there with a comforting hand on my shoulder assuring me that everything is going to be OK.

"The Valley of the Shadow of Death" by George Inness, 1867

There’s nothing wrong with that picture, I just now think that I’ve been missing something all this time.

It struck me to ask—when was David, the author of Psalm 23, most often walking through that valley? Most often, it was in battle.

We know David was a man after God’s own heart—I believe that he was one who was pursuing after God’s heart—not that everything about him was as God would want him to be. There is one way in which we don’t typically think of David’s heart reflecting God’s heart, but it does. David had the heart of a warrior.

Most of us will remember David as a boy having the courage to stand against Goliath when grown men dared not. But we must not forget that David is also described with this phrase, “Saul has slain his thousands and David, tens of thousands.” David had spent so much time fighting—successfully, I might add—that God would not let him build the first temple in Jerusalem because he was a “man of blood.”

David was a warrior. His life had been in danger during many battles. It struck me while thinking about this to also ask, where did most battles take place during David’s day? Typically, they occurred in the valleys—where there was open fields for horses, chariots, regiments. Bodies would be lying on the left & right, fighting on all sides—they truly turned into valleys of death. Which is where Revelation gets the imagery of the valley of Armageddon being full of blood.

This is where our “Good Shepherd” comes to us—during battle—and not just to rest a peaceful hand on my shoulder—but to join me in battle and fight to get me out of the valley.

David had an elite guard of might men for a reason. Their primary duty was to protect the king and guard him—to watch his back. I’ve never been in battle but I suspect that nothing is scarier than to be surrounded by your enemies, cut off from friendly forces, outnumbered and alone. By yourself, staring at a number of enemies before, you know that it’s over—your done. You might be tempted to give up, despair, lose hope or even kill yourself as Saul did. You know you won’t survive unless someone comes to rescue you. Even if just one other person was there to fight with you, you’d have hope to fight on.

With one other, the two of you would stand, back to back & swing away with whatever weapon you had at your disposal. Suddenly my picture of this phrase in Psalm 23 changed. He doesn’t just come to bring you peace and take you out of the battle. He comes to bring hope and encouragement to Keep Fighting. To help you fight through the valley of death.

“I’m here, I’ve got your back –Keep Fighting! Don’t give up!”

I then pictured Jesus with His shepherd’s staff swinging away like at the end of the movie Davey Crockett on the walls of the Alamo—swinging at anything that got close.

His rod and staff comfort me—in other words—He is armed and dangerous—He has a weapon and He knows how to use them. Usually when people talk about the rod and staff they think of how it is used on themselves—typically as a disciplinary tool. But they were also effective weapons for fighting off other animals or thieves. Now I think of them also being used in a fierce battle when my Shepherd comes to my rescue and fights alongside me. Knowing Jesus is right beside me, swinging away at the enemy, watching my back is a great comfort. He is right there, fulfilling…

Isaiah 52:12b --for the LORD will go before you, the God of Israel will be your rear guard.
58:8—“Then your light will break forth like the dawn, and your healing will quickly appear; then your righteousness will go before you, and the glory of the LORD will be your rear guard.”

He is on a Rescue mission—

Colossians 1:13—“For he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves”

Jesus is not passively walking us through or even just carrying us through the valley (there’s nothing wrong with those ideas remember) but He is actively fighting alongside us to deliver us through the valley of the shadow of death in Victory—not defeat.

Jesus has my back! That is awesome! And He will never leave us nor forsake us. And if God is for us—who can be against us?!

We have to keep in mind that sometimes the paths of righteousness lead us into the valley of the shadow of death. Living for God, living by faith, doing what is right is not safe, is not always well received—but thankfully we are not sent off into battle alone. He is right there with me—and I will fear no evil—no defeat—because He is with me. Our Shepherd is not just Good, He is a Warrior.

Tomorrow I'll share how this perspective has reshaped another popular passage in my mind. Can anyone think of another Scriptural account that could be affected by this reflection?

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

My Favorite Thing About GMail

Gmail has a great feature in their spam filter called “delete forever”. It creates a warm and fuzzy feeling knowing that a particular message from the Dubai Lottery, Viagra-on-line, or Ms. Cleo Wannabe will be gone and will never grace my computer or e-mail system again.

I got to wondering why they don’t have that feature in the regular mail section. There’s just “delete”. That’s because even though you delete it, they assume you might really want to get it back at some point. A deleted message gets put into a Trash file and is kept automatically for 30 days just in case you made a mistake and want to get it back.

Which kind of person are you? Are you a “delete” person or a “delete forever” person?

I as a human being, and I’m guessing this goes for you too, want to be treated by “delete forever” people. I want all of my mistakes, all of my offenses, all my stupidity to be put into the “delete forever” category so that it will never be remembered or brought up again. I hope and want people to forgive me completely.

While I want to be treated this way, I know that I do not act this way myself. In some cases, what comes naturally for me is to be a regular “delete” person. I delete an offense, I “forgive” but really, I just put it into the Trash file that gets held onto for a period of time. I confess, for some things, it’s longer than 30 days. It is possible to keep things on file in the Forgiven Trash section for over 30 years. Years of offenses are there to be mulled over or brought out as ammunition or defensive grenades.

Am I alone in this? Everyone wants to “forgive and forget” but we don’t. We want to be treated this way, but since we can’t do it, we know it’s not a real possibility.

That’s one of the amazing things about God. God doesn’t have 2 kinds of delete buttons. He has one kind and amazingly enough—it is “Delete Forever”

Jeremiah 31:34—“"For I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more."

Psalm 103:12—“as far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us.”

Micah 7:19—“You will again have compassion on us; you will tread our sins underfoot and hurl all our iniquities into the depths of the sea.”

Isaiah 43:25—“It is I who sweep away your transgressions, for My own sake and remember your sins no more.”

When the Blood of Jesus is applied to you and me—God no longer sees our sin, no longer sees our unrighteousness, instead He sees only the righteousness of Christ. We are moved from the category of a lawbreaker and given the status that the sacrifice of Jesus acquired-that His resurrection guaranteed.

As Paul says in Colossians 1:13—“He has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and transferred us into the kingdom of the Son He loves, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.”
Later in 1:22—“but now He has reconciled you by His physical body through His death, to present you holy, faultless, and blameless before Him”

When our sins are deleted, they are deleted forever—they are removed fully and completely. 1 John 1:9—“If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”

I am so glad that my sin is not forgiven—only to be stored away and used against me later. Satan likes to play that game—he likes to remember our failures and remind us of them. Satan is the Accuser—but in reality—“no condemnation now exists for those in Christ Jesus”

They have been deleted forever—never to be used against us.

Which kind of person are you?
How do you hope to be treated?
Have your sins been put into the “delete forever” category b/c you have received redemption through Jesus?

What are your thoughts?

Saturday, February 28, 2009

Pictures of Shorewood, IL

Here are a few of the pictures that I took on a recent trip to Shorewood, IL where God has led my family to plant a church called The Pursuit.

Please be praying for that endeavor as we are planning, dreaming and preparing.


Fitness is a Hot Commodity--
Spiritual Fitness... eh... not so much. Pursuing to change that!

Neighborhood just across the street from a sister church--from what I
understand, not enough impact.

Continuing Construction of new homes continues

New Village Center--

Street Expansion--the roads are not big enough to handle all the new traffic

Thursday, February 26, 2009

When God Moves...

I mentioned that the trip to Shorewood included some clear moments when God was moving. Shane being able to walk in and get a job offer, then the waitress who asked about the book. It was greatly encouraging to me and I was glad that Shane was able to see it too. It was, in many ways, confirmation of His presence at work in the prep work for The Pursuit.

I was wondering... Sometimes there seems to be a pattern of seeing God's hand move most often and most clearly.

When and in what circumstances do we see God moving the most?

When and in what circumstances do we see God moving the least?

Monday, February 23, 2009

Recent Trip to Shorewood, IL

I got back home from Shorewood yesterday after driving on wind swept & snowy roads. Glad I made it back in one piece.

The Epoch class I had hoped to attend was canceled on Saturday due to the lead teacher, Sean Benesh’s son getting sick. Glad to hear he’s not too serious.

Anyway, my friend, Shane, was able to see the area for the first time. He is strongly considering moving his family up to Shorewood with us in order to plant this church. He and I got to see a couple of things.

First, Shane was able to walk into a fitness gym and get offered a job. He’s got personal training certification and several styles of martial arts at his disposal. So in an exercise crazed area, he’s got in demand skills—wish I could say that! He also plays the drums. I took him into a Guitar Center and watched him play and drool over the drums.

The other good thing he was able to see came as we went to dinner. Before dinner we were at the Joliet mall looking around. In the bookstore, he bought a copy of The Case For Christ by Lee Strobel. As we were getting out of the car to go into Steak & Shake, I had the impression that I needed to take the book in with us. I ignored it and got out of the car. After about 3 steps, I stopped and went back for the book. After getting it, I told Shane, “I’m bringing this in, hopefully as a conversation starter. I’ll take a book in with a good title like this or Disappointment With God by Philip Yancey and put it out and hope for a conversation.”

He thought that was a good idea. The cooler thing was less than 10 seconds after sitting down, our server showed up, noticed the book and asked, “Is that a good book?” She proceeded to write down the title and we talked a bit about her life and faith. I asked if there was anything we could pray for her about. She said she’s pretty stressed, her family is strained and/or separated and she only gets to go to church with her father when she’s with him. She’s a junior in high school and is working to 10 or later at night and too tired to do homework. Please be praying for her, her name starts with a G. I wrote her a note and thanked her for being a blessing to us. I also told her to watch out for The Pursuit to open up in the next year or so.

Shane really needed to see those two things happen: the job and the book. He has only been a Christian for a year and needs a lot of intentional discipleship. Right now, he is eager to serve. But he was able to see that he does have skills to offer and that God can move and work right before our eyes. Shane is both thrilled and terrified of moving up to Shorewood. It’s going to uproot his family, it’s away from his life-long home town. He needed that confidence boost from God and he got it. It was great to see and be a part of. Please be praying for Shane and his family as they consider this radical move with Vicky and I.

As we’re moving forward with The Pursuit, please be praying for us. The hard work is coming: finding a place to meet—establishing an identity for the church, finding a core of people and securing funding. But I know our God is faithful and that all the resources and things we need are already in place or being placed for us.

Lord Jesus, it is a joy to see Your Hand at work. Thank you for this demonstration of Your faithfulness.

Pursuing Answers to Questions of Faith & Life,


Saturday, February 14, 2009

Need Help-- Logo Design for Church Plant

A couple of posts ago, I let everyone know that my family and I are planning to go up to Shorewood and west Joliet, IL in order to start a new church for an area that has grown by over 100,000 people since 1990. It is an exciting time when we can dream what it will all look like. Our church will be called:

The Pursuit
A Love Worth Pursuing
A Life Worth Living
A Faith Worth Dying For

We've done a lot of planning and creative design. I have a logo design but I don't have the computer expertise, the right programs or the design contacts to turn the idea into a professional emblem for the new church.

Does anyone have such expertise or have a contact that would be willing to work with me on this project?


Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Prayers for OK, but humor before the storms

I woke up this morning to the news from Oklahoma and Texas of the deadly tornadoes. My family and I are certainly praying for those who have lost their homes and the family of those who were killed.

I also wanted to share something I stumbled upon yesterday before the storms as I was preparing for my Intro. To World Religions class for Tuesday night. Since we were covering Judaism and the 10 Commandments I found an article detailing how the OK State Legislature is discussing adding a monument to the state grounds.

The link can be found here:

We had a good discussion in class about the merits, legalities, appropriateness of this type of religious display on state property and briefly on the concept of separation of church and state.

However, even in this serious discussion the true insecurity and jealousy of Oklahoma's fine citizens for the great state of Texas cannot be hidden. I believe it must be something that plagues the Sooners continually, especially in light of the past football season.

For in trying to maintain the constitutionality of the monument state representatives desire to "recreate the Texas monument,". Which is fine, but then another representative goes on to say:

"Is it possible we could make it a lot bigger than Texas'?" said Rep. Mike Christian, R-Oklahoma City.

Now that is telling!

Prayers and Go Horns!

Hey, couldn't that OU logo be a little bigger than the Longhorn logo?

TX-45 - 35-OU Hey, couldn't that OU score be just a little bigger than Texas'?

58–40–5 Hey couldn't OU have just a few more wins than Texas?

I'm sure I could go on in many ways!

Instead, continued prayers.

Friday, January 30, 2009

A New Direction-- Church Planting

A New Direction

Back in July I stepped down as the pastor of University Baptist Church and put my house up for sale, assuming that I would be searching to become the pastor of another established church. One thing was not on my mind: Church planting. It was too uncertain, too difficult.

But then a combination of things began happening. First, our house didn’t sell—and hasn’t sold (big prayer request) so moving on from Macomb has taken longer than expected. As a result we have had a longer opportunity to reflect on where God is taking us. If our house had sold quickly, or a new ministry position would have expressed interest relatively quickly, I would not have considered CP as a viable option.

Second, in our search for a new ministry position, it has been very difficult to find churches within the SBC that fit the style and kind of ministry that I am more energized by. Many churches can be described as “stifling” to new ministry perspectives. For new pastors in an existing church; changing a pre-existing church culture takes trust, transformation and especially time. Even then, any transition is often not pleasant. A repeated pattern is long standing members leaving the church they grew up with in bitterness at the new direction. On one hand, I like and agree with by Ed Stetzer’s oft used quote that churches will remain the same until “the pain of staying the same is greater than the pain of change.” On the other hand, I am disheartened and saddened by it as well. Pain and broken relationships are practically guaranteed.

Thirdly, was the strength of the church planting staff that has been put together here at the Illinois Baptist State Association: Charles Campbell, Eddie Pullen, Chris Wright, Sean Banesh. I doubt we would have been willing to move forward without the innovative staff being added to the church planting effort. By all accounts, Illinois seems to be ahead of the curve when it comes to church planting and a willingness to try innovative ministry.

So here we are. Just this weekend, 1/25/09, the family and I took a trip up to Chicago to look over a couple of CP locations. We didn’t connect with the first on Saturday, but we really did on Sunday with the area around Joliet, IL, particularly Shorewood, IL. So much of this community is new: new homes, new businesses; all within the last 5 years. The county is one of if not the fastest growing counties in the US. The churches that are there have been there since the 50’s & 60’s and are resistant to the newcomers who have changed their small, country town to a bustling, crowded, trafficked, suburb.

The way the population is growing, I’d figure that if all the area churches were reaching 300 people, there still would be a great number unreached by any church. Unfortunately, that scenario is not true—90% of the churches are not reaching more than 70 and of those most of them have lived in the area for a long time. New work is needed. And I’m excited to be a part of it.

I’ve been working on a church name for a while, and since seeing the area, it fits perfectly. Already, God has helped us develop a motto for the church and just this morning a logo design.

We’re calling it:

The Pursuit

With the phrase:

A Love Worth Pursuing
A Life Worth Living
A Faith Worth Dying For

The logo still needs some professional work and we’re looking for partners to come along side us in planting The Pursuit in Shorewood. So please keep praying for us as we are led to go in this New Direction. And please consider partnering with The Pursuit to reach a rapidly growing community.

Pursuing Answers to Questions of Faith & Life,


Saturday, January 17, 2009

Barna Research came out with a new report today that has some serious implications for American Christianity.

Here are some of the implications off the research from the site.

--> Americans are increasingly comfortable picking and choosing what they deem to be helpful and accurate theological views and have become comfortable discarding the rest of the teachings in the Bible.

--> Growing numbers of people now serve as their own theologian-in-residence. One consequence is that Americans are embracing an unpredictable and contradictory body of beliefs. Barna pointed out, as examples, that millions of people who consider themselves to be Christian now believe that the Bible is totally accurate in all of the lessons it teaches at the same time that they believe Jesus Christ sinned. Millions also contend that they will experience eternal salvation because they confessed their sins and accepted Christ as their savior, but also believe that a person can do enough good works to earn eternal salvation.

--> Today, Americans are more likely to pit a variety of non-Christian options against various Christian-based views. This has resulted in an abundance of unique worldviews based on personal combinations of theology drawn from a smattering of world religions such as Christianity, Buddhism, Judaism, Hinduism, and Islam as well as secularism.

--> With people spending less time reading the Bible, and becoming less engaged in activities that deepen their biblical literacy, faith views are more often adopted on the basis of dialogue, self-reflection, and observation than teaching. Feelings and emotions now play a significant role in the development of people’s faith views - in many cases, much more significant than information-based exercises such as listening to preaching and participating in Bible study.

From me:

This is a great concern--while most of the headlines will be that many Americans do not see Christianity as the default religious perspective anymore; I believe that headline is more a symptom or an after effect of these other statements.

Freedom and choice are all vital and good as well as the ability to live out choices without persecution, but when did our emotions and finite minds become the best and final arbiters of truth? Especially when it comes to Cafeteria Christianity--picking and choosing the things we like and dismissing or excusing the rest.

How is this situation not a fulfillment of 2 Timothy 4:3--"For the time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear."

Here's another few questions to consider... what is the future for the Christianity in America? How does the church minister effectively in such a culture? How will society view those who still hold to absolutes or the truth of ALL of the Bible?