Monthly Archives: December 2013

What the World (and the Church) [So Desperately] Needs Now…

puppy-fawn_thumbI’ll just say this: If you were ever going to listen to one Jesus in HD PODCAST, please, please, please listen to this one.

Please remember that depending upon your web browser and connection speed, it might take up to 60 seconds for this podcast to begin to play.

If it is a blessing to you, please “Share” the link to the podcast with all of your friends.

HAPPY LISTENING!!!

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O Little Town of Bethlehem

bethlehem

Bethlehem. 

Why in the world did God choose to have His Son born in Bethlehem?

He could have chosen Jerusalem. The Holy City was then home to the Temple, and the epicenter of all things religious. For that matter, He could have chosen Rome, Athens, Corinth, Alexandria, or any number of major metropolitan centers of ancient world influence.

Why in the world did God choose Bethlehem?

Well, for the answer to that singularly significant question, we have to go all the way back to the beginnings of the Bible. There you will read this in Genesis 14:18, about Abraham and his first meeting with the mysterious Melchizedek, the king of Salem, Shalom, Peace. Arguably the first reference in the Bible to what would later become the City of Peace, Jeru-salem

Then Melchizedek king of Salem brought out bread and wine; he was the priest of God Most High.

Hmmm. What were they doing, Abraham and Melchizedek? Certainly not celebrating Communion with that bread and wine. And more to the point, What does this baffling bit of trivia have to do with Jesus’ birth in Bethlehem?

On the surface, nothing. Dig a little deeper, it means everything.

The backstory of their tête-à-tête is straightforward and rather simple: Returning from a period of conflict over the capture of his nephew Lot, Abraham now craved a much-needed period of peace. So did Melchizedek. In order to establish an unbreakable bond of peace, in order to confirm an indestructible contract of commitment to one another, in order to seal a deal of an abiding agreement of love and loyalty to one another, Abraham and Melchizedek broke bread together.

The breaking of bread was in biblical times, and is even today in the Middle East, the culturally-binding symbol of a relationship of love, loyalty, and commitment between two parties.

Breaking bread. The sharing of the very sustenance of life with one another, the symbolism of which binds the two lives together in a mutual pledge of life, love, loyalty, and peace.

It is no wonder that bread is specifically mentioned in the Bible 448 times. 

It is no wonder that in the Lord’s Prayer, Jesus taught us specifically to pray for our daily bread, a regular reminder of the unbreakable relationship of life, loveloyalty, and peace that we now share with God Himself.

It is no wonder that when Jesus fed the five thousand, He broke bread with them.

It is no wonder that Jesus referred to Himself as “the bread of life,” adding in John 8, 

I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Anyone who eats this bread will live forever. 

“Forever.” An unbreakable bond indeed!

It is no wonder that on the night before the crucifixion, as Jesus shared one last supper with His disciples, He broke bread with them.

It is no wonder that after Jesus was nailed to the cross, as the body of the one who called Himself “the bread of life” was beaten and broken for us, that it can now be said of us who love Him, 

We have peace with God because of what Jesus Christ our Lord has done for us (Romans 5:1).

It is no wonder that the first committed Christ-followers (according to Acts 2) broke bread from house to house. 

Bread: the God-given, Bible-driven symbol of two persons who desperately long to establish between them an unbreakable bond of life, love, loyalty, and peace.

So it is no wonder that God chose “His only begotten Son” to be born not in Jerusalem, not in Rome or Athens, not in Corinth or Alexandria, nor in any major metropolitan city of great influence. No.

When God sent His Son, He chose to have Him be born in the humble hamlet of Bethlehem. Or as it is called in Hebrew, Beit Lehem, which in English reads, “the house of (Care to make a guess?) bread.”

———————-

This is just one of the five Scriptural snapshots of Christmas that we shared with our beloved Safe Haven family last Saturday night. You can hear all five in this podcast by clicking HERE.

From my heart to yours, a very MERRY CHRISTMAS!

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Mary, Did You Know???

mangerMary’s was NOT an easy life. 

Consequently, she is a woman whom I greatly admire. As should we all.

Just imagine what it must have been like to walk in her sandals, or to ride on her donkey.

At the time of the angelic visitation announcing her miraculous pregnancy, Mary was assured that her baby was the vital part of God’s plan of salvation. Not only for her, but for the whole world.

Yet we know that very late in her pregnancy, Joseph and Mary were forced to make the arduous journey from Nazareth-Bethlehem,60 miles as the crow flies. A harrowing 3 to 5 day journey under the best of conditions into what was for all intents and purposes a different country far removed from Nazareth geographically, culturally, and demographically. More like 5 to 7 days considering Mary’s condition, walking or on camelback, through treacherous terrain, exposed to the elements and the ever-present threat of bandits, all to register for yet another Roman tax.

This poor couple living, as we learn a little later in the Gospel accounts, barely above the poverty line, having even what little they had plundered by their corrupted government officials.

Mothers, think back to what it was like when you gave birth to your firstborn child – the fears, the insecurities, the feelings of inadequacy. Now imagine that when you did give birth, it was not in the clinical cleanliness of a hospital room or birthing center. Imagine you were in a cave, dark and alone, unsanitary to the extreme, no nurse, doctor, or midwife to help you, and you are all of 13 or 15 years old, in what was essentially a foreign country, away from your family, with only your fiancé to help you.

Add to all of that the political climate of the world Mary was living in – a world of crushing oppression and a brutal and barbaric military occupation. One that would soon force the holy family to flee to Egypt in the wake of Herod’s maniacal and murderous attempt to kill the baby Jesus in His crib.

Mary was completely obedient to and submissive to the will of God for her life, whatever that might be. She stepped out in obedience to God, and yet everything that could go wrong did go wrong.

Which begs this question:

Why do we expect that if we are indeed obedient to the will of God, everything should go right for us, go good for us? That our obedience buys us a trouble-free existence?

Mary would beg to differ. So would Abraham.

As the OT begins, Abraham obediently followed God’s call to leave his country, his extended family, his friends, and his home, everything to travel to a Promised Land that he had never even seen before.

While en route, his beloved dad died. No sooner had he settled in that land, a severe famine hit the land and down to Egypt he was forced to go. Welcome to the Holy Land, Abraham.

Abraham did everything right, and everything that could go wrong did go wrong. It happened to Abraham.

And as the NT begins, the exact same thing happened to Mary. 

Maybe, just maybe, it has happened to us. Or will happen to us. Unexpected, uninvited, and unwanted trials and tribulations may well be proof-positive that you and I are right smack dab in the middle of God’s will. Unexpected, uninvited, and unwanted trials and tribulations may well be the precursors to God’s richest blessings.

So don’t despair, no matter how rough your road. God never abandoned Abraham; He surely never abandoned Mary, Joseph, and Jesus. And we can be sure that He will never abandon us.

The pathway to God’s blessing is often strewn with boulders. Speed-bumps abound. But as we learn from this Christmas story, with Mother Mary showing us the way, God’s blessings always win out in the end.

Just one of the snapshots of Christmas from last Saturday night’s Safe Haven Christmas celebration. The podcast of the full five of these snapshots can be heard by clicking HERE.

MERRY CHRISTMAS!!!

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Why I Haven’t Voiced My Support for Phil Robertson (and Why I Won’t)

Well, my friends, they say that “The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.” I don’t know if I’ve ever realized the truth of that statement as much as I do this morning.

I was just about to throw my hat into the ring of controversy surrounding Duck Dynasty patriarch Phil Robertson’s GQ Magazine interview when my daughter, Ashley, beat me to the punch.

phil-robertson

Amazingly, she said just about everything I wanted to say, but said it so much better and more graciously than I ever could. 

So with her permission, I am hijacking her Facebook post as my blog post.

I cannot tell you how proud I am of her, given that she is taking what will probably prove to be for many an unpopular position.

I believe I speak accurately for both of us when I say that neither of us means any offense to anyone. We simply want to have a conversation about a very timely “teachable moment” courtesy of Duck Dynasty and the A&E Network. 

PLEASE feel free to post any comments that you may have, in agreement or disagreement with these sentiments. Thank you for reading them. And if you do indeed agree, PLEASE “Share” with your friends and “Like” this on Facebook.

The last several days my Facebook news feed has absolutely exploded with support, petitions, etc. for Phil Robertson of Duck Dynasty. Usually when there is a hot topic on Facebook I stay away from it, because that is simply not why I’m on Facebook to begin with. I am on Facebook so that I can get to know my friends better and be a part of their lives while letting you all get to know me better and be a part of mine. But in this Duck Dynasty discussion, I see a way that you can learn more about me and what I believe in on a more personal level than I think I have ever gotten into on here before. 

My opinion might be different than a lot of my friends who are a part of the Christian community, even though, I suppose, you could say that I am a part of the Christian community as well. I say “suppose” not because I at all doubt my beliefs, but because the word “Christian” is now unfortunately such a broad term. If “Christian” means to you that I believe in God and have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ, then please feel free to call me a Christian. If “Christian” means to you that I am a homophobic bigot or anything in between, than I would prefer that you refer to me only as a God-Lover or Christ-Follower, because that is truly what I am. And as a Christ-Follower, I believe that it is my job to love everyone, no matter who they are, where they have come from, no matter race, religion, or sexual preference; my job is to love. Period.

I have not signed any petitions, voiced any support of Phil Robertson and I won’t for three reasons. 

Number one: I would be a hypocrite if I did. A lot of the outrage that I’m hearing is from people believing that Phil Robertson’s First Amendment Rights have been violated. If I were to speak out on his behalf for that reason, then I would have to speak out for every other person who has been fired or received a reprimand as a result of something they had said.

The next time someone gets in trouble for taking a shot at Christians, are we going to get up in arms and defend their rights under the First Amendment? Somehow I doubt that very much. What people from both sides of the fence don’t always seem to realize is that free speech goes both ways. And if we are going to fight for it one way, we need to expect to have it come the other way as well. 

Number Two: The First Amendment basically promises that a person will not be arrested for speaking their opinion, it does not however give people the right to say whatever they want and not have any consequences for that. As far as I know, Phil Robertson was not led away in chains, he was not imprisoned, and he does not have a court date.

His employer has the right, as every employer does, to fire or lay off a person for misrepresenting their company or name. I have a friend that was fired a week ago for using language that their employer felt was inappropriate for the workplace and misrepresented them to their patrons. It was their right to do so. And before anyone even tries to tell me that Phil Robertson is being persecuted for his beliefs, let me point out that he was simply put on a hiatus. They have already said that he is coming back. The show Duck Dynasty is still running; there is in fact a Duck Dynasty marathon that is running today that Phil Robertson will be raking in the money for from residuals. 

Number Three: Yes, everyone has a right to their beliefs. The way that Phil Robertson stated his beliefs was vulgar and inappropriate. I have a hard time believing that any of my friends that are a part of the Christian community can really back this statement. This is the direct quote, 

“It seems like, to me, a vagina — as a man — would be more desirable than a man’s anus. That’s just me. I’m just thinking: There’s more there! She’s got more to offer. I mean, come on, dudes! You know what I’m saying? But hey, sin: It’s not logical, my man. It’s just not logical.” 

He then went on to compare homosexuals to terrorists. 

His comments on black people are just as outrageous. Another quote: “I never, with my eyes, saw the mistreatment of any black person. Not once. Where we lived was all farmers. The blacks worked for the farmers. I hoed cotton with them. I’m with the blacks, because we’re white trash. We’re going across the field…. They’re singing and happy. I never heard one of them, one black person, say, ‘I tell you what: These doggone white people’—not a word!… Pre-entitlement, pre-welfare, you say: Were they happy? They were godly; they were happy; no one was singing the blues.” 

To say that I don’t support the disgusting statements made by this man is an understatement. I will listen to anyone’s opinions or beliefs as long as they are given in a respectful manner. This is beyond disrespectful to me. 

As I have said before, I know my view is different than a lot of my friends, and I hope that my view doesn’t hurt any of my relationships. I can have a different opinion than someone and still love them dearly, and I do! I guess, more than anything, what I want people to take from this is that there are many different opinions out there. There are many different viewpoints and beliefs. What I hope we can all come together on is what I think is the most important thing that we are given, and that is love.

As I add my voice to hers, let me conclude with a simple “yes” and “no.” Four of them, actually.

Yes, I love Phil Robertson as a brother in Christ. Yes, I will be praying for he and his family during what must be a difficult time. Yes, I respect the fact that he is a man of uncompromising convictions. And yes, when one of our beloved faith family is hurting, we’re all hurting together.

But No, I won’t add my voice to the cacophony of Christian voices in support of him. No, I won’t rail against the A&E television network. No, I won’t be boycotting their sponsors. And No, I won’t be attending any “I Stand with Phil” rallies or signing any petitions on his behalf given the same three reasons offered by my daughter in her post.

And finally, thank you, Ashley, for calling us to look deeper at a much more complex situation than we may have have at first, with our knee-jerk reactions of support, understood this to be.

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Eleven Words That Forever Changed the World

mangerIt’s only eleven words in the Complete Jewish Bible.

Eleven words that trumpet THE event after which the world would never be the same again. 

Eleven words that appear to come careening out of nowhere, enigmatically exploding on the page in Matthew 1:18:

Here is how the birth of Yeshua the Messiah took place.

Think of it. When a lofty band of angels announced to a lowly brood of shepherds that Jesus was born, the impossible, the unimaginable happened.

Perhaps the clearest explanation of exactly what happened and why it happened was summarized by the Apostle Paul in the lovely little letter he wrote to his beloved congregation of committed Christ-followers in Philippi.

It’s such a marvelous and magnificent passage. So frequently read, yet so often misunderstood because of its rather unfamiliar phraseology. So I humbly offer to you my expanded paraphrase of Philippians 2:5-11, sort of as The New Testament in High Definition:

Jesus was God.

Yet, He chose to relinquish all of the privileges that were His as God.

If you can imagine it, Jesus voluntarily gave up everything when He became one of us – born as a baby, just as human as you and me. He did this so that He could humbly serve us by meeting our deepest needs – the forgiveness of our sins and the salvation of our souls.

In obedience to God the Father, Jesus even humbled Himself to the lowest point possible: He actually allowed Himself to be executed as if He was a common criminal. See Him there – Almighty God in an all-human body, bloodied and beaten – Jesus hanging from that rugged Roman cross, with the crowds sneering and spitting and laughing at Him.

Ah, but He didn’t stay on that cross, did He?

God the Father reached all the way down to Earth and lifted His Son all the way up to Heaven. He picked Jesus up from the lowest place and raised Him to the highest place, the place of supreme honor.

He gave Jesus a name that is so powerful, so preeminent that at the mere mention of His name – say it with me, “Jesus” – every person, and even every angel, will bow his or her knees before Him and offer to Him the worship that He alone deserves. This includes each of the holy angels in Heaven, every depraved demon in Hell, and each and every precious person who has ever walked this planet.

To the glorious honor of God the Father, everyone will loudly and clearly proclaim this one undeniable and unchangeable fact: Jesus Christ IS the Master of the Universe AND the Lord of our lives.

Such is the “reason for this season.”

From my heart to yours, Merry Christmas! And in the immortal words of A Christmas Carol’s Tiny Tim,

God bless us, every one!

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A Marvelous Way to Live!

Unhappy ChristmasFor many of us, this enigmatic passage, that we explain in this PODCAST, is coming at Just.The.Right.Time, given that Christmas is right around the corner.

I have talked to too many people already this month who have admitted to me that in one way or the other, despite what the carol says, Christmas is not “the most wonderful time of the year.” 

This because, among other things, they are dreading having to get together with certain family members or “friends” who are, to put this as delicately as possible, difficult to deal with. Difficult to be with. Difficult to spend time with. 

EGR-types of people. EGR? Ever hear of those?

Extra-Grace-Required-types of people.

Do you know anyone like that?

So this passage is indeed coming at just the right time.

At the same time, ironically, it’s an impossible passage. Impossible in that no one, NO ONE, can possibly take the words of this passage, as they appear here at face value, and apply them to our lives.

No one can. Because if we did, then it would mean that… say, for example… if someone likes your car better than theirs, according to this passage they only need to ask you for your car, and you would have to toss them the keys.

Or if they like your house better than their house or apartment, and ask you for your house, you would have to hand over the deed to them.

Or if someone jumps you in a parking lot and starts to pummel you, according to this passage you could not defend yourself. You just have to lay there and let them beat you to a bloody pulp.

Is that really what Jesus meant to suggest here in Matthew 5:38-42?

You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I tell you not to resist an evil person. But whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also. If anyone wants to sue you and take away your tunic, let him have your cloak also.  And whoever compels you to go one mile, go with him two. Give to him who asks you, and from him who wants to borrow from you do not turn away.

OK, let me be honest with you. Taken at face value, there are some serious issues with this passage. A problematic passage to say the least.

First, because if we truly live this out…

Don’t resist an evil person… Give to him who asks you…

…If we (as the clichés go) turn the other cheek, go the extra mile…

If we do indeed let people knock us around, or give anyone anything of ours that they want, even more than they want, anytime they want it, then what we’re saying is that we are biblically obligated to passively submit to anyone’s abuses, everyone’s abuses, any where, at any time.

Can you even begin to imagine what the implications of that would be? Just try to imagine what would happen if word got out about those Christians over there, that you can take from them anything you want, anytime you want it. Money. Possessions. Property. It’s yours for the asking.

Is that really what Jesus was preaching here in Matthew 5:38-42?

Second, if that was indeed what Jesus was preaching here.. 

But I tell you not to resist an evil person. 

…Then we have a clearcut contradiction of Scripture. Because James (Jesus’ brother) just as clearly wrote, 

Resist the devil and he will flee from you (James 4:7).

And Peter added his voice to James when he wrote…

Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. Resist him (1 Peter 5:8-9).

And finally, just to add one more tantalizing layer of complication to this already complicated passage, not only is there an apparent contradiction between what Jesus preached and what James and Peter wrote, but we also have an apparent contradiction between Jesus’ own words and Jesus’ own actions

Let me phrase this as a question: Did Jesus practice what He preached…

But I tell you not to resist an evil person.

…when Jesus did this to some evil people?

Jesus took some rope and made a whip. Then he chased everyone out of the temple, together with their sheep and cattle. He turned over the tables of the moneychangers and scattered their coins. Jesus said to the people who had been selling doves, “Get those doves out of here! Don’t make my Father’s house a marketplace” (John 2:15-16).

Hmmm. Sounds a little like resistance to me…

OK, so what’s going on here?

One are just one CLICK away from finding out. Just in time for Christmas!

A truly marvelous way to live.

Please note that depending upon your web browser and connection speed, it might take up to 60 seconds for the podcast to begin to play.

HAPPY LISTENING, from my heart to yours.

And if it is indeed a blessing, PLEASE “Like” this blog, and PLEASE “Share” the link to this podcast with your family and friends.

MERRY CHRISTMAS!

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One Defining Moment

SH smallIn this week’s PODCAST, I am going to take a great big risk and tell you a personal story. A story that I have on rare occasions shared with individuals. But this will be the first time I’ve ever told this story in a public setting.

I tell this story for a number of reasons. 

First, of course, because it goes right to the heart of this podcast’s passage. It illustrates precisely the issue to which Jesus was referring here in Matthew 5:33-37, a subject of monumental importance as far as Jesus’ teaching was concerned.

Second, because it gives to you a bit of personal context, a piece of the portrait of my life within which my teaching takes place.

Third, because if the old adage is true — Like pastor, like people — or as the OT puts it, “Like people, like priest” (Hosea 4:9), then this explains why there has evolved a pandemic of phoniness in our churches.

Fourth, because this became a defining moment in my life and ministry. It cemented for me an approach to ministry, an approach to life, for which, over the years, I have paid a hefty personal price. And for which I continue to pay a hefty price.

Fifth, because this was one of the most disillusioning experiences of my life, and sent me reeling in terms of my faith. I would not be overstating the case to suggest that it prompted a crisis of faith, not to mention cemented for me what was becoming my perception of the Christian life and church life as a “game people play.”

Sixth: This story perfectly frames Jesus’ concerns as He addressed them here in His Sermon on the Mount.

We have much to learn together in this PODCAST.

Please note that depending upon your web browser and connection speed, it might take up to 60 seconds for this podcast to begin to play.

HAPPY LISTENING, and PLEASE share the link to this message with others.

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Why, Oh Why, Have We Done This to You???

If a picture is worth a thousand words, how much is a compelling, truthful, tell-it-like-it-is, brutally honest video worth?

As a guy who has been in church leadership for over 40 years, trust me when I say how sincerely sorry I am that so many have done so much damage to so many of you. We were wrong. Dead wrong. And for that I humbly apologize.

This video says it so much better than I ever could precisely why the Safe Haven was born.

PLEASE share this link with all of your friends. The message of this video needs to be heard far and wide!

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Marriage, Divorce, and Remarriage — What Did Jesus Really Say?

divorceThe topic of this PODCAST is one of those subjects that touches us all, deeply and profoundly. The ripples of any divorce, every divorce spread their concentric circles far and wide.

Which compels us to take a sober look at exactly what Jesus DID SAY HERE in Matthew 5:31-32, as well as — and perhaps especially — what Jesus DID NOT SAY HERE.

Because once again, this is one of those passages which, when lifted out of its context — both Scriptural and Cultural — is so often and so tragically made to say something other than what Jesus intended for it to say. Heaping truck loads of unnecessary grief and guilt upon poor precious people who are just trying by God’s grace to rebuild their broken lives.

Trust me! Over the years, having dealt up close and personal with many, many people, I have heard some of the most atrocious applications of this passage. This to the point where emotionally and spiritually fragile individuals, whose lives have just been rocked by their own tragic divorces, now have whatever fragments they have left of their broken lives crushed by well-meaning, but grossly misinformed, Christians errantly and judgmentally spouting this passage. And then in fine Pharisee-esque style, they walk away from them, leaving untold wreckage in their wakes.

Not here. Not in this PODCAST. No way!

Jesus doesn’t do that.

Please note that depending upon your web browser and connection speed, it may take up to 60 seconds for this podcast to begin to play.

God bless you as you listen.

And PLEASE, PLEASE, PLEASE share this podcast with your friends.

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