Monthly Archives: December 2020

The Role of Witnesses: Revolutionary or Religionist?

Once the disciples had grasped the big picture – that the kingdom of God had broken into our world with Jesus’s resurrection – they began telling others. They started functioning, just as Jesus said they would, as witnesses to him and the resurrection.

We will go wrong if we think those early followers of Jesus thought they were spreading a new religion. Nothing could have been further from their minds or more repugnant to their hearts. They were Jewish people who worshiped the God of Abraham, who had acted through Jesus to bring the world under his rule and would take further action still.

The apostles didn’t think of themselves as starting a religion but as carrying on a revolution. They announced that Jesus, not Caesar nor anyone else, was the rightful ruler of the world. Continue reading

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The Role of Witnessing: Telling People What We’ve Seen

But they did understand that the people who killed Jesus might kill them too. The authorities had grilled Jesus about his followers before they executed him. That was ominous.

Jesus had been executed as a revolutionary, and the disciples knew how their Roman overlords treated revolutionaries. During the slave revolt, Rome brutally executed thousands of – not combatants but – POWs. The same general who conquered Jerusalem had once lined the Appian way from Rome to Capua with crucified POWS. Every 2/10ths of a mile for about a hundred miles, travelers on that road saw a different dead slave nailed to a cross – 6,000 in all.

The Empire thought of crucifixion as an attention-grabbing billboard that would leave everyone talking about what happens to people who challenge Rome. The apostles had seen smaller copies of that same billboard many times. Continue reading

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Finally, Some Good News: The Role of Witnesses in the Gospel

When people see something that interests or impresses them – whether a football game, a scenic vista, or people arguing at the supermarket – they talk about it. After Karen and I were married, we lived in a large apartment complex on our city’s southwest side. One morning around 2 or 3 o’clock, we heard a woman screaming for help out on the street. I jumped up, threw on some clothes, and went running out, telling Karen to call the police. (This was before we had 911.)

As I exited the building, I saw a car stopped in the middle of the street, with a woman on the far side of it – the woman who had screamed, I assumed. She was being pushed into the car by a man. As I ran, the car peeled off, and I never saw them again.

I was hardly a star witness. I couldn’t identify the woman. Was she tall? Short? I didn’t know. What was the man’s race? I wasn’t sure. What did the car look like? It was too dark to distinguish the color. I didn’t see the license plate. If I had been summoned to court, some defense attorney would have tied me in knots. They would have asked if I hadn’t dreamed the entire episode.

If I did, Karen dreamed it with me. I certainly didn’t see everything – the woman’s features or the car’s license plate – but I did see some things: a car in the middle of the street, a woman being pushed into it, the car peeling away as I approached. Karen and I both heard the scream for help.
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Disruption: We Hate It but We Need It

God, the theologians tell us, is omnipotent, immutable, and incomprehensible. They should have told us that he is also inconvenient. The eternal and omnipresent God doesn’t step into our little lives without disrupting our plans.

The fact is most of us need a good disruption from time to time. We may not like it – probably won’t – but that doesn’t mean we don’t need it. Without occasional disruptions, the priority of our convenience, our plans, our schedule remain unchallenged, which can leave us assuming a false independence from God. God uses disruptions for our good, to teach us to trust him, to break us out of our self-centeredness and enable us to know him better.

He also uses disruptions to move us in new and better directions. The business world has a term for systemic changes brought about by the introduction of a new agent. They call it disruptive innovation. God has been managing disruptive innovation since he banished our first parents from the Garden. No one understands it better. Continue reading

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Jesus Is Not Peter Pan: Let’s Stop Confusing Them

I think we get Jesus confused with Peter Pan. We seem to think he is the boy who would not grow up.

A seven-year-old girl went with her grandparents to look at Christmas displays in the suburb where they lived. When they saw a large Nativity scene, Grandma called attention to it: “Look, Sarah, isn’t it beautiful?” And Sarah, who was a very smart girl, said: “Grandma, one thing bothers me. Jesus is the same size he was last year. Why doesn’t he ever grow up?”

Perhaps Jesus does not grow up because we won’t let him. We love the baby Jesus. He is so sweet, sitting on his mother’s lap, like he is in Leonardo’s painting, stretching out a tiny hand to his admirers. It is all so charming – and entirely innocuous. What could be less threatening than a little baby – particularly one that never grows up?

But leaving Jesus at Bethlehem on Christmas Day is like leaving WWII at Normandy on D-Day, or manned flight at Kitty-hawk on a December day in 1903. It is important to celebrate the act that set it all in motion, but there is so much more to the story. Interestingly, Christians did not think to celebrate Christ’s birth until about the fifth century, but for many contemporary westerners, Christmas is the only Christian holiday they celebrate.

At Christmas, we stand over the manger – we are comfortable there – and sing about the Child who is proof of God’s love for the world. But at some point we need to move away from the manger.
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Promises, Promises: The Promise of Christmas

(Text:Micah 5:1-5. If you prefer to listen rather than read, you can find a link to this sermon below.) Do you have one of those friends – maybe you have more than one – who is always making, but rarely … Continue reading

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God Is Our Context: Interpreting Circumstances

Noam Shpancer says that most people “interpret all of life by [their] current context.” The current context is the only interpretive lens they’ve got. How sad that is, especially during this time of pandemic, but also at other times. Interpreting … Continue reading

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God Is Our Context: Lock Eyes with God

Sometimes, the future is so promising. We want it to come: we want to get married, have kids, go on vacation, get a job, retire from a job. Sometimes the future is so threatening. We just want to get it … Continue reading

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God Is Our Context: The Need to Remember

If we are going to trust our God, we must learn to trust his timing. If we do not, we will always be in a hurry, constantly be worried and, in our haste for tomorrow, miss what God has placed … Continue reading

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God Is Our Context: The Timely God

In the church, the Advent season has always been a time of waiting. On the Church calendar, Advent begins four Sundays before Christmas. So, we wait. That is countercultural. Society does not wait. Walmart doesn’t wait. They are plugging Christmas … Continue reading

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