Category Archives: ministry

“A Case of the Mondays”

Ugh.  What an obnoxious phrase, though it certainly alludes to one of the funniest movies to have ever been produced [in my humble opinion].

This past Monday, I was delivering my regular Meals-on-Wheels route.  You probably already know that I also ended up on the Rush Limbaugh show during said route.  However, just prior to my stop which prompted my being on his show, I made another stop which proved to be a tough one.

For the last couple of years or so, I’ve been driving this route, making my rounds, and delivering to mostly the same folks each time.  During the first half of my route, I typically deliver to an elderly married couple.  This Monday, the delivery I made just prior to that which would bring me passing fame was to this couple.

What made this delivery tough was being greeted and welcomed at the door by the couple’s daughter.  She explained that her father died this past Friday and that she was in from out of town.  That was tough to hear.

She invited me in, talked with me for a brief while, expressed tremendous gratitude for my looking out for her folks seeing how she lives 3000 miles away, explained that I’ll need to use a different door from now on to deliver her mom’s food, allowed me to share a few memories with her, and asked if she could have a hug before I left.  She was a kind lady with wonderful parents, and I –of course– granted her request gladly.

As I drove alway, I choked back a tear or two and went about my day.

My call to Rush was on a whim.  While my story was indeed forthright and legit, I made the call with the passing thought, “Ugh. It’s been a rough day so far… I’m calling Rush.”  Never did I think that, on my first attempt to call [ever, though I’ve listened for years and have considering calling many times], my ear would immediately hear a ringing tone.  After what seemed like 40 rings, a voice –to my astonishment– actually answered…

“What would you like to say to Rush?”

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Because you asked…

On Christmas Eve, I was asked for a brief explanation of the Twelve Days of Christmas.  I had mentioned it the day before in my sermon.  Here’s what I wrote and sent via email:

Regarding the Twelve Days of Christmas, there are a few minor discrepancies among the various Christian traditions (i.e., Roman Catholicism, Eastern Orthodoxy, Protestantism).  However, here are the essentials…

The Twelve Days of Christmas (or, Christmastide, Yuletide, Twelvetide) begin with Christmas Day and run through January 5.

The song “The Twelve Days of Christmas” is a rather old English carol, having first been published in 1780, but was probably written originally in French.  The carol’s purpose is quite debatable, but some suggest that it was originally developed in order to serve as a sort of teaching tool akin to a Catechism.  The gifts given and their suggested biblical/theological representations are as follows:

  • 12 Drummers Drumming (the 12 supposed points of the Apostles’ Creed)

  • 11 Pipers Piping (the 11 faithful Disciples)

  • 10 Lords-a-Leaping (the 10 Commandments)

  • 9 Ladies Dancing (the 9 fruits of the Spirit)

  • 8 Maids-a-Milking (the Beatitudes)

  • 7 Swans-a-Swimming (the gifts of the Spirit)

  • 6 Geese-a-Laying (the days of Creation, the 7th having been the Sabbath rest)

  • 5 Golden Rings (the Torah or Pentateuch [Genesis–Deuteronomy])

  • 4 Calling Birds (the canonical Gospels)

  • 3 French Hens (the three theological virtues [i.e., faith, hope, and love] or perhaps the Magi’s gifts)

  • 2 Turtle Doves (the Old and New Testaments of Scripture)

  • and a Partridge in a Pear Tree (Jesus, the Partridge or Dove traditionally serving a symbol of peace and the Pear Tree representing the wooden manger)

Christmas, which ends at Epiphany, is the second season in the Church’s liturgical calendar, the first being Advent.  While Advent begins four Sundays prior to Christmas and comes from a Latin term (adventus) meaning ‘to come’, Epiphany is January 6 (twelve calendar days after December 25) and comes from a Greek term (επιφανεια) meaning ‘to appear’ or ‘to manifest’.  Epiphany celebrates Christ’s appearance to the Gentile world, seen first in the visit of the Magi from the East.

While the Magi (or, Wisemen, Magicians) are often found in Nativity scenes, they probably didn’t arrive in Bethlehem until Jesus was well beyond a newborn, perhaps as long as two years after His birth.  This takes into consideration the fact that Matthew specifically mentions that the Magi visited Jesus in “the house” rather than in the innkeeper’s stable mentioned in Luke as well as the fact that, upon inquiring from the Magi as to the initial appearance of the star they followed, Herod orders the slaughter of all local infants two years of age and under.  Perhaps Jesus was a few months old; perhaps He was as old as a year and a half or even closer to two.  What we do seem to know, however, is that He had to have been old enough for Mary and Joseph to transition into a more permanent home as they got back on their feet, so to speak, before returning to Nazareth (which they don’t immediately do because of the dream’s warning and their subsequent flight to Egypt).

In the rhythm of the liturgical calendar, these three seasons which begin the Church’s annual pattern of worship lead us as follows: the anticipation of Christ’s coming (and return), His arrival itself, and the wider implication of His incarnation (that He came to redeem all humankind, not just Israel).


It should be duly noted…

…that the passage from Luke 2 in the previous post was chosen based upon the flow and order of our Christmas Eve.  In its place, I have elsewhere used Isaiah 40:1-5.  However, our service began with the reading of Luke 2:1-7 and later included the reading of Luke 15-20.

There you go.


The Christ Candle

Now there were in the same country shepherds living out in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. And behold, an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were greatly afraid.

Then the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which will be to all people. For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be the sign to you: You will find a Babe wrapped in swaddling cloths, lying in a manger.”

And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying:

          “Glory to God in the highest,
          And on earth peace, goodwill toward men!”

-Luke 2:8-14

Four Sundays ago, we lit the Candle of Expectation, which reminds us that Christ was the One for whom the whole world had waited: the Messiah of Israel, the Redeemer of Mankind.  As we longingly await His glorious return and the fulfillment of all God’s promises, we do so in hopeful expectation as His faithful people.

Three Sundays ago, we lit the Candle of Preparation, which reminds us that before the Advent of Christ, as Israel was being prepared for her promised Messiah, the whole world was being prepared for her expected Redeemer.  As we prepare this Advent season, we prepare ourselves for His return.

Two Sundays ago, we lit the Candle of Celebration, which reminds us that, while we have ready for the return of Christ, there is reason to celebrate, for He is – even now –Emmanuel: God with us.  He is not only our hope; He is also our joy and song.

Last Sunday, we lit the Candle of Incarnation, which reminds us that the Son of God did not simply appear to man and offer words of hope; no, the Son of God actually became also the Son of Man and offered Himself, the eternal Word, as our hope.

Today, we light the Christ Candle.

The Christ Candle is lit in joyous celebration that He has come.  Christ our Savior is born!  Today, as a Church family we celebrate His amazing birth together.  Our expectation has been realized; our preparation has not been in vain; our celebration is now overflowing; and the incarnation of Christ has brought us redemption.  The long-awaited Messiah has come.  The Redeemer of all mankind has arrived, and today we rejoice in His coming.  He is born!  Praise the LORD!  Christ is born!


The Candle of Incarnation

There shall come forth a Rod from the stem of Jesse,
     And a Branch shall grow out of his roots.
The Spirit of the LORD shall rest upon Him,
     The Spirit of wisdom and understanding,
     The Spirit of counsel and might,
     The Spirit of knowledge and of the fear of the LORD.

His delight is in the fear of the LORD,
     And He shall not judge by the sight of His eyes,
     Nor decide by the hearing of His ears;
But with righteousness He shall judge the poor,
     And decide with equity for the meek of the earth;

He shall strike the earth with the rod of His mouth,
     And with the breath of His lips He shall slay the wicked.
Righteousness shall be the belt of His loins,
     And faithfulness the belt of His waist.

The wolf also shall dwell with the lamb,
     The leopard shall lie down with the young goat,
     The calf and the young lion and the fatling together;
     And a little child shall lead them.
The cow and the bear shall graze;
     Their young ones shall lie down together;
And the lion shall eat straw like the ox.
     The nursing child shall play by the cobra’s hole,
     And the weaned child shall put his hand in the viper’s den.
They shall not hurt nor destroy in all My holy mountain,
For the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the LORD
     As the waters cover the sea.

-Isaiah 11:1-9

Three Sundays ago, we lit the Candle of Expectation, which reminds us that Christ was the One for whom the whole world had waited: the Messiah of Israel, the Redeemer of Mankind.  As we longingly await His glorious return and the fulfillment of all God’s promises, we do so in hopeful expectation as His faithful people.

Two Sundays ago, we lit the Candle of Preparation, which reminds us that before the Advent of Christ, as Israel was being prepared for her promised Messiah, the whole world was being prepared for her expected Redeemer.  As we prepare this Advent season, we prepare ourselves for His return.

Last Sunday, we lit the Candle of Celebration, which reminds us that, while we ready ourselves for Christmas day and ultimately for the return of Christ, there is reason to celebrate, for He is – even now – Emmanuel: God with us.  He is not only our hope; He is also our joy and song.

Today, we light the Candle of Incarnation.

The Candle of Incarnation reminds us that the Word was indeed made flesh and dwelt among us.  The Son of God did not simply appear to man and offer words of hope; no, the Son of God actually became also the Son of Man and offered Himself, the eternal Word, as our hope.

The Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory.  We beheld the glory of the only Begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth.

Let us celebrate, today, His first Advent as we ready ourselves for His second.


The Incarnate Embrace of Human Suffering: Redemptive Thoughts from a Good Doctor

Nativity

At Wesley Biblical Seminary, Dr. John Oswalt was both my Old Testament professor and my discipleship leader.  He now serves again at Asbury Theological Seminary.  Here are some redemptive thoughts from Dr. Oswalt via my friend Scott Engebretson [shared on Facebook]…

Oswalt“a good word this morning from my ph.d. mentor, Dr. John Oswalt, on Newtown:

” ‘Reading the headlines this morning made me want to resign from the human race, just to disassociate myself from all the messy viciousness that seems to mark our path. I thought it was especially tragic when we are supposed to be celebrating all this peace and joy stuff at Christmas. But then it struck me – Jesus did the very opposite of what I was fancifully contemplating. He didn’t resign from the human race – he voluntarily joined it! He left the perfection of heaven to become a part of this messy viciousness. And he did it with his eyes wide open – he knew what he was getting into and he knew what we would do to him, and he joined up anyway. The messiness was right from the start. Anybody who has been in a delivery room knows that births are not serenely pretty, they are hard, painful, and bloody, and every baby ever born has come into the world screaming his or her head off for just having been forced through a ring of fire to come into this mess. And there are no clean barns: the hay was itchy and scratchy and the “gentle cattle” were covered with manure. And in the end, we don’t know how, but we know it is so, crunched into about three hours he carried for us all the hell, all the grief, all the horror of this viciously messy world. He didn’t resign – he joined up. That’s good news.’ “


The Candle of Celebration

The people who walked in darkness
Have seen a great light;
Those who dwelt in the land of the shadow of death,
Upon them a light has shined.

You have multiplied the nation
And increased its joy;
They rejoice before You
According to the joy of harvest,
As men rejoice when they divide the spoil.
For You have broken the yoke of his burden
And the staff of his shoulder,
The rod of his oppressor,
As in the day of Midian.
For every warrior’s sandal from the noisy battle,
And garments rolled in blood,
Will be used for burning and fuel of fire.

For unto us a Child is born,
Unto us a Son is given;
And the government will be upon His shoulder.
And His name will be called
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.

Of the increase of His government and peace
There will be no end,
Upon the throne of David and over His kingdom,
To order it and establish it with judgment and justice
From that time forward, even forever.
The zeal of the Lord of hosts will perform this.

Isaiah 9:2-7

Two Sundays ago, we lit the Candle of Expectation, which reminds us that Christ was the One for whom the whole world had waited: the Messiah of Israel, the Redeemer of Mankind.  As we longingly await His glorious return and the fulfillment of all God’s promises, we do so in hopeful expectation as His faithful people.

Last Sunday, we lit the Candle of Preparation, which reminds us that before the Advent of Christ, as Israel was being prepared for her promised Messiah, the whole world was being prepared for her expected Redeemer.  As we prepare this Advent season, we prepare ourselves for His return.

Today, we light the Candle of Celebration.

The Candle of Celebration reminds us that while we ready ourselves during this season of Advent and look toward the heavens for His return, there is –even now– cause to celebrate.  In the midst of the seriousness of the season, we have reached this mid-point: we have lit the third candle.  Christmas Day will soon be here!

Today, we rejoice, for in our darkness, the light of Christ shines brightly.  Today, we rejoice, for as we await His return, He is yet now Immanuel: God with us.  Today, we rejoice, for unto us a Child is born — unto us a Son is given!

Praise the Lord!  Praise Him with voices lifted high in joyous adoration!  Let us celebrate, today, His first Advent as we ready ourselves for His second.


The Pastoral Office and Theodic Ramblings

One of the most painstaking responsibilities of a pastor is trying to calibrate one’s mind when tragedy hits a community.  I say this because the Church is in the midst of Advent, and our congregation will be lighting the Candle of Celebration in but two days.  On the third week of Advent, we light the pink candle, a joyous break from the sobering purple of repentance and royalty.

While I do not live in or near Connecticut, the larger “community” of our nation –especially aided by live news and social media– is certainly shaken, reminded suddenly and tragically of the deep darkness of evil.

The most pressing question [it seems] on people’s minds: “Why? How could someone do such a thing?”  While I recognize that this is perhaps far too simplistic, here’s at least a start: Sin is a vacuum.

As Peter Kreeft so ably put it, sin is insane — it makes no sense, is sick and twisted.  As one of my former pastors [I still call him such] and my predecessor at FMC put it, sin will will take you further than you ever wanted to go, will make you stay longer than you ever wanted to stay, and will make you pay a price greater than you ever wanted to pay.

Sin is a disease of the soul.  Diseases destroy.  They corrupt.  They sicken.  They maim.  They kill.

The season of Advent soberingly reminds us of the darkness.  It shockingly reminds us, also though, that Jesus, the Light of the world, has entered our darkness.  He has burdened Himself with our guilt.  He has embraced our disease.  He has invaded our world of suffering and death.

The Christ-child, who we worship at the Nativity, is the perfect Man.  His birth has renewed our humanity.  He is our hope, our peace, our joy.  He is the heart’s greatest longing.

As we await His imminent and glorious return, we live and dwell within a world of darkness needing light, a world of disease needing a cure, a world of pain needing comfort, a world of loss needing presence.  May the Church [we who celebrate His presence] be tangibly indeed the Body of Christ to those who hurt and sorrow.

Lord, surround these families with love and comfort.

Lord, have mercy.


The Candle of Preparation

Moreover the LORD spoke again to Ahaz, saying, “Ask a sign for yourself from the LORD your God; ask it either in the depth or in the height above.”

But Ahaz said, “I will not ask, nor will I test the LORD!”

Then he said, “Hear now, O house of David! Is it a small thing for you to weary men, but will you weary my God also? Therefore the Lord Himself will give you a sign: Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a Son, and shall call His name Immanuel. Curds and honey He shall eat, that He may know to refuse the evil and choose the good.

Isaiah 7:10-15

Last Sunday, we lit the Candle of Expectation, which reminds that Christ was the One for whom the whole world had waited: the Messiah of Israel, the Redeemer of Mankind.  As we longingly await His glorious return and the fulfillment of all God’s promises, we do so in hopeful expectation as His faithful people.

Today, we light the Candle of Preparation.

The Candle of Preparation reminds us that, as Israel was was being prepared for Her promised Messiah, even so the whole world was being prepared for the Redeemer of Mankind.

In the fulness of time, Christ our Savior was born. He entered a world that had been made ready, and He is preparing now a Church readily looking toward His return.

He calls us to watch and pray for His return, to be found faithful when He comes again.  He beckons us to love our neighbor as ourselves, to live as His presence in the lives of others.

Let us celebrate, today, His first Advent as we ready ourselves for His second.


Why celebrate Advent?

The Incarnation of the Word

1.  because the Church has lost Christmas.  Let’s face it, the “Christmas” MOST people celebrate –even Christians– is hardly “Christian” at all but is more or less of the same cloth as secular humanism.  Christmas is no longer a holy day (i.e., “holiday”) but has rather become a busy season wherein grouchy consumers purchase far too much for far too many people who will in the end care far too little for that which pushes along a far too greedy economy which reduces people made in God’s image to mere consumers of “goods”.

2.  because Christ has indeed come.  Advent marks the beginning of the liturgical Christian calendar and thereby sets the tenor for the worshipping life of the people of God.  Interestingly enough, the Church has seen fit to arrange its worshipping life in a telling way: remembering that Christ has come –in a sense, invaded– our world (N.B. the term adventus [Latin, coming]) and has become a man to redeem humankind.

3.  because Christ will indeed come again.  The Church likewise begins its year with the sobering reminder that though He came once in humility and to redeem, He will surely come a second time in might and to judge.  The Babe of Bethlehem is also the Ruler of the world.  The one who came quietly on a Silent Night will return with the sound of a trumpet and receive His own.

While undoubtedly countless other reasons for celebrating Advent could be enumerated and expanded, these seem to me to be the most elementary and –therefore– also a fair and reasonable starting point.