Life after Christmas

Screen Shot 2017-12-28 at 12.12.36 AMWe’ve spent the past few weeks eating sweets, visiting with family, shopping, wrapping & exchanging gifts, on top of planning & executing what are likely the most complex services of the year. Now the hustle & bustle has come to a close of the year: what’s next? Well, the birth of Jesus changed everything, so we should expect our celebration of the holidays to change us, as well.

Life after Christmas is a life lived near to God. I remember as a teenager feeling utterly hopeless & alone, as though no one knew me or could want to know me. But Jesus was God-with-skin-On, born to the lowliest & most common. He didn’t see it as belittling to spend his first days in a feeding trough in a backwoods town which would’ve remained unknown if he hadn’t been born there. Emmanuel – literally “God with Us” – is not ashamed to live among us. God has come near, & it changed EVERYTHING! [Read more…]

We will not Bow

IMAGINE: our nation suddenly overrun by foreign invaders, & four patriots are taken captive, forced to acculturate & assimilate to life in a place very different from home. What if you were one? How would you feel? How would you respond? In what ways could you adapt to life in this new normal, & in what ways would you maintain your birth identity & heritage?

This is the story of Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. They were taken captive and given a new home, new language, new diet, new education, a new degree of power and wealth, and even offered a new set of gods.  The example they gave us in this situation was one of being “in the world but not of the world.” 

In chapter 3 we jump ahead what most evangelical scholars believe to be a little over 16 years after Daniel’s interpretation of Nebuchadnezzar’s dream in Daniel 2.  But before we read the text, a story from my own life that might help you see the relevance of this passage.

When I started college at Ohio University, a nationally renowned party-school, I was – at best – one month old as a Jesus follower & still had almost everything to figure out about the details of my burgeoning faith. I simply wanted to follow Jesus.
I had requested a double, with non-smoking roommates, but ended up in a quad with three heavy drinkers that smoked two packs a day each.  Nearly every night in my room there was a party – it was a very hard year for me.  My first year of school I was presented with a choice; join in, and fit in, or do not, and stand out as the “weirdo”…I attempted the later, which resulted in me having my things stolen from me, getting locked out of my room regularly (especially while in showering), having my books stapled together, posters burnt off of the walls & my desk drawers filled with shaving cream – the list goes on.  The high road came with much persecution, but that led to a depth of growth I would not have experienced otherwise, and Jesus was with me through it all.  As was the case, on a much grander scale, with Shadrack, Meshack, and Aded-nego.

King Nebuchadnezzar made a golden monument to himself eight stories tall & under the influence of the Chaldeans demanded that whenever a musical instrument was played the whole kingdom would bow & worship the statue. Who assembled to bow at the feet of this idol of gold? These were the political, scholarly, and even moral leadership from every country, political party, & even many popular religions – the cultural elite – the trendsetters of their day. Everyone bowed, but Shadrach, Meshach, & Abednego.
Furious, Nebuchadnezzar called them to himself, demanding a response. They responded, “Nebuchadnezzar, we don’t need to give you an answer to this question. If the God we serve exists, then he can rescue us from the furnace of blazing fire, and he can rescue us from the power of you, the king. 18 But even if he does not rescue us, we want you as king to know that we will not serve your gods or worship the gold statue you set up.”

By this time Nebuchadnezzar has completely looted the Hebrew’s temple, and Daniel’s interpretation of his dream was from sixteen years earlier, and had shown no signs of coming to fruition – here is a man who believes he has defeated YHWH, and thus shown the Hebrew god to be either non-existent, or weak and irrelevant.  He, in essence, says, “you’re so-called god can do nothing for you now, for I am bigger than your god.”  But what is their reply?

To the contrary to the King’s own statement, they boldly declare that the outcome of this event does not hinge on whether God exists, nor on whether he can deliver them – of these things they are absolutely confident.  No – the issue was merely whether or not God willed to deliver them from the flames, and whether or not He did so, they would not bow!  This is a mic-drop response!
No matter what took place, deliverance or not, they knew that God was good, & God was in control.

Now let’s continue;
And these three men, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego fell, bound, into the furnace of blazing fire. Then King Nebuchadnezzar jumped up in alarm. He said to his advisers, “Didn’t we throw three men, bound, into the fire?”“Yes, of course, Your Majesty,” they replied to the king. He exclaimed, “Look! I see four men, not tied, walking around in the fire unharmed; and the fourth looks like a son of the gods.” Nebuchadnezzar then approached the door of the furnace of blazing fire and called, “Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, you servants of the Most High God—come out!” So Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego came out of the fire. When the satraps, prefects, governors, and the king’s advisers gathered around, they saw that the fire had no effect on the bodies of these men: not a hair of their heads was singed, their robes were unaffected, and there was no smell of fire on them.

King Nebuchadnezzar noticed three very unusual things about the situation in which Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego found themselves after he threw them into the furnace; 
– they were unbound, 
– they were unharmed, 
– and another person who looked like the son of a god was with them!  

So — the fourth man in the furnace delivered them from death, broke their bondage, and was with them in the flames…who does that sound like to you?  

As any sane person would, Nebuchadnezzar had an immediate heart-change, proclaiming, “Praise to the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego!”

In what ways does Nebuchadnezzar’s response still stand true today?  God often uses those who go “through the fire” as a witness to God’s work.

What things would the world have you bow down before? What does the world find it unreasonable that you, because of your faith, might refuse to do?  Francis A. Schaeffer said, “…these three young men stood against a total culture, the accepted consensus of their day…”, and furthermore, I might add, they were willing to face the consequences, trusting God with their very lives!  Let that be both a challenge and an example of how we might be in the world, but not of it!

Remember also that choosing to obey is BLESSED.  When you go through the fire because of a Godly decision, when the cultural consensus told you to do otherwise, Christ is there with you in the flames.  It is often our times of trouble that make our experience of Christ deliverance all the more real.

Lastly, you are already in many ways like Daniel, Shadrack, Meshack, & Abednego… you are citizens of a different country… you are citizens of heaven… your ultimate allegiance should lie with God’s Kingdom far above any kingdom of man. Don’t grow to comfortable, for while here, we are like aliens in another land.

So, when faced with a fiery furnace of our own, I pray we all might answer like Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego;
 “Nebuchadnezzar, we don’t need to give you an answer to this question. If the God we serve exists, then he can rescue us from the furnace of blazing fire, and he can rescue us from the power of you, the king. But even if he does not rescue us, we want you as king to know that we will not serve your gods or worship the gold statue you set up”

Oh God, let it be so! Amen…

GOD’S SONGBOOK: Shout for Joy!

Screen Shot 2020-08-31 at 1.38.27 PMOver the past few months at CrossPointe Church we’ve been working through Wednesday night Bible study series on the Psalms, & I chose Psalm 66 because, as a Worship Pastor, this is ONE OF MY FAVORITES!

Shout for joy to God, all the earth;
Sing the glory of His name;
Give to Him glorious praise!
Say to God, ‘How awesome are your deeds!’” (Psalm 66:1-3a)

Don’t read it – SHOUT IT! Think on this: the book of Psalms is an ancient liturgical book – a collection of hymns & poetry for the purpose of aiding God’s people in worshiping Him as He ought be worshipped.

Do we do such a text any justice to read it dully, without emotion… “shout for joy to god all the earth” (said in monotone)? When your favorite sports team scores the winning goal, or your favorite band closes the show with that awesome sing-along, is your response, “oh…yay”?

Check this list of Scriptures out, & you should grasp what I’m meaning…

[Read more…]

Rebirth, New Life, & New Beginnings

Though I know Easter is behind us, & Christmas on the distant horizon, these thoughts have been swirling around in me since April, so I though I’d put them down for others to engage with.

I was raised in a non-believing home, so I had only the vaguest notion that Easter had anything to do with Jesus – if anyone in my family had ever mentioned it, I didn’t remember – but the excitement of Spring, new life, and EXCESS AMOUNTS OF REESE’S EASTER BUNNY CANDIES just moved my SOUL, so it didn’t surprise me whatsoever when I began exploring the Bible late in my teenage years that Bunnies, Eggs, and Spring all represented new life and were a living arrow all pointing towards the resurrection of Jesus.

My younger brother and I would get up early on Easter Sunday, sneaking out into the kitchen to find our huge Easter baskets – packed full of candy, and toys – and Mom & Dad would be awoken by the ruckus, joining us shortly to cook a full-out breakfast of  pancakes, bacon, eggs, and hash-browns.  Then we’d empty our Easter baskets in our room, and take to our immense 8 acre back-yard to hunt for eggs for the next hour or so.  And when THAT was through, we’d  hop in the car and drive across town to Granda & Papa Wilkinson’s with the rest of the extended family, hunt eggs again at their house –  except they had mostly plastic eggs with MONEY INSIDE – then eat a huge Easter lunch that would make Thanksgiving recoil in fear of it’s huge-osity.

I wouldn’t be surprised if everyone here has some sort of annual traditions that you uphold – whether the big one takes place at Easter, Thanksgiving, Christmas… or SUPERBOWL.  There are things in each of our lives that we count on year after year to happen a certain way, and often just ride through the experience – simply going through the motions.  Well, Jesus was a Jew, and the Jews had a LOT of traditions they upheld, but few as important as the passover… [Read more…]

We, the Least: on Honor

NO PARKINGIn light of recent national (& for my family, somewhat local events) I thought it important to re-publish this post. Honor comes a result of recognizing God’s image in everyone…

Have you ever spent time with someone & afterward just felt very happy to be you? You knew you were loved, no matter what, & your name was “safe” in their mouth? It’s true of all of us: when I like being me around you, I like you. This is the natural impact of a person of honor. Considering the sorts of people who were drawn to Jesus, & how many were, I think it’s fair to say that Jesus was a person of honor[Read more…]