Monthly Archives: November 2012

The Unnamed Miracle of Christmas

Mary survived.

She gave birth to a boy surrounded by animals, filth, and dirt.  There was no midwife or doctor or antiseptic or sterile instruments.  There was no one to help.  She was young – probably not fully physically mature.  Still, she gave birth to a boy and survived.  The unnamed miracle of Christmas is that Mary survived.

Healthy Families Healthy Planet

I first heard this statement from Katey Zeh, Project Director of Healthy Families, Healthy Planet.  This initiative of the United Methodist General Board of Church and Society is funded by a grant from the United Nations.  Its mission is to educate people about the dangers of motherhood in the Global South, and to advocate for the protection of these mothers.  They have produced this video, which is worth a watch.

A lot of people get very tense when you start talking about family planning.  This is a hot-button issue in American politics.  Yet I believe that this project is one of those things that can and should transcend partisan politics.  Maternal health is a pro-life issue, and so is family planning.  Family planning includes education about contraception, birth spacing, and the importance delaying a girl’s first pregnancy.  Maternal health is not a women’s issue.  It is a human issue.  When women are healthy, their children are healthy.  Education about women’s health reduces abortions, miscarriages, and maternal mortality.  That is something we should all be able to support.

In many parts of the world, where women are still treated much like cattle, family planning and education can be a matter of life or death for a mother and her children – both born and unborn.

This Christmas season, as you ponder the miracle of God becoming flesh, think also of Mary.  Think also of a 14 year old girl you know.  Ponder what would happen to her if she were forced into pregnancy, and was unable to access a doctor, a midwife, or even a clean floor on which to give birth.  Think also of the mother that died in the last 90 seconds in childbirth.  Think of the women that are valued not as people, but for the service their uterus provides.  They are forced into pregnancy too young, and too often.  They are giving birth in terrible conditions.  They are dying.  Their children are suffering.  They need us.

The United Methodist Committee on Relief provides a guide for putting together Birthing kits.  If you are interested in putting these together, you must follow the guidelines precisely.  Follow this link, then click on “Birthing Kits” along the right side of the page.  This is a great way to #BeChristInChristmas.

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So, Is Jesus King?

Follow this link to hear a sermon called “So, Is Jesus King?”

“Sometimes this world doesn’t look like Jesus is king.  We look around and see other rulers.  We see the rulers of war and hunger and poverty, and it is easy to miss the true king.  But I’m here to tell you, that Christ is King.  I am a witness to what its like when Jesus rules.  I’ve seen it.  Have you?

Have you seen someone stretch themselves out farther than they thought they could.  Have you seen someone answer the call of God – that still small voice in the night that tells them to do something that doesn’t make any sense.  Have you seen someone, for whom cure is impossible, find healing anyway?  I’ve seen it. I know what it looks like when Jesus Christ is King.  And I think a lot of us caught a glimpse of it on Thursday (at our Community Thanksgiving Dinner)”

The song in the clip is “Live Like That,” by Sidewalk Prophets.  This version was performed in worship by the Riverside Church youth praise team, OMG (Our Mighty God).

Follow this link to read the blog version called Jesus Didn’t Look Like a King.

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Jesus didn’t look like a King

Jesus didn’t look like a King.  He didn’t act like one either.  Kings raise armies and collect taxes.  Kings have subordinates.  They have grand, well-guarded homes.  They have pomp and circumstance. Jesus didn’t.  And yet people were talking about him.

“Pontius Pilate” by Michael Yazijian. The artist has a website at http://www.mikeyaz.com/

He was raising quite a fuss throughout the country.  There were stories of him feeding multitudes, healing the sick, forgiving sins, raising the dead, challenging authority, and disturbing the peace at the Temple.  People were talking, so when he was finally brought before the governor on charges of blasphemy and treason, Pilate already knew something of the man.  Pilate had heard of him, or he would not have asked him this question.

“Are you the king of the Jews?” Pilate asked Jesus.  Pilate knew he didn’t look like a king.  He didn’t act like one either.  Jesus so much as admitted this.  If my Kingdom were of this world, Jesus explained, “my guards would fight so that I wouldn’t have been arrested by the Jewish leaders.  My kingdom isn’t from here.”

As far as Pilate was concerned, there was only one King. It was the man he answered to.  It was the man that gave him the power to rule.  The only King Pilate acknowledge was the Emperor of Rome.  All others were insignificant. Please don’t believe that Pilate was somehow a passive bystander as Jesus was led to the cross of humiliation, shame, and death.  Much evil has been done in this world by those claim that Pilate was an innocent bystander, manipulated by the bloodthirsty Jews.  Pilate was the unquestioned ruler.

Jesus stood before Pilate, accused of blasphemy, of which Pilate cared little, and treason, for which Pilate cared a great deal.  There was after all, only one King.

Jesus’ silence ultimately condemns him.  He never directly answers Pilate’s questions.  He never engages in Pilate’s rhetorical games.  Instead of answering questions, like a good subordinate should do, he responds with questions.  The Judean leaders had already made up their mind.  In the Gospel of John, they had decided long ago that he must die.  Pilate, who had little use for a poor Jew from the countryside, wanted only to maintain order.  So he had him crucified like he had thousands of Jews before.

“So, are you a king?” Pilate asked Jesus.  Left unanswered, the question has lingered through the centuries.  It has become a haunting reminder of Jesus’ life, ministry, and his untimely death.  It is a question that remains only for us to answer.

Jesus certainly didn’t look like a King.  He didn’t act like one either.  In two thousand years, that has not changed.  Jesus still does not look like a king, which continues to be a source of conflict in a world that worships power.

So, is Jesus King?

That question is now yours to answer.

Who is the King? Is it Caesar?  Caesar is the one who enforces order with the threat of terror.  His grip on power is only as strong as his army.  It is only as sharp as his sword.  Caesar is the one that rules by dividing.  He rules by accumulating followers that must serve him and him alone.  Any question or challenge to his authority is met with swift and devastating violence.  He guards the status-quo, protects the protected, and comforts the comfortable.  His peace has no justice.  His peace has no compassion.  His peace is no peace at all.

Who is the King? Is it Jesus? Jesus, whose power comes from being anointed by God.  His power comes from forgiving the sins of others, from welcoming the stranger, the outcast, the poor, the widow, the sick, and the foreigner.  His followers come looking not for favor, but for love, compassion and kindness.  His peace comes in the midst of terror.  He comes offering not vengeance, but the bread of life and the living water.  Jesus’ path to rule leads through humiliation, tragedy, mockery, and crucifixion.  Jesus wept for the death of his friend.  He wept for the people of Jerusalem.  His night in Gethsemane was marked with sweat drops of blood as he searched his own courage and found that God’s will was more important than his own comfort.  Is this the King that reigns?

He was the King that never looked like a King, and he lives and reigns and endures forever.  On this Sunday before Advent we pause for a moment and remember what we are celebrating.  Before the Church swings into high Christmas gear, we remember who reigns over it all.  Even though it might not look like it, we know that Christ is the King.

There are still many Caesars and would-be kings.  They sit on paper thrones and wear gilded crowns.  They are the kings of consumption, selfishness, revenge, bitterness, poverty, and disease.  The wield much power, and they continue to ask us all the same questions.

“So, is Jesus the King?”

Ours is the answer.

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The two Christmases #BeChristInChristmas

Sometimes I feel like there are really two Christmases.  There is the Christmas that drives our nation’s economy.  It gives us “Black Friday,” where retail stores turn red bottom lines into black ones.  It gives us a myriad of commercials, jobs, advertisements, tie-ins, door-busters, and TV specials.  It focuses on, at best, the joy of giving and gathering with family.  It focuses, at worst, on consumerism, materialism, and the illusion that stuff=happiness.  This is the Christmas that the vast majority of Americans celebrate, and it is only superficially linked to the birth of a Nazarene boy that would defend the widows and children, stand up to religious hypocrisy, break down man-made barriers, challenge the status quo of the powerful, and become the Savior of the world. It is an important part of our culture, and it is not going anywhere.

Then there is the other Christmas.  It is the Christmas that celebrates a child.  It celebrates the moment when God became flesh.  It celebrates the God that became a man so that we may know how to love.  This Christmas is about Jesus.  It is a reminder that Jesus came to change and save the world.  Jesus was anointed by God to…

“Proclaim release to the captives
and recovery of sight to the blind,
to let the oppressed go free,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.’” (Luke 4:18)

For many, the desire to “Keep Christ in Christmas” is a backlash against the first Christmas I described.  They see that in many ways Christ has been removed from Christmas celebrations, and they mourn that.  I understand, but I think getting upset over someone saying “Happy Holidays,” or not finding a baby Jesus in a public park is misguided.  If you’re looking for Jesus in the secular, cultural Christmas, then you’re looking in the wrong place. In the past, I’ve written some pretty angry and pointed posts about this subject.  I don’t feel like being angry anymore.

Instead, I offer this suggestion.  The only way to keep Christ in Christmas is to be Christ in Christmas.  If you want to find Christ this Christmas, you can still find him.  If you think someone can take Christ out of Christmas by removing a statue from a park, then I think you underestimate the power of Jesus Christ.  No one can take Christ out of Christmas where the people of God are being the body of Christ.

If you want to keep Christ in Christmas, then spend as much money on others in need as you do on your family for gifts.   Work for justice.  Love mercy.  Walk humbly with your God.  Love your neighbors. Love your enemies.  Forgive.

Happy Holidays

The United Methodist Committee on Relief offers a few suggestions, and resources to actually get it done.  I’d love to find out more ways that you are going to #BeChristInChristmas.  I would love to see this hashtag become active on twitter.  Share ways that you are being the body of Christ.  Are you volunteering at a homeless shelter? Donating to a clothes closet or food pantry?  Are you sharing your gifts and blessings so that other may be blessed?  Share it.  Tweet it.  Do more than wish someone Merry Christmas.  Be someone’s merry Christmas.

As Teresa Avila said, “Christ has no body but yours.  No feet on earth, but yours.”  So if you want to keep Christ in Christmas.  #BeChristInChristmas.

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The new Beatles?

One direction. From left: Joey, Jordan, Jonathan, Donnie and Danny. No, actually I have no idea who any of them are. I’m guessing the one with the stripe in his hair is the “rebel.”

Spending time with youth is both a great way to stay young and a great reminder of just how old I really am.  The other day I was with our youth while they were talking about the band, One Direction.  Even if you’re not familiar with One Direction, you know them.  These five young men have taken over youth pop culture with their preppy look, dreamy smiles, catchy tunes, and auto-tune machine.  Basically, even if you’ve never seen them before, you’ve seen them before.  Anyway, here is a snippet of the conversation,

Youth 1: “People are saying they’re the new Beatles.”

Youth 2: “Yeah, they’re our generation’s Beatles.”

Just to be clear, I am not in the Beatles’  generation.  At 35, I was never alive while the Beatles were together.  I do however consider myself a Beatles fan.  I count myself among the many that consider the Beatles to be the greatest band ever assembled.  I also try to adhere to the concept that I should never deride youth culture.  There was a time when I thought rolling my jeans was cool, so I don’t mock anything, but I couldn’t let this go unchecked.

Me: “I just threw up in my mouth a little.”

Youth: Weird looks

Me: “Did you just say that One Direction is the new Beatles?”

Youth 1: “Yeah, they’re our generation’s Beatles.  That’s what people are saying.”

Me: “Who is saying that?”

Youth 2: “Everyone.”

Me: “Well, I think they’re probably more like your generation’s New Kids on the Block.

Youth 2: “But they’re from England, like the Beatles.”

Me: “Okay, so then they’re the new New Chaps on the Block.”

Youth 1 and 2: laughter

Again, my goal is not to mock youth culture, and I understand I probably just made myself look more like the grumpy old man than the cool youth leader.  That’s okay though, I’ve never really been interested in being “Cool Youth Leader” guy.  But here’s the thing, I actually have a problem with One Direction’s most popular hit, and it all comes down to one line.  It is a seriously catchy song.  One that has been sung many times before.  It is about a girl that is beautiful, but doesn’t know it.  It really is a common theme in pop music, and I understand why it resonates with so many young girls.  They dream that somewhere there is a guy that is singing that song to her.  Give this video a look-see, and see if you can catch the line that really bugs me.:

Did you hear it?  The first line of the song is “You’re insecure, don’t know what for. You’re turning heads when you walk through the door.” That line is bad enough, but the line that really gets me comes at the end of the chorus: “You don’t know you’re beautiful. That’s what makes you beautiful.”

It is one thing to sing of the beauty of humility.  It is something different to praise someone for being insecure.  Humility and insecurity are very different. Insecurity comes from feeling you’re not good enough.  It is born out of shame.  Girls in our culture are told over and over again that they are not good enough, not skinny enough, not smart enough.  Telling  someone they are beautiful because they are insecure is praising their shame.  Natural beauty should be admired, but insecurity is not a beautiful trait.  Humility comes from self-confidence.  Self-Confidence is beautiful.

The fact that these five boys are telling millions of young girls that insecurity is beautiful is troubling. True humility comes from a deeper understanding of self that transcends society’s idea of physical beauty.  Self-confidence is rooted in love and grace.  Self-confidence comes from knowing that you were formed by a God that only makes beauty, not from being told by an adolescent boy that flipping your hair drives him crazy.

Boys might think insecurity is beautiful.  Men don’t.  I hope someday One Direction grows up, but I’m guessing they’ll always be just another boy band.

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Sermon: Excel in Love

Click here to listen to the sermon Excel in Love.

“If we claim as Christians that ‘God is love,’ as our Bible claims, then we have to believe that God is also justice.  We who are created in God’s image are build for relationship…  Loving relationships where God’s justice is shared and God’s blessing is available to all.”

“We are called to cast our crowns before God, not just our loose change.  Not just the clothes that don’t fit anymore or the can in the cupboard you forgot you had.  We are called to cast before God the best of who we are, the best of who we can be together.  This is the way that we can fulfill the promises of God that were made so long ago.  To excel in love, not just get by in love.  Excel in love.”

This sermon refers to this blog post The Fat Pastor Goes to Washington.

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Sermon: The Power of a Great Theme Song

Click here to listen to a sermon about Charles Wesley’s hymn, O For a Thousand Tongues to Sing

“Christian fellowship isn’t about shaking hands with someone and saying, ‘Hi nice to see you again. How ya doing? How are the kids?’ It is about understanding that Jesus Christ is in your life, and Jesus Christ is in my life. And together we have been knocked down, but we have not been knocked out. And so we are witnesses to the redeeming power of Jesus Christ. We are witnesses to the redeeming power to the life that Jesus offers, to the life abundant that is in Christ, and to the life eternal that is offered to us all. This who we are as a people of God, and when you understand that in the depth of your being then you know that one tongue is not enough to sing the praise of God. O For a Thousand Tongues to sing my great redeemer’s praise!”

For a blog version of this sermon, CLICK HERE.

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