Noah: the man and the movie star

This is opening weekend for a new movie called Noah. It is described as not being Biblically accurate. It is interesting the number of Christians opposed to this film. Likewise, it’s equally amusing the number of Christians in favor of the movie.

I haven’t seen it yet. I will though.

I will go to the movies expecting the story on the screen to be very different from the Biblical text. I’m ok with that. I like movies. I like movies made from books. I like the Bible. So this should be interesting. The makers of the film have told us it strays from the Bible story. So if you know that going in, then you can’t gripe about the artistic liberties taken.

Looking at the story of Noah is a good thing. One of the churches I worked for had a depiction of the ark with the animals in the nursery. And likewise a lot of the churches I have visited have had posters of arks, rainbows and a bearded fellow smiling near a huge boat. So we think we know the Noah story well. And because we do, it is sanitized for us. We even have cute VBS songs about Noah and the ark. We know the Noah story, right?

But do we? Who is this man that is 10 generations from Adam? Even at his birth his father spoke these words about him, “…He will comfort us in the labor and painful toil of our hands caused by the ground the Lord has cursed.” (Genesis 5:29 NIV). Noah will be a comforter. But his comfort will be the undoing of creation.

The world of Genesis 6 is very different from the world that God made in Genesis 1-2. The resounding good echoed throughout the opening scene of the creation narrative is replaced with the wickedness of humanity and a grieved God. As a matter of fact, from Genesis 3 on man gets further and further away from Eden. From Adam and Eve’s failure with the fruit from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, to Cain killing his brother Abel, mankind is in open rebellion against Their Creator.

Isn’t that the nature of sin? To exult self over God’s rule. From Eve’s curiosity, to Cain slaying his brother! this ugly self exultation is clearly the new normal. Genesis 4-6 paints a picture that only gets worse.

We read that God was grieved that he made man ( Gen 6). His plan is to undo creation and to start over. Look at the words from Genesis 6:

The Lord saw how great the wickedness of the human race had become on the earth, and that every inclination of the thoughts of the human heart was only evil all the time. The Lord regretted that he had made human beings on the earth, and his heart was deeply troubled. Now the earth was corrupt in God’s sight and was full of violence. God saw how corrupt the earth had become, for all the people on earth had corrupted their ways. So God said to Noah, “I am going to put an end to all people, for the earth is filled with violence because of them. I am surely going to destroy both them and the earth. (Genesis 6:5, 6, 11-13 NIV)

Enter Noah. He had found favor with God. Isn’t this one of the acts of mercy that in this climate of corruption, wickedness and violence that one could find favor with God. He is found to be righteous. A good definition of righteousness is that there is a balance between justice and mercy. Noah seems to care about the same things God is concerned about. Righteousness doesn’t mean that Noah is flawless. If we keep reading we recognize that the problem of Genesis 3 lives on after the flood waters recede. Other than being married and having three sons we aren’t told much else about him. His righteousness is meant to be read in stark contrast to the wickedness of humanity. Noah is different. Noah’s family is meant to be different. The plan of God included provision for Noah and his family and quite a few animals. Noah does what God asks. The flood comes, the ark is boarded and the earth and all life is destroyed.

We aren’t told about the many days that Noah and his family are on the ark. There is no mention of conversations. We aren’t told Noah’s or anyone else’s dreams, hopes or fears. It is quite possible their worst dreams have come to fruition. We are told that the waters come, and life is destroyed. While this same water destroyed life, through the ark it also saves 8 lives. I want to take our attention for a minute to Genesis 8. As the earth is now purged, the language of Genesis 8 is strikingly familiar to Genesis 1. There is a wind over the earth (8:2), whereas in Gen 1 the spirit of God was hovering over the surface of the waters. The word for wind in Hebrew is the same word for spirit. We were meant to see God re-creating, re shaping, re-forming the earth. He is undoing the forces of chaos that he ultimately controls. This is a powerful moment in the scene. God isn’t done with his creation. God isn’t going to abandon to the earth nor his people. Keep reading in Genesis 8 and the creation language continues, dry land appears, and Noah’s family is to multiply. God is all in with the people made in his likeness. He promises to never curse the ground nor to destroy all life again in spite of humanity’s wickedness (Gen 8:21).

It isn’t until Genesis 9 that we get  into the rainbow. The rainbow is a sign of the covenant that God makes with Noah and his sons. Before we get to the rainbow, God once again tells the descendants of Adam that they are to be fruitful and multiply. God seems to be reminding Noah that they were created to rule over creation. God says a word about human diets and human relationships. Humanity is to avoid eating meat with blood still in it, and we are to honor the image of God in every human. God’s end of deal is to not destroy the world again by the waters of a flood. His sign of remembrance is a rainbow.

Right after this covenant agreement that God makes with Noah, we read about Noah the man of the soil planting a vineyard and getting drunk and naked. It’s interesting that Adam (man) was formed from dirt. In Gen 2:4 the point of view is from the ground up telling the story of the dirt man made prince of creation. Here in Gen 9 Adam’s great x10 grandson is a man of the soil, once again the point of view is from the ground up. Keep in mind Gen 6-8, the point of view seems to be looking from above or a cosmic point of view. Noah, the dirt man dabbles in the dirt and plants a vineyard and gets naked. The very first man was planted in the Garden by God was himself naked and felt no shame. Only this time, one of Noah’s sons looks upon his father’s nakedness (Ham) and Noah curses his youngest son’s son. An interesting end to otherwise epic tale. So from a few chapters in Genesis we aren’t told a lot about Noah. There isn’t a lot dialogue. As a matter of fact, Noah doesn’t actually speak until chapter 9. His first words are to curse the son of his youngest son. God is the primary speaker. God speaks and Noah does what he is told. Maybe Gen 6-9 is less about Noah and more about God? We do see sin living on.

I think of extreme importance in this whole story is the sad words in Gen 8:21, “that every inclination of the human heart is evil from childhood.” The flood was God’s way of undoing the mess that mankind made in a hurry after getting sent out of Eden. But the flood wasn’t enough to undo the effects of sin in the human condition. That story is one that will play out in the rest of the  Bible as God’s redemptive love unfolds and ultimately climaxes in the coming of God himself In the person of Jesus. The Noah story also reveals the mercy and love of God. God doesn’t throw in the towel. He is in the buisness of offering us a mulligan. If you have ever played golf, you recognize a mulligan as an act of grace. If you have children, you recognize the need for a mulligan daily! The Noah story points to the future wiping away of the sin problem we all have. God is committed to us in our mess.

If people leave theater realizing that God is concerned about us, how we treat one another and are willing to get into the Bible to re-examine a familiar tale than I am ok with that.

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Worth the cost…

Jennifer, and the girls and I have  trekked across country to attend one of our favorite church leader conferences, The Tulsa Workshop. The Tulsa Workshop has been for us like a big family reunion, a time of renewal, and a soaking in some phenomenal teaching from some of the brightest minds in the Churches of Christ. Having lived in Southwest Oklahoma for nine years it is nice to get to visit some friends from other parts of the U.S. This year’s theme is “Worth The Cost.” A lot of the class offerings center around taking the message of Jesus to those outside of the church building. In other words, daring to share the story of what God is doing in the world in and through Jesus is worth the cost indeed!

While gathering for worship is good, and we need to be together as the family of God. We also must be people who live the story of the gospel Monday through Saturday. Who we are on Monday as we enter our work places, and schools is just as important as who we are when we gather Sunday for worship. I think sometimes we forget that we are on a journey together. A journey of ups and downs. A journey of triumphs and tragedies. A journey of mess, woe, growth and grace. One of the things that stands out to me from our time in the Story  study this year is the idea that God is up to something, and he has invited into his story.

In our Story Study we have entered into the New Testament period and are looking at the life of Jesus. For he is indeed no ordinary man. Because we follow this one that left that majesty of heaven for the dirt of humanity, the church is no ordinary body either. We are a community of the grace-soaked, redeemed people of God. We have scars. We have baggage, and blisters. We have hang-ups and hurts. When we worship together we are declaring that life isn’t about us or our often trivial pursuits. We sing praise to God because He alone is worthy. When we depart the building Sunday afternoon, we enter the world as ambassadors of Christ, not consumers of contemporary culture. We are the church Sunday at 8:30 and 11:00 am, but we are also the church when we go to lunch all across the Cincinnati metro area too. Jesus’ mission was one of re-orienting the world of his day to the intentions of Yahweh. Jesus made the invisible God visible. We continue his legacy of love by being present to others in their suffering and despair. We continue his legacy of love by being present to our families. We continue his legacy of love when we dare believe that the God is alive and up to something in the world, and has invited us into his new story. That my dear friends is “worth the cost.”

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Duct tape and Mullets

What does the church look like? For some it looks like stained glassed windows and stiff wooden pews. For others the church looks like a museum of the self righteous. But there’s another picture I’m learning to enjoy more and more and need more and more. Church is more than a weekly gathering of staring at the back of graying heads. Church is the visible presence of Christ on earth. It’s interesting that one of the key descriptions in the NT for the church is family language. Brothers, and sisters. Family all the same. Another way I like to think of the church is duct tape and mullets.
In 1998 I became a follower of Jesus. I went “to church,” really for the first time. I didn’t know the church was the people, not a place. I had no idea of the mission the church was called to, no clue of its historic importance or it’s profound impact on the world. Over the years my understanding if the church has deepened. From a place to a people. From a weekly gathering to a mission minded people called to serve and demonstrate the love of Christ. But I’m getting a head of myself here. Back in 1998 the church was foreign to me, weird, and strangely familiar. I didn’t know the lingo, I didn’t know the secret hand shake, or the protocol. I didn’t like to sing. I didn’t like to sing in public. I would sing I the shower, and in my truck, but thankfully no one could hear me, except for God and he must of liked it, because now I was in an intentional community with people who sang their hearts out to The Lord. I still prefer to sing in the shower. And yet with as weird as the church was to me as a new believer, it was strangely familiar. It was family. Before I became a Christian my family was “church” to me. My family was a place of acceptance, love, intentional community, full of imperfect people held together by a common bond. It was duct tape and mullets. A sticky connection to the past and present and imperfections and quirkiness that speaks to our unique shaping and creational intent of our Master Designer.
Today we had several opportunities to be with the church. From the High School Bible class I teach, to the Children’s Bible hour we led this Sunday, to two meal times with the church today. I see the same duct tape and mullets when I’m with my teens at Northeast. They aren’t a perfect group, but they love Jesus and are learning what it means to love one another one day at a time. They are held together by a common story. They are imperfect and yet loved. My wife and I taught children’s worship today. I love the energy and enthusiasm of these kids. They are squirrelly and hungry for God. They don’t always listen to our words, but we sing together and have a fun time doing it together. Isn’t that the church? Joy and wonder, purity and mischief. It’s duct tape and mullets. It doesn’t get any better! We got to eat together twice with the church today. Lunch was a potluck. We had a variety if dishes. The young and the not so young sitting down for a meal. We swapped stories, had seconds, laughed a lot and corralled little ones to their Lads and Leaderette practices. Tonight, we once again dined with our community of faith. We had a chili cook of. All kinds of chilis were brought in. All kinds of people sat around tables tonight all part of the ongoing story of God’s work in the world. Laughs were heard. Stories were shared. Hugs were given. Little one’s played and danced.
It’s nights like tonight that I feel closet to the family of God. I see past and present coming together as a group of saints seek to do life together. We are imperfect people held together by a common bond, attempting to live in intentional community. We don’t have it all figured out. But for the body that meets at the Northeast Church of Christ we are duct tape and mullets. Duct tape has staying power. The church does too. Mullets, party in the back and business in the front, is this not a picture of God’s people connected as family. Jesus people should be about his business, which seemed to be about throwing parties for people who otherwise weren’t invited to parties. Jesus threw parties for losers, the sin-sick, the weary, the worried, the worn out, the down and outs, the depressed, the demon-possessed, and the outcast.  We are a people of acceptance, love, intentional community, full of imperfect people held together by a common bond. We have a sticky connection to the past and present and the imperfections and quirkiness that we bring to the table speaks to our unique shaping and creational intent of our Master Designer.
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For a such a time as this

Our congregation is walking through the Story. This week we are in chapter 20, and we are looking at the story of Esther. Esther is one of those books if your not careful,you would miss. It’s not a big book compared to Genesis, Exodus, Psalms, Job, Isaiah, Jeremiah and of Ezekiel. But the size of the book doesn’t dictate it’s quality or importance. Esther is indeed an important book. Esther begins smack dab in the middle of Jewish captivity under the reign of Xerxes the ruler of 127 provinces stretching from India to Cush. He was wealthy and his army was fierce. In other words Xerxes ruled the world. Smack dab in the middle of captivity in a far away land is a man named Mordecai, a Jewish noble who took care of his young cousin, Hadassah, and raised her as his own daughter. Mordecai was taking care of family. Little did he know that his baby cousin would be the salvation of the Jews. In addition to being faithful to his family, Mordecai was faithful to his God. More about that in minute.

The Book of Esther gives a behind the scenes picture of the royal court of Xerxes is the most powerful king on the planet. His word was law. His subjects obeyed or they were banished from his sight or worse, they were killed. When the king decreed, people listened. Except one time when the once former Queen Vashti disobeyed the king’s summon. Her willful rejection of the king lead to a kingdom wide search for a new Queen. Cue, Hadassah, also known as Esther. The Story text says she was beautiful in form and lovely in appearance. In other words, the author wants to stress that she will catch the King’s eye. She does and becomes Queen. But she has a secret. Queen Esther is Jewish.

But all is not well in the kingdom. Haman, a power hungry villian, held in high esteem by the King sets out to slaughter the Jews. In Jewish history the very people that Haman was descended from were the Amalekites, the long-time enemies of God’s people. So once Haman learns that Mordecai is Jewish and won’t bow down to him to show him honor he devises a plan to  eliminate the Jews from the kingdom. As a Jew it’s not that Mordecai is incapable of bowing down to Haman, or showing him honor. Mordecai’s faithfulness to Yahweh prohibits his putting anything or anyone above God. Mordecai learns of this plan and summons Esther to approach the king to beg for pardon.

It’s in this moment of danger and threat of extermination we read these words, “and who knows but that you have come to royal position for such a time as this” (The Story, p. 232). Mordecai essentially sends Esther on an impossible mission. Her task to approach the king could end in her death herself. You couldn’t enter Xerxes presence without being summoned. Remember Vashti was summoned and she didn’t come. Now here is the new Queen daring to approach the throne of the king with a summons. Esther’s purpose was to be selected to be in a position of honor to save her people. While we may not be in a royal court, we too are strategically placed by God in schools, communities, neighborhoods, work places, etc., for such a time as this. In other words, like Esther, we can be a force for good in the world if we begin to sniff out the work of God in the world and seek to partner with Him in his endeavors. We too may get a chance to save lives, or share the story of Jesus with someone who has never heard. May we learn from the story Esther the importance of blooming were we are planted!

 

 

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Musings from The Story chapter 17

Captivity. It isn’t a word that sounds like it would be fun to experience. Israel and Judah both are now the victims of captivity. They were uprooted from their homes, and transplanted to a foreign land in a foreign culture. Stripped of identity, home, their beloved temple and all that was similar they are forced to make a new lives in a new place. This new experience would shape their future. Trials have a unique way of defining us in ways we couldn’t anticipate.

Some of the Israelites capitulated to the prevailing pagan culture. That had been their norm by and large since coming into the Promised Land. All the pagan gods and practices Yahweh warned them about, seemed to draw them in and they just couldn’t shake their idolatrous leanings. Over time, Israel rejected Yahweh. The One who had created them, brought them up out of Egypt, provided for them, and protected them was replaced for handmade deities. Other Israelites hunkered down, and began sniffing out the work of their God in the midst of despair. They recognized their own sin, and renewed themselves to wills and wishes of Yahweh. Without a temple, they created meeting places called synagogues that would of served like a community center and a school. Their gatherings were aimed at preserving a people distinct in the world, called to be a kingdom of priests. Their gatherings were also aimed at preserving instruction in the Torah. Knowing how God worked in the past and what he said would benefit them in the now. God’s promises and His presence weren’t limited by geography or exile in a foreign land. To a people in captivity, God continued to send his messengers to call them back to his ways. The goodnews of captivity is that God hadn’t forgotten them nor would he abandon them. He had sent them into captivity because they didn’t listen, but he never stopped loving them. He brought them out of Egypt. He would bring them out of Bablyon. God built a nation in Egypt. God is rebuilding a faithful remnant in Babylon. God intervened in Egpyt and he would do so again in Babylon.

God’s mission for the world still involves these captive people. While we may not be a conquered people we do battle with oppressive forces. God still has a message of rescue and hope for his people. God still uses the voices of his prophets in His Word to point us to God’s plan and remind us that God can use what we believe to be an end can actually be a new beginning. God was looking for hearts that were willing to trust him no matter what, will we be those people?

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51 degrees, Polar Vortex, and the church

51 degrees sounds pretty good right now, doesn’t it? The other night, you remember, the night when it got down to the coldest temperatures in 20 years due to the attack of the Polar Vortex, 51 degrees would have been awesome. Compared to below zero temperatures 51 degrees would be a much welcomed break. Except, when your heater isn’t working properly and it gets to 51 degrees in your house. We survived. We put on extra layers and used lots of blankets. Our furnace was repaired and all is well. It turns out, a relatively small but important piece equipment caused the furnace to shut down.

This most recent experience with the creeping cold, reminded me of two powerful truths. This most recent experience with the creeping cold reminded me of two powerful truths: 1) Small problems can have a big impact, and 2) all parts of the system are important. This sounds an awful like lot Paul in 1 Corinthians 12:12-20, “12 Just as a body, though one, has many parts, but all its many parts form one body, so it is with Christ. 13 For we were all baptized by one Spirit so as to form one body—whether Jews or Gentiles, slave or free—and we were all given the one Spirit to drink. 14 Even so the body is not made up of one part but of many. 15 Now if the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” it would not for that reason stop being part of the body. 16 And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” it would not for that reason stop being part of the body. 17 If the whole body were an eye, where would the sense of hearing be? If the whole body were an ear, where would the sense of smell be? 18 But in fact God has placed the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be. 19 If they were all one part, where would the body be? 20 As it is, there are many parts, but one body.”

Paul reminds us of the importance of the whole. All of us have an important part to play in God’s unfolding story. We are his workmanship created in Christ Jesus to do good in this world (Eph 2:10). When any of the parts of the whole aren’t working properly, or suffering the whole system is affected. When any one of us thinks that we are better than another, or we begin to place our selfish desires above other’s needs we can have a negative impact on the body as a whole. I don’t know about you, but I often cringe at the portrayal of Christians in the media or in movies. Why do we often get portrayed as hateful, judgmental, weird, hypocritical, intolerant…? The list could go on. I think part of the reason for this negative portrayal is the elevation of our selfish platforms, agendas, and issues over against trying to elevate the grandeur and glory of Christ to a broken world.

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I don’t want to go church anymore!

Recently I was asked for my advice from a student about a waning interest and want to as far as church attendance goes. I want to honor the young person who wrote to me, so I won’t share names. But they made a profound statement. The student said, “I don’t want to go to church anymore.”

I don’t want to go to church anymore either. I know others far smarter than I have been writing about this for a long time, but it is time to change the way we talk about church. The church is not brick and mortar, it is the people of God living out God’s mission on earth.

Below is my response to a young Christian. I realize that more than just teens as making similar statements. Maybe, just maybe your asking the same question. If so, maybe you will re-discover the beauty of church once again!

I think all of us at times has the moments where going to be with the people of God every week gets stale. Some of that is normal.

But the church is important. Church is bigger than just a place or a pew, it’s a people who are on a mission from God. Church is about broken people coming together in community. Out of this brokenness we find meaning, healing, community, love and support. Church is a community of imperfect people trying to live out the gospel every day.

Because it is imperfect sometimes church can stink. But the regardless of the imperfection and her blemishes the church there in your town is a good group of people and the church needs you! You are an important piece in the puzzle of the body of Christ. So even when you don’t feel like going “to church,” remember you go there with other broken people to be put back together again. Your not going to a place, your going to meet a person. Jesus is present in our meetings! Don’t give up.

Church is never about us. It’s all about what God is doing in the world in and through Jesus. That is our story!

Posted in church, Theology, Youth Ministry | 2 Comments

Advent # 3: God with us

Immanuel. This is the name that Jesus is referred to in Matthew 1:23, quoting Isaiah 7:14. Immanuel means, “God with us.” After reading the genealogy of Jesus, you begin to realize that God has been busy carrying out his plans from the Garden. Every name in the genealogy is part of God’s unfolding plan. These names in the genealogy remind us that history is not just a list of dates and people, but history is moving somewhere. History is leading us not so much to a destination as a person…Jesus! Jesus is the fulfillment of the Abrahamic promise of descendants. Jesus is also the fulfillment of the Davidic promise for a descendant of David to rule over Israel. In Jesus all of Israel’s hopes come to fruition.

For a people who had been slaves in Egypt, only to be rescued by a deliverer, the coming of God through the birth of Jesus would have been a reminder that God hadn’t forgotten them. Nor would he. For a people who had been sent into exile for their idolatry and adultery, the proclamation that virgin would be with child and the baby would called Immanuel would have resonated deep in their souls igniting a hope and a hunger that had begun to be quenched by yet another foreign power calling the shots in their homeland. The coming of Immanuel was bigger than just the eventual overthrow of Rome. The announcement of God with us speaks to the human condition. Jews may have been the nation of promise. But God was orchestrating his plan to reconcile all mankind in and through the baby yet still in the womb of the Galilean girl named Mary.

Messianic expectation was a fever pitch in the time of the birth of Jesus. Many Jews expected a religious and military hero, one like David to come and conquer Rome. Jesus was the messiah of untraditional expectations.  While the king of the Jews was indeed born to a peasant family and placed in manger, there is nothing royal or powerful about his arrival. Immanuel’s arrival reminds us that it isn’t to the powerful to dictate the affairs of the world. God often uses the ordinary and unnoticed to demonstrate his incomparably great power and wisdom. Notice, Immanuel means, “God with us,” not “God used to be with us,” or “God isn’t with us.” Immanuel is about the ongoing presence of God in and through history.

Immanuel, “God with us,” is present to the broken. God is present to the lonely. God is present to the weak. God is present to heartbroken. God is present to the desperate. God is with the sinner, the shepherd, the foreigner, the destitute, the vulnerable, the sick and the slave. God is with us. Yes, even you. Whatever your yesterday was, God is the God of second chances and hope and healing. The creator of the universe became a helpless baby to demonstrate how far he will go to remind us that he is with us! Merry Christmas!

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Advent #2

Recently I was with the Retherford side of the family. My grandfather and his brothers were given a book from 1958. It was my great-grandmother Getrude’s funeral book. It was stashed away in someone’s attic and was rediscovered and passed on. I never got to meet my great-grandmother. She died tragically when my dad was only four years old. As my dad and flipped through the funeral book’s pages, it was full of guests who signed the book. I recognized a few of the names, particularly those of my grandfather and his brothers. Most of the names, I didn’t know. What I did notice was the names missing from the book. My grandfather’s sisters names were not present in the book. 1958 was a different time for sure. It’s not their names weren’t important. They just weren’t present. I’d like to take the next few minutes to consider another list of names that has the inclusion of female names.

Matthew chapter one opens with a long list of names. I think, if we are honest with ourselves we tend to skip over the genealogical sections in the Bible. Who wants to read a list of names? Names we can’t even pronounce. Names from stories of a history long forgotten in a land that we’ve never been to. But the list of names in Matthew chapter one are different. Normally, ancient genealogical records omit women. So, when we open the Gospel of Matthew we should take not almost immediately that this list seems different. We find such recognizable names, as Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Judah, Boaz, Jesse, David, Solomon,Zerubbael, Joseph, Jesus. We know these names. We know their stories. But look once again, we also find Tamar, Rahab,  Ruth,  Bathsheba (Uriah’s wife Matt 1:6), and Mary. Five women. I know we aren’t fans of lists of names. However, this is no ordinary list. This is an invitation to peer once again into God’s unfolding story. This is in an invitation to see God at work in the world then and now. God isn’t bound by gender limitations, ethnic, racial, or language barriers. He has always used the underdog, the underprivileged and the overlooked to carry out his plans.

​Tamar was a foreigner, and she was a barren widow. She played the part of a prostitute to have a child (Gen 38). Rahab, a foreigner in Jericho had a reputation as a prostitute and hid the spies (Joshua 2). Ruth, Moabite women would be the great grandmother of king David (Ruth 1 and Matt 1:5-6). Bathsheba isn’t even mentioned by name in Matthew 1. But you know her story! She was the mother of King Solomon. Mary, a Jewishteenage girl betrothed to Joseph the carpenter was told she would carry the Christ child, the son of God, the long awaited hope of Israel (Luke 1). These women aren’t just thrown into the story for dramatic effect, or to be politically correct. These names are included because both men and women are crucial to what God was doing in the world. These names are included as a perpetual reminder that God can and does work in and through situations that seem hopeless and bleak. If God can make the barren fruitful, if God can take prostitutes and turn them into providential protectors, think of what he might could do in your life?

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Advent #1

It is officially the Christmas season. Pumpkins have been replaced greenery, candles, lights, and Christmas trees. My hope is whether you had the opportunity to gather with family or not that you paused sometime during Thanksgiving to give thanks for all that God has blessed you with. I am sure by now as you have been out and about shopping for the last month or more that you have noticed that Christmas is creeping further and further into late fall. Some people get frustrated at this intrusion on Halloween and Thanksgiving. Other’s may not notice. Other’s welcome the extended display of Christmas trees and lights.

It seems that there are two Christmas narratives competing for our attention. The first narrative paints a picture of commercialism, and materialism. Christmas becomes what we think we want. Advertisers and local retailers are experts in offering deals that lead us to brave the cold and long lines for a great deal. Don’t get me wrong, I love to get gifts too. There’s another narrative we need to turn into and allow to take priority over deals and thrills. That’s the original Christmas story. I know you don’t find the word Christmas in the Bible, but far longer than we have celebrated Santa Claus we celebrated the arrival of the Messiah. The word it self may have roots from within another tradition, but the story behind the word is the one in which we learn of God’s intentions for creation. For in this story we learn that we aren’t alone and that hope is more than a theological concept, but a person who who has been shaping human culture for centuries. God has always desired to live in community with His treasured possession. He walked with Adam and Eve in the Garden. He spoke to Moses face to face. He dwelled in the temple. But even in these spectacular ways and connections with humanity, nothing was quite as awe-inspiring as the day the angels announced “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, The Lord (Luke 2:10-11).

So as you begin your annual Christmas preparations, I challenge us to pause now and then in between the lines and gift wrapping to pay attention to story behind the story. While we often hurry through the holidays, this year let the baby wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger be the gift that changes you from the inside out. For if you follow the helpless babe from the manger to the cross, you begin to understand a simple truth that my middle daughter reminded me of this past week, “God really does know what he is doing.” Jesus was sent to show us how to live in the world as the community of God. Jesus came to remind us once again that God has always desired to live with us.

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