Thursday, December 29, 2016

whoever gets the son ...

The story is told about a wealthy man who, years ago, shared a passion for collecting art with his son. They had priceless works by Picasso, Van Gogh, and many others adorning the walls of their family estate. But there was conflict in that region, and war soon engulfed the nation, and the son left to go serve his country. Several months later his father received a telegram. His son had been killed in battle. Lonely and distraught, the old man faced the upcoming Christmas with great sadness.

On Christmas Eve, a knock on the door awakened the depressed old man. As he opened the door he was greeted by a soldier who was holding a package. The soldier said, “I was friends with your son. I have something to give you.” The soldier was an artist and the package was a portrait of the man’s son. As he opened the package, the old man was overcome with emotion, and immediately he hung the portrait over his fireplace, pushing aside millions of dollars worth of art.

The following spring, the old man died. The art world waited with anticipation for the day when his paintings would be auctioned off. According to the will of the old man, the art would be auctioned off on Christmas Eve.

Christmas Eve finally arrived and art collectors from around the world gathered to bid on some of the world’s most spectacular paintings. The auction began with the painting of the man’s son. The auctioneer asked for an opening bid, but the room was silent. “Who will open the bidding with $10?” No one spoke up. Finally someone yelled, “Who cares about that painting? It’s just a picture of his son. Let’s move on to the important stuff!” The auctioneer responded, “No, we have to sell
this one first. Now, who wants the son?” Finally a neighbor of the old man offered $10 for it. The auctioneer said, “Going once, going twice . . . sold.” And the gavel fell.

The auctioneer looked around at the room filled with people and announced that the auction was over. Everyone was stunned. Someone spoke up and said, “What do you mean, it’s over? We didn’t come here for a painting of someone’s son. There’s millions of dollars worth of art here!” The auctioneer replied, “According to the father’s will, whoever gets the son gets it all.”

Whoever gets the Son ... gets it all.


Saturday, December 24, 2016

hanukkah coin

A bronze penny from the time of the first Hanukkah (165 BC) was stumbled upon recently by archaeologists near Jerusalem’s Tower of David. The head of Antiochus Epiphanes appears on the front of the bronze penny, and the reverse side has a goddess holding a torch in her hand. Antiochus IV was a Seleucid monarch remembered in Jewish history for his promotion of Greek culture and suppression of Jewish religious observances. After he had a shrine built to Zeus and even sacrificed a pig on the altar of the temple in Jerusalem, Jewish zealots led by Judas Maccabeus rose up in revolt against him, which is the basis for the celebration of Hanukkah.


Wednesday, December 21, 2016

christmas in crisis

The terror attack this past week at the Christmas Market in Berlin took place right across the street from a famous memorial church called the Gedachtnis Kirche.   

It's a cathedral that was built on the site of a series of earlier churches. The church was badly damaged in WW2 when the dome was hit by a bomb and collapsed as the rubble fell all the way down into the church's crypt. After the war, as residents went about cleaning up all the ruins, they made a decision not to tear down all the bombed out buildings, but to save some so that they would always be reminded of the horrors of war. The present buildings, a new church and a bell tower, were placed right along side the old bombed out cathedral. The damaged spire of the old church has been retained and its ground floor has been made into a memorial. A shiny new church stands in the midst of the ruins of an old blown up cathedral. 

At the center of it all is a charred cross, where Jesus offered his sinless life for all our sins. Through his death and resurrection, Jesus defeated the powers of sin and death and hell and has claimed us as his own. And not only has Christ died and risen for us, He also holds our lives in His hands and rules over us in grace and mercy and love. We have His promise from Romans chapter 8 - “For I am convinced that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Jesus Christ our Lord.”

Although we are immersed in a ruined and rotten creation, for a brief moment this time of year we are able to see and to hear God's wonderful promises for us in Jesus. It is an experience that gives us comfort and hope this Advent and Christmas season.

Hope is a hard thing to get a handle on sometimes - kind of like that old cathedral in Berlin. After the church had been bombed, it would have been easy for the people to do one of two things. They could have looked at the ruins and fallen into despair. They could have given up and walked away. Or, they could have cleaned up the ruins, erased their memory, and built a new church where no one would even know the difference. One option lets the destruction triumph and denies any hope of a future. The other option lets the future glory triumph and denies that there is suffering in this world. What they did, however, was something different.

They held the suffering and the glory together to form a new reality. They didn’t just walk away from the church - they built a new one. But they didn’t clear away the ruins and build on top of them. Instead, they left them as a reminder of the suffering of this world. The ruins and the church stand together as a visible reminder that in the midst of the fallen creation, God continues to rule and reign over His people.

Living out the Christian life in this world is really a paradox – a strange combination of glory and suffering. We are certain of the glorious future that God has in store for us. We know and trust that all things work together for good. But we also see the reality of suffering in this world around us. Though we live in the midst of this ruined world, we do not give up hope. And, though we see the hope of the future, we don't deny the suffering of this world. No, instead, we live in both worlds – in the reality of suffering and in the certainty of hope.

So as Advent hope turns to Christmas joy this week, even in the midst of the ruins and rubble of this fallen world, we are reminded of the true reason for the season. Our Savior Jesus has come from heaven to earth to take away all of our sin and sorrow, suffering and loss. He has come to give us Christmas in the midst of crisis. 

This is His gift to you today and always - "Nothing in all creation will be able to separate you from the love of God that is in Jesus Christ your Lord."  - Romans 8:28


Wednesday, December 14, 2016

streams in the desert

Image may contain: mountain, outdoor and nature

The image of the desert or wilderness is a powerful image in the divine drama of the Bible. The desert is dry and barren, lifeless and unknown, bleak and dangerous. It is a place of trial and testing.

I have seen the Judean wilderness that begins just south of Jerusalem and Bethlehem - and let me tell you - it's even bleaker and more barren than you can imagine. It would take a miracle just to survive out there.

Moses led the children of Israel as they wandered for 40 years in the wilderness after coming out of Egypt and across the Red Sea before entering the Promised Land. John the Baptist came as a "voice in the wilderness" preaching and baptizing in the desert to prepare the way for the Messiah. And Jesus at the beginning of His ministry, right after His baptism in the river Jordan, went out into the wilderness, to be tempted and tried by Satan for 40 days and 40 nights in the desert.

700 years before this, at the time of the prophet Isaiah, life had become like a desert for the nation of Israel. The people were in captivity, their capital city had been incinerated, their temple had been destroyed, their sons had been killed, their cities and farms had been burned, they had been in captivity for nearly fifty years. The people were feeling burned out and broken down.

Life can be like that sometimes. Life can be like a desert where everything is withered and dried up, burnt, bent, and brown. Your heart becomes cracked, your soul parched, and your dreams brittle. It is the dark night of the soul, and sometimes it seems daybreak will never come.

After a death of a husband, a wife or a child. During an illness like cancer or heart disease. After an accident that leaves people crippled or paralyzed. When someone loses a job and loss of income and they don’t know where to turn. In periods of loneliness and depression, when you begin to lose your energy and strength. Like the Psalmist says, this is a dry and desolate place where there is no water.

Like how John the Baptist must have felt in prison in Matthew 11. When John about Jesus' deeds, He sent word by His disciples and said to Him - "Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?" To paraphrase - "Because I'm sittin' here in prison about to get my head chopped off, and uh, this isn't exactly how I thought this whole thing was going to go when you showed up. Are you really the one who is to come, or shall we look for someone else?"

How about for us? This time of year, this "happy" season, often the worst time of year for people who feel that life is like a desert or a wilderness. When the Christmas season starts the day after Halloween the people who already feel like they are in the desert can easily wilt under all the pressure to be happy.

The prophet Isaiah comes to those of us in the wilderness with these words -“The wilderness and the dry land shall be glad, the desert shall rejoice and blossom. It shall blossom abundantly and rejoice with joy and singing ... Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, the ears of the deaf unstopped, the lame man shall leap like a deer, and the tongue of the mute sing for joy. For waters break forth in the wilderness, and streams in the desert."

Jesus uses the same words to reassure John when He tells his disciples - "Go and tell John what you hear and see. The blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the deaf hear, the lepers are cleansed, the dead are raised up, and the poor have good news preached to them. And blessed is he who is not offended by me."

Jesus the Messiah has come to bring hope, joy, peace, comfort, nourishment, new life. Jesus comes to bring new life to the world. And not only to the whole world, but to individual people as well. He came to bring life to Matthew, Mary Magdalene, Zacchaeus, the Roman centurion, the woman at the well, to Jairus, the widow of Nain, and on and on.

Again and again, when Jesus comes into the lives of individual people, their deserts begin to bloom once again. Jesus comes to you this Advent season to give you new life as well. When Jesus the Messiah comes into your life, He brings new life to your wilderness and makes it bloom again.

But here’s something important to remember about the hope and healing Jesus brings:
There is no way to get to the promised land except through the wilderness.
The beauty of Bethlehem is always connected to the cross of Calvary.
The joy of Easter always comes after the pain and death of Good Friday.
The cross always comes before the crown.

It is in the wilderness wanderings and the times in the desert that the genuineness of our faith is tested. Genuine faith does not simply believe in God ... it actually believes God! We might say we believe in God, but it takes faith a step further to say that we believe God when He says, "I will never leave you nor forsake you" and "I will be with you always, to the very end of the age".

It is that faith of the prophet Isaiah which cries out in the midst of Israel’s desert experience in Babylon - "The wilderness and the dry land shall be glad, the desert shall rejoice and blossom."

We rejoice this Advent Season that the kingdom of God has come, that Jesus the Messiah has come to us and still comes among us, during this time in between His first and second coming, the time of the now and not yet, the time in which we now live. We rejoice in the fact that out in the middle of a dry and barren desert, way out in the boonies, in the middle of the wilderness, a desert rose began to bloom. 

"Lo, how a rose is blooming
from tender stem hath sprung
Of Jesse's lineage coming
as prophets long have sung
It came a flower bright
amid the cold of winter
when half spent was the night"


Saturday, December 10, 2016

Tuesday, December 6, 2016