May 2020 be filled with love, hope, and new adventures!
Below is a sermon I preached at First Christian Church in Longview, Texas based on the Matthew 1:18-25.
My latest for the Longview News-Journal
Today is Christmas; the day that Christians around the world celebrate the birth of Jesus of Nazareth, the Son of God. For many Christians, the past month has been the season of Advent. During this holy season, Christians have been preparing their hearts and minds for the arrival of Jesus the Christ. Among the sights and sounds of the shopping season, Christians have been waiting for the holy child to be born. The journey is marked with four Sundays each representing a particular aspect that Jesus will bring to the world: hope, peace, joy, and love. Candles are lit so that the darkness of the world will be pushed back each week as the light of the world, Jesus, will soon be born again in our lives.
However, it is hard for many people to find meaning or relevance in the Christmas story. Ever since the Enlightenment people have been trying to figure out the story of Christmas in a scientific way. Some people believe that the ancient story is not for them, that there is nothing of significance for someone in 2019. The story is outdated, it does not fit into what we know to be true about the world. There are too many questions and not enough answers.
I disagree. The original story of God coming to earth has great meaning for all of us today. The pillars of Advent, love, peace, hope, and joy, are not antiquated religious dreams.
Can love be outdated? Do we still not seek peace in our world? Is hope a lost desire? Have we lost the ability to have joy? The coming of Christ in the world on Christmas is more than lights, presents, and trees. It is more than getting together with family and friends and sharing good food and making memories. The story of Christmas is not an old story from thousands of years ago devoid of meaning for us today.
The birth of Jesus was not an ordinary event; it was the manifestation of the divine in the world. Jesus was the fullest expression of the divine that the world has ever seen. His birth signaled that the world was about to change and change forever. No longer would the old ways of selfishness and hatred be tolerated in the Kingdom of God rather it will now be replaced with love, mercy, and gentleness. No longer would love be conditional rather love now will be unconditional. Jesus’ birth was a sign to us all that God had not given up on the world and God still has not given up on us yet.
Yes, the world might not be the very good place God deemed it in Genesis 1, but every time that love is given, hope is shared, peace is extended, and joy celebrated then God is in midst of it all. God celebrates when we do and mourns when we do. The miracle of Christmas is being celebrated in these events.
We cannot and should not limit the movement and power of God at Christmas to a moment or even a day. The life-giving, life-changing miracle of the birth of Jesus is too important to minimize.
So, this Christmas I pray that you will feel God’s overwhelming love. May you be reminded that you are a beautiful child of God.
May we celebrate Christmas like the Shepherds did announcing the coming of Christ anew in the world.
May our song be “Glory to God in heaven, and on earth peace among those whom he favors.” (Luke 2:14).
Merry Christmas and God bless you and your family.
My latest for the Longview News-Journal
Every year it feels like the same routine: trees, lights, wreaths, presents, cards, pictures, and the never-ending mad rush to Christmas Day. Don’t get me wrong I love Christmas; I love getting together with family and friends, exchanging gifts and driving through Mini Santa Land. I love to see the sense of wonder my children have this time of year. I love to rehear the story of the birth of Jesus. Christmas is a beautiful holy time and I think that is why people are so passionate about how it is celebrated.
This year I have noticed a lot of people wearing “Merry CHRISTmas” shirts (the word Christ is generally more prominent than the rest of the word). The idea here is that we are to remember that Jesus the Christ is the real reason for the holiday. Inevitably the overwhelming presence of God’s love and the hope that is found in a newborn baby in a manger means something more than lights and trees, right? Why is it at the end of the “holiday season” many Christians are worn out and have missed the life-changing, life-giving presence of the holy season of Advent and Christmas?
How do we how do we keep Christ in Christmas? And furthermore, how do we continue this idea all year long? Doesn’t the coming of Christ in our midst mean more than just a single day? Is simply remembering enough?
We keep Christ in Christmas by thinking of serving outside the month of December. It is easy and often expected to serve around the holidays, but the needs of our community continue long after the tree and the lights are taken down.
We keep Christ in Christmas by remembering that the heart of the gospel that Jesus brings is love. This love must be shown to all people. Christians believe that God’s love is freely given to all. This might mean that we reconsider who are neighbor might be and look for new opportunities to share the love of God.
We keep Christ in Christmas by seeing the vulnerable in our community and supporting missional and community initiatives to help alleviate people’s hurting and suffering.
We keep Christ in Christmas by remembering that the world if a beautiful gift of God and strive to care and manage its resources properly.
These and many more ways are how we keep Christ in Christmas. If you can help, serve, give, love, and share with others in 2020, then please do. If you are already doing these things, then find ways to encourage others to join you in the cause of sharing God’s love and Christ’s mercy to all people.
The very first Christmas over 2000 years ago changed the world as we know it. Why can’t Christmas in 2019 and beyond continue to change the world?
Howard Thurman, an African American theologian, educator, and civil rights leader wrote a poem entitled “The Work of Christmas” which shapes the way we can enter the Christmas story this year.
When the song of the angels is stilled,
when the star in the sky is gone,
when the kings and princes are home,
when the shepherds are back with their flocks,
the work of Christmas begins:
to find the lost, to heal the broken,
to feed the hungry, to release the prisoner,
to rebuild the nations, to bring peace among the people,
to make music in the heart.
May this help us as we strive to keep Christ in Christmas.
On October 20, 2019, I gave a sermon entitled “Wrestling and Struggling with God” based on Genesis 32:22-31.
I have been a part of a great group of ministers who meet once a month at the Oil Horse Brewing Company in Longview, TX to have open and honest discussions about important topics that are affecting our community and nation. This month I was on the panel regarding the Christian response to immigration. Below is a link to a local newspaper article about the event.
My latest for the Longview News-Journal
It is no secret that we live in an odd time in American history. With the advent of the internet, social media and the 24-hour news cycle, we are bombarded with information all the time.
With the increase of news coverage and news outlets, a polarization has taken place. Now the news is not just “news,” it is “conservative news ” or “liberal news.” As a result, we find ourselves gravitating to sources that only reinforce what we already believe, and this is a problem.
It’s easy to fall into these “echo chambers” and regurgitate the rhetoric we find in them. Critical thinking, analysis and the idea that we could be wrong have for the most part gone out the window. We only want to hear what we want to hear and throw the other stuff away, declaring it without merit or worthiness in our lives. Terms like “fake news” have dominated the last election cycle, and the 2020 cycle is seeming like more of the same.
I do not think we can survive another tumultuous election cycle unless we begin to name the problems we see, and not just in those people we do not like.
Luckily, Jesus the Christ spoke to something just like this. In the Gospel of Matthew, we find the infamous “speck and log” teaching. At the conclusion of what is known as the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus states, “Why do you see the splinter that’s in your brother’s or sister’s eye, but don’t notice the log in your own eye? How can you say to your brother or sister, ‘Let me take the splinter out of your eye,’ when there’s a log in your eye? You deceive yourself! First, take the log out of your eye, and then you’ll see clearly to take the splinter out of your brother’s or sister’s eye.” (Matthew 7:3-5 Common English Bible)
We fall into this trap far too often. We denounce an action as being against God or the teachings of the church, but when it involves someone we like or support, we find reasons to dismiss it. Surely there was a good reason why this accusation happened. Maybe it was the “conservative” or “liberal” media just looking for dirt. Increasingly, we seem to believe things should be deemed good or bad based on what political party the accused person happens to be affiliated with.
We don’t know how to have honest conversations about our political thoughts or beliefs without it turning into “one-liner theater,” where we lob bumper sticker-like sayings in an effort to derail the conversation.
Can I learn from someone who thinks differently politically than me? Absolutely. Should I listen more to the different ways topics are viewed and approached? Yes, I should. Can we as a society stop trying to tear each other down and start to see the logs in our own eyes? I hope so.
As a follower of Christ, there are standards of living, caring and loving humanity that are the foundation of my theological framework. All people of faith have a “lens” through which we see the world. These lenses are built over our lifetime and are informed based on where we grew up, our family of origin, and even our generation. Rarely is there a straightforward answer, but claiming we have it all figured out or that our party of choice has it all figured out has led us to this point.
When things are wrong, we need to call them as such, no matter what party might be to blame or how it will tip the scale of an election. When something needs to change because it violates our theological understanding of how humanity should be treated, then we must speak out. If we do not, if we allow “our side” to get away with things and hold the other side to another standard. Then we have forfeited our beliefs, our values, and morals and replaced them with the will of the political party of our choice.
The Epistle of James reminds us that “Anyone, then, who knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, commits sin.”
Our faith should inform our decision, not our political party. If we lead with our faith and not trying to secure a win, then the message of Christ’s redemption, forgiveness and grace will be heard loud and clear.
This next election cycle will be filled with mudslinging and social media debates and no one “wins” in those election years. Let’s do better. I know we can and the United States of America will be better if we stay true to what we claim to be most valuable in our lives.
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Happy number 243 to the United States of America!