After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem and asked, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.” Matthew 2:1-2
At the risk of spoiling your nativity scenes, here are the facts about the magi (separated from the myths): (1) they probably were not kings, (2) we do not know how many there were, (3) they never saw Jesus as an infant, nor the manger, nor the shepherds, (4) we do not know their names nor their nationalities. We actually know surprisingly little about them. The sum total of what we do know, we learn from 12 small verses of scripture in Matthew’s gospel. That is all. But it is enough for us as peacemakers to continue to learn some important truths from the Christmas story.
These magi (however many there were), were apparently scholars and apparently familiar enough with Jewish prophecies to understand that the “king of the Jews” had been born. They were also men of science, familiar enough with the night sky to recognize a star which did not belong there. They were also shrewd seekers of Jesus, not thrown at all off track by Herod’s deception or malicious intentions. These are all good qualities for peacemakers.
A peacemaker among God’s people is a student of the Word. I know I’ve already made this point in this series, but it bears repeating. The truth of God’s Word is critical to peacemaking among His people. Peacemakers therefore immerse themselves in the Word regularly…even in all the woes and warnings of Old Testament prophecies.
A peacemaker studies the landscape of relationships and recognizes things that do not seem to …
Because Joseph her husband was faithful to the law, and yet did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly. But after he had considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.”… When Joseph woke up, he did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took Mary home as his wife. Matthew 1:19-21, 23
The angel answered, “The Holy Spirit will come on you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God. Even Elizabeth your relative is going to have a child in her old age, and she who was said to be unable to conceive is in her sixth month. For no word from God will ever fail.” “I am the Lord’s servant,” Mary answered. “May your word to me be fulfilled.” Then the angel left her. Luke 1:35-38
The Christmas story is filled with contrasts between those who rearranged their very lives in order to make room for the birth of the Messiah and those who either opposed His birth or were completely indifferent to it. Mary and Joseph had their lives changed forever. Their obedience and their ability to embrace a seemingly impossible circumstance set them apart. Even more, it was their willingness to set aside their own pretty good plans in order to be obedient to God which makes them perfect …
Sell your possessions, and give to the needy… For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also. Luke 12:33-34
The parable of the rich fool is, I think, a difficult lesson for the American church…a bit like teaching personal hygiene to a rodent…where do you even begin? Let’s be honest here, the American church has taken material wealth to levels never even dreamed by the founders of the New Testament church. “Give us this day our daily bread” was a genuine, heart-felt prayer reflective of a deep-seated daily need by the early church. My church, on the other hand, raised $1.5 Million last year for a new air conditioner in our Sanctuary. I’m not saying God wasn’t in that…I absolutely believe it will bring honor to Him…I’m just saying there is a bit of a cultural divide between the American church today and the early church in matters of material wealth.
There are a lot of benefits which come with that wealth. Churches all over the world pray every day for some of that kind of wealth. It has its perks. But there are some pretty clear downsides as well. And, at one level or another, the biggest downside is its impact on our faith in God. The sad truth is, we just do not need God to meet daily needs when we have material wealth. And when people outside the church look in at us and at our huge buildings and large staffs and extravagant Christmas pageants and decorations, one inescapable question arises:
What, exactly, does our church need God for?
If your church’s answer to that question is not plain…if it is somehow hidden or illusive…then you are not yet finished with your church’s communications strategy. I certainly believe this is true on the …
“But a Samaritan, as he journeyed, came to where he was, and when he saw him, he had compassion. He went to him and bound up his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he set him on his own animal and brought him to an inn and took care of him. And the next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper, saying, ‘Take care of him, and whatever more you spend, I will repay you when I come back.’ Which of these three, do you think, proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell among the robbers?” He said, “The one who showed him mercy.” And Jesus said to him, “You go, and do likewise.” Luke 10:33-37
In the Coffee household, we have been on our usual Christmas steady fare of Christmas movies. Christmas, it seems, is such an enormous cultural event, Hollywood just cannot make enough “Christmas miracle” movies. It’s a standard template: there is a hero (or a heroine) who is flawed and relatable in some fashion and who does not believe in the magic of Christmas. Enter conflict (or an antagonist or dire circumstances or a hilarious parade of unforeseeable events) and there is an ensuing struggle. Finally, there is a Christmas miracle and our hero is saved and now believes in the magic of Christmas.
This year, my attention has been grabbed by how the church is portrayed in these Hollywood versions of Christmas (if it is portrayed at all). It seems to me that, more often than not, the church is portrayed as a bit silly and irrelevant and disconnected from anything, well… normal. I don’t know, but I strongly suspect these portrayals betray the writers’ own stories about their church experiences growing up. …
While Jesus was having dinner at Levi’s house, many tax collectors and sinners were eating with him and his disciples, for there were many who followed him. When the teachers of the law who were Pharisees saw him eating with the sinners and tax collectors, they asked his disciples: “Why does he eat with tax collectors and sinners?” On hearing this, Jesus said to them, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.” Mark 2:15-17
I guess I am not a big fan of the whole “stealing Christmas” notion. You know, the news stories about how this city or that school has outlawed nativity scenes and has thus “stolen Christmas” from those of us who are religious and who want those things in the public square. Or that neighbors or co-workers have a “Holiday Tree” instead of a Christmas tree, and thus have stolen Christmas from us. Or that our secular society makes more noise about the commercial side of the season than about the spiritual side and, thus, has somehow stolen Christmas from those of us who are spiritual. The whole idea of “stealing” is that someone to whom the thing did NOT belong removed it from someone to whom the thing DID belong. But, to whom does Christmas belong? If it is all about the coming Christ child, for whom did He come?
It is clear enough why Jesus came. “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick.” This is clear not only because Jesus said this in such certain terms. It is also clear by how he spent his time, and with whom he spent his time, and by how he taught, and by how he seemed …
The beginning of the good news about Jesus the Messiah, the Son of God, as it is written in Isaiah the prophet:
“I will send my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way”— “a voice of one calling in the wilderness, ‘Prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for him.’” Mark 1:1-3
Welcome to the Advent Season, everyone! I am certain this season is as special at your church as it is at mine. Now begins the challenge of leading our people’s hearts to turn toward Christ as opposed to getting so entangled with the secular culture of Christmas that they lose sight of Jesus. I know you are thinking about that. You are considering how you can best lead so as to help your people “prepare the way for the Lord”. In that regard, you, my church leader friend, are John the Baptizer. Your calling this season is to help your people prepare for Jesus.
So, as you strategize about this Advent Season in your own church, and how you will help your people prepare for Jesus, will you just consider the following:
How will you help the single mom who is holding down three jobs and just trying to survive from one day to the next prepare her heart for Jesus?
What is your strategy to help the child whose parent is deployed or in prison or just disappeared to prepare his/her heart for Jesus this season?
What can you do this week to help that nursing home resident who gave your church so many good years of ministry to prepare for Jesus this season?
What is your plan to pour into your second tier of church leaders over the next couple of weeks, so that they and their families are prepared
And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. Luke 2:8-9
“For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” declares the LORD. Isaiah 55:8
I will confess that, when it comes to my ministry, I have struggled over the years with the concept of “marketing”. I was mostly comfortable leaving that up to God, Who took Five Principles of Unity all over the world and led us to publish it in four different languages in multiple countries without any kind of marketing plan whatsoever. Still, I do understand that marketing is important. It is why I have tried to surround myself with people who understand marketing much better than I. I also must boast that I have come a long way in my own understanding of it, and how important it is that we take some responsibility for getting our message out there and for how we say it. In fact, I would say that I have made some remarkable progress in terms of accepting “marketing and communications” as an everyday part of what I do…so much so, that I actually give a little “marketing” advice now and again to others who are just getting started with ministries of their own.
So you can imagine my dismay with how God chose to roll out the initial ad campaign announcing Jesus’ birth. Let’s just say I would not have done it that way.
Again, I am no marketing expert. But if I were responsible for getting that very important announcement out there with some hopes of it “going viral” over time (even before the …
The call hasn’t come in yet this season, but almost every year during the Christmas season I get a panicked phone call from a pastor or other church staff member somewhere in the country whose church has decided that Christmas is the best time to terminate him. I am not sure why that is. I could only speculate about why terminations of ministers happen so often at this time of year. I cannot imagine how much sheer hatred a church would have to muster for their pastor to put him and his family out during the Christmas season…churches behaving badly.
It seems to me that churches sometimes play freely and loosely with their “power” of finances over their pastor. Of course, they will defend themselves, claiming that ultimately it is the only power they have over him. But that claim side-steps the issue. The larger question is whether the activities of God’s church were ever intended to be a function of earthly power at all.
In his blog post yesterday over at Kingdom People, Trevin Wax poses a great question to pastors: “Does getting paid make a difference in how you lead your church?” And this important follow-up question, “Should it?” These are terrific questions for pastors. Frankly, they are questions I ask myself (though I’m not a pastor) from time to time. You know…”If I suddenly became independently wealthy, would I still be doing this?” Maybe you’ve played that game as well.
But I want to ask the question in a slightly different direction. Rather than asking the pastor how it affects his leadership (which is an entirely different blog post…one already well-written by Trevin), I want to ask you, the church members a question: If your pastor did not receive a salary from you, would it change …
Zechariah asked the angel, “How can I be sure of this? I am an old man and my wife is well along in years.” Luke 1:18a
“How will this be,” Mary asked the angel, “since I am a virgin?” Luke 1:34
Studying Luke 1 last week and this week. Last week was Zechariah. This week is Mary. But the one constant character in both lessons is Gabriel, the angel. The other element common to both stories is the reactions to Gabriel. Both Mary and Zechariah asked the same question: “But, how?” But Gabriel’s response to that reaction was very different in each story.
Let’s not play word games here, and let’s not split hairs over how their reactions are actually different. If you were writing the story yourself and wanted their reactions to read the same way, you couldn’t write it any differently than Luke did. Their reactions to Gabriel were remarkably similar. Both of them asked the same question, showing the same concern for whether Gabriel really had all his facts straight. We can engage in all kinds of speculation about their respective hearts (i.e., perhaps Mary’s question was truly one of wonder, while Zechariah’s was one of doubt, etc.), but that is just speculation on our part. We cannot judge a person’s heart. No, in order to explain Gabriel’s very different response to each of them and their respective questions, we need not engage in questions of the heart. We can find a much easier critical distinction between Zechariah and Mary: Zechariah was a priest.
Zechariah was a Spiritual leader among God’s people and was doing a Spiritual thing in the most Spiritual of all places when Gabriel appeared. What kind of sad commentary is it that, upon entering the place where God abides, doing a thing God …