The View from Bethlehem’s Manger

Happy Christmas Eve!

This evening at Woodbury Community Church it was my blessing to present the drama, The View from Bethlehem’s Manger. 

Here is a recording of that drama. Enjoy! And may you have a blessed Christmas.

Video streaming by Ustream

Learning New Things About Christmas

The First ChristmasI’ve been a follower of Jesus for a long time now. My journey of faith began as a child, and it was as a four-year-old boy that I prayed and asked Jesus to be my Savior. I grew up in a church-going family. So, from the time I was an infant, I was in church. That means that in my 43 years of life I have heard (and in recent years, I have preached) a number of sermons about Christmas.

When people ask me about the toughest sermons to preach, I almost always respond that  Christmas and Easter sermons are the most difficult to prepare. These two holidays come  every year and it can sometimes be tough to come up with fresh ideas and insights into the familiar and wonderful stories of Christ’s birth, death and resurrection.

I have to say that I am energized about preaching on Christmas this year. One of the reasons is that I’m learning so many new things about Christmas. On Christmas Eve, I’ll be preaching a dramatic monologue sermon. My sermon will come from the perspective of Bethlehem’s innkeeper. In preparation I’ve been reading an old book that I found at a used bookstore several years ago. It’s a book entitled, The First Christmas, by Rev. Denis O’Shea. It was published in 1952 by The Bruce Publishing Company in Milwaukee.

I’m enjoying the book for several reasons.

1) It was written by a Catholic priest. I’m Protestant. That means that my views on who Mary is are very different than O’Shea’s. So, I’m forced to read this book critically. Seeing things from a perspective radically different than mine is a sharpening process.

2) It was written in 1952. This was shortly after Israel was resettled by the Jewish people. The historical context of this book is fascinating. The illustrations that are used about what the Holy Land was like in the 1950’s make me wish I could have seen it then. I’m reading a section about the Samaritan people, and at the time only 260 were living in Palestine. O’Shea had visited with the present High Priest of the Samaritans and the information written about that encounter is fascinating.

3) Like William Barclay, one of my favorite New Testament commentators, O’Shea writes from the perspective of a historian. (If you want to read great stuff on the times of the Bible read any of Barclay’s commentaries.) The quoting of ancient historians, the visuals that he paints about what houses, inns, roads, landscape, food, clothes, animals, etc. were like in the days surrounding Christ’s birth are fascinating. He also does a great job painting a picture of the geo-political culture of the day. Understanding how Herod achieved his position, the world of Caesar Augustus, what a census involved, and why the Jewish people were required to go to the land of their ancestors to register is fascinating. I felt that I could picture the abodes of the first century world, and the inns that Mary and Joseph would have stopped at on their route from Nazareth to Bethlehem.

There is so much more that I could say. Again, there is a lot that I would disagree with in this book, particularly O’Shea’s insistence that Mary was a perpetual virgin. But, all-in-all this book has opened my eyes and my mind to see things I’ve never seen before about Christmas. I can’t wait to share them in the form of a drama on Christmas Eve.

If you are in town, I’d love to have you join us for Christmas Eve services at Woodbury Community Church at 5 or 7 PM. I hope the sermon will be something that you’ll be talking about for a long time.

What is something new that you’ve learned about Christmas this year?

The Best Christmas Pageant Ever

KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERAWhen my children were growing up, they performed in many Christmas pageants. They are always such a special part in the calendar of the church. I remember one year when Breanna and Christopher were a part of the cast of The Best Christmas Pageant Ever, the classic story by Barbara Robinson about the Herdmans. The book’s description says that the Heardmans are the worst kids in the history of the world. They lie, steal, smoke cigars, swear, and hit little kids. So no one is prepared when this outlaw family invades church one Sunday and decides to take over the annual Christmas pageant.

None of the Herdmans has ever heard the Christmas story before. Their interpretation of the tale — the Wise Men are a bunch of dirty spies and Herod needs a good beating — has a lot of people up in arms. But it will make this year’s pageant the most unusual anyone has seen and, just possibly, the best one ever.

pageant2Well, we had our annual Christmas pageant yesterday. It wasn’t the story The Best Christmas Pageant Ever, (our church kids preformed A Rockin’ Royal Christmas) but it was one of my favorite of all time. After Friday’s horrific events in Connecticut, I treasured watching the children of Woodbury Community Church perform just a little bit more. Their voices seemed sweeter. Their antics were cuter. And, the story of the hope that comes because of the birth of Jesus was  even more poignant.

PageantDo you have a favorite Christmas pageant memory? I’d love to hear about it.

I’m so proud of the kids of Woodbury Community Church. They did a great job presenting the story of Christmas.

Here is a clip from the show:

Video streaming by Ustream

Present at Christmas – Suffering

This Advent Season, I have been preaching through a series entitled Present at Christmas. We have been taking a look at some of the gifts that God gives to his children. Long before this weekend, my scheduled sermon for this Sunday was on the gift of suffering. It is difficult to preach on suffering on a weekend like this, where dozens of families are dealing with a pain that is greater than anything that I have ever been through. Below is my sermon from today. I hope that it blesses you as you continue to move through this weekend’s horror.

 

Extreme Christmas Caroling

There are two types of people in this world — those who love it when a group of people show up to their door to Christmas carol, and those who hate it.

Todd Rhodes had a fun post about caroling on his blog today. He tells the story the Long Hollow Baptist Church worship team, who decided to have some fun with Christmas caroling this year. Check out their humorous videos:

 

Fantastic Free Resource for Advent

Good NewsHow are you and your family moving through Advent this year? A friend of mine clued me in to this free resource from Desiring God ministries. We are taking time to read the Advent devotional at our dinner table. It’s caused some deep conversations with our sons.

Good News of Great Joy is a series of 21 Advent readings by John Piper to challenge the reader to look for ways to adore Christ this Christmas season. It’s easy to move through this season without taking the time to, or even understanding what it means to adore Christ.

This is a free e-book available for all e-readers by clicking here.

It’s not too late to jump into these readings. They will take you less than 5 minutes to get through each reading, but your discussion may take you longer. That is a good thing!

One other note on this book. I think the preface to this book, written by David Mathis, the Executive Editor of Desiring God Ministries was the best description of why we do Advent that I’ve ever read.

New E-book on Zechariah

ZechariahI recently published a little e-book entitled, “I’m Speechless” Zechariah’s Story.  It’s the manuscript of a one act play that I did a couple years ago for the congregation of Woodbury Community Church. The play is a creative look at the life of Zechariah, the father of John the Baptist, who I think is one of the most intriguing characters in the Bible. The old man dreamed of the day that he would be chosen to go into the temple of the Lord to burn incense. When his turn finally came, he got way more than he bargained for. This one act play seeks to make the story of Zechariah come alive. It is best performed in a church during the Advent season or would also be a wonderful addition to any family’s Advent readings. The drama seeks to help people, who become very busy during the Christmas season, slow down enough to hear the voice of God. Sometimes we need to be speechless in order to hear God’s voice.

You can see a video of me performing the drama here. You can order an e-book for any e-reading format here. If you have a Kindle, or use Kindle software on your computer, iPad, iPod or mobile device you will want to order the book in the .mobi format. Nooks, iPads, and Kobo devices use the .epub format. You can read it on any computer by downloading the .pdf file. If you’d rather download directly from Barnes and Noble for Nook you can go here. To order directly from Kobo for a Kobo device go here. For a preview of the book from Google, click here.

Free on Kindle – The Case for Christmas by Lee Strobel and the ESV Bible

casseI don’t have a Kindle . . . yet. But, I’m hoping to purchase one soon. You don’t need to have a Kindle to read Kindle books. You can download free software and read the books right on your computer or smart phone.

Right now, Amazon is offering a couple of terrific books for free. The first is Lee Strobel’s book, The Case for Christmas. You can download the book by clicking here.

The book is a quick read and offers compelling evidence that Jesus Christ truly is the Messiah that was prophesied in the Old Testament.

esvThe second, and by far the best book being offered on Kindle for free is the English Standard Version of the Bible. I love this translation of the Bible. It is what I use for most of my personal study time. The ESV is probably the most faithful translation of the Bible from the original languages that we have in the English language have.

I highly recommend this translation of the Bible. You may download it for free by clicking here.

Does This Ever Get Old

There is a great scene in the Charlie Brown Christmas Special. I’m sure most of you have seen it. Charlie Brown is being chastised by his classmates because he has picked the absolute worst Christmas tree in the history of Christmas trees. Charlie, who is normally down on himself, is really depressed this time. This has to be the worst Christmas ever. And then good ‘ole Linus reminds Charlie, and the rest of the gang about the true meaning of Christmas.

 

 

The Joy of Proclamation

It’s cold today in Minnesota.

The reading on the thermostat read -5 as I left for the office this morning. This is just another in a long string of cold days. The weather forecast says that we are in for more snow tomorrow.

On Saturday, we had the worst snowstorm in the Twin Cities in nearly nineteen years. There was so much snow that the roof on the Metrodome, home of the Minnesota Vikings, collapsed. We made the tough decision to cancel church. The Senior Pastor, Worship Director, and several members of the worship team were unable to get out of our driveways due to 5-6 foot snow drifts.

This means that I didn’t get a chance to preach the sermon that I had planned for Sunday. So, let me give you a quick synopsis of where we were going.

We are in the middle of our yearly Advent Series. This year we decided to take the four weeks before Christmas and focus on the traditional themes of Advent. This week’s theme was “The Joy of Proclamation.”

In Luke 2:8-18 we read the following:

8 And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. 9 An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. 10 But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. 11 Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. 12 This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”  13 Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying,  14 “Glory to God in the highest heaven,
   and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.”  15 When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.”  16 So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger. 17 When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, 18 and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them.

The angels had the wonderful job of announcing to a group of shepherds on the hills outside of Bethlehem a six-fold message from God.

1) A Savior Has Been Born to You
    
The words were magnificent, and the message changed everything. The world desperately needed a Savior. Why? Because, from the time of Adam and Eve, man’s relationship with God had been damaged. Our sin created a gap between man and God that could only be bridged through a Savior.

When people think about a Savior in contemporary culture, we think about fictional superheroes, or real life heroes like police officers, fire fighters and military personnel. Fictional superheroes will never change your life. Real life heroes may save your physical life, but only God, only the true Savior can save your eternal life.

Many of us have fallen for the lie that we don’t need a Savior. We somehow think that this life is all there is. Look out for number one. Get all that you can out of this life because there are no guarantees about eternity. Jesus changes that.

2) Jesus Christ, Born in Bethlehem is the promised Messiah

There are over 300 Old Testament prophecies that were fulfilled in the person of Jesus. No words written about the coming Messiah failed to be fulfilled in the person of Jesus. The angels declared from day number one that Jesus was the Messiah. As such, He will fulfill the future promises of Messiah too. Do you believe it?

3) Jesus Christ is Lord

Think about the gravity of that statement. Angels, who had worshipped Jesus in the realms of heaven, now said that the babe who was lying down in a feeding trough in the stable of an innkeeper was Lord. This is the same Lord who will one day be worshipped by all who ever lived. Every knee shall someday bow, and every tongue shall someday confess that Jesus Christ is Lord. Make no doubt about it, Jesus is Lord and God wants that message known by all who live in this world.

4) Jesus Christ Came To Serve

“Unto you, is born this day . . .” The angels announced that Jesus born “unto” us. Jesus was born so that we might be born again. He said himself that He didn’t come to be served, but to serve and to give His life as a ransom for many. This One who came to serve also said that His people should serve. How are we doing on our end of that bargain? Are we serving Him faithfully?

5) All Glory in Heaven and Earth Belongs to God

The Ultimate Servant, Jesus Christ, is the one to Whom all glory is due.

When an athlete makes a spectacular play we cheer like crazy. When we see a famous person, we kind of want to meet them. When we are around a terrific leader, we want to learn from them. We give glory to lots of people. But, are we giving glory to the One who truly deserves it?

6) Jesus Came To Bring Peace Between Man and God

Romans 6:23 says, “For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. Now that is a great message! That is a message worth proclaiming to the world!

When the shepherds returned from seeing Jesus, they couldn’t contain the message of hope that had been brought to them. There is joy that comes in proclaiming Jesus. May you share that joy today!