Megaphone Guy

Have you ever gone to an event in a major city and passed by that guy who stands on the street corner yelling into a megaphone? Sometimes it is a spiritual message like the end of the world, or the need for repentance.  Sometimes it is someone trying to sell you something or maybe even someone who is just a little bit delusional.  But typically our response is to move to the other side of the street to avoid, “megaphone guy.”

But what motivates “megaphone guy” to do what he does?  Have you ever thought about that?  Why is he out there in the cold or heat, enduring the disdain of many onlookers, proclaiming a message that most people seem to be ignoring?  Good question isn’t it?  We don’t know what motivates them to do what they do.  But it must be pretty important to them, or they wouldn’t go through all that trouble.

There was a man from Scripture that I think we sometimes compare with “megaphone guy.”  His name was John the Baptist.  He was definitely out there on the fringe of society.  He hung out in the wilderness, wore clothes made out of camel’s hair, ate locusts and wild honey and preached a message of repentance and that the kingdom of Heaven was near.

But one big difference between John the Baptist and “megaphone guy” was that people didn’t go across to the other side of the street to pass by, they gathered round.  John’s ministry was very popular.  Many people flocked to hear his message and to be baptized.  Some even thought that he was the Messiah.  There were some who didn’t like his message, and eventually he was imprisoned and beheaded because of what he said, but he was very popular with the people.

However, when Jesus showed up, many people stopped following John and began following Jesus.  This made some of John’s followers a little upset.  They didn’t want Jesus taking over their turf.  But John had a very amazing response.  He said, “He must become greater, I must become less.”  John wasn’t jealous of Jesus, and he didn’t look at their ministries as if it was a competition.  He wanted Jesus to succeed.  He even saw his ministry as being all about pointing people to Jesus.

What a great attitude.  And it is that attitude that we are going to look at this Sunday as we take a look at John the Baptist as part of our “Lessons from the Life of Christ” series.  See you Sunday.

Rainbow Man

Have you ever heard of Rollen Stewart?  It is not a very familiar name, although I think many of you have probably seen him before.  He is also known as Rainbow man.  Back in the 80’s Rollen donned a rainbow wig and started showing up at major sporting events.  He first showed up in 1977 at the NBA Finals, where he stood out because of his crazy wig and his even crazier dancing.  Then in 1980 after becoming a professing Christian he made up a sign that said John 3:16 and he began bringing that with him to sporting events.

Throughout the 80’s he traveled all over the place with that wig and that sign, including the Olympics, the World Cup, the NFL playoffs, The Indy 500, The Masters, and even the royal wedding between Prince Charles and Lady Dianna.  He also brought along a little battery operated television to figure out where the best place was to get picked up by the video cameras.  So he was frequently seen on TV.  Sports producers became tired of his antics and tried to keep him off the air, even going so far as to threaten to fire cameramen who allowed Rollen to show up in their frame.

He became famous enough to be parodied on Saturday Night Live.  Unfortunately, his personal life began to fall apart and he wound up in prison serving three life sentences.  But many still remember his John 3:16 sign and his crazy rainbow wig.  And maybe they were intrigued enough to pick up a Bible and find out what that reference was all about.

John 3:16 is the most famous verse in the Bible.  People who have never stepped foot in a church are even familiar with this verse, or at least the reference.  And this verse will be the focus of our sermon this Sunday.  I will be looking not only at John 3:16, but also at the passage surrounding it, helping us to delve a little deeper into what is being talked about.  Join us at 9:30 this Sunday at 2510 Chaska Blvd., to find out more.

Is It Christmas Yet?

Can you believe that Christmas is almost here?  It seems like the days leading up to Christmas just fly by.  That is not true for my little, three-year-old daughter.  Makenna is having trouble waiting for Christmas.  She has been asking, “is it Christmas yet?” for the the last month.  And when we tell her how many days are left until Christmas comes, her response is always, “Christmas is taking a long time.”

Of course, she has had nothing to do to get ready for Christmas.  She didn’t have the shopping, baking, planning and preparing responsibilities that her mom and I have had to deal with.  And she hasn’t been at school each day, like her brothers and sisters, counting down the days til Christmas arrives. She doesn’t even really understand the passing of time.  For her, Christmas is just someday in the future and she can’t quite grasp how far away it really is.

And she is so ready for it to come, right now!  She is excited for Christmas.  And that is something I can definitely understand.  Christmas has always been one of my favorite times of the year.  I have always enjoyed the different aspects of Christmas.  I enjoy giving and receiving gifts.  I enjoy the extra time to spend with family and friends.  I enjoy the decorations, and Christmas music, and the Christmas specials on TV.  And I enjoy the time of focusing on the birth of our Savior, Jesus Christ.

When I was growing up, I loved Christmas too, but back then it was mostly about the gifts.  I couldn’t wait for Christmas morning to come so that I could get up and see what I got.  But over the years, my perspective on Christmas has changed and some of the other things have become more important.  Now don’t get me wrong, I still enjoy getting a gift as much as the next guy, but my enjoyment of the Christmas season is much more complete than when I was young.  And that is definitely a good thing.

I was talking with my children during devotions last night about, “what if we didn’t get any presents on Christmas.  Would we still celebrate?”  And we talked about how, even though we enjoy the games, toys, clothes, and other presents that we get on Christmas, ultimately none of those gifts even come close to the greatest gift that we have been given.  And that is the gift of Jesus Christ who came to earth to save us from our sins and bring us the hope of eternal life.  So, even if we received no other gifts at Christmas time, we would still have so much to celebrate.

This year Christmas is on Sunday.  That doesn’t happen too often.  And when it does, we can look at it like it puts a crimp in our plans to celebrate with our families.  Or we can embrace the opportunity to focus on what Christmas is all about and take advantage of the opportunity to celebrate the greatest gift that we have ever received.  This Sunday at The River, we will be focusing on that great gift.  Consider joining us this Sunday, at 9:30 a.m., at 2510 Chaska Blvd., to celebrate the birth of Jesus.

I’m Dreaming of a White Christmas

This past weekend I had the opportunity to attend the Chaska Valley Family Theater production of White Christmas.  It was a very enjoyable evening.  For anyone interested, they have 5 more shows coming up this weekend.  You can find more information at www.cvft.org.

The show follows the tale of a couple of army buddies who, after returning home from the war, find themselves helping out their old commanding officer who is struggling to make ends meet at an inn up in Vermont.  They pull in some help from their Broadway pals and put on a Christmas show that packs in a crowd.  The story has some great, memorable musical numbers, including the famous “White Christmas” song from the title.

Julie and I wound up getting to the event a little early and spent some time talking with one of the patrons of the theater.  He talked about how this show will help many people get into the Christmas mood, because he speculated that a lot of people were not focusing on Christmas yet.

I am not sure if that was a correct assessment or not, but even those who may be in the Christmas spirit, might not be focusing on the right things. It is actually pretty easy to get into the traditional Christmas mindset.  It is easy for us to find ourselves dreaming of a white Christmas or thinking about a jolly, overweight man in a red suit climbing down our chimney to bring us gifts.  It’s easy because everywhere we turn at this time of year we find ourselves bombarded with Christmas carols, television specials, and deocrations galore that constantly turn our eyes toward the holiday season.

But if we want to focus on the true meaning of Christmas, that doesn’t happen naturally.   If we are not careful, our entire Christmas season can get eaten up focusing only on the materialistic celebration of the holiday instead of on the birth of our Savior Jesus Christ.

So, how do we get ourselves dreaming about the celebration of the birth of Christ instead of just a winter wonderland?  That’s a good question.  I believe the key is being intentional about putting Christ in the forefront during this time of year.  There is nothing wrong with Christmas shopping, decorating the house, baking Christmas cookies, listening to carols, and watching Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer.   But if that is all that we do, then Christ will fade into the background.

One of the things that we do as a family is to spend some time each evening reading an advent focused devotional storybook.  The one we are reading this year is entitled “Jotham’s Journey.”  We have done it before, but whenever we read it again, the children enjoy it.  The story follows the journey of a young boy named Jotham who has been separated from his family and as he gets closer and closer to finding them, he also gets closer and closer to finding the Messiah.  It is a great story that helps us focus our minds and hearts on the birth of Christ.

Another way to help ourselves focus on the true meaning of Christmas is by making Church a priority.  Over the next several weeks we will be focusing on the Christmas message on Sunday mornings.  And this Sunday evening, at 5:30, we will be having a special Christmas party at the church with a focus on the message of Christmas.  If you are free, come on out and join us for a Christmas focus along with food and fellowship.  Let’s make it a priority to focus on the true meaning of Christmas this holiday season!

Get In The Boat!

We had a great time this past Sunday in church talking about leaving our comfort zones to follow Christ in a whole new way.  We looked at Matthew 14, where we see Jesus walking on the water and then Peter joining Him.  The main point was that while we tend to identify with the guys who stayed in the boat instead of walking on the water, in reality we probably are not even in the boat.  We are more like the crowd of people who followed Jesus enough to be fed (the feeding of the 5,000 is the passage right before this one), but who did not leave everything behind and get in the boat like the disciples did.  So in reality, the challenge is not for us to get out of the boat and walk on the water, it is for us to get into the boat so that eventually maybe we can get out of the boat and walk on the water.

That opens up a great discussion on what does “getting into the boat” represent in our lives?  In what way is God calling us to a more radical following of Him than we are currently doing.  And once we establish what that is, are we going to be willing to go beyond simply being fed by Jesus and take that step of faith to follow Him in a radical way?   

You know the Bible is filled with wonderful stories of men and women that followed God in an unusual way.  They stepped out of their comfort zone in faith and experienced God in incredible ways.  Men and women like David, Moses, Joshua, Rahab, Ruth, Peter, Paul, Timothy and others.  Of course throughout the history of the Bible, there are men and women who followed God enough to be fed by Him and never took that extra step of faith to experience Him in a radical way.  Those people are mentioned only as part of the crowd.  They are not the people we look to as examples.  We don’t hear many sermons preached on them.  But most of us are content with simply living our lives as part of a crowd who are following God enough to be fed.  The question is, do we want more?  Do we dare to step out in faith and get in the boat with Jesus, leaving behind our comfortable lives to follow Him in a radical way?

I challenge all of us to consider this question: What does, “getting into the boat” mean for me?  What does it look like for me to leave behind my comfortable life and follow Christ?  How is He calling me to follow Him?

You can listen to the “Get In The Boat!” sermon from April 3 by going to our online sermon page (https://riveralliance.com/?page_id=70).  I received so many comments from people after the sermon that I will be following up this Sunday with a closer look at how these guys got in the boat in the first place.  So if you are nearby, please come out and join us this Sunday.  And feel free to comment on this post to start a dialogue about what “getting in the boat” means for each of us.

How Good Is This Book?

I recently read the book, “How Good is Good Enough,” by Andy Stanley.  It is a short, easy read, but contains a powerful message.  The focus of the book is that no matter how hard we try, we can never be good enough to earn our way to Heaven.  Andy Stanley takes a look at the problem with trying to be good enough.  For instance, even if we believe we have been good, how do we know if we have been good enough to make it to Heaven?

In this book the author quotes a recent survey where people were asked if they believed in Heaven and Hell.  “Almost 90 percent of Americans said they believe there is a Heaven, while only 30 percent believed in hell as a real place.  And almost nobody who believed in hell thought they were going there.”  (Stanley, pp.20-21)  If that’s true then does that mean that just about everybody is really going to make it to Heaven?  And if not, then how can we know for sure that we are one of those that will? 

Andy Stanley points out other problems with simply hoping that we have been good enough and then lays out an alternative.  He says that instead of trying to be good enough, we need to be forgiven and points to Jesus Christ as the way to receive that forgiveness. 

This book provides some much needed answers for those who are striving to be good enough to earn their way to Heaven or for those who are not sure if they will go to Heaven when they die.  It is not a deep theological book and is not really for mature Christians who are looking for spiritual formation, but would be a great book to give to those who are searching for answers.  For that reason, I recommend this book.

I received this book for free from WaterBrook Multnomah Publishing Group for this review.  I signed up for their “Blogging for Books” program and will occassionally be posting reviews of the books I receive.

The Bloody Thumb

I know, I know, what a terrible title for a blog post.  Who would ever call their post, “The Bloody Thumb?”  But that is exactly what inspired this post, so I thought it would be fitting to make it the title.  Besides, it got you to check it out, didn’t it?  So here is how a bloody thumb inspired me to write this post…

For my devotions the other day I was reading in the book of Leviticus.  In case you have never spent much time in the book of Leviticus, it is one of the places where many people who have committed to read through the Bible in a year get bogged down.  It contains detailed information on making offerings, observing festivals, figuring out what is clean and unclean and instructions for priests.  It is not an easy read, but it is important for understanding the requirements for covering sin and guilt. 

So what does all of this have to do with a bloody thumb?  I was just getting to that.  Basically, sometime this weekend I cut my finger.  It wasn’t a big cut.  Actually, I didn’t even realize I cut it.  It was one of those small, paperthin cuts that you don’t even really notice.  It didn’t even bleed so I didn’t put on a bandaid.  I just noticed that my thumb was a little sore.

The next morning, I went to do my devotions and found myself in the book of Leviticus.  As I was reading I noticed that a couple of specks of red were on the bottom of the page.  I looked at my thumb and realized that my cut had opened up and bled just a little bit.  So I now have 2 little spots of blood right next to Leviticus 5 in my Bible. 

My first reaction was to try and wipe it off, but it was such a little amount that it had dried already.  So I continued with my devotions, but now I was reading off of a blood stained page.  And I found myself marveling at what a great reminder I had been given because of a bloody thumb.

You see, Leviticus tells us about how the people of Israel would make offerings over and over again to cover their sins and bring them back to a right relationship with God.  This pointed the way to the perfect sacrifice that would one day be made through the death of Jesus Christ.  When Christ was crucified on the cross, He became the perfect sacrifice that would cover the sins of the world.

So there I was being reminded of all this while looking at how my blood had stained my Bible.  How amazing to realize that while my blood stained the page of my Bible, Christ’s blood washes me clean of the stain of sin in my life.  Because of His sacrifice, I have been washed white as snow.  As we are reminded in Ephesians 1:7, “In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace.”

If you are reading this blog today and would like to hear more about how Christ’s sacrifice can cover your sins, please email me or give me a call, because I would love to talk more with you about this wonderful Good News.

Twas’ the Night…

Here is my take on an old Christmas classic…

Twas’ the night before Christmas, and down at the store,

All the people were hurrying to get through the door.

And there I was with them joining the fray,

Just a few short hours before Christmas day.

“This is crazy” I said with my eyes turned toward Heaven.

My list is too long and it’s almost eleven.

It’s good that the store is open this late,

For those people like me who just wait, wait, wait, wait!

You see, I was shopping late into the night,

And I’m sure that I really was an interesting sight.

My arms full of packages, my feet moving fast,

Because I had saved Christmas shopping for last.

So there I was, impatiently scanning the shelves.

Wishing there really were such things as elves.

I had quite a list that I still needed to find,

And it was nearly driving me out of my mind.

A new dolly for Jenny and a puzzle for Bill,

A book for Freddy, and a necklace for Jill.

Those are the things that I had to buy,

Oh, why did I wait so long, why, why, why, why?

The shelves were picked over, and yet still full of stuff,

But the other shoppers were being quite rough.

I had been bumped, bruised, jostled and jarred,

And I still needed to find a new shirt for Bernard

Kelly wanted a sweater for winter of course,

Bobby was hoping for a plastic play horse.

Sally, my secretary wanted a raise,

But instead I was hoping to buy her a vase.

The company Christmas party had gone really late,

And I was feeling kind of sick from the food that I ate.

My back was still sore from putting up our big tree,

And the lights on my house numbered 4 thousand and three.

And now here I was in this ridiculous store,

Full of Santas and snowflakes and reindeers galore.

Christmas music was playing from the ceiling above,

Saying something about peace, joy, and love.

But I had no time, to listen to carols,

I was on my way to find some apparel.

My wife wanted a skirt, something in red.

And my son really wanted a fast racing sled.

The list just kept going, I was beginning to tire,

But it was my fault that things were getting down to the wire.

Why are the holidays always like this?

What happened to having a merry Christmas?

Could there be more to this time of year?

Something with joy or real Christmas cheer?

“What if I’m missing something?” I thought to myself?

As I reached for a toy from off of the shelf.

My hand stopped in mid air as I continued to reason,

And I remembered something else regarding this season.

A story from church back when I was a child

Something about a virgin, who was tender and mild?

Then I saw something that made my heart skip a beat,

It was in my same aisle, just down a few feet.

A nativity scene was sitting next to a toy railroad track,

And then the whole story came flooding on back.

I remembered the virgin, whose name was Mary,

And the trip to Bethlehem that must have been scary.

No room in the inn so they stayed in a stable,

Like out of a nursery rhyme or a long ago fable.

When the baby was born, he did not have a bed,

So they placed him in a manger, where animals were fed.

As I stared at that nativity scene I remembered some more,

Some shepherds in fields with a sheepherding chore.

And an angel appeared in the middle of the night,

It must have been a frightening sight.

But the message was good and he spoke of joy,

And not the kind that comes from getting a toy.

He spoke of true joy and peace and of love,

Coming down to us from the heavens above.

A Savior was born in Bethlehem,

That is what the angel told unto them.

And I remembered also that some wise men arrived,

Could this story be true, or was it contrived?

And at that moment in the middle of the store,

I bent down and knelt right there on the floor.

I realized that the nativity scene at the end of my aisle,

Was not a coincidence, not by a mile.

God put it there so that I would recall,

That Christmas is not something you find in a mall.

He reminded me what Christmas is really about,

And now I just wanted to stand up and shout,

At the top of my lungs, with all of my might,

“Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good night!”

Not Enough Books in the World

This morning in my devotions I came across one of my favorite little, honest, informal verses in the Bible.  It is the last verse in the Gospel of John.  And it is written in such a simple, almost conversational style.  It is John 21:25, “Jesus did many other things as well.  If every one of them were written down, I suppose that even the whole world would not have room for the books that would be written.”

Isn’t that a great little verse?  It is nothing overly deep or earth-shattering.  It is not a big theological point or an area of doctrine.  It is not a controversial topic or even something that is key to our discipleship process.  But I just love it, because it reminds me that Jesus’ life here on earth was even more amazing than I already picture. 

I have just finished reading through the Gospels.  Almost every day for the last 29 days I have been reading in either Matthew, Mark, Luke or John for my devotions.  And throughout that time I have been reminded of the amazing life of Jesus Christ. 

I have marvelled at miracles like Jesus feeding the five thousand and walking on water.  I have pondered His powerful teachings like the sermon on the mount and the Olivet discourse.  I have seen his compassion during His visits with the Samaritan woman at the well, and the woman accused of adultery.  I have read of His authority over nature when He calmed the storm, over the spiritual realm as He delivered the Gadarene demoniac, over the spiritual leaders of the day as he silenced them with His answers to their questions and even over death itself as He raised Lazarus from the dead.  I have enjoyed His parables like the one about the prodigal son and the one about the lost sheep.  I have witnessed His humanity as He faced temptation in the wilderness and struggled with the will of the Father in the garden before His arrest.  I have been reminded of His meekness and humility as He kept silent in the face of His accusers and willingly allowed Himself to be led away.  I have seen His love as He allowed Himself to be beaten, and mocked and spit upon and ultimately killed for my sins.  And I have rejoiced over His victory with the stone that was rolled away and the visits with His disciples before returning to His Father’s side. 

It has been a great month of reading about the amazing life of Jesus Christ.  But this simple verse at the end of the book of John, this last verse of the Gospels, reminds me that there was more.  There were others who were healed, other lives that were touched, other bonds that were broken, and other needs that were met.  There were more lives that were forgiven, more eyes that were opened, more mouths that were fed, and more hearts that were transformed.   The amazing life of Jesus Christ cannot be contained in just 89 chapters of 4 books.  There is more.

What was contained for me in these Gospels is enough to compel me to believe, but it is also good to be reminded that Jesus’ life is not completely contained in those 4 books.  My Savior, my Messiah, my Lord is amazing!  And if there were a whole world full of books written down, I would want to read them all.

From the Cradle to the Grave

This year for my devotions I am reading through the entire Bible and it has brought up several interesting thoughts.  For instance, last week I was reading in Matthew 27, and this morning I was reading in Luke 2.  Why is that significant?  Well, let me show you what I found to be interesting…

Luke 2 contains a very familiar account of the birth of Jesus.  We typically listen to the story retold every year at Christmas time.  Even if it is only while watching “A Charlie Brown Christmas” and listening to Linus retell this story.  Over the years much of the story has become very familiar to us and one of those parts is Luke 2:7, “and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son.  She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.”

On the flip side, Matthew 27 contains another familiar story.  It is a story that we talk about each year at Easter time.  It is the story of Christ’s death on the cross for the sins of the world.  But as I was reading from Matthew 27 there was one sentence that really jumped out at me in light of the story from Luke 2.  That sentence was Matthew 27:59,60a, “Joseph took the body, wrapped it in a clean linen cloth, and placed it in his own new tomb that he had cut out of the rock…”

Do you see the similarity between those two verses?  Now, I know that I am working with the NIV and not with the original Greek, but the thought that really jumped out at me was the similarity between Jesus’ birth and Jesus’ death.  When He was born, His mother, Mary, wrapped him in cloth and placed him in a manger.  And when He died his friend, Joseph of Arimethea, wrapped him in cloth and placed him in a tomb.

The phrase, “from the cradle to the grave” is an idiom that is meant to speak of life from the time we are born to the time we die.  It has been used in song lyrics and even was a movie title, but it is very fitting when thinking of Jesus’ life.  From the manger to the tomb Jesus’ life was all about one thing.  We are reminded of that in Philippians 2:6-11, “Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness.  And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death — even death on a cross!  Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”

Jesus came to earth to die for the sins of the world.  He came to earth with that plan in place.  He was born to die.   And even though it was difficult, He followed that plan all the way to his death on the cross.  From the cradle to the grave.  From the manger to the tomb.

But there is one other interesting thing that I find in these two passages.  First of all, when Jesus came into the world, there wasn’t even room for Him in the inn.  So his mom had to lay him in a manger in a stable somewhere.  This was a very non-intimate, non-personal, open, public place for Jesus to be born.  He was out there for everyone to see.  We even know of some shepherds that stopped by to see Him.   Anyone could come by.  Everyone had access.  

On the flip side, after He died, Joseph took His body and placed it in his very own tomb.  This was a very intimate, very personal, very private place for Jesus to be placed.  Joseph opened up his own tomb, the place that was reserved for himself, and gave that place to Jesus. 

That reminds me of us.  Jesus is available for all.  He came to earth for all who would receive Him.  But while He is there for all of us, it is up to us to act like Joseph did and take that very personal place, the place that is typically reserved just for us, our heart and give it to Him.

If you have never done that, then I want to encourage you to do that today.  Realize that Jesus’s entire life on earth, from the cradle to the grave, was given for you.  He died for the sins of the world.  Let’s give Him the place in our hearts that He deserves.

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