Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Christmas:The Image of God--by Linden Malki

Images are very powerful. God commanded the Israelites to never make images of Him; that anything they could make would be a snare and distraction from the true nature of God. Genesis also says that we, human beings, are made in the image of God. We debate what that means, but the real answer is what we are celebrating now.

The most powerful image that we see at Christmas is the classic Nativity scene. Historically, this was popularized by St Francis of Assisi in the 13th century, and one church historian has said that the "Christmas Crib conquered Europe for the Church." God sent us an image of Himself in Jesus, obviously not a complete image, but as much of it as we humans can bear. Jesus himself told his disciples that "if you have seen Me, you have seen the Father."  The question of images in the Church has been a hot topic over the centuries, but the reasoning has been that Jesus came as a real, physical person, and  was somehow an image of God, and so representation of Him is not unkosher.

I suspect that one reason that Christmas has become such a big cultural celebration is that on one hand it is a reminder that God did step in and change the history of the world, and on the other hand, babies are sweet and vulnerable and easy to deal with. We are genetically programmed to respond softly and lovingly to babies. But we also look at our babies and wonder who they are and what they might turn out to be. Simeon in the Temple, when Jesus was dedicated, praised God that his eyes had "seen your salvation,..a light for revelation for the Gentiles, and the glory of Your people, Israel." And then he told Mary that "this child will cause the rising and falling of many in Israel..and a sword will pierce your own soul too." All through history, babies have been seen as threats, not for what they are as babies, but what they could become. Herod saw this baby as a threat. Jesus recognized that His existence was seen as a threat to some powerful people.

Almost ten years ago, the Old Fire took my daughter's home, and among the ashes they found one piece of their nativity set: blackened by the fire, the smallest but most important piece, the baby Jesus. The rest of the set would have no meaning without this one piece. Mary is there because she was chosen to be His mother. Joseph is there as His guardian and human father. The shepherds are there because they came to see this baby. The Wise Men are there because they saw a sign in the heavens that led them to this place. The baby is there because God sent Him. As one Christmas carol puts it, "Man will live forever more, because of Christmas Day!"

Friday, December 21, 2012

Servanthood by Pastor Poppie Paul

Most artwork of the virgin Mary shows a very clean, saintly, and immaculate woman.  If you travel across Europe and examine the great cathedrals you will almost always find Mary in a position equal to or higher than God Himself.

Even when you see Mary in a stable, or holding the lifeless body of her son, she is clean.  I chose this piece of artwork because it had a more earthy vibe.

Mary did not lead a clean and easy life.  Mary traveled when pregnant, birthed in a barn, ran for her life to Egypt, raised her son, engaged his ministry, and accepted His wild circle of friends.

 She lived amid the drama and controversy.  She tried to get Him to back off and settle down.  Mary stood beneath the cross to watch her son die and joined her friends in bearing the spices to prepare His body!  Mary was anything but an ordinary mom with an easy life!

When the angel Gabriel delivered God's life changing message to Mary
she made a profound declaration:

Mary responded, “I am the Lord’s servant.
May everything you have said about me come true.”
And then the angel left her.   Luke 1:38

I doubt if young Mary understood the far reaching implications of her commitment to servanthood.  What about you?  Have you asked or offered things to God?  Is it possible that the situation you currently find yourself in today is a direct result of the prayers you prayed decades ago?

If you are wondering what you are going through consider that God is busy answering your prayer and working His will.  Maybe He has a plan for you that is very different than the plan you thought God was going to have for you!

Has there ever been a time when you have offered your life to God?
Is it possible that God is answering?


Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Mary:The Ultimate Mom by Linden Malki

Mary has captured the imagination of the Church throughout its history. We have the description of her receiving an astonishing visit from an angel; prophecies from Zechariah, Elizabeth, Simeon and Anna, a visit from shepherds with a unique story, and a visit from travelers from far away who had seen a prophecy in the heavens. Twelve years later, she confronted a young man who was more concerned with the ultimate bar-mitzvah in the Temple than with his family's return to Nazareth, explaining that He was about His Father's business in His Father's House. When they were at a wedding and the host ran out of wine, she knew He could take care of it. Luke says that she kept all these things in her mind and pondered them.

He must have been a challenging child to raise! The writer of Hebrews says that He was deliberately made like us, that He was tempted in the same ways that we are tempted , but was without sin. I see this as being a normal kid, with the most enthusiasm and curiosity we can imagine; seeing the world that He had known from the Creator's point of view, but seeing it from the bottom up, like we see it. Any of us who have survived raising teenagers can just imagine raising this one--bright, active, enthusiastic, hardworking, being tempted but unlike our kids, never falling off the edge into real trouble. How would you like to have been his yeshiva teachers? But still, His Nazareth neighbors didn't remember Him as anything out of the ordinary.

But Mary knew better. The other kids in the family didn't know what to make of Him--they had seen Him do surprising and impressive things, but they taunted Him--"If you can do all these things, go down to the next celebration in Jerusalem and show off what you can do!" , but we are told that they still didn't believe He was anything special. (John 7) At one point, they thought He was a nut case, (Mark 3:21) and even Mary came with them to take Him home.

It took the Resurrection for them to understand. John tells us that she was there at what they all thought was the end of the story, but also at its transformation to the most significant day in history. She and her family were part of that group that waiting in prayer for the next act in the drama. Church tradition describes her as being with the disciples as she is taken to meet Her Son for eternity. We can look at her and see the very first person transformed by the presence of Jesus in her life.

Friday, December 14, 2012

God Given Stepfathers by Pastor Poppie Paul

 I was born in 1955 at Ft. Sill, Oklahoma.  My birth certificate read Paul Alton Sandifer.  I deeply love and esteem my Texas family.  My grandfather, Perry Alton Sandifer shared part of his name, his love, and his blessing.  I cherish Perry Sandifer, his kinfolk, and all the good they have done for me.

But when I was five years old God did an amazing thing.  The man in the blue sweater, standing by the boy in the white shirt, married my mother, adopted me, and changed my name to Paul Martin Reinhard.

Paul came from my uncle who died in childhood.
Martin came from my maternal great grandfather.
Reinhard came from Frank!

And Frank Reinhard is the only man I have ever called father.
Because Frank Reinhard adopted me, loved me, raised me, and called me his own.
I will never stop thanking God for the gift he gave me as a five year old child.

God gave Jesus a gift 2,000 years ago.
The Holy Spirit supernaturally fathered Jesus.

But Joseph named him.
Dedicated him at the Temple.
Fled with him to Egypt.
Looked for him when he was lost in the city.
And gave him a carpenters trade!

Maybe Joseph holds a special place in my heart
because I am really a Paul Alton Martin Sandifer Reinhard.

Anybody can make a baby,
but only a father gives you his life!

Jesus had the best of both worlds!
So did I!

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Joseph:The Essential Father--by Linden Malki

Fathers are important. Jesus had the most important Father in the universe, but it was still necessary for Him to have a hands-on Dad. We don't know a whole lot about the man God chose to be Jesus' earthly father, but let's look at what we do know. Church tradition sees Mary as having been chosen by God before her birth, and part of His plan was the man that was destined to marry her even before either of them had any idea what that plan was. He is described as being a "righteous man", but not so self-righteous that he would throw Mary to the wolves when he learned about her pregnancy. He was willing to accept what his divine dream told him, and we see him wholeheartedly taking on a truly fearsome responsibility. He was well-enough known in Nazareth that the general identification of Jesus was as the son of an established craftsman, even after Joseph's apparent passing before Jesus began His ministry.

Everything else is conjecture, but we know that God worked in partnership with this man to raise Jesus to be the man He was. It wasn't enough for Jesus to have the most awesome Mom in the world; there are some things that kids need to learn from a Dad. God created men and women to be partners in the task of raising each generation of the human race, and it is another one of those things that God requires of us beyond our own human strength. Joseph listened to God, took on the task given him, and from what we know, did it well. What he had going for him was the knowledge and strength of God with him, the thorough grounding in God's Word that Jewish men of his culture grew up with, and the partnership of a strong and Godly wife. What does this tell us about God's design for our families?

Friday, December 7, 2012

Shepherds by Pastor Poppie Paul

1 Samuel 17:32-37 (NLT)
32  “Don’t worry about this Philistine,” David told Saul.
“I’ll go fight him!”
33  “Don’t be ridiculous!” Saul replied.
“There’s no way you can fight this Philistine
and possibly win! You’re only a boy,
and he’s been a man of war since his youth.”
34  But David persisted. “I have been taking care
of my father’s sheep and goats,” he said.
“When a lion or a bear comes to steal a lamb from the flock,
35  I go after it with a club and rescue the lamb from its mouth.
If the animal turns on me, I catch it by the jaw and club it to death.
36  I have done this to both lions and bears, and I’ll do it to this pagan Philistine, too,
for he has defied the armies of the living God!
37  The LORD who rescued me from the claws of the lion and the bear will rescue me from this Philistine!” Saul finally consented. “All right, go ahead,” he said. “And may the LORD be with you!”

I have shared this many times... but I will say it yet again.  I love the role the Shepherds played in the Christmas Narrative.  King David gives us a different picture of a Shepherd than we normally have.  He tells us that while watching the family sheep he killed a lion and a bear.  Not all Shepherds were like David, but they were a rough and wild group. 

You can read the story in Luke 2:8-20.  Two things jump out to me.  First is the angels appearing to the Shepherds.  Next are the Shepherds showing up in Bethlehem.  Scripture doesn't tell us what Mary, Joseph, and the Shepherds talked about.  But I have a hunch that the biggest, roughest group of men in the area showing up to marvel at your son was very encouraging to the new parents.  What an amazing validation of the crazy story they had been told by an Angel and a Priest.

How fitting!  Lord Jesus and King David are both born in Bethlehem  David was a Shepherd before he was a King.  Jesus was born a King and grows up to be the Good Shepherd.  So God picks Shepherd from the field to hear the message, visit His Son, and then spread the story.  The Shepherds may have been the commonest and the coolest participants in the story! 

Don't be surprised if God uses some common and everyday thing
to touch you or teach you this Christmas!


Thursday, December 6, 2012

The Other Shepherds - Pastor Chris

Luke 2:8 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. ...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.”

I wonder if the angel appeared to anyone else as well. I wonder if there were other people other places that missed out. These shepherds were willing to have their plans changed. Yes I am sure the moment with the angels was amazing, but they still had a choice. Imagine what they would have missed out on if they had decided to stay where they were. There were lots of reasons to stay, very rational reasons.

When God steps into our lives he always gives us a choice. The shepherds decided to "see this thing that has happened." We must be careful never to fall so comfortably into our current life and goals that we miss God completely when he tries to redirect us. We must be careful not to squeeze God into our little box, he may show up in a different way than you expected. How do you react when God changes your plans. 

Do you think the angels made this announcement to others, or just those that we are told about? Do you think all the shepherds went?

Pastor Chris

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Shepherds--and His Sheep by Linden Malki

God has a soft spot for shepherds. At the very beginning, Adam was given responsibility for the creatures of the earth. His son Abel was a shepherd, as were Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, Jethro, and David. Throughout the history of Old Testament Israel, there is the constant presence of sheep. In Psalm 23, David illustrates the responsibility of the shepherd. In return, the sheep provide food, clothing, and even tents.

In the Gospels, one of the constant images of Jesus is the Good Shepherd, and we are His sheep. It is fitting that angels of God were sent to announce the coming of the Messiah to shepherds, who became the first witnesses of this pivotal event in the history of God's people.

Every year, as we celebrate Jesus's coming, the image of God reaching down to the shepherds reminds us that not only is He our Shepherd, but that we are called to take care of His sheep.