When Advent Meets Hanukkah

Advent

Every year as we decorate the house to celebrate the Christmas season, I always make sure to get my menorah and put it out on the mantle.  I usually also tell my wife that we should put it in the window so people can see, but I haven’t been able to convince her yet.  As our house gets all decked out for Christmas with our stockings, our Christmas tree, and our Advent wreath, I have this odd tradition of lighting the candles on my menorah during Hanukkah.

I’m not Jewish and my celebration of Hanukkah is likely a bit sacrilegious in the lax way that I go about celebrating this holiday.  But I think there is something significant about the Jewish feasts and festivals and so I celebrate Hanukkah.

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The Real War on Christmas

War

Every December, the warriors prepare themselves for the battle over Christmas. Loyal Christians fight the good fight by refusing to say, “Happy Holidays.” Others go to battle defending our right to call our trees “Christmas trees” instead of holiday trees. And God forbid if people write the words “X-mas.

There is a war going on over Christmas.

But the war that people claim there to be isn’t the real fight. If Target wishes you “Happy Holidays” it probably isn’t the end of all things holy; in fact the etymology of holiday would actually suggest they believe it is a “holy day.”  The war on Christmas is very real and it’s not found in the words we use or in embracing other religious winter celebrations.

The war on Christmas is a spiritual battle for our worship. And the best thing the devil does is distract us from the real war by making us focus on other battles.

The real war on Christmas is a war for our worship.

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The Two-Sided Cliff of Numbers in the Church

Numbers in the church

Church people love to count numbers.  And sometimes it even becomes a disturbing obsession to count everything.  The numbers game is often one of the things that drives me crazy when I attend conferences; shortly after meeting another pastor, you are quickly asked, “How big is your church?”

And we all know what happens when you answer.

Pastor’s math… take what the number really us and round up significantly so as to make yourself look slightly more impressive than we really are.  It’s like we play a game of church envy as we jealously compare our spreadsheets to see who has the bigger budget or larger attendance.

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The God Who Rescues

Rescues

Throughout the book of Judges, God keeps sending judges. It’s not a one-time occurrence, it happens over and over and over again. While Israel repeats this cycle of sin, slavery, and tragedy, God doesn’t step back and watch it grow progressively worse.

Instead of letting Israel destroy everything, God steps in. God intersects the cycle of sin with rescue. No matter how ugly things get for the Israelites, God interrupts this cycle with grace and forgiveness. And this is not a one-time thing, it’s repeated throughout the entire history of the nation of Israel.

Note: This post is an excerpt from the free eBook, Addiction: Leaving the Vomit Behind.

Psalm 106 describes this:

“Many times he delivered them,

but they were bent on rebellion

and they wasted away in their sin.

Yet he took note of their distress

when he heard their cry;

for their sake he remembered his covenant

and out of his great love he relented.”

No matter how many times we repeatedly turn to the same sins over and over and over again, God says, “My grace is enough.”

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Grace Has Come [Free Christmas EP]

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Our worship ministry staff has some incredibly gifted musicians and this year they decided to put out a Christmas EP as a gift to our congregation. Grace Has Come is a 4-track EP full of original, grace-filled, theologically rich, artistic songs for the Church.

Note: You can find the music embedded in this post or click on a link below to download the music. 

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How Should We Think About Worship?

Worship

When you attend a worship gathering, what is taking place?  Why do we sing the songs we do?  Why do we say the prayers, creeds, and confessions?  And who is the service for; is it for believers or is it for unbelievers?

There are all kinds of loaded and important questions when we begin discussing and considering what happens when we gather together as believers.  And while worship is properly understood in one sense as the all-of-life response to God for who he is and what he’s done, for this context we are going to speak of worship as the gathering of believers.

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Saints and Sinners

Simul

Core to the Reformation was a simple, profound doctrine that Luther embraced that shaped his understanding of the Gospel.  This phrase describes a tension that the Christian finds himself in. It presents us with the paradox of sinful, broken people have also been rescued and redeemed.  We are holy yet sinful, new yet old, saints and sinners.

There’s a latin phrase that typically gets associated with Luther’s teaching:

Simul justus et peccator. 

We are simultaneously justified and sinner.

We are saints and sinners at the same time.

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Waiting for Christmas

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I love the Christmas season.  And I love all the sights, sounds, and smells that come with it.  I love the Christmas music that is constantly on repeat.  I love the decorations.  I love the way the mall feels when it is decked out in the Christmas spirit.  And because of all of these things, as soon as the decorations and the music start to come out, a spirit of anticipation begins to start within me.

Because Christmas is coming.

The Christmas cookies left out for Santa.  The looks on my family’s faces as they see the presents lined up under the Christmas tree.  Christmas is coming and all the preparations that come with Christmas create a sense of waiting.  We are waiting for Christmas.

For many of us, myself included, waiting for Christmas is about the anticipation of friends, family, presents, and music.

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Brokenness in Ferguson

Ferguson

If you’ve been breathing the past two days, you’ve heard about the most recent decisions in Ferguson. The Internet has blown up with people tweeting and sharing their opinions, either infuriated by the decision or in support of Wilson’s testimony.  People are hurting.

We live in a world where racial injustice still exists. Young black men often still live in fear in a way that I have never experienced.  People’s businesses are being burned to the ground in light of the grand jury decisions. Police officers have to fear their lives as they try to bring about protection and peace to their cities.

We live in a broken world.

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Lost in Translation

Translation

In the book The Permanent Revolution, Alan Hirsch references a work by William Ocasio in which he describes the Columbia space shuttle disaster.  On February 1, 2003, when Columbia reentered the Earth’s atmosphere, it disintegrated and killed all seven crew members.  In analyzing the disaster, Ocasio realized that the problem was ultimately not about individual errors but instead about language.

Hirsch describes it when he writes, “Essentially a vocabulary of organizing plays a significant role in determining what practices will be considered normative and what practices are literally unheard of. Thus, the linguistic categories that an organization uses can shape how it conceives of core tasks.”

Because of a problem of language, the Columbia space shuttle disaster happened.  There was a lacking in categories and vocabularies and articulation, which left NASA blind to the problems they faced.

How often does the message of the Gospel encounter this same problem?

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