Archive for December, 2009

This Sunday in Vinebranch: “This is the Reason,” Ephesians 3:1-13

December 30, 2009

This Sunday, January 3, we will usher in the new year with St. Paul by looking at Ephesians 3:1-13. Notice Paul’s great confidence in his mission, even though, as he says in v. 1, he’s a prisoner because of it. Where does this confidence come from? If I ended up in prison because I believed I was following God’s call, I would probably feel like a complete failure! Would I wonder if I misunderstood what God was calling me to do?

Have you ever felt called by God? Do you believe that God has given you grace to accomplish some mission for God’s kingdom?

We’ll explore these questions and others on Sunday. See you there!

New Song: “The Man Who Sold the World”

December 30, 2009

“The Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting; it has been found difficult and left untried.” – G.K. Chesterton

I spent a couple of days around Christmas writing and recording this rather confessional song called “The Man Who Sold the World.” (Press the play button below or click here to open in a separate window.)

I had in mind Jesus’ words from Mark 8:36-37 (and parallels): “For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul? Or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul?” The person who “sells” the world, in other words, is the one who exchanges the world’s superficial pleasures and values for a life in God. I greatly admire the person who can do it, but I’m sympathetic with Chesterton’s words above. I have a strong conviction that Jesus’ way is the way to true life, and I’ve experienced it, however fleetingly, in fits and starts, on this side of eternity, but it’s incredibly difficult to live out. I want to do it, but it’s a daily, hourly, moment-by-moment struggle. Fortunately, God’s grace prevails: “You are not the sum of your mistakes/ What breaks you is a blessing/ If you could see it from God’s eyes.” Read the rest of this entry »

Christmas Eve homily

December 26, 2009

[Note: It’s called a homily when it’s under ten minutes! I preached this message at the kid-friendly 3:00 Christmas Eve service. It’s based on Luke 2:1-20. You might recognize that this homily is mostly a Reader’s Digest version of last week’s sermon in Vinebranch. ]

When I was a child of eight, nine, ten, and eleven years old, I made it my mission to identify all of my Christmas presents before we opened them on Christmas Eve. I would look in closets, under beds, in drawers, in the trunks of cars—wherever my parents might have hidden things. I only had a brief window of time, however, in which to find presents before they were wrapped up and put under the tree. Read the rest of this entry »

This Sunday in Vinebranch

December 23, 2009

We will continue to celebrate Christmas by looking at the boy Jesus in the temple in Luke 2:41-52. Notice that Jesus was listening to the teachers and asking them questions. In the mystery of the Incarnation, Jesus had to learn, grow, and mature just like you and me. Like us, he didn’t have all the answers at birth. What does that mean for our Christian journey?

Merry Christmas from Big Star

December 23, 2009

Here’s a great Christmas song by an obscure but influential early-’70s rock band called Big Star. (Big Star’s nearest brush with fame is that the theme song of “That ’70s Show” is the Big Star song “In the Street.”) They hailed from Memphis and recorded for Stax Records (during a time when Stax was trying to branch out from its soul and R&B roots). Big Star featured a young singer and songwriter named Alex Chilton, who was previously lead singer for the Box Tops. (You know the Box Tops from hit songs like “The Letter,” which Chilton recorded when he was only 16.)

This is an explicitly religious Christmas song, some of whose lyrics come from “Angels From the Realms of Glory.” Enjoy!

Sermon for 12-20-09: Joyful Waiting

December 22, 2009

Sermon Text: Luke 1:39-55

At the beginning of the service, I asked the question, “Did you ever try to find out what your Christmas gifts were before Christmas?” Based on your text messages, the overwhelming answer is, “yes,” with various numbers of exclamation points. One of you said you did so yesterday. Someone said, “I went through everything, including my parents’ car trunks and closets. It turned out they kept the presents at a neighbors!” Someone else said, “Yes. My dad is the worst at closing windows on the computer where eBay is pulled up.” I guess I’m not alone, then. When I was a child of nine, ten, eleven, I made it my mission to identify all of my Christmas presents before Christmas Eve, when my family exchanged gifts. I would look in closets, under beds, in drawers, in the trunks of cars—wherever my parents might have hidden things. I only had a brief window of time, however, in which to find presents before they were wrapped up and put under the tree.

Read the rest of this entry »

A Christmas prayer

December 22, 2009

Gracious God, whose light shines in the darkness and will never be extinguished: we thank you for this day of life, this opportunity to worship you, and this time to celebrate the birth of your Son Jesus, whose coming meant salvation for everyone who accepts the free gift of eternal life available through him and through your atoning love. His coming was not simply a joyous occasion some 2,000 years ago; it means joy for us today. His coming did not simply offer peace to the Holy Family, to shepherds abiding in the field, and astrologers from afar; it makes real and lasting peace possible today. His coming was not a single, loving action long ago; it means love is possible now, because love’s enemies have been defeated once and for all. We look forward to that time in your future when this victory is made manifest. You have enabled us to embrace your gift of life and love through faith; yet we confess that faith is often difficult. When we’re tempted to lose heart, remind us that you are Emmanuel, God with us, and you have proven yourself true. Enable us, your church, to be your chosen instruments to help others by warmed by the light of your love and experience the greatest gift of all this season: your salvation, which is made possible by Jesus, in whose name we pray. Amen.

WWJD with the money you spent on this billboard?

December 18, 2009

While shopping on Wednesday, I noticed this billboard. On my Facebook status yesterday, I wrote:

Despite what I read on a billboard yesterday, I personally don’t think Jesus misses us saying “Merry Christmas.” (Not that anyone I know stopped saying it.) Perhaps Jesus would want the money spent on that message put to better use?

I quickly added, “For I was hungry, and you did not feed me. I was at the mall, and you did not say, ‘Merry Christmas.'” Here are some of the responses I received:

I’m with you on that. I think that certain people feel best when they are in persecuted mode.

Are you sure Brent? Doesn’t “Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani” translate as “Merry Christmas, Merry Christmas, say it or perish” and those were his dying words.

For God so loved the mall, that He gave His only begotten Son…

I just wish Christians would stop spending so much time and money on this and just be and show the love of Christ to the world. That would likely end the debate.

I say Merry Christmas but I’m not offended if someone says Happy Holidays. A person dies every second as a direct or indirect result of malnutrition – 4000 every hour – 100 000 each day – 36 million each year – 58 % of all deaths. That’s what matters to me. I don’t care what we say. I care what we do.

I have long wondered if Jesus was really worried about the niceties spoken at Wal-mart.

This Sunday in Vinebranch

December 15, 2009

This Sunday, December 20, we will continue to get ready for the celebration of our Lord’s birth by looking at Luke 1:39-55. Whereas last week we focused on Joseph’s role in the Christmas story, this week we will focus on Mary. This text includes her beautiful poem of praise, Magnificat.

Sermon for 12-13-09: “God is With Us”

December 15, 2009

Sermon Text: Matthew 1:18-25

During the seasons of Advent and Christmas, we often use the name “Emmanuel” to describe Jesus. We sing “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel, and ransom captive Israel.” Or we sing, “Pleased, as man, with men to dwell/ Jesus our Emmanuel.” Emmanuel is a name meaning “God is with us,” and it’s associated with Christmas because of today’s scripture. Matthew relates the birth of Jesus Christ to something the prophet Isaiah said in Isaiah chapter 7, verse 14.

If we want to understand the full meaning of this Isaiah reference in Matthew, we need to spend a little bit of time understanding what it meant in the original context. In the eighth century B.C., the kingdom of Israel is divided into two kingdoms, the Northern Kingdom, called Israel, and the Southern Kingdom, called Judah. Although they are descended from Abraham and worship the same God, they have an antagonistic relationship with one another. In Isaiah chapter 7, the Northern Kingdom of Israel had joined a coalition with Syria, because they believed they could successfully resist the control and influence of the Assyrian Empire, the dominant power in the region. But they knew they would be stronger if they could persuade the Southern Kingdom of Judah to join them in their coalition against the Assyrians. Judah, under King Ahaz, refuses to join… at first, but he’s beginning to waver and second-guess himself in the face of military attacks by these two other kingdoms. They want to defeat Ahaz and install a puppet who will go along with their plans. Read the rest of this entry »