Kids in the Kitchen

One of the phrases you would probably most often hear in my house is, “Get outta the kitchen!”  It feels like my wife and I have to set up a barrier of appliances and chairs in order to keep our four kids at bay.  This is especially true of our 2 and 4 year olds.  They seem to always be under my feet every time I turn around.  Please understand, my typical dish consists of frozen pizza, so I am not usually in our kitchen putting hours into a delicious meal.  Still, a hot oven is dangerous to a little kid, so it is best if they just stay out! 
I don’t always comprehend why they are so drawn to a place where they can be hurt and of little use.  My kids have plenty of toys, screens and other distractions to keep them busy, yet somehow they insist on bugging us while we are trying to feed them.  Apparently, they want to be where we are and doing what we are doing.  I suppose we should be flattered instead of annoyed.


Spiritual Growth


As we begin the New Year, we think about ways that we want to make a new start in our lives. We focus on making changes and developing healthy habits. Some make New Year resolutions, or commitments to live differently. Many of these are for our bodies (eat less, lose weight, stop smoking, sleep more, work out at the gym, etc.). I want to remind us also to include our spiritual wellness in our focus. We can make a new start in our spiritual lives, and we can even make resolutions to live by healthy, holy habits. I will be writing a series of blogs over the next few months exploring spiritual growth, its importance, how the Bible talks about it, and how we can make changes in our lives. I begin by looking at spiritual growth in the Bible.
Spiritual growth is a key concept in the New Testament. (I’ll take up the idea of Jesus calling His disciples to follow Him–spiritual growth as following Jesus–in a future blog.) Those who commit to be in relationship with God are called by God to grow into the intention that God has for them. At the foundation of this intention are God’s two commands to love God and others completely.  Those who choose to take these commands seriously, then, grow in this love for God and others over time, striving towards loving completely.


The Mysterious Magi

Most people know the story of the wise men.  They are depicted in nativity scenes with flowing robes and beautiful crowns as they offer what appears to be a small treasure chest to the newborn baby.  They are the characters every kid wants to play in the pageant because their costumes are so cool.  They even have their very own hymn!  But as popular as the wise men are, they are also quite misunderstood.
The fact is we do not know all that much about them.  We don’t know how many there were or even exactly when they came to Bethlehem.  The Bible is clear on some details: they were from the east, they were on a mission, they were willing to obey God and disobey Herod and they brought with them specific gifts.  Matthew also refers to them with an interesting word.  He calls them the “Magi”.
In order to really understand the Magi we have to go back to the book of Daniel.  Daniel lived in a time of dispersion.  His people had been scattered and he found himself living in Babylon under the rule of King Nebuchadnezzar.  At that time the king ruled with the help of his wise men or Magi.  These were highly trained individuals who were well acquainted with mathematics and science which, at that time, took the form of astronomy. 


Stories to Share

Stories surround us.  Movies, books, news media and even advertisements are all telling us stories.  Some of these stories are true, some are fictitious and some are lies that purport themselves as reality.  Part of our job as people in this world is to sort through these stories and file them in their proper place.  We must decide what stories we believe and how much credence they ought to be afforded.
There are two such stories that hit us directly at the center of who we are.  These stories are often intertwined to begin with and they form the basis of our identities.  These are the stories told by our families and our faith.
We all grow up in some sort of family narrative.  Every family has a history, whether celebrated or denied.  We all find ourselves stuck onto the end of a long line of people.  We grow up knowing what they teach us and valuing what they value.  We may rebel against or diverge from this narrative as we grow into our teenage years and into adulthood, but nonetheless, we have been shaped in one way or another by our family context.


The Gift that Keeps on Giving

Christmas’ come and go.  We get through the hubbub of the Holidays only to discover that something was missing.  The apple pie tasted right, no gifts were mislabeled and none of the kids were accidently left at their uncle’s house.  Everyone opened their presents, spouted a “thank you” to the giver and threw it onto their ever growing pile of loot. Toys and trinkets, clothes and sporting goods were piled into the vehicle and still, there is something missing.  Where is Jesus in it all?
There is no doubt about it:  When it comes to opening presents on Christmas, it is hard to keep Jesus in focus.  We lose our minds over what we might be getting in those beautifully wrapped boxes.  It is great fun both to receive gifts and to give gifts.  It’s fun to eat dinner with family and to play outside in the snowy yard.  All of these things add to the joy of the season. 


The New Year

Birth of Jesus Christian Stock Photos
“When they saw that the star had stopped, they were overwhelmed with joy. On entering the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother; and they knelt down and worshiped him. Then, opening their chests, they offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.” -Matthew 2:10-11
The New Year on our calendars begins during the 12-day holiday of Christmas. Christmas, according to the church year, runs from Dec. 25 (Christmas) through January 5 (Epiphany). Epiphany marks the arrival of the magi in Bethlehem (see explanation below). I think that Christmas, and particularly the coming of the magi, makes an excellent way to start the New Year.
Interestingly, much of what we thought we knew about the magi is not in the Bible. For one, the Bible does not say that they were kings. The early church leader Tertullian (160-225 AD) started the legend by calling them “almost kings.” Yet by the sixth century it was commonly accepted that they were indeed kings.


Christmas is Not Possible

School’s out, people are traveling, vehicles are being packed with gifts for loved ones. It is wonderful to have the chance to enjoy (or tolerate) our extended families, to break out of our normal cycle and celebrate.  It is easy though to forget what we are celebrating.  Is it family?  The idea of giving?  General Holiday cheeriness?  Why exactly do we choose to halt our regular rhythm in favor of gathering and bestowing blessings on one another?
People across the country are coming together, but in reality, Christmas is rather divisive.  I guess it is true of Christian faith as a whole: You either believe it or you don’t.
Gabriel comes to a very young, very unsuspecting Mary and proclaims her favored by God.  He shares with her the plan.  She is going to have a baby, she will name him Jesus and he will be both God and King.  That is all weird enough, but Mary understands how these things work.  She proceeds to make a very good point, “But, I’m a virgin.”  Gabe replies, “Nothing is impossible for God.”
We know the story.  We’ve heard it a thousand times.  But can we grasp what Gabriel means when he says “Nothing is impossible for God”?  When we celebrate Christmas, we proclaim that the impossible has occurred.  We admit to the biological and scientific facts, but we know that
in spite of the good ol’ laws of nature, an impossible event has come to pass. 


How to Receive Good Gifts

Christmas is right around the corner now.  It’s closing in fast.  We finished up our special Christmas service this last Sunday, but we are still going strong as we gear up for more services and outreach events before the big day arrives.  We are in preparation mode.  We all have extra long “to-do” lists.  What is it all for?
I think the answer comes back to family.  We want our children and loved ones to have an enjoyable experience of the holidays.  We call off school, we bake special dishes, and we buy each other gifts.  We do these things for the sake of blessing our family. 
Matthew 7:11 is not typically a verse associated with Christmas, but let’s try it out and see what happens. Jesus is nearing the end of his Sermon on the Mount when he says to his listeners, “If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give what is good to those who ask Him” (NASB)! 


For Unto Us a Child is Born

“For unto us a child is born. Unto us a son is given!”
This quote from Isaiah 9:6 tells us the reason why Christmas is such a celebration. Christmas celebrates the birth of this special Child, of whom Isaiah goes on to say, “And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” (Isaiah 9:6b)
There is a part to this verse that I have often overlooked in the past. Isaiah is very specific in saying the promised Messiah is born “unto us” and is given “unto us.” Now that’s incredible! Yes, God promised a Messiah, a Child, a Son. But what makes this “Good News” is that God is sending this Messiah “unto us!” This means that all the Messiah came for is available to each one of us. He is our Wonderful Counselor. He is God Almighty and the Everlasting Father for us. He is the Prince of Peace for our lives. Jesus came that we might have access to all the blessings of heaven. What true and lasting joy! God does not leave us where we are. He sends the promised Child born “unto us.” This gives us hope that our lives will be different in 2016 than in 2015 because this Christmas Baby is working in our lives. 
Indeed, “Rejoice!”


Socially Awkward

This is John the Baptist.  He is rough, brash and eats bugs.  He wears unfashionable clothing, does not care one iota about political correctness and he lives alone in the wilderness.  Even in his first century Middle Eastern culture people would have told him to get a haircut. 
John stands out in a crowd.  He is different.  He had been since birth.  Like many of the leaders chosen by God in the Bible, John came from a mother who was known to be barren.  He was a miracle child who brought great joy to his parents and great division to his world.
John led a movement of repentance: turning from sin and turning toward God.  He used water to symbolize this renewal.  His mission was to bear witness and to prepare the way of the Lord.  He did this with a loud voice and with a passionately obedient heart.



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