Christmas in July

In my view The Christmas story started long before Bethlehem, long before the Star and shepherds and angels showed up, and before the wise men arrived.

It started way back in a garden, the first garden. Right after our first father and mother rebelled against God for the first time. God said this: “14 So the Lord God said to the serpent, “Because you have done this,

“Cursed are you above all livestock

and all wild animals!

You will crawl on your belly

and you will eat dust

all the days of your life.

15 And I will put enmity

between you and the woman,

and between your offspring[a] and hers;

he will crush[b] your head,

and you will strike his heel.”

God had a plan to restore our relationship with him.

Years later The prophet Isaiah gave us an update on the plan in Chapter 7.

“Therefore the Lord himself will give you[c] a sign: The virgin[d] will conceive and give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel.”.

The best part of this message is in the name. Emmanuel , it means God with us. It doesn’t say God against us, God with arms folded across his chest tapping his foot, clucking his tongue. God is not looking down on us impatiently.

Instead a while later we get this message:

“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. 17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. 18 Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son.”

I heard tonight, wait, it’s midnight, I heard yesterday that there are over 300 prophecies that Jesus fulfills. Little tidbits about the promise God made back in the garden that tell how his plan to restore our relationship with him would come about. Jesus is the fulfillment of the prophecies and of the promise. We have a way back to God. It’s not by good works, it is by Gods gift of Jesus. Jesus made the way back to our Heavenly Father by dying for our sins. Then he came back to life to show that he also conquered death.

The gift this Christmas is Jesus. And through Jesus we are brought back to our father in heaven.

Jesus, Emanuel, God came to us as a baby. He came to restore us. He came to save us. He came because he loves us. God loves me. God loves you.

Merry Christmas.

Venice to Milan

Away from Venice

On the train ride from Venice back to Milan there was a storm brewing to the north. There were huge thunderheads forming. As we travelled along I saw one that looked like a man, (a king?) He was seated on a big chair (throne?) but he was rising up. We must’ve turned because the next time I looked out, the formation I saw looked like a crouching lion about to pounce.

The third time I looked out, the window it looked like a popped corn kernel.

We changed trains in Milan and the second train didn’t have air conditioning. Mary began to wilt. She hadn’t had a meal since breakfast at 7 and it was after 5. The clouds continued to gather and the sky darkened to the north. There were 3 train stops between us and our hotel and it looked like Mary would be a puddle of her former self. The temperature was in the lower 90s with 40% humidity

Then the clouds let loose just a little, like a single sweep of the old oscillating sprinkler and the temperature cooled down about 10 degrees. (God applause!)

We exited the train at our our stop but there was no cover. The rain had stopped already. After the two of us working together to figure out how to dial a + (plus sign), Mary called our hotel which was supposed to have a shuttle service. They informed us that the shuttle wasn’t available but that they were only 2 blocks away and suggested that we walk.

I know that this doesn’t seem connected to the clouds but wait.

As we began trudging toward the hotel dragging our 3 suitcases there was a loud thunderclap and then a second one.

(Lest you think us wimps, the first block was like DKs to division, with no sidewalk and no parking lane, just 2 lanes of Italian dinner hour traffic, 4 lanes if you count the scooters, and the there was also the thunder).

We briefly discussed the possibility and probability of being struck by lightning. It was mutually decided if God brought us all the way to Italy, to a tiny train station parking lot to strike us dead? Our number was up.

Instead of braving the traffic we called back to ask for a taxi. The hotel said the shuttle had just got back and would pick us up in 10 minutes. (I think this when the whole “struck by lightning ” came up but I’m too tired to cut and paste).

We did get picked up. We did get our lovely room. We did eat at the hotel restaurant. We did get greeted by the owner who welcomed us in a booming Italian accented voice. We did eat one of the best meals ever eaten by either of us, possibly by anyone ever.

The storm clouds are still all around but the storm seems to be on pause.

Make of these observations what you will, but here is what I think about them.

God is seated on his throne in heaven, but not forever. Not that he will be unseated but that he will arise and stuff will begin to change very rapidly down here.

The lion is the symbol of Venice. Venice needs Jesus. Italy needs Jesus. Churches are everywhere but they are empty. Empty of His people and empty of his spirit.

If God is rising up from his throne we His church need to get busy gathering the harvest. There will be a time when harvest is over. At that time judgement starts coming in buckets and barrels.

I do not know what my role is in this but I’m pretty sure it isn’t what I usually do.

Are you ready for the change that is coming?

Quitting time

Quitting time. My favorite time of day. Packing up my gear, putting away the tools. Cleaning up and setting up for tomorrow. It’s a great time of day. What if you walked onto the job at quitting time and still got paid for the whole day?

Bonus!

That’s what happened in Jesus’ story in Matthew 20.

“20 “For the kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire workers for his vineyard. 2 He agreed to pay them a denarius[a] for the day and sent them into his vineyard.

3 “About nine in the morning he went out and saw others standing in the marketplace doing nothing. 4 He told them, ‘You also go and work in my vineyard, and I will pay you whatever is right.’ 5 So they went.

“He went out again about noon and about three in the afternoon and did the same thing. 6 About five in the afternoon he went out and found still others standing around. He asked them, ‘Why have you been standing here all day long doing nothing?’

7 “‘Because no one has hired us,’ they answered.

“He said to them, ‘You also go and work in my vineyard.’

8 “When evening came, the owner of the vineyard said to his foreman, ‘Call the workers and pay them their wages, beginning with the last ones hired and going on to the first.’

9 “The workers who were hired about five in the afternoon came and each received a denarius. 10 So when those came who were hired first, they expected to receive more. But each one of them also received a denarius. 11 When they received it, they began to grumble against the landowner. 12 ‘These who were hired last worked only one hour,’ they said, ‘and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the work and the heat of the day.’

13 “But he answered one of them, ‘I am not being unfair to you, friend. Didn’t you agree to work for a denarius? 14 Take your pay and go. I want to give the one who was hired last the same as I gave you. 15 Don’t I have the right to do what I want with my own money? Or are you envious because I am generous?’

16 “So the last will be first, and the first will be last.”’

Some of us are reaching quitting time, not just of a job or a career but of life. It is the eleventh hour. The sun is setting. What does God want from us? What will God do for us?

Jesus died to pay for our sins. All of them. Whether it’s the grocery sack full of the at age 16 or 26 or a cargo ship full at 56 or 66 or 76. The age doesn’t matter and the amount doesn’t matter. Jesus died to pay for our sins. You only have to ask. Forgiveness is for all at any age, even at the eleventh hour.

God wants his kids to come home. Will you accept his gift of salvation today?

“Peter James!”

When you get called by your formal name….

“Peter James!”

Just typing that sent chills of fear through my body because even though you couldn’t hear it, there was my mothers voice in my ear ringing with an angry tone as I typed.

John 21

I think that is what the apostle Peter heard in our text today. Jesus used his given name, Simon son of John.

“15 When they had finished eating, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?”

“Yes, Lord,” he said, “you know that I love you.”

Jesus said, “Feed my lambs.”

16 Again Jesus said, “Simon son of John, do you love me?”

He answered, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.”

Jesus said, “Take care of my sheep.”

17 The third time he said to him, “Simon son of John, do you love me?”

Peter was hurt because Jesus asked him the third time, “Do you love me?” He said, “Lord, you know all things; you know that I love you.”

Jesus said, “Feed my sheep. 18 Very truly I tell you, when you were younger you dressed yourself and went where you wanted; but when you are old you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go.” 19 Jesus said this to indicate the kind of death by which Peter would glorify God. Then he said to him, “Follow me!”’

Jesus used his given name, Simon son of John. There is language here that’s worth looking into if you have the time but what I got this morning was Jesus telling Simon Peter that he would never deny Jesus again.

He had denied Jesus. He denied him 3 times. The last denial was vehemently and with cursing.

On this day, through the catch of fish Jesus provided for this ex-fisherman, he gave him his mission, feeding the sheep Jesus would provide for him and he told him that peter would die a horrible death rather than deny Jesus again.

It’s a good thing to hear that Jesus doesn’t hold grudges. Even open denial can be forgiven.

Thank you Jesus for forgiving that Peter and for forgiving this Peter all of our sins.

I think I missed a chance to dine with an angel or Jesus

I thought he was drunk. His speech was sluggish and slurred and he seemed a little unstable as he stood up to address us. He had been sitting outside on curb of the sidewalk of the restaurant my friend and I were going into. He addressed us very politely, “excuse me, do either of you have $4.98?” We Both said no. He explained, “I can’t afford to eat in this restaurant but I can get a meal at McDonalds for $4.98..”

We kept walking, It wasn’t lying to say I didn’t have $4.98. I did have 2 $20 dollar bills in my wallet. I intended to get change inside the restaurant and give him a $5 but as we walked in my friend and I decided that giving him $5 could just be enabling an addiction. What we could’ve done, what we should’ve done is say, join us for lunch Jesus.

We entered, were seated and due to the buffet style of dining, were preoccupied with filling our plates. We didn’t see how it happened that the two people seated at a table next to ours were the gentleman from the curb and another man. It was not obvious whether or not the second man knew the man from the curb.

I had the idea to pay for both of their lunches but missed my chance by hesitating.

“For this is the message you heard from the beginning: We should love one another. Do not be like Cain, who belonged to the evil one and murdered his brother. And why did he murder him? Because his own actions were evil and his brother’s were righteous. Do not be surprised, my brothers and sisters, if the world hates you. We know that we have passed from death to life, because we love each other. Anyone who does not love remains in death. Anyone who hates a brother or sister is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life residing in him. This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters. If anyone has material possessions and sees a brother or sister in need but has no pity on them, how can the love of God be in that person? Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth.”

1 John 3:11-18

In Matthew Jesus talks about those who show by their actions, who their heart belongs to.

“42 For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, 43 I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.’ 44 “They also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?’ 45 “He will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’”

Matthew 25:42-45

Our gentleman from the curb was polite and courteous to the wait staff and to his host who brought him in and fed him. When he stood up from the table he seemed more steady on his feet than he had been before eating. To my shame I realized what I had seen as symptoms of intoxication and possible addiction were more probably physical impairments.

in Hebrews we see this: “Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers, for by so doing some people have shown hospitality to angels without knowing it. Continue to remember those in prison as if you were together with them in prison, and those who are mistreated as if you yourselves were suffering.”

Hebrews 13:2-3

I may have missed my chance to dine with an angel. Due to his down trodden appearance he could have into “the least of these” category and so had I treated him to lunch, my friend and I might have had an opportunity to dine with Jesus.

Because of my limited exposure and isolated lifestyle This situation does not come up very often. You can be certain that I will be more watchful.

I very much want to serve my master. Forgive me Lord for missing you that day.

I am, the preexisting one

When you’re down and troubled, and you need a helping hand…..

Who do we call when we need help? How about calling out to the God who preexisted existence?

His name? one name he calls himself, I AM.

Jesus tells us a little about life after death and a little about The character of God in Matthew 22.

“23 That same day the Sadducees, who say there is no resurrection, came to him with a question. 24 “Teacher,” they said, “Moses told us that if a man dies without having children, his brother must marry the widow and raise up offspring for him. 25 Now there were seven brothers among us. The first one married and died, and since he had no children, he left his wife to his brother. 26 The same thing happened to the second and third brother, right on down to the seventh. 27 Finally, the woman died. 28 Now then, at the resurrection, whose wife will she be of the seven, since all of them were married to her?”

29 Jesus replied, “You are in error because you do not know the Scriptures or the power of God. 30 At the resurrection people will neither marry nor be given in marriage; they will be like the angels in heaven. 31 But about the resurrection of the dead—have you not read what God said to you, 32 ‘I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob’[b]? He is not the God of the dead but of the living.”

33 When the crowds heard this, they were astonished at his teaching.”

I am. The pre-existing God continues to be the God of people who have died centuries ago. Not because he and they continue in our hearts or in our memories but because they continue to exist in God’s presence.

I AM. God exists outside and beyond the creation, his creation. We can continue to exist beyond our existence. Through Jesus who died and lives again, we can be part of that eternal existence.

Jesus said this in his conversation with Nicodemus, “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. 17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. 18 Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son.”

The same God who said said, ” let there be….” and there was, is the God who wants us to be with him in eternity. He sent Jesus to pay for our sin on the cross, and then defeat death so if we will admit we need him and receive what he has done as our payment then…

….You know wherever I AM, I’ll come running, running, running, to see you again.

(Thanks James Taylor for letting me borrow your lyrics)

You are also called

And you also are among those Gentiles who are called to belong to Jesus Christ.

Romans 1:6

I am one of those Gentiles called to belong to Jesus Christ. You my reader, unless you are a Jewish believer, are a gentile, called to belong to Jesus.

Imagine this scenario:

You’re ringer is off. You are in a meeting and need to not be disturbed. Then you feel the buzzing. Your phone is vibrating in your pocket. You have to ignore it. It starts buzzing again. You wait it out. Again it starts buzzing, the people who are sitting next to you start giving you disapproving looks. Finally you pull out the phone enough to see the screen. Your Father is calling. Do you answer?

I was a church going kid growing up. I was in a church going family. I thought God and I were close. Then, when I was 8 years old I was badly burned. I recovered but my face and right hand were deformed with scars, I had a weird little hole under my lip and my right ear was folded over. I was disfigured.

I believed in God and his power to heal. So I waited. And I waited some more. I was healthy. I hadn’t lost any functionality but I was noticeably scarred. I thought God had messed up. I didn’t think God caused the accident but I thought he had allowed it. I was miffed at God. I was perturbed, I was disappointed, I was disillusioned, I was… i was disconnected. That’s it. Back in the day when telephones were mounted to the wall and the handset was heavy, and the call was made by dialing, I felt like a little 8 year old boy who, during an ongoing telephone conversation with God, Was suddenly disconnected and all I could hear was a dial tone.

God hung up on me?

I didn’t understand at the time. I became angry and depressed and behaved very badly.

It turned out the it wasn’t a dial tone I was hearing, it was actually God my father saying over and over in a strong whisper, “Peter I love you, Peter I love you, Peter I love you…”

Those familiar verses in the apostle John’s book of good news were also true for me.

I was then, and am now, and will forever be loved by God.

“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son.”

John 3:16-18

God has made a way through Jesus for all of us Gentiles to be accepted and adopted into his family as his own sons and daughters.

But now apart from the law the righteousness of God has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. This righteousness is given through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference between Jew and Gentile, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. God presented Christ as a sacrifice of atonement, through the shedding of his blood —to be received by faith. He did this to demonstrate his righteousness, because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished — he did it to demonstrate his righteousness at the present time, so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus.

Romans 3:21-26

The call has gone out to all of us Gentiles. Ringer on or ringer off, doesn’t matter. God our Father is persistently calling. Will we answer his call? If al there we hear is dial tone, God is there, reminding us he loves us, the message is so intense and passionate that it sounds like a buzzing whisper, “I love you, i love you, I love you…”