Archive for December, 2009

Too Good to Be True? Christmas Eve 2009

Posted: December 25, 2009 by limabean03 in Uncategorized
preached by Rob Sturdy on Dec 24, 2009

A sermon from Luther’s Church Postil for Christmas Day from (Luke 2.1-14).  Notice how Luther distinguishes those who lived in plenty and comfort from Joseph, Mary and Jesus on the night of the savior’s birth.  This distinction is hammered home by his convicting series of questions at the end of the second paragraph.  “What has Bethlehem when it did not have Christ?  What have they now who at that time had enough?  What do Joseph and Mary lack now, although at that time they had no room to sleep comfortably?”  Indeed.  If you don’t have Christ, you have nothing. 

The Evangelist shows how, when they arrived at Bethlehem, they were the most insignificant and despised, so that they had to make way for others until they were obliged to take refuge in a stable, to share with the cattle, lodging, table, bedchamber and bed, while many a wicked man sat at the head in the hotels and was honored as lord. No one noticed or was conscious of what God was doing in that stable. He lets the large houses and costly apartments remain empty, lets their inhabitants eat, drink and be merry; but this comfort and treasure are hidden from them. 0 what a dark night this was for Bethlehem, that was not conscious of that glorious light! See how God shows that he utterly disregards what the world is, has or desires; and furthermore, that the world shows how little it knows or notices what God is, has and does.

See, this is the first picture with which Christ puts the world to shame and exposes all it does and knows. It shows that the world’s greatest wisdom is foolishness, her best actions are wrong and her greatest treasures are misfortunes. What had Bethlehem when it did not have Christ? What have they now who at that time had enough? What do Joseph and Marylack now, although at that time they had no room to sleep comfortably?

Martin Luther, Church Postil  1.1.138

Sign Up to Receive AwakeningGrace E-mail updates

Posted: December 23, 2009 by limabean03 in Uncategorized

You can now sign up to receive e-mail updates of new posts from AwakeningGrace at the top of the sidebar to your right

Many people who otherwise ignore God and the church have some religious feeling, or feel they ought to, at this time of the year. So they make their way to a church service or Christmas program. And when they go, they come away feeling vaguely warmed or at least better for having gone, but not disturbed.

Why aren’t people disturbed by Christmas? One reason is our tendency to sanitize the birth narratives. We romanticize the story of Mary and Joseph rather than deal with the painful dilemma they faced when the Lord chose Mary to be the virgin who would conceive her child by the power of the Holy Spirit. We beautify the birth scene, not coming to terms with the stench of the stable, the poverty of the parents, the hostility of Herod. Don’t miss my point. There is something truly comforting and warming about the Christmas story, but it comes from understanding the reality, not from denying it.

Most of us also have not come to terms with the baby in the manger. We sing, “Glory to the newborn King.” But do we truly recognize that the baby lying in the manger is appointed by God to be the King, to be either the Savior or Judge of all people? He is a most threatening person.

Malachi foresaw his coming and said, “But who can endure the day of his coming? Who can stand when he appears? For he is like a refiner’s fire or a launderer’s soap.” As long as we can keep him in the manger, and feel the sentimental feelings we have for babies, Jesus doesn’t disturb us. But once we understand that his coming means for every one of us either salvation or condemnation, he disturbs us deeply.

What should be just as disturbing is the awful work Christ had to do to accomplish the salvation of his people. Yet his very name, Jesus, testifies to us of that work.

That baby was born so that “he who had no sin” would become “sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” The baby’s destiny from the moment of his conception was hell—hell in the place of sinners. When I look into the manger, I come away shaken as I realize again that he was born to pay the unbearable penalty for my sins.

That’s the message of Christmas: God reconciled the world to himself through Christ, man’s sin has alienated him from God, and man’s reconciliation with God is possible only through faith in Christ…Christmas is disturbing.

This was quoted from a post by C.J. Mahaney that you can find here

I’m not sure why I haven’t sent folks to visit Andy’s blog before.  He’s a local pastor, serving Prince George Church in Georgetown.  He has even visited Trinity, where he was  a guest teacher on our marriage night.  I’ve excerpted a great little post he wrote a few weeks ago on Luke 14.7-11.  Go on over and pay him a visit

Luke 14:7-11 tells us that Jesus is at a party, a dinner party and he has noticed something – people wanted the places of honor at the banquet. Now, in this setting people did not sit at tables, but reclined, and those places closest to the host were the places of honor. People wanted the places of honor so that they could show their importance. So Jesus tells a parable – a story.

Jesus says that instead of taking the highest seat, and risk humiliation because a more distinguished guest may arrive, you should take the lowest place, so that the host may move you up.

But is Jesus just giving us a great scheme to allow us to get honored at parties – the key is take the lowest place and then wait to get bumped up to a higher seat and you get honored and everyone wins?

No, Jesus is not providing a scam to enable us to climb the social ladder covertly, because the flaw in the plan is what happens if we take the lowest seat expecting to be bumped up and the host never comes to us; we just remain in the lowest seat.  If our motive is to take the seat simply to get moved up, and the host does not move you up, we would sit there seething, angry and humiliated.

That is the key to the story – we are to take the lowest seat without expectation of moving up. We take the lowest seat willingly, happy to remain there, not threatened or worried by issues of status or position. And in taking the lowest seat, we are by our actions lifting others higher than ourselves, happy for them to take the places of honor.

Jesus’ parable is not just about humility, it is also about witness – taking the lowest seat witnesses to those at the party; about what is important in a persons life; about where a persons security is based and about Christ. It makes a statement.

read the whole thing here

I don’t pretend to be a good preacher, however I do think I know one when I see one.  And after studying several good ones, from various points in the 2000 years of Christian preaching I’ve noticed something.  The very best ones are not very original.  Rather, they rely heavily on the Scriptures and equally heavily on those Christian saints who have gone before them.  The point is expressed very well by Spurgeon in the excerpt below.  A good preacher doesn’t preach a new thing, but an old thing.  A good preacher isn’t innovative, but a copy cat.  A good preacher doesn’t come with his own message, but the message of Jesus Christ.  All the good ones have done this.  And the smart ones copy those who have done it well.

Christ’s testimony was final.  His was the last testimony, the last revelation that ever will be given to man.  After Christ, nothing.  Christ comes last:  he is the stepping stone across the brook of time.  All who come after him are only confirmers of the testimony of Christ.  Our Augustins, our Ambroses, our Chrysostoms, or any other of the mighty preachers of olden times, they never pretended to say any thing fresh.  They only revived the gospel- that same old fashioned gospel which Christ used to preach.  And Luther and Calvin, and Zuingle, adn Knox, they only came to confirm the truth.  Christ said “finis” to the canon of revelation, and it was closed forever.  No one can add a single word thereto, and no one can take a word therefrom.  We Dissenters are sometimes charged with inventing a new gospel.  We deny it.  We say that our Owen, Howe, Henry, Charnock, Bunyan, Baxter, Janeway, and all that galaxy of stars did not pretent to anything new; they only preached the same thing over again, they only revived the things that Christ said, they only professed to be confirmers of the witness, and not witnesses.  And so it has been with teh great men we have lost during the last century.  Whitefield and his brother evangelists, and men who stood in the same position as Gill, or Booth, or Rippon, or Carey, or Ryland, or some of those who have just been taken away- they did not pretend to any thing new.  They only said, Brethren, we come to tell you the same old story; we have got just as much as God bestows; we are not testifiers of new things; we are only confirmers of the witness, Christ Jesus.

-Charles Spurgeon, “Confirming the Witness of Christ”, Sermon XIV

Just in case you found yourself thinking about the incarnation this time of year, whether you’re a preacher preparing for your Christmas sermon or a lay person looking to get introduced to a deep mystery, I have handily provided below several past posts from this blog on the incarnation for your reading pleasure.  Enjoy!

Kierkegaard: A parable of a king and a maiden a heart wrenchingly beautiful parable on the nature of God becoming man

Jesus, Puberty, and the Mid-Life Crisis:  this is a short post I wrote some time ago teasing out some of the implications of the incarnation on various stages of life.  Heavily leaning on the early church theologian Irenaeus, this focuses on the doctrine of recapitulation.

Abraham Kuyper: on the Incarnation Kuyper was a highly intelligent and influential theologian in the Dutch Reformed tradition.  Kuyper’s is a very earthy description of the incarnation, pointing out that once the Son of God took on flesh, his body was nourished with the blood of Mary, a child of fallen Adam.

Octavius Winslow: Jesus Wept Winslow was a puritan theologian.  His focus is principally on the human emotions the eternal Word wed himself to at the incarnation.

Spurgeon:  The Incarnation and Birth of Christ Spurgeon, famous Baptist preacher from London and “last Puritan” holds a kingly picture of the child in Bethlehem.  This one in particular is easy to get lost in worhsip.

Milton: Paradise Lost In this excerpt from Milton’s famous Paradise Lost we see the intra-Trinitarian conversation between God the Father and God the Son about how to go about redeeming sinful humanity.  Deeply moving stuff.

Augustine: City of God In this excerpt Augustine here draws out the logical conclusion of sola Christus (I know it is an anachronism) through the incarnation.

Theodore Beza:   in this excerpt Beza demonstrates why the Christ must be fully God and fully man

Calvin’s Christology:  This is a longer essay I wrote on Calvin’s Christology, dealing chiefly with his complex view of the incarnation

“He has done great things for me” (Luke 1.46-55)

Posted: December 21, 2009 by limabean03 in Uncategorized
preached by Rob Sturdy on Dec 20, 2009

St. Francis: Man not mouse

Posted: December 20, 2009 by limabean03 in Christianity, The Christian Life

In general this is a good piece from CNN about a man who, in our denomination is not thought to have done anything more important than bless animals and give dogs communion (there’s no evidence that he did either, but some unfortunates have done so in his name).  In reality, Francis of Assisi was a radical missionary and evangelist, which the piece below accurately describes.  Christian readers should be challenged by the way Francis engaged Muslims during wartime.  In short, he shared the Gospel with them.  A bold and dangerous move.  Read the whole article here.

Francis engaged Christendom’s enemy, Egypt’s Sultan Malik al-Kamil, by approaching him unarmed in the midst of the Fifth Crusade in 1219. The Crusaders had laid siege to Damietta, a city at the mouth of the Nile where 80,000 people were dying of disease and starvation.

The Christian forces were hoping to conquer Egypt, which would not only make it easier to take and hold Jerusalem but would deal a heavy blow against all Islam.

Francis actually believed what Jesus said in the New Testament about loving his enemy and took a much different approach than his fellow Christians.

His goal was to convert Sultan al-Kamil to Christianity through peaceful persuasion. He didn’t succeed in that, but, amazingly, the two men found common ground and appear to have genuinely appreciated each other.

The sultan, who no doubt viewed Francis in light of an ancient Muslim tradition of reverence for holy Christian monks, permitted him to stay in his camp for several days, preaching the enemy’s faithin the midst of the Crusade.

Francis was so influenced by the unexpectedly tranquil encounter with the sultan that when he returned home, he attempted to revise his order’s code of conduct to urge that his friars live peacefully among Muslims and “be subject” to them as a way of giving Christian witness — a revolutionary approach, considering that the Crusade was still being fought.

Francis’ journey to the sultan’s camp on the east bank of the Nile should be viewed as a mission of peace, since the sultan’s conversion might have led to the end of the Crusade.

Francis, it should be said, was a tireless advocate of peace, a stance that stems from the trauma he suffered as a soldier and prisoner of war when he was a young man who saw his comrades massacred on the battlefield.

Since discussion of war and peace is — even today — so tinged with religion, it may as well be based on authentic religion. Francis represents what it means to be an authentic Christian. As Pope Pius XI wrote in 1926 on the 700th anniversary of Francis’s death: “There has never been anyone in whom the image of Jesus Christ … shone forth more lifelike and strikingly than in St. Francis.”

A couple days ago I posted a video (if you did not watch the video, you should click the link and watch it) about Pastor Matt Chandler who was diagnosed with a brain tumor shortly after Thanksgiving.  The pathology report has come back and the tumor is malignant.  Pastor Chandler and the Village Church are shouldering this burden in a most Christ honoring way.  Please pray for them all.  Below is a letter written to the congregation just a few days ago.

Dear church,

In the first chapter of Philippians, the Apostle Paul writes that whatever imprisonments, beatings and trials he may have suffered, they all “serve to advance the gospel” of Jesus Christ. We implore you to keep the gospel of Christ as the main focus as we walk with Matt and Lauren through this trial.

On Tuesday, Dr. Barnett informed Matt and Lauren that the findings of the pathology report revealed a malignant brain tumor that was not encapsulated. The surgery to remove the tumor, the doctor said, was an extremely positive first step; however, because of the nature of the tumor, he was not able to remove all of it.

Matt, who is being released from the hospital today, is meeting with a neuro-oncologist this week to outline the next steps of the recovery process. There is a range of treatment possibilities but the exact course of action has not yet been determined. He will continue outpatient rehab.

The Lord is calling Matt and Lauren and The Village Church body to endure this trial. It will be a challenging road for Matt, his family and our church body. The gospel is our hope and the Lord is our strength. Matt and Lauren continue to find solace and hope in Christ. They weep facing this trial, but not as those without hope and perspective. The gospel clarifies their suffering and promises more of Christ through it all.

You have done a wonderful job respecting the family, and we ask that you continue to do this. They are processing all of this together and need you to give them precious space. Please do not visit them at their house unless personally invited by the Chandlers. The best way to serve the family is to continue to be faithful in prayer. Specifically, pray for the following:

  • Wisdom for all the coming decisions
  • Strength and peace to endure
  • The kids’ (Audrey, Reid and Norah) hearts; pray the Lord is merciful as they process and that their little hearts do not grow embittered
  • The Chandlers and The Village would suffer well because of the gospel and for the sake of Christ’s name

As you hurt and weep for the family, do not do it alone. Gather with your home group and with other believers in homes and pray together. This is a time to walk together with others and to endure this trial in community. If you wish, send cards and letters to Matt and Lauren at 2101 Justin Road, Flower Mound, TX 75028.

We will continue to keep you informed as new information is made available. Please be patient with the frequency of the updates. May God strengthen us all and may His glory shine brightly through this.

click here to read it for yourself and pay them a visit

The Advent Conspiracy

Posted: December 18, 2009 by limabean03 in Christianity, Current Issues, The Christian Life

What a cool thing this is.  Click here to check out the official website.

The congregation of St. Andrew’s, Mount Pleasant, the largest Episcopal Church in the Diocese of South Carolina, has recommended overwhelmingly to realign with the ACNA.  As many of you know St. Andrew’s, Mt. Pleasant had a discernment process that lasted the period of 40 days.  The purpose of this discernment was to see if St. Andrew’s should remain with the Episcopal Church or realign with the Anglican Communion North American (ACNA).  The vote was a recommendation only and has no bearing on St. Andrew’s current affiliation.  They are still an Episcopal congregation in the Diocese of South Carolina.  However, the congregation has expressed overwhelmingly that they believe St. Andrew’s should realign with the ACNA.  Now the matter goes before the vestry, who will take the matter up sometime in the new year.  Click here to go to Steve’s blog and see for yourself.

To our Sisters and Brothers in Christ at St. Andrew’s:

On behalf of the staff and former Sr. Warden’s we wish to thank you for your faithful commitment to engage the discernment process this fall. While the question before our congregation was a serious and sobering one, the depth and richness of the materials and sermons combined with your participation in LifeGroups has worked to deepen our corporate understanding of the Lord’s direction in our life and the call upon this parish, so, thank you.

Last night we gathered to count the response forms and by a 93% – 6% margin the congregation has overwhelmingly recommended that St. Andrew’s affiliate with the Anglican Church in North America and separate from The Episcopal Church. Here are the results:

902 total discernment response forms submitted.

838 recommended that St. Andrew’s Church affiliate with the Anglican Church in North America and separate from The Episcopal Church.
58 recommended that we remain within The Episcopal Church.
4 response forms were submitted unmarked.
2 response forms had the word, “abstain” written across them.
We were very pleased with the total number of people participating in this discernment process and we were equally pleased with the clarity with which you – and the Lord through you – spoke to us. We will gather as a Vestry in the New Year to take up this matter. Be assured we will keep you informed of our decisions. Please keep us in your prayers.

Know that this letter comes with our continued prayers for this parish and for you; especially that you may know the nearness of Christ this Advent and Christmas season.

With great affection in Christ,

The Vestry

Daron, the Young Adults Director for the Diocese of South Carolina was recently asked to write Episcopal Commons a webzine for the Episcopal Church’s office for young adult ministries.  Click here to read the whole thing.

Like Elijah, we in the Diocese of South Carolina, are discovering at least two things. One is that God has called us to go and proclaim his message.  We are teaching our leaders that we can no longer expect the un-churched to come to us. Regardless of how beautiful our church buildings or how incredible our programming, the majority of young adults do not have “church” on their radar as a viable resource for answering life’s deeper questions for meaning and purpose. That has led many of our leaders to step into uncharted territories of vulnerability, in essence becoming misfits, where they have needed to learn new cultures in their own communities.

We have encouraged church leaders to initiate and pursue partnerships with entities such as parks and recreation departments, coffee shops, home owner associations and YMCA’s to name a few. Wherever young adults are spending time, that is where we want to be. One rector, whose church had no one attending under the age of 30, cleared his schedule to assure he was leading the way in engaging this generation. The church decided to serve hotdogs and drinks for a local softball league as a first step in meeting young adults on their turf.  Through the rector’s leadership, this led to a weekly gathering in his home involving a dozen young adults.  A meal is shared and Jesus is being talked about. It took several months to get to this point, but all involved would say this is what is necessary to earn the right to invite people to follow Jesus.

The second item we are challenged with also comes from Elijah’s story. It is our prayer that our message would be accompanied by a demonstration of God’s power. We believe God is leading us to pray for His supernatural working in the lives of people we encounter. In other words, not to only talk about Jesus, but to emphasize what we pray in The Lord’s Prayer that “God’s Kingdom would come on earth” as it is presently being encountered in heaven.

Young adults in our diocese love to build houses and serve with various missions in both rural and urban settings, but we are discovering an increased interest in ministry directly with their peers.  This is requiring more of us to place ourselves in utter dependency on God’s power, knowing that apart from him moving, it may leave us looking a bit foolish.  Our hope, again just like Elijah, is to speak life where there is death. To share in Jesus’ ministry of proclaiming freedom where there is captivity.

Are you ready for good news? (Luke 3.7-18)

Posted: December 14, 2009 by limabean03 in Uncategorized
preached by visiting preacher Greg Smith on Dec 13th, 2009

Thanks to Sami for sending this my way

“Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.” Now you love yourself suitably when you love God better than yourself. What, then, you aim at in yourself you must aim at in your neighbor, namely, that he may love God with a perfect affection. For you do not love him as yourself, unless you try to draw him to that good which you are yourself pursuing. For this is the one good which has room for all to pursue it along with thee. From this precept proceed the duties of human society….

Augustine, Of the Morals of the Catholic (Universal) Church, chapter 26