Monthly Archives: December 2008

Happy New Year from Israel

It is New Year’s Eve here in Israel. Our group made it safely after delayed and missed flights out of the US.  Our first three days of touring have taken us up to the Galilee area in northern Israel. That puts us the at the other end of the country from where the conflicts in Gaza have been taking place. We feel quite safe and our tour is progressing well. Thanks for your prayers for us.

I am having trouble uploading pictures with the hotel internet connection I have right now, but suffice it to say that actually being in the place where so many events from Jesus life took place is amazing.  There is evidence everywhere of the detailed historic and geographic accuracy of the events described in the Bible.  We have seen the altar in Dan where King Jeroboam erected the golden calf and the town of Capernaum where Jesus centered so much of his Galilee ministry. Yesterday we visited the cliff face of Caesarea Philippi where Jesus proclaimed “upon this rock I will build my church” and today we sat on the Mount of Beatitudes looking out over the Sea of Galilee where Jesus gave the Sermon on the Mount. Each place the profoundness and consistency of the gospel message has impacted us.

On Monday we looked out over the Valley of Armageddon while jet fighters and helicopters buzzed the skies above, probably in operations connected to the conflict in Gaza to the south. It was a bit ominous. Closing out 2008, a very unusual year by many measurements, that experience reminds me that Christ’s second coming is now a year closer. On this New Year’s Eve, let me not only say ‘Happy New Year’ but in the words of Jesus, ‘let us work while it is day.’ May 2009 be tangibly blessed of the Lord in your life and in return may we be desperate for him and unusually focused on living by faith with his eternal priorities at the center of our lives. May God bless you to that end and, indeed, Happy New Year!

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God’s Planetary Visit

Merry Christmas! I hope your Christmas Day has been enjoyable and blessed so far.

It was 40 years ago last night (Chrismas Eve) that the Apollo 8 crew orbited the moon and we on earth experienced an unforgettable moment as astronaut Frank Borman read to the world those timeless words from Genesis 1 — “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” This was the first time that human beings had escaped earth orbit and entered lunar orbit. The drama was intense that night and I still remember it vividly.

James Irwin on the Moon, July 1971
James Irwin on the Moon, July 1971

That lunar adventure paved the way for actual manned moon landings over the next few years, among them Apollo 15. In the picture to the left is one of the Apollo 15 astronauts, James Irwin, standing on the lunar surface. In the background, to the right of the American flag, is the Lunar Lander (which Irwin piloted) and to the right of that the first Lunar Rover (car!) ever to be driven on the moon.

Nearly 10 years later I had the privilege of meeting Jim Irwin personally when he spoke at the church I was pastoring in Southern California. I was struck with his passion not just for space travel, but even more for Jesus. Irwin gave me a copy of the picture you see. It hangs on my office wall at home. On this Christmas Day I would like to leave you what Irwin hand-wrote for me on the bottom of the picture. It captures the mystery and the triumph of what we celebrate today.
“Jesus walking on the earth is more important that Man walking on the Moon.”

AMEN and MERRY CHRISTMAS from your rocket scientist pastor 🙂

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An International Christmas

With the holidays hitting right after the passing of my father-in-law, Sandi and I have tried to gear down our schedule a little since Thanksgiving. Whereas the first three weeks of December could keep us busy attending events every night of the week, we just haven’t had the emotional energy for that kind of pace this year. Thanks to all of you for your understanding. We did not shut down entirely, though. There have been evening funeral visitations, groups of college student friends of my daughters over to the house the last two Saturday nights, an evening with our pastors and their spouses last Friday night and our church Board members and their spouses coming over tonight. But all in all it has been managable and enjoyable.

Yoriko (left) and Daisuke
Yoriko (left) and Daisuke

Last night was a special treat. It was our International Ministries Christmas Dinner at the church. They asked me to speak at it and give an altar call at the end. Our rather new International Ministry is overseen by Daisuke and Yoriko Yabuki from Japan. We had 10 countries represented — places like Japan, China, Korea, Mexico, Ghana, Kenya and even Canada (yours truly!). The rest of the group was made up of Americans who are partnering with the Yabuki’s in providing ministry to internationals here in Springfield. Dr. Meadows, a professor from Missouri State University, lead in a cross-cultural Christmas trivia game that was quite fascinating. I knew that Christmas trees originated in Germany, but that was about it. I didn’t know, for instance, that Christmas cakes originated in Japan.

Truly the Christmas/gospel message is international in application. In fact Christianity has proven to be one of the most culturally relevant and adaptable faiths of any of the world religions. That is because of its content — God loving ALL the world and sending His Son to us when we could not reach Him, to do for us what we could not do for ourselves. So regardless of your nationality, may your Christmas be filled with the very cross-cultural Jesus!

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Common and Simple

christmas-pictureAs I have been prepping for the Sunday morning message series leading up to Christmas, I have been thinking about two words — “common” and “simple.”

Abraham Lincoln once observed: “The Lord must love the common people, He made so many of them.” That statement prompted the famous sculptor David Brenner to have Lincoln’s face put on the American penny, the lowliest and most ‘common’ coin in our currency.

When I studied engineering we would occasionally refer to the solution to a mathematical equation as being ‘elegant.’ Solutions were elegant because there was a simplicity to them in spite of the complexity of the problem. And even though the solution was simple, it was also comprehensive.

The Christmas story is at once common and simple. It plays out around an obscure young couple, an out-of-the-way town, smelly shepherds and a feeding trough for animals. Yet here was born a boy whose influence would shake the world and comprehensively address the complexities of the human condition and our estrangement from God.

The structure of my message series, The Christmas Story,  is accordingly simple and unadorned. We will simply look at each of the three primary characters of the story — Joseph (Dec. 7th), Mary (Dec. 14th) and Jesus (Dec. 21st). The first two were common people and the third grew up in their very common family. Yet the result is pure spiritual elegance! No one has addressed the human situation and the ultimate issues of eternity as simply and comprehensively as Jesus. In Him this simple story about commoners and a baby becomes the story of our hope.

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