The Nativity: Joseph

The Nativity: Joseph

Perhaps like many of you, we took time over the Thanksgiving weekend to decorate our home for the Christmas season. It began with my usual decorating the outside walkways with candy canes. It continued with putting up my beloved Christmas village. We put up our tree with ornaments we’ve collected over the years, and we put up our Nativity set.

We have several Nativity sets in our home and in my office. My favorite is actually the one that is not the most appealing. It is one that currently sits in my office. It is a small painted set that I got at a White Elephant Christmas party years ago. When it came to me and my turn to trade it or keep it, I actually went against the custom of trading and kept the set. Why? Because at the time I didn’t have a Nativity set of my own and it was quirky enough that I felt it and I would be a good match.

Nativity sets, no matter what they are or look like, are treasured decorations each Advent and Christmas season. They combine all the elements of the Christmas story from Matthew and Luke to give us an artistic rendering of the scene. The descriptions we have from Scripture do not take place with all the characters – Mary, Joseph, the baby Jesus, shepherds, angels, and the Magi –being there together at the same time. So, there is artistic liberty taking place in many of our sets, and we can appreciate how they invite us to see things that are present within the stories that lead up to Jesus’ birth.

Throughout the Advent season, we are going to take a look at some of the characters that appear in our Nativity sets. We’ll share about their lives, how they came to be part of the story, and how they shape our understanding of Jesus’ birth and what it means for us today. Our journey beginswith the least known of the characters involved with Jesus’ birth Joseph. Continue reading “The Nativity: Joseph”

From Gratitude to Greed in 24 Hours

From Gratitude to Greed in 24 Hours

On Thanksgiving, many of us will gather with family and friends around the dinner table. We’ll converse about politics (unfortunately). We’ll watch the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. We’ll sleep through the football games. We’ll eat more than our fair share of turkey and stuffing.

At the same time, we’ll talk about how this day is about having a sense of gratitude for the things that we have in our lives. Thanksgiving, which historically dates back to the Pilgrims in the 17th Century, was created in order for us to reflect upon the things we have in our lives and to give thanks to God for those blessings, no matter how big or small they may be.

So, perhaps it is striking, and maybe even ironic, that Thanksgiving is also a day many will begin their Christmas shopping. Even before the dawn of Thanksgiving Day sales, families would camp outside of stores waiting for them to open for the best deals on a new television or some other item. We’ve all seen the images on television from Black Friday when an unsuspecting store clerk opens the doors only to be overwhelmed by a mass of shoppers looking for a deal.

Within a 24-hour period, we traverse a crazy journey of faith where we move from a posture of gratitude to that of greed. How do we get there so easily? Continue reading “From Gratitude to Greed in 24 Hours”

The Forgiving King

The Forgiving King

Last Sunday, I could not get home from worship fast enough. I had to get to my recliner, turn on my tablet, and open up Netflix. Why? Because the show “The Crown” had returned.

“The Crown” provides a dramatic telling of the Windsor family, focusing on the rise and reign of Queen Elizabeth II. Each season is its own decade, which is why there is a need for new lead actors and actresses every two seasons. The show tells the story of what many of us are fascinated with – the glitz and glamour of the Royal Family and its unusual family drama.

For many of us, the Royal Family is our only interaction with the idea of monarchy. What we see is the image of celebrity and ceremony. Yet we are captivated by it. That captivation is why 750 million people watched Prince Charles marry Diana in 1981.  It is why an estimated 2.5 billion people watched Princess Diana’s funeral in 1997. It is why more than 100 million watched William and Kate’s wedding in 2011. As a point of reference, 98.2 million watched the Super Bowl in February.

We’re fascinated with the idea of monarchy and kingship, but that fascination hinders us on a day like today. This is Christ the King Sunday. It is the final Sunday of the Christian year and one that is particularly important for our life of discipleship. This is a day to celebrate that Jesus is our King and Lord.

What does that mean? Continue reading “The Forgiving King”

A New Beginning

A New Beginning

It is hard to believe that in a few short weeks we will be greeted by the year 2020. Many of us are already thinking about the coming year and, perhaps, who should greet us into the year. I recently saw a photo shared on social media advocating for Barbara Walters to host the celebrations in Times Square. Why? So that she can announce at 12:01 a.m., “I’m Barbara Walters, and this is 2020.”

When I think of 2020, though, my mind goes to visionary concepts that focused on 2020 being the ideal year to set a long-term goal. I can remember hearing leaders talk, especially on infrastructure needs, about projects that needed to be in place by 2020. Now, at least in my hometown in Beckley, we are seeing some of those long-term visions lived out, as the city has opened up its long-desired bypass around the original bypass.

Today, though, is a good day to talk about vision – the picture that God paints for us of a near or distant future – and purpose – of how we live that out. We do so, though, realizing that preparing for the coming year may have us a little on edge. That is because we might feel some anxiety going into 2020. We will participate in an election, both on the state and federal level, that has the potential to further our partisan divisions, which is already tearing us apart from one another. As the United Methodist Church, we will approach General Conference in 2020 knowing that there will be major decisions made about the future of our denomination. There are other anxieties, as well, which we will all face. Continue reading “A New Beginning”

Reversing Church Decline

Reversing Church Decline

Noah loves balloons. Every so often, we will purchase some for him, especially around his birthday, that he can enjoy and play with.

Sometimes it is my responsibility to blow up the balloons. With my asthma, I don’t always have the lung strength to blow them up myself. I am thankful for the ability to purchase small tanks that allow me to blow up the balloons that, in turn, give Noah some joy and pleasure.

One of the things about balloons is that over time they lose air. You don’t always notice it happening, but air can seep through the balloon and, thus, shrink its size. Sometimes, it takes a while to notice that the balloon doesn’t have the same amount of air that it did before.

I believe sometimes the church is just like a balloon. Sometimes we don’t always recognize issues or periods of decline until it is entirely noticeable. When we begin to notice issues or decline when it is reached the point that ignoring it any longer would harm the long-term operational structure of the local church.

The truth is that the church has often struggled with issues. As well, in many ways, we have been in decline, as a Methodist movement, for a more than just a handful of years. By percentage of the population, by some accounts, we have been in a state of decline since the 1880s. It was easy to miss for a long time, because the church was able to maintain its funding and support levels.

That isn’t the case, currently. Continue reading “Reversing Church Decline”

The Living God

The Living God

Throughout the summer and fall, especially as we have looked at the Gospel of Luke, we have gone on a journey with Jesus. During this journey, Jesus has traveled the shore line of the Sea of Galilee, made his way down the Jordan River, over through Jericho, and visited other important areas of Galilee and Judea. His journey has been focused on taking him to Jerusalem to meet his accusers, to face the cross, and experience the resurrection.

Yet, we have also shared how Jesus used the journey to engage people along the way about what it meant to follow him. He used the time, truly, to talk about discipleship. For Jesus, discipleship is more than just saying you are a “Christian” or being a member of a church. Discipleship is about completing following Christ by abandoning our own self and ideas for how life should be and completely dedicate ourselves to following the life of Jesus. This is a life of deep commitment and engagement with the Lord that is a lifelong journey.

Much of the journey from Galilee to Jerusalem was focused on discipleship and following him completely. Even when he reaches the Holy City, Jesus continues to talk about the responsibilities of following him and how it challenges the ideas of the world. This is the case as we turn our focus to Luke 20:26-38, where we find Jesus teaching in the Temple during the lead up to the Passover celebrations. Continue reading “The Living God”