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”

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”

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”

The World Turned Upside Down

The World Turned Upside Down

I had waited four years to see it.

For four years, I tried everything that I could to convince people – especially Abbi – that I needed to go to New York to see this one show. That didn’t work. When it left New York and started a nationwide tour, I began to calculate Christmas gifts and possible vacations for the family. That still didn’t work.

It wasn’t until the week before we moved here that I, finally, was able to sit in an auditorium and watch the one show I had been dying to see. That show was Hamilton. I loved it, and if it wasn’t for the cramped seating, I would have danced in the aisle the entire show. The show is right up my ally: hip hop music to American history. You can’t go wrong!

One of my favorite songs from the musical describes the events surrounding the victory at Yorktown. With the musical’s focus on history and catchy lyrics, it told how the Americans secured the victory and, ultimately, the war on the shores of the James River in the Chesapeake Bay region of Virginia. It did so with a refrain that was sung in the background to describe what took place: the world turned upside down.

The world turned upside down! I love that refrain. I love how it speaks to history. I love how it speaks to the moment of the unexpected becoming reality. I love how it gives us, even, a way to consider what happens when the kingdom of God breaks into the world. Continue reading “The World Turned Upside Down”

Almost Doesn’t Count

Almost Doesn’t Count

One of the things I love about Fridays is catching up on some of my favorite television shows on the DVR. Abbi and I don’t often agree on shows. I am more of a documentary, drama, or slapstick comedy person, while she is more of the sci-fi, British TV, and Food Network variety. So, when I can get to the DVR it is time to play catch up, especially since one of my favorite shows is ending this season.

That is “The Good Place.” Have you ever seen that show? I find it hilarious. The show centers around a group of people who were put in the “bad place” that was disguised as the “good place.” The characters figure this out, but work together to “prove” that they actually either deserved to be in the “good place” or could do enough to earn a spot.

Getting into the “good place,” according to the show, was based on earning enough points on earth to merit the selection. Help a person cross the street … three points. Show up for work and not get distracted by the Internet … five points. Take care of someone in need … 20 points. You could also lose points for bad behavior. It was all random, but the basic idea was that you could accumulate enough points on earth to gain access to the “good place,” which was synonymous with heaven.

We snicker at the show’s premise, but I wonder how easy it is for us to live that way in our lives and faith journey. Are we trying to earn enough points to get into heaven? Read our Bible … three points. Give some money to the church … 10 points. Pay attention to the sermon and not get distracted by lunch … 50 points. Even though we boldly proclaim how Christ is the source of our salvation, how easy is it for us to think that if we do enough good, we can earn our spot in heaven? Perhaps even more, do we keep score in order to prove to others and ourselves that we are better than someone else? Continue reading “Almost Doesn’t Count”

Got Faith?

Got Faith?

Over the last four months or so, we’ve gotten the chance to get to know one another. Don’t worry, I’m not going to ask any pop quiz questions. Those were always terrifying for me in school.

Part of that getting to know each other process as allowed you to learn some things about me. For me, part of that has been for you to get to know some things about me, my life, as well as examine who God calls us to be through these passages that we’ve looked at together. You know I like to laugh at bad jokes and, yes, I don’t use my notes when I preach. It’s not that big of a deal.

You have seen a little bit of who I am as a pastor and leader. That is important for you to listen to, because it is easy to try to fit a new pastor into a predetermined box that is comfortable for us to understand than to pay attention to who is this pastor and why did God send them here. So, we’ve looked at some passages, and admittedly, many of them have been difficult. They are difficult, because I believe the faith in Christ calls us to engage the difficult in a way that leads to deep discipleship. They are difficult, as well, because it gives you a chance to know me and where I believe God might be leading us.

Because deep down we are all still asking this question: Who am I? That is a deeper question that goes beyond my love for bad dad jokes, sarcasm, and presidential history. It goes beyond getting to know my family, Abbi, Noah, and, now, Little Fry. It goes beyond stories about my life and little struggles. It is the deeper question of what is this pastor really about? Continue reading “Got Faith?”