The Seed in the Stump

The King on the throne is the seed in the stump

Isaiah 6 tells the story of one of the most remarkable revelations of God ever experienced by a man. It was in the year of Uzziah’s death that the event occurred. Uzziah ascended to the throne in the midst of a collapsing economy, a weakened military, and growing threat of an Assyrian invasion. But under Uzziah’s godly leadership, things seemed to be turning around. The economy soared, the military grew strong and hope was alive in Judah. Uzziah was making Israel great again (I couldn’t resist.)

rememberFrom Genesis onward, humanity has waited and watched for the “Seed” that God would provide that would ultimately crush the head of the enemy. Throughout the Old Testament, we see hopeful prospects- Seth, Noah, Abraham, Moses, Samuel, David… and now Uzziah. Could this be the one? Could it be Uzziah?

Then, at the height of power, Uzziah made a fatal mistake – he allowed the power and strength to go to his head, and he became filled with pride. God punished him by striking him with leprosy, and ultimately he died. Can you imagine how this felt for the average Israelite? Hope was deferred and their hearts were sick (Proverbs 13:12).

It was at this time that Isaiah has a vision of the eternal King sitting upon an eternal throne. In the midst of this revelation, Isaiah’s sin is magnified, then atoned for, and a question is raised. It seems God has a plan to radically change the world, and he desires a human instrument to accomplish his purpose. God asks, “Whom shall I send?” Isaiah volunteers. The mission to which Isaiah is called is bleak. He would see no fruit from his service to God, but earthly success didn’t matter – Isaiah had seen God and lived.

Isaiah 6 ends with a faint whisper of hope. In the midst of a tragic loss, that promises only to get worse, God says,

“And though a tenth remain in it, it will be burned again, like a terebinth or an oak, whose stump remains when it is felled.” The holy seed is its stump.”

God’s answer to all of man’s problems wasn’t the forest, it was the Seed. And the Seed remained. The Seed in the stump was also the King on the throne, Jesus Himself. The glorious mystery of the nativity is when the God of glory will become the seed of Mary. He is the Seed that Israel and all of humanity had longed for.

A Good Name

Building and sustaining a good name.

Have you noticed that there are some names that bring a pleasant emotion when you hear them, while others bring a feeling of negativity? Remember the bully in middle school? The kid who drove to school, had peach fuzz on his face and always seemed to have a wad of big league chew in his mouth? Would you ever consider giving your child his name? NO! Because he has a bad name – a name that brings stress, frustration, and an array of bad feelings. Next, think of a person who unquestionably loves you and communicates it faithfully. Maybe it’s a parent or a significant other. Hearing their name brings peace and joy – and a myriad of positive emotions. They have a good name.

The emotions that follow a person’s name are the sum total of the residual effects that this person has had on you over the years. This is their name. But remember, a name is less like a resume developed and more like an emotion conveyed.

While there isn’t much we can do to affect the way people treat us, there is much we can do to change how we treat people. In other words, we have no power to change the “name” of others- but we have remarkable power over our own!

Here are some things to consider:

  • Take inventory on what causes someone to have a good name.
  • Write a list of practical ways people have treated you that cause you to have a pleasant response to their name.
  • Consider ways you can replicate their behavior in a way that is consistent and authentic in your own life.

Developing a good name is a worthy endeavor. King Solomon wrote – Proverbs 22:1 (ESV)

A good name is to be chosen rather than great riches, and favor is better than silver or gold.

Preaching to Future Generations

How to preach sermons that will outlive the preacher

When I was called into ministry in 1995, my audience primarily consisted of Baby Boomers, my parents generation. I had to learn to preach God’s Word in a way that they could understand. As I grew older, I found that I was preaching to more and more of my peers – the Busters. Today, I’m seeing that an ever growing aspect of my congregation are the Millennials, my children’s generation.

There are a variety of nuances to how each of these generations receive the preaching of God’s Word. But essentially they are all sinners in need of a Savior and the rules of logic work the same for each. Presuppositions change.  I’ve noticed a need to do more “pre-evangelism” with Millennials that wasn’t required with Boomers. When I said “God” to a Boomer congregation, it was assumed I was referring to the Triune God of scripture. When I say “God” to a group of Millennials this isn’t always the case.  I have to back up a few steps and start the conversation at a different point.

However, it is important as we consider preaching to various generations that we remember there are a dozen more generations ahead of us if Christ doesn’t return before they are born. So our approach must be two dimensional.  We must reach out geographically AND generationally.

evergreenpreaching1. The Sermon must be Evergreen – 

Thus we must preach in such a way that our messages are “evergreen”. I borrow this term not only from the forestry world, but the world of blogging. A good blog post is considered “evergreen” meaning it will be just as valuable in six months as it is today.

An evergreen sermon is one that was just as true in the first century as it will be in the 31st century. Preaching evergreen sermons requires us to peel off some the cultural influences, references, and illustrations that we are accustomed to employing. Evergreen sermons will also be more effective at crossing ethnic and cultural barriers.

Think about the most popular podcast preachers or radio ministries.  Typically, communicators will be very careful to avoid references to recent events, cultural colloquialisms, and anything that could date the sermon or cause a barrier to comprehension.

2. The Sermon must be Deep – 

Evergreen sermons are also as deep as they are broad because the goal is to so develop the hearer into a true disciple that he or she will replicate themselves in others. This is the only way we can assume that the truths we proclaim will progress to a generation beyond us.

By deep I don’t at all mean beyond comprehension, but I do mean they must go beyond a surface understanding. When developing a thought from the text, take the time to mine out the theological concepts that are behind it.

3. The Sermon must be Available –

If your sermon is going to impact many generations, it must be available to them. It is believed that Apollos was a far greater preacher than Paul, but you can’t confidently quote a single sermon from Apollos. Why? We have no record of his sermons (unless he wrote Hebrews). The lesson is – write things down! Make sure you capture your thoughts in a way that will outlive you.

I see the ministry of the Word as fivefold:

  1. Discover – that is study the Word in a spirit of prayer.
  2. Develop – that is write sermons in a way that convey the truth of the text to your people.
  3. Deliver – that is preach the sermon in a way that taps into their mind, will and emotions.
  4. Disseminate – that is ensure your sermon is captured in print, audio, video and delivered on as many platforms as possible. If possible convert your sermons into book form.
  5. Devote – this is, “rinse and repeat”. This process should be done with great patience – trusting God to give the increase.

Theology in Ancient Graffiti

The Alexamenos graffito

2016-12-13_21-35-10The Alexamenos graffito is a piece of Roman graffiti scratched in plaster on the wall of a room near the Palatine Hill in Rome from around 200AD. The Greek inscription reads something like “Alexamenos worships [his] God.” While it was meant to demean Alexamenos, it perfectly communicates his theology and how it was received. He worshipped Jesus, as God, who died on the cross. This Gospel was not well received by his friends.

Have you ever considered the fact that some of the things people say about you may be around for 1,000 years. Will it reveal the sincerity of your faith? 

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Black and White Etching

Ironically, in the next chamber adjoining where the Alexamenos graffito found – another etching was discovered which reads –  Alexamenos fidelis, Latin for “Alexamenos is faithful”.

2 Corinthians 2:15–16 (ESV)

15 For we are the aroma of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing, 16 to one a fragrance from death to death, to the other a fragrance from life to life. Who is sufficient for these things?

Nicholas the Generous

stnicholasicon-1When it comes to church history, the average church member is unfamiliar with many of the individuals God has used to shape His people throughout time. There is one ancient Pastor, however, that is spoken of frequently in christian homes. The legend behind Santa Claus is the fourth century Bishop Nicholas of Myra.

Nicholas was born March 15, 270 AD to a Greek Family in Patara, a village in what is now Turkey. He became the Bishop of Myra in Lycia. Incidentally, both Patara and Myra were visited by Paul during his missionary journeys.

Although he was born into a wealthy family, Nicholas lost his parents to a plague when he was a young child. During a trip to Jerusalem, Nicholas was converted and ultimately leveraged his inherited wealth on behalf of the poor children of his homeland.

According to one source, “He was known to frequently give gifts to children, sometimes even hanging socks filled with treats and gifts. Perhaps his most famous act of kindness was helping three sisters. Because their family was too poor to pay for their wedding dowry, three young Christian women were facing a life of prostitution until Nicholas paid their dowry, thereby saving them from a horrible life of sexual slavery.”

Nicholas lived during days of great persecution for Christians. Roman Emperor Diocletian, who reigned from 284–305, hated Christians and filled the Roman jails with them. Since Bishop Nicholas served during one of the great persecutions of the church, much of his adult life he was in jail, where he frequently faced routine beatings. But then something unforeseen happened once Constantine became emperor which has proven to be a pivotal moment in church history.

On Oct. 28, 312 at the Battle of the Milvian Bridge, the Roman Emperor Constantine was battling to become the soul ruler ofraphael1 the Roman Empire. According to historians, at a decisive point in the battle, Constantine looked up to the sun and saw a cross of light above it, and with it the words “by this, win!”, Constantine commanded his troops to adorn their shields with a Christian symbol, and thereafter they were victorious.

At the Edict of Milan, Roman Emperor Constantine made Christianity legal in the Roman Empire. Later in the Edict of Thessalonica, Christianity became the official state religion. From that point on, the Church was less influenced by Jerusalem and Judaism and it now fell under the influence of Rome and its pagan religion.

Constantine sought to establish unity of faith and practice throughout the new “state” church. The First Ecumenical Council was held in 325 at the summer home of Constantine in the city of Nicaea. It is said that there was hardly a man in the room that didn’t have the scars of persecution.

Hundreds of Bishops gathered there to refute the false views of Arius, a presbyter from Alexandria. Arius denied Christ’s deity. Among the Bishops gathered for the Nicene Council was Nicholas of Myra. He was among those in favor of affirming the Deity of Christ.

The Original Nicene Creed of 325 AD (popular version) 

nicene-creed-1We believe in one God, the Father Almighty, Maker of all things visible and invisible. And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, begotten of the Father [the only-begotten; that is, of the essence of the Father, God of God], Light of Light, very God of very God, begotten, not made, being of one substance with the Father; By whom all things were made [both in heaven and on earth]; Who for us men, and for our salvation, came down and was incarnate and was made man; He suffered, and the third day he rose again ascended into heaven; From thence he shall come to judge the quick and the dead. And in the Holy Ghost.

At one point while Arius was addressing the council, Nicholas’s rage got the better of him. According to some of his biographers, Nicholas stood up, crossed the floor to Arius, and promptly punched him in the face. Maybe Santa wasn’t always so Jolly?

The Legend- 

Because he Pastored in a seaport he became most popular among the Greek and Italian Sailors. He was their Bishop or Pastor. Keep in mind that most of these sailors had worshiped the Pagan Roman and Greek gods — so they were accustomed to praying to Poseidon prior to conversion. It was very common for converted Christians to replace their pagan traditions with Christian substitutes. Nicholas became the replacement for Poseidon and a type of Patron Saint for Sailors.

The year of Bishop Nicholas’s death is uncertain, but the month is firmly believed to be December. As the story of his generosity spread, the stories of his life grew and grew. He was becoming legendary. In the sixth century, a church was dedicated to him and named for him in Constantinople. His image was depicted more in the Middle Ages than any other except those of Christ and of Mary.

In the late 1100s the Catholic Church began to officially recognize Sainthood. It was after this that Nicholas was officially declared a Saint. December 6th became the day when the Catholic Church celebrated St. Nicholas. It really had nothing to do with the birth of Christ, but rather a celebration of this man, St. Nicolas the Bishop of Myra.

December 6th was a kid’s favorite holiday. That is when parents would hide toys in the kids wooden shoes if they were Dutch and in their Stockings in Germany. They got candy, it was great and very popular.

To reflect that legend, images of him carrying bags bulging with gold coins began to appear. As this legend moved northward, the story takes an even more interesting turn. In Germany, the tradition arose of giving gifts to each other in the name of St. Nicholas. This also became a tradition in the Netherlands.

The Dutch word for St. Nicholas became Sinterklaas. The German word eventually became Santa Claus. 

These celebrations of gift-giving occurred on December 6, the anniversary of his death. The gift of a gold coin was highly prized and showed great favor.

In the midst of the Protestant Reformation, Martin Luther wanted a Protestant alternative to the Roman Catholic practice of celebrating the Feast of Saint Nicholas. Instead of giving gifts in the name of Santa Claus on December 6, Luther started the tradition of giving gifts in the name of the Christ child, Christkindl, on Christmas Eve.

The word Luther coined, Christkindl, also evolved over the centuries. It would become Santa Claus’ other name, Kris Kringle. This effort of Luther’s to move away from the Santa Claus tradition inadvertently veered right toward it.puritanchristmasban

As the Reformation continued to mature, St. Nicholas fell out of favor with Protestants, who did not approve of canonizing certain people as saints and venerating them with holidays. Yet, over the next few hundred years, the people’s desire to celebrate St. Nicholas didn’t go away. The protestant church was divided on whether or not to celebrate Christmas.

As a result, the Puritans in America began to combine St. Nicholas Day and Christmas, but they would often celebrate on Christmas Eve rather than Christmas Day.