Yearly Archives: 2013

  • Christmastide, part 1

    The Meaning of Christmas

    What is the meaning of Christmas? That is, what is it that we highlight and celebrate during Christmastide—the twelve days between Christmas and Epiphany? We hear the annual refrain and exhortation to keep Christ in Christmas. But what does that mean? What about Christ are we keeping in Christmas? What is it about Christ that we highlight and proclaim during Christmas? It is during this time that we remember that God is with us in the person of Christ and that he is with us to save us from our sins. As Paul would put it, “But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us…” (Titus 3:4-5a). But is it possible that there is more to the story than just that? Now I am thinking of texts like Isaiah 9:6, “For … Read More »

  • Advent, part 4

    The older I get the more I am amazed at how quickly time passes. Once again I can’t believe that Christmas is so close. But it has not always been like this for me. When I was a kid it seemed like Christmas was never going to come. The waiting and anxiety were almost painful. I remember Christmas Eve being particularly taxing. It was hard to fall asleep. All I wanted was for Christmas to come.

    While not exactly a one-to-one correspondence, this is how we should feel during Advent. During Advent we experience the promise and fulfillment of God’s redemptive plan in the person and incarnation of Jesus. During Advent we look forward, too; longing and hoping and waiting for the second coming of Christ.

    The anxious waiting of Advent is only intensified on this fourth and final Sunday.

    The … Read More »

  • Advent, part 3

    We have considered the way that our cultural calendars are often at odds with the church calendar and how this is especially the case during Advent. And it is especially the case when we consider the theme of Advent which is repentance and preparation. Laurence Stookey calls it a, “little lent.” In support of this, the church has historically appealed to the ministry of John the Baptist who came to prepare the way for the birth of Christ. John’s message was fundamentally a message of repentance. Thus we have prayed with the church,

    Merciful God, who sent your messengers the prophets to preach repentance and prepare the way for our salvation: Give us grace to heed their warnings and forsake our sins, that we may greet with joy the coming of Jesus Christ our Redeemer; who lives and reigns … Read More »

  • Advent, part 2

    Living in a post-Christian world means that often our cultural calendars are in conflict with the church calendar. One such example of this happens every year after Thanksgiving. After Thanksgiving most Americans begin to celebrate Christmas or the Christmas season as it is often called. You hear familiar carols in the mall, sales and advertising are in full swing, and gatherings of friends and families and co-workers abound. Then December 26 comes and all the decorations and Christmas talk are put away until next year. This is how we generally celebrate Christmas in our culture.
    This is not how the church celebrates Christmas. Christmas on the church calendar begins December 25 and runs for 12 days after that. Think here, “On the first day of Christmas my true love gave to me…” Now you know where the 12 days of Christmas … Read More »

  • Advent, Part 1

    Happy New Year! This is the first Sunday in Advent, which is regarded by Western Christianity as the beginning of the liturgical year. Sometimes Christians mistakenly think of Advent as being synonymous with the birth of Christ or with Christmas. But it really isn’t. In fact, Advent’s primary focus is on what we usually call the second coming of Christ. It’s for this reason that you will find the lectionary readings of the church focusing on this topic, this year.

    I like what Laurence Stookey says about this, “What may seem to be an anomaly is a very important theological point: The beginning of the liturgical year takes our thinking to the very end of things.” (Christ’s Time for the Church, 121)

    This is important because beginning at the end equips us to make sense of the rest of Jesus’ life and … Read More »

    Posted in: Pastor Brian's Blog
  • How Worship Works, Part 5

    Last week I ended with these words: “What we sing is important, but so is how we sing. What we say matters, but so does the way we say it. What we eat matters, but so does the manner in which we eat it.” By extension, the content of our worship is just as important as the form. Or, put another way; the way in which we worship is as important as the One we worship. To put it that way is to frame the discussion in the most serious way possible.

    While I have resisted getting involved in the sophomoric discussion about contemporary music vs. traditional (hymns, organs and piano), I have tried, at the same time, to insist that form and style are not morally neutral. To say this is to say what James K.A. Smith does when he … Read More »

  • How Worship Works, part 4

    This week a local pastor and “friend” of mine from Facebook posted something that caught my attention. He recently sold his house and moved into a new one. That, however, didn’t stop him from driving to his old house by mistake on his way home. And this he did four times! You’ve done things like this before. I remember as a kid driving with my dad on Saturdays and he would occasionally exit the exit that he took every day for work rather than the one we actually needed for our destination.

    What happened to this pastor? The man is clearly not stupid. Stupid people don’t get PhDs. And even though he may have chalked it up to daydreaming or something else, I think there is something else at play. What is at play is the way that habit (James K. … Read More »

  • How Worship Works, part 3

    In his new book, In Search of Deep Faith: A Pilgrimage into the Beauty, Goodness and Heart of Christianity, Jim Belcher tells of the one year pilgrimage he and his family took retracing the steps of faithful Christians and their deep faith. It’s a fascinating read, probably the best book I have read this year. Part of the reason he took this pilgrimage with his family was to instill in his children a robust faith that would not crack under pressure. In the second chapter he retraces the steps of Sheldon Vanauken, friend of C.S. Lewis and author of Severe Mercy. He tells of the ups and downs of his journey of faith. Jim’s book is part historical and part personal, all woven together in a hard-to-put-down tapestry. In one part of this chapter he invites us into his home … Read More »

    Posted in: Pastor Brian's Blog
  • Apostles’ Creed

    Evangelicals have a general uneasiness to the use of creeds and confessions which springs from a very healthy respect for the Holy Scriptures.  If you are one of them and wonder why we use them be sure to check out an earlier installment I wrote here http://www.newlifelamesa.org/pastor-brians-blog/confession-of-faith/.  Here our discussion will be limited to an introduction to the Apostles’ Creed.  Whenever we confess the creed I hear questions about its content.  Hopefully this piece will go a little way into answering some of them.

    Philip Schaff highlights the pride of place given by Christendom to the Apostles’ Creed when he says, “As the Lord’s Prayer is the Prayer of prayers, the Decalogue the Law of laws, so the Apostles’ Creed is the Creed of creeds.”  For this reason alone we cannot be ignorant of it.  It might be compared to one … Read More »

  • On Halloween and the Reformation

    Few dates on the cultural calendar are more controversial in the church than Halloween. But what if that day was also on the church calendar? In our culture everyone knows the date of Halloween but very few know the date of the Protestant reformation. Interestingly, and not coincidentally as we will see, they are the same. How are the two related and what should the church’s stance be toward such a controversial holiday as Halloween? These and other questions I hope to answer in this article. Halloween was originally a word that simply meant All Hallows Eve.

    Hallow is a word that means holy (we still use this word in our prayers) and by extension, saint. All Saints Day, All Hallows, was the day the church celebrated the Christians who were in union with Christ and his church and through … Read More »

    Posted in: Pastor Brian's Blog