The Revelation of Jesus Christ

Part I of  the series “The End of the World as We Know It: The Book of Revelation”

World-War-Z-header_0Well, it’s the beginning of a new year. If you’ve been paying attention over the last week or so to the myriad “year in review” shows and articles that always come out this time of year, it would be easy to look back at 2014 and wonder how we made it through. In Time magazine, for example, the person of the year was actually the whole group of doctors and researchers who are fighting the deadly disease of Ebola, which is devastating a few countries in Africa and touched our own shores, sparking no small amount of panic in some places. The rise of ISIS in the Middle East and terrorism at home and abroad continues to concern us with the prospect of rogue states or terror cells getting nuclear weapons that could wipe out millions. Violence and protests over racial issues and policing make the front page news every day.

Australian troops passing through Chateau Wood during the battle of PasschendaelePeople are prone to wonder in times like these whether the end of the world as we know it is coming soon. Hollywood certainly thinks that way. Have you noticed the myriad movies and shows out there now with apocalyptic themes? From the zombie apocalypse of The Walking Dead and World War Z to the dystopian future of the Hunger Games to the rapturous evacuation found in the Left Behind movie, it seems that many people in our culture are walking around like that old man wearing a sandwich board declaring that “The End is Near.”

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The Wish Book – A Message for Christmas

Luke 2:21-38

1970 Sears Wish Book 001When I was a kid, back in the late 60s and early 70s, there was one event that was the highlight of every fall—when the Sears Wishbook arrived in the mail. For you kids out there, this was before the days of the internet when shopping was actually done in stores and catalogs were made of paper (and no, we did not have to fight dinosaurs to get to the mailbox). The Sears Wishbook was a 600-page catalog that had everything a kid could possibly desire, and every year we waited for it so that we could take a Flair Pen and circle all the stuff we wanted for Christmas.

I treated that Wish Book like it was holy scripture. It had an Old Testament, which was the first half of the catalog that consisted mostly of clothes, household gadgets, and tools—a section that had to be endured and flipped through quickly in order to get to the good stuff in the New Testament, which was where the toys appeared. It was a wonderland of possibility and I remember analyzing every potential toy by parsing the meaning of each description, it’s potential cost weighed against Santa Claus’s budget (an economic reality of which my mom always reminded me), and it’s probable fun factor. I cross-referenced the ads in the Wish Book with the commercials I watched every Saturday morning during Scooby Doo and the Bugs Bunny/Roadrunner Hour, and in a few months I had a pretty good idea of what I wanted and what to expect when I got it.

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Jesus’ Family Values

Part IV of the Advent Series “A Family Christmas”

Matthew 12:46-50; I Peter 2:4-10

family-values-quotes-2There’s a lot of debate out there these days about what constitutes American family values. Those values have become a political football in recent decades, with candidates running on various platforms that give visions of the ideal family. When I mention the term “family values” here this morning, a lot of you are conjuring up different images, depending on your generation.

img0151AWhen many of us in the Boomer and Builder generations think of family values, we harken back to memories of the nuclear middle class family with two long-term married parents raising their biological children. Think of “Leave it to Beaver” or “Ozzie and Harriet” as examples—families where the most stress was placed on raising responsible children who will be good American citizens and productive members of society.

More recent generations, like the Generation Xers and Millenials, have a different experience of family values. The divorce rate is now half the marriage rate. Twenty-seven percent of family households with minor children are headed by single parents. One third of infants in the U.S. are born to unwed parents. Two million children are now being raised by non-heterosexual parents and that number is increasing. For these generations, the primary examples are the TV shows “Friends” and “Modern Family”—families consisting of a circle of friends or a variety of non-traditional families sharing a kind of community together.

A lot of our cultural capital has been spent debating which forms of family are the best and which values should prevail. One side points to the decay of the family and the other side points to the freedom of non-traditional families. As Christians, we add the dimension of Christian family values to the mix, advocating for a biblical view of the family as the best way to raise children and bolster society. What’s clear, however, is that the nature and cultural value of family has been evolving for some time.

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In Wisdom and Favor – The Family of Jesus

Part III of the Advent Series “A Family Christmas”

Luke 2:39-52

child jesusEver since the time of the early church, Christians have wondered about the “lost years” of Jesus–that period between the stories about his birth and the beginning of his public ministry at about age 30. That’s a pretty big gap of time to cover and some have tried to fill in the time with stories that are at once fanciful and bizarre. The early Gnostics–a pseudo-Christian sect that was concerned with secret knowledge and the Platonist separation of body and spirit–came up with stories of Jesus doing little miracles when he was a boy. For example, the Infancy Gospel of Thomas, a late document from the second century, has the boy Jesus making little birds out of clay and then setting them free. In another story, a boy runs into the Jesus accidentally and Jesus says “Thou shalt not finish thy course” and the other boy drops dead on the spot. When people criticized him for the incident, he struck them with blindness. In one more story, Jesus was accused of pushing a boy out of a window, but then redeems himself by raising they from the dead.

Other stories have Jesus going to Qumran to study with the Essenes or that he spent time learning from the Pharisees. Other more bizarre stories have Jesus journeying to India to study with gurus. The Arthurian legends have him going to Britain.

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The Jesus Family Tree

Part II of the Advent series “A Family Christmas”

Matthew 1:1-17; Romans 8:12-17

eilean-donan-castle_09As an adopted child from the 1960s, I don’t know a lot about my birth family. All I’ve been able to glean, in talking to the agency that handled the adoption, is that I was born in a Salvation Army hospital in Pittsburgh to an unmarried woman, and that my birth father was a Salvation Army officer. Ironically, this pastor is the product of clergy misconduct!

Ever since I was a kid, I’ve wondered about where I came from—my nationality, etc. I’m pretty sure I have some Scots-Irish in me, given that most of the people who settled the rolling wooded hills of western Pennsylvania were Presbyterian and other Protestant dissenters from the Ulster region of Northern Ireland, which was in turn populated by Scottish and English families in the 17th century. In the period between 1710 and 1775, some 200,000 of these Ulster Scots (as they are more properly known) migrated to the colonies, and especially to the western part of Pennsylvania where these poor farmers could squat on the hilly, wooded land that no one else wanted except the French and Indians who were already there. These were the descendants of the early Celts, who fought the Romans and then the English, stripping naked, painting themselves blue and hurling themselves at the enemy. I’m pretty sure these are my people, given the fact that I have felt a visceral connection to the land during my times in Scotland and the sound of bagpipes gives me chills.

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