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Friday, December 5, 2008

Go Tell It on the Mountain

One of my favorite parts of the Christmas story is the account of the shepherds. Like so many people that encounter Jesus in the Gospels, this group of sheep-herders is one of those groups that would seem least likely to see receive an encounter with God. There is so much going against them. According to Robert H. Stein, "We should not romanticize this scene as being a pronouncement to hardworking and respected 'ranchers.' Shepherds were generally considered dishonest. They were unclean according to the law." (Jesus the Messiah, 75) So, why would God send angels to proclaim the birth of Jesus to these kinds of people?

There are any number of good answers, but I think the most provocative one is given by Stein when he says that the angels come to them, not in spite of the fact that they are sinners, but precisely because they are sinners. "Their presence at the birth of Jesus was recorded by Luke to show his readers that the good news of the gospel is for the poor, for sinners, for outcasts, for people like the shepherds." (75) Jesus came for dishonest, unclean sinners! Not unlike us!

Were we living at that time, we would be stunned by the fact that these were the people who first heard of the Messiah's coming. I would think the news would have first come to someone with authority or power, someone with clout, like Caesar or Herod. Or, maybe someone who was very pious and religious, like the good old priest, Simeon, who had waited his whole life for the Messiah and was told by the Holy Spirit he would one day see the savior of Israel. Surely he would hear before those rotten shepherds. But no, Simeon doesn't encounter Christ until eight days after His birth. (Luke 2:25-35) First and foremost, Christ comes to the weak, poor sinners.

For sinners like you and me this is incredible news. God comes to save us! The good news of Christmas is that God came in human flesh to save sinners, to forgive them, and to give them eternal life. The good news of Christmas is that Jesus, born in a manger, would go to a cross and die for those who are dishonest and unclean. He would receive the judgment they (we!) deserve by dying the death of a guilty sinner. By Christ coming to sinners, sinners are declared righteous and can look forward to an eternity of listening to the angels singing "Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests." (Luke 2:14)

This is good news that we must not keep to ourselves, but like the shepherds, go tell the world! Just as we sing every year around this time, "Go tell it on the mountain, over the hills, and everywhere! Go tell it on the mountain that Jesus Christ is born!" At the risk of sounding like a diamond commercial, this year for Christmas, give gift of hope and forgiveness that the shepherds gave that first Christmas. Give the gift of good news that God has come for sinners! Merry Christmas! Glory to God on high!

Stephanie, Sophie, and I would like to wish all of you a wonderful Christmas this year! We are always thankful to be a part of this church family and we pray that your Christmas is full of both wonder as you contemplate the mystery and majesty of God lying in a manger and joy as you spend time with family and friends. Merry Christmas!

Pastor Bob

Speaking of Jesus: Who Was Jesus?

Who was Jesus? This is a question that ranks among the most important in the history of the world (not to oversell it!). When we are telling people the good news about Jesus, we need to be very clear on who Jesus really is! Paul says, "For we do not preach ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord..." So, if we are talking about Jesus Christ as Lord, it is critical for us to know who He is. So, who was that baby in the manger all those years ago?

It is no small task to tell people who Jesus is because we are telling them something that is counter to the way we think. See, we are going to tell people that Jesus is God. The incarnation, that is, the fact that God took on human flesh in Jesus Christ is one of the most offensive parts of the message we deliver. We are not saying that Jesus was god-like, we are not saying he had a divine knowledge greater than anyone else, we are not even saying he is half God and half man. No, what we are saying (and celebrating at Christmas!) is that Jesus IS God in human flesh!

Most people think Jesus was a great teacher or had a lot of "God-insight." But these are half-truths. He was a great teacher who taught that He was God. He had God-insight because He was the fullest revelation of God. Some will say that He never claimed to be God. But this is simply false. Consider the time in John 8 when the Pharisees were challenging Jesus' authority. Jesus said that Abraham saw His coming and rejoiced. The Pharisees replied, "You aren't even fifty years old. How did you see Abraham?" To which Jesus replied, "I tell you the truth, before Abraham was born, I AM!"

Now this is critical. Jesus not only claimed to be around before Abraham, but also gave himself the holiest name of God in all the Old Testament, I AM. This is what God called himself in the burning bush when Moses wondered what to tell Pharaoh when Pharaoh asked who had sent him. God said, "Tell him, I AM sent you." And now, Jesus claims to be the one who said that! He claimed to be God in no uncertain terms. The Pharisees knew it, too. They tried to kill Jesus for committing blasphemy!

Further, when you read the Gospels, you will notice Jesus doing things only God can do. Consider what the Gospel of Mark records Jesus doing: forgiving sins (Mark 2:1-12), controlling the weather (Mark 4:35-41, 6:45-52), providing bread from heaven (Mark 6:30-44, 8:1-13), controlling demons (Mark 1:21-28, 5:1-20), and taking authority over the law (Mark 2:18-3:6, 7:1-23). All of this points to the fact that Jesus is God. The authors of the Scriptures go to great lengths to convince us of this fact. Paul points out that Jesus is both God and man when says that Israel should receive the good news first since Christ is an Israelite. He says, "Theirs (the Israelites) are the patriarchs, and from them is traced the human ancestry of Christ, who is God over all, forever praised! Amen."

When we think about speaking of Jesus to our unbelieving friends this Christmas, let's remember who it is we celebrate, God in human flesh, Jesus Christ. This is the good news, that God comes in Jesus Christ to save sinners. The good news we speak points to the man, Jesus Christ, who is our God and savior! Merry Christmas!

Pastor Bob

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Focus on the Family presents Focus on Marriage Simulcast Conference

Our church has a tremendous opportunity to join many other churches from around the country on February 28th, 2009 in a live video seminar on marriage presented by Focus on the Family. It is called "Focus on Marriage: Seeing Your Marriage through the Eyes of God." This all day seminar will take place at First Lutheran Church in Camarillo and feature speakers like John Trent, Beth Moore, Dr. Gary Smalley and more. The cost is $40.00 per couple. We have currently have 15 tickets available, but we can get more if the need arises. Please consider this day for you and your spouse to help refresh and energize your relationship. Also, if you have friends who would benefit from a day like this, please invite them! For questions and tickets, see Pastor Bob.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Hispanic Outreach Ministry

The Hispanic Outreach Ministry continues to move forward. On November 16, the Ministry Committee presented the latest information to the congregation in a meeting after second service. The presentation focused on “What the Ministry Is” and “What the Ministry Is Not.” For those who missed the meeting, view the presentation here. During the meeting there were a number of questions raised for which there are simply no answers yet. The Ministry Committee will try to provide answers as we develop this ministry.

Very soon, Faith will be presenting the Living Nativity (Dec 12). This is a great opportunity to let the community know we are here. It’s also a great opportunity to let the Hispanic community in Moorpark know about Centro Cristiano Hispano. Members of Centro Cristiano will be at the Living Nativity to greet and speak with the Hispanic members of our community.

The Hispanic Outreach Ministry is not an effort we are undertaking by ourselves. There are resources from Synod and from the Pacific Southwest District. Rev. Ken Behnken, who joined us on Sunday Nov 2, is from the District and “wrote the book” on cross-cultural ministries. Much of the study material and advice the Ministry Committee has been using came from Pastor Behnken. And Pastor Dennis and Tara Bradshaw have been involved in Hispanic Ministries for about 25 years in this area with churches in Oxnard, Carpenteria, and Santa Paula. The District has been planting cross-ministries throughout Southern California for some time. It’s been done before! We don’t have to reinvent “the wheel.”

We are not alone in this ministry.
Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”
Matt 28:18-20 (NIV)

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