“Hi, Pastor Sal, is it?” A tentative voice asked over the phone, it continued, “It’s me, Oliver, from the concert last week, do you remember me?”
“I do Sonny, I said you could call me anytime if you needed anything. Are you alright?” Pastor Sal repplied.
“Well, it’s just that message you preached outside sort of hit me where it hurts. I’ve been reading up everything I can. I’m real interested, but I’m in real deep too. You see, I’ve worked for a rich man by the name of Phil Moen pretty much all my life. We had an argument last month, I can’t remember what about, but I took off from work with a few hundred dollars he had lying around, just to make it sting a little, you know? I spent every dollar of that money too, the last of it for that concert. Anyway, he’s a Christian, a real leader in the community, and I feel that I’ve got to make it right somehow. I’ll do anything. Can you help me out?” Oliver requested.
Pastor Sal let loose a whistle and then he stated, “That’s one mighty big problem you’ve got there, I happen to know Phil from way back. I’ll tell you what, I’ll give him a call and see what I can do on your behalf. In the mean time, try not to get yourself into any deeper trouble while I’m sorting things out. Oh, and pray – that always helps.”

Growing up, Philemon was sort of the odd chapter out. It was short and not really relevant, after all, we don’t have slavery any more. Not in the traditional sense. So I’d never heard much preaching on it. Too bad, because it’s quite appliciable. It’s easy to say ‘forgive’ when you have nothing to forgive. It’s harder to say ‘forgive’ (much harder to actually forgive) when you’re looking right at the guy who took from you, betrayed your trust, and fled in the dead of night. Perhaps that’s why we aren’t told how Onesimus wronged Philemon. Because reguardless of their relationship to one another, it’s easier to stay mad than to forgive a new brother in the faith. What if you just substitute the relationship for another, what if it wasn’t master and slave but father and son? older and younger brother? cousins? Sometimes we get ourselves into such deep trouble that we need a third person to reach the offended party. Sometimes even Christians need mediators to help them forgive and be forgiven. Let us not forget though, that we’re all Onesimus as much as we’re all Philemon who have wronged others and need forgiveness as much as we need to give it.

Philemon 1:1-25, “1Paul, a prisoner of Christ Jesus, and Timothy our brother,
To Philemon our dear friend and fellow worker, 2to Apphia our sister, to Archippus our fellow soldier and to the church that meets in your home:
3Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
Thanksgiving and Prayer
 4I always thank my God as I remember you in my prayers, 5because I hear about your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love for all the saints. 6I pray that you may be active in sharing your faith, so that you will have a full understanding of every good thing we have in Christ. 7Your love has given me great joy and encouragement, because you, brother, have refreshed the hearts of the saints.
Paul’s Plea for Onesimus
 8Therefore, although in Christ I could be bold and order you to do what you ought to do, 9yet I appeal to you on the basis of love. I then, as Paul—an old man and now also a prisoner of Christ Jesus— 10I appeal to you for my son Onesimus, who became my son while I was in chains. 11Formerly he was useless to you, but now he has become useful both to you and to me.
 12I am sending him—who is my very heart—back to you. 13I would have liked to keep him with me so that he could take your place in helping me while I am in chains for the gospel. 14But I did not want to do anything without your consent, so that any favor you do will be spontaneous and not forced. 15Perhaps the reason he was separated from you for a little while was that you might have him back for good— 16no longer as a slave, but better than a slave, as a dear brother. He is very dear to me but even dearer to you, both as a man and as a brother in the Lord.
17So if you consider me a partner, welcome him as you would welcome me. 18If he has done you any wrong or owes you anything, charge it to me. 19I, Paul, am writing this with my own hand. I will pay it back—not to mention that you owe me your very self. 20I do wish, brother, that I may have some benefit from you in the Lord; refresh my heart in Christ. 21Confident of your obedience, I write to you, knowing that you will do even more than I ask.
22And one thing more: Prepare a guest room for me, because I hope to be restored to you in answer to your prayers.
23Epaphras, my fellow prisoner in Christ Jesus, sends you greetings. 24And so do Mark, Aristarchus, Demas and Luke, my fellow workers.
25The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit.”


Times and Dates

1 Thessalonians 5:1-11, ” 1Now, brothers, about times and dates we do not need to write to you, 2for you know very well that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night. 3While people are saying, “Peace and safety,” destruction will come on them suddenly, as labor pains on a pregnant woman, and they will not escape.
4But you, brothers, are not in darkness so that this day should surprise you like a thief. 5You are all sons of the light and sons of the day. We do not belong to the night or to the darkness. 6So then, let us not be like others, who are asleep, but let us be alert and self-controlled. 7For those who sleep, sleep at night, and those who get drunk, get drunk at night. 8But since we belong to the day, let us be self-controlled, putting on faith and love as a breastplate, and the hope of salvation as a helmet. 9For God did not appoint us to suffer wrath but to receive salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ. 10He died for us so that, whether we are awake or asleep, we may live together with him. 11Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing.”

My my my, how has this year flown by. Was it only yesterday that I wrote that they could have chosen better performers for the New Year’s Eve Special? I visited a church whose pastor gave a sermon about next year. He talked about how every dollar had lost at least thirty cent’s worth of value, the natural disasters that seem to plague us these days, and the volitile tensions in the Middle East. His conclusion was that in a very short while Jesus would be returning. I had already seen that headline on a magazine by Wal-Mart’s checkout line some weeks ago. I seem to remember that Jesus said that the only sign that would be given this generation was that of Noah. While he was building his boat, everybody else was drinking, partying, marrying, having kids, and just living, albeit sinfully and full of evil all the time, but they weren’t about to change for anything or anyone. It seems so many Christians are caught up in the living, they’ve forgotten to follow God’s dirrections. If you knew for a fact the date Jesus would return, would you spend every minute leading people to Christ, or would you live it up every day except the last one doing as you please? The thing of it is that it seems that three hundred and sixty five days is going to be a whole lot longer from day one than it does from day three hundred and sixty five. So perhaps that pastor is right, we have seen our very last full year, or perhaps there might be a few more full years left before our time is up, but we should be living as if it is a matter of time that is about to run out. Because if it all ends before today does, where do you think you would find yourself? Thrilled at the prospect? Awaiting a nightmare? Somewhere confused inbetween?

But that’s only the half of it. The rest of this verse tells us that we shouldn’t really be surprised at all. We should be alert and self-controlled (twice!) We should be encouraging each other and building one another up. Not so easy to do in this world where we have made unofficial sport of tearing each other down. (Or dissing, as they say in the vernacular, short for disrepecting.) The sorts of jokes we tell these days would be horrible insults or even fighting words just decades ago. Of course, just passing out compliments is a help, but it think we’re to do more than just talk, but to take action to encourage and build up each other.

Republic / Democracy in Action

(I’d say something, but a character named Mr. Smith said it all when he went to Washington. Isn’t it interesting that under a president who doesn’t want ‘buisness to go on as usual’ that nothing has changed? Didn’t a little while ago a senator say that it was ‘business as usual’ for the representatives to agree to ‘sweetheart deals’ to get a certain measure passed? Mr. Smith wouldn’t sell his vote like that. The thing is that so many have been in the machine or molded by old cogs that they see no need to right themselves. That’s alright though, we’ll straighten them out eventually. It is interesting that these days you can vote to prevent a fillibuster, to keep a senator from bogging things down with his or her right to free speech. At this point, we’ve gotten an offer on the house and even though we’re selling it “AS IS” our realtor insists on us making some major changes. We just don’t have the money to spend, we can’t afford to pay the mortgage, continue to rent, and build the other house as well as pay to update the mortagage house. We’ve worked all our lives to have good credit, we haven’t any credit card debt, but it just isn’t enough in this market.)
H.V. Kaltenborn: “[Announcing on the radio] Half of official Washington is here to see democracy’s finest show, the filibuster, the right to talk your head off, the American privilege of free speech in its most dramatic form. The least man in that chamber, once he gets and holds that floor by the rules, can hold it and talk as long as he can stand on his feet providing always, first, that he does not sit down, second, that he does not leave the chamber or stop talking. The galleries are packed. In the diplomatic gallery are the envoys of two dictator powers. They have come here to see what they can’t see at home. DEMOCRACY IN ACTION.”

Jefferson Smith: “[After reading the Declaration of Independence] Now, you’re not gonna have a country that can make these kind of rules work, if you haven’t got men that have learned to tell human rights from a punch in the nose.
[The Senate applauds] It’s a funny thing about men, you know. They all start life being boys. I wouldn’t be a bit surprised if some of these Senators were boys once. And that’s why it seemed like a pretty good idea for me to get boys out of crowded cities and stuffy basements for a couple of months out of the year. And build their bodies and minds for a man-sized job, because those boys are gonna be behind these desks some of these days. And it seemed like a pretty good idea, getting boys from all over the country, boys of all nationalities and ways of living. Getting them together. Let them find out what makes different people tick the way they do. Because I wouldn’t give you two cents for all your fancy rules if, behind them, they didn’t have a little bit of plain, ordinary, everyday kindness and a – a little lookin’ out for the other fella, too…
That’s pretty important, all that. It’s just the blood and bone and sinew of this democracy that some great men handed down to the human race, that’s all. But of course, if you’ve got to build a dam where that boys camp ought to be, to get some graft to pay off some political army or something, well that’s a different thing. Oh no! If you think I’m going back there and tell those boys in my state and say: ‘Look. Now fellas. Forget about it. Forget all this stuff I’ve been tellin’ you about this land you live in is a lot of hooey. This isn’t your country. It belongs to a lot of James Taylors.’ Oh no! Not me! And anybody here that thinks I’m gonna do that, they’ve got another thing comin’.
[He whistles loudly with his fingers in his mouth, startling Senators who are dozing or reading other materials] That’s all right. I just wanted to find out if you still had faces. I’m sorry gentlemen. I-I know I’m being disrespectful to this honorable body, I know that. I- A guy like me should never be allowed to get in here in the first place. I know that! And I hate to stand here and try your patience like this, but EITHER I’M DEAD RIGHT OR I’M CRAZY.”
[His voice very hoarse, from his filibuster] Just get up off the ground, that’s all I ask. Get up there with that lady that’s up on top of this Capitol dome, that lady that stands for liberty. Take a look at this country through her eyes if you really want to see something. And you won’t just see scenery; you’ll see the whole parade of what Man’s carved out for himself, after centuries of fighting. Fighting for something better than just jungle law, fighting so’s he can stand on his own two feet, free and decent, like he was created, no matter what his race, color, or creed. That’s what you’d see. There’s no place out there for graft, or greed, or lies, or compromise with human liberties. And, uh, if that’s what the grownups have done with this world that was given to them, then we’d better get those boys’ camps started fast and see what the kids can do. And it’s not too late, because this country is bigger than the Taylors, or you, or me, or anything else. Great principles don’t get lost once they come to light. They’re right here; you just have to see them again! I guess this is just another lost cause, Mr. Paine. All you people don’t know about the lost causes. Mr. Paine does. He said once they were the only causes worth fighting for. And he fought for them once, for the only reason that any man ever fights for them. Because of just one plain simple rule: ‘Love thy neighbor.’ And in this world today, full of hatred, a man who knows that one rule has a great trust. You know that rule, Mr. Paine. And I loved you for it, just as my father did. And you know that you fight for the lost causes harder than for any others. Yes, you even die for them. Like a man we both knew, Mr. Paine. I wouldn’t give you two cents for all your fancy rules if, behind them, they didn’t have a little bit of plain, ordinary, everyday kindness and a little looking out for the other fella, too.
[After reading several letter demanding that he end his speech] Well, it looks like this is a lost cause, doesn’t it? But then, a man once told me that the only causes worth fighting for are the lost causes.
[To Senator Paine] A man we both knew. You think I’m licked. You all think I’m licked! Well, I’m not licked. And I’m going to stay right here and fight for this lost cause, even if this room gets filled with lies like these; and the Taylors and all their armies come marching into this place. Somebody will listen to me.[After talking for pretty much a whole day, Mr. Smith collapses.]”

Him Part 6: Growing Up

Luke 2:41-52, “41Every year his parents went to Jerusalem for the Feast of the Passover. 42When he was twelve years old, they went up to the Feast, according to the custom. 43After the Feast was over, while his parents were returning home, the boy Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem, but they were unaware of it. 44Thinking he was in their company, they traveled on for a day. Then they began looking for him among their relatives and friends. 45When they did not find him, they went back to Jerusalem to look for him. 46After three days they found him in the temple courts, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions. 47Everyone who heard him was amazed at his understanding and his answers. 48When his parents saw him, they were astonished. His mother said to him, “Son, why have you treated us like this? Your father and I have been anxiously searching for you.”
 49″Why were you searching for me?” he asked. “Didn’t you know I had to be in my Father’s house?” 50But they did not understand what he was saying to them.
51Then he went down to Nazareth with them and was obedient to them. But his mother treasured all these things in her heart. 52And Jesus grew in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and men.”

So it’s been awhile since Joseph and Mary had to flee for Jesus’ life. The baby boy had grown up into a fine example of a twelve-year-old child. Then something happened that no parent today would admit to – Jesus’ parents lost their son. Even worse than being turned around in a mall, he was gone for three whole days. Today that would be more than enough reason to get the authories invovled and put out an amber alert. While Joseph and Mary stopped by all their family and friends gathered for the Passover in Jerusalem, Jesus was in his father’s house teaching the teachers a thing or two. The Bible gives Jesus some privacy as he grows up, with no more tales of his adventures or even an idea of his daily life. It sort of makes me think that we don’t have a right to know everything about everybody. He did, however, remain obedient as he got older. Obedient to his parents on earth and to his Heavenly Father. Mary, as she had before, treasured all these things in her heart. I know that this episode isn’t really related to the nativity, but it points to an event that will happen in another twenty or so years, when Jesus was lost for another three days, nowhere to be found. That’s the whole point of his comming. First as the suffering servant, the sinless sacrifice, and finally coming again as the conquering king. We say that He is the reason for the season, it’s all about Him. But I like the creator of B.C.’s tracks the best, He is the gift – will you recieve Him?

Him Part 5: The Five Kings

Matthew 2:1-12, “1After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem 2and asked, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star in the east and have come to worship him.”
 3When King Herod heard this he was disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him. 4When he had called together all the people’s chief priests and teachers of the law, he asked them where the Christ was to be born. 5″In Bethlehem in Judea,” they replied, “for this is what the prophet has written:
 6″ ‘But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah,
      are by no means least among the rulers of Judah;
   for out of you will come a ruler
      who will be the shepherd of my people Israel.'”
7Then Herod called the Magi secretly and found out from them the exact time the star had appeared. 8He sent them to Bethlehem and said, “Go and make a careful search for the child. As soon as you find him, report to me, so that I too may go and worship him.”
 9After they had heard the king, they went on their way, and the star they had seen in the east went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was. 10When they saw the star, they were overjoyed. 11On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold and of incense and of myrrh. 12And having been warned in a dream not to go back to Herod, they returned to their country by another route.”

King Herod must have been furious when he had realized that he had let a threat to rule slip under the radar. Fortunately, he could use these wise men for his own ends. Well, he could have if they hadn’t been warned in a dream not to follow his intructions. Of course, one must not overlook the gifts:
1.) Gold – the capital of a king, untouchable by Jesus’ parents by law
2.) Incense – the tool of a priest, worship in scent form
3.) Myrrh – a spiced used for burials, not the sort of thing a young kid needs.

Here we know that the Magi were in Bethlehem, but they found Mary and the child at a house. So the nativity scenes are not Biblically correct, but they do make for a great story. Perhaps they were in the home of a relative, after all, this is Joseph’s hometown. The Magi meet Jesus, they find a safe route home. King Herod’s been thwarted. Life couldn’t be better, right?

Matthew 2:13-18, “The Escape to Egypt
 13When they had gone, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream. “Get up,” he said, “take the child and his mother and escape to Egypt. Stay there until I tell you, for Herod is going to search for the child to kill him.” 14So he got up, took the child and his mother during the night and left for Egypt, 15where he stayed until the death of Herod. And so was fulfilled what the Lord had said through the prophet: “Out of Egypt I called my son.”
 16When Herod realized that he had been outwitted by the Magi, he was furious, and he gave orders to kill all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity who were two years old and under, in accordance with the time he had learned from the Magi. 17Then what was said through the prophet Jeremiah was fulfilled:
 18″A voice is heard in Ramah,
      weeping and great mourning,
   Rachel weeping for her children
      and refusing to be comforted,
   because they are no more.””

This time it’s Joseph to the rescue. He wakes up from one of those dreams and gets the entire household packed and going that very night. Good thing he didn’t spare a moment, otherwise he might have been caught by the forces of a furious king. King Herod, for good measure, ordered the death of every male child two years of age and younger who were born in or near Bethlehem. It’s too bad he wasn’t well-read, otherwise he would have known that just as Moses had been spared from Pharoh’s decree, his actions could not stop the prophecy of a coming king. The chapter ends with another dream that tells Joseph that it’s safe to return to the land of Israel.

Matthew 2:19-23, “The Return to Nazareth
 19After Herod died, an angel of the Lord appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt 20and said, “Get up, take the child and his mother and go to the land of Israel, for those who were trying to take the child’s life are dead.”
 21So he got up, took the child and his mother and went to the land of Israel. 22But when he heard that Archelaus was reigning in Judea in place of his father Herod, he was afraid to go there. Having been warned in a dream, he withdrew to the district of Galilee, 23and he went and lived in a town called Nazareth. So was fulfilled what was said through the prophets: “He will be called a Nazarene.””


Merry Christmas!

Unlike Christmases past, we’ve no lights on our house, no ornaments, no trees, no garland, no lights, no decoration whatsoever. This year were were only able to keep the tradition of gift-giving and meal-eating. No neighbor of ours has any lights either. It’s strange, really. Sort of a twilight zone episode of what would Christmas be like without Christmas. As I said last year, I had the feeling that our traditions were being stripped away so we could focus on Christ, whom this holiday honors. No Santa Claus, elves, raindeer, coal, stockings, etc.

I keep on coming to Star Trek Generations, when Cptn. Picard is in the Nexus he believes he’s celebrating Christmas with his family. I think many American Christians are in a similar place. The traditions help us celebrate the reality which isn’t inside the bubble. For us we might be sharing a meal, sharing a gift, and sharing the company of our families. For other Christians those things are luxuries, so let’s not take our blessings for granted.

Iraqi Christians Face Bombs, Attacks in Run-Up to Christmas

Him Part 4: Meeting Baby Jesus

Luke 2:8-20, “8And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. 9An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. 10But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. 11Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord. 12This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”
 13Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying,
 14″Glory to God in the highest,
      and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests.”
15When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.”
16So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger. 17When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, 18and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them. 19But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart. 20The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told.”

Zechariah couldn’t believe it, Mary couldn’t concieve it, and the shepherds couldn’t wait to recieve it. They weren’t exactly the sort one would expect to be told of Jesus arrival. Why not the Pharisees who had been expecting him? Then again, Jesus would be a future co-worker. Now if you take a look at most nativity scenes, you have Mary, Joseph, Baby Jesus, the manger, a star over Bethlehem, animals here and there, as well as the shepherds. I’ve also seen some nativity scenes complete with the three wise men, but their part takes place a little while later. Baby Jesus had to be circumcised. But his presentation at the temple wasn’t entirely uneventful.

Luke 2:21-40, ” 21On the eighth day, when it was time to circumcise him, he was named Jesus, the name the angel had given him before he had been conceived. 22When the time of their purification according to the Law of Moses had been completed, Joseph and Mary took him to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord 23(as it is written in the Law of the Lord, “Every firstborn male is to be consecrated to the Lord”), 24and to offer a sacrifice in keeping with what is said in the Law of the Lord: “a pair of doves or two young pigeons.”
25Now there was a man in Jerusalem called Simeon, who was righteous and devout. He was waiting for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him. 26It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not die before he had seen the Lord’s Christ. 27Moved by the Spirit, he went into the temple courts. When the parents brought in the child Jesus to do for him what the custom of the Law required, 28Simeon took him in his arms and praised God, saying:
 29″Sovereign Lord, as you have promised,
      you now dismiss your servant in peace.
 30For my eyes have seen your salvation,
    31which you have prepared in the sight of all people,
 32a light for revelation to the Gentiles
      and for glory to your people Israel.”
33The child’s father and mother marveled at what was said about him. 34Then Simeon blessed them and said to Mary, his mother: “This child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be spoken against, 35so that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed. And a sword will pierce your own soul too.”
36There was also a prophetess, Anna, the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was very old; she had lived with her husband seven years after her marriage, 37and then was a widow until she was eighty-four. She never left the temple but worshiped night and day, fasting and praying. 38Coming up to them at that very moment, she gave thanks to God and spoke about the child to all who were looking forward to the redemption of Jerusalem.
39When Joseph and Mary had done everything required by the Law of the Lord, they returned to Galilee to their own town of Nazareth. 40And the child grew and became strong; he was filled with wisdom, and the grace of God was upon him.”

Simeon gets pretty much all of the screen time, but I wouldn’t mind if I were him. Simeon means “he has heard” and he heard that he wouldn’t die before he had seen the Lord’s annointed one. Once again, the Holy Spirit moved through this man to deliver a message. Anna means “gracious” and she graciously waited her turn and she spoke about the child. Mary and Joseph took both words to heart and their little boy home.