If you’re like me (Ken), today your sights are turning towards 2011.  The new year is coming, and we know this because of the countless “quit smoking” commercials that are gracing the episodes of American Pickers I’ve been watching.  And it makes me wonder: What are you hoping for this next year?
A new job?
To lose weight? (me too!)
To quit smoking?
A new baby? (not me!)
A restored relationship?
A new relationship?
A new house?
To make more money?
To give away more money?
To finally finish that project?
A deeper relationship with GOD?
Maybe you’ll sit down with a piece of paper this weekend and write out your goals.  I like to do that, in fact I do it several times a year (if you want some help with that, I’ve uploaded a worksheet we use with the college/career ministry here).  Most of you will think about them, but they won’t end up written down anywhere.  And most of us will end up giving up at some point, or not accomplishing the goal the way we wanted to.  Come on...you know it’s true.
In the early 1900’s, the London Times requested essays from a number of notable writers, including prolific author G.K. Chesterton, to answer the question: What is wrong with the world?  Here is G.K. Chesterton’s response:
Dear sirs:
I am.
Sincerely Yours,
G.K. Chesterton
Chesterton’s response was certainly the shortest, and yet, likely made the most brilliant point of all the essays received.  What Chesterton was able to explain in two words (that, by the way, only use a total of 3 letters! For some perspective, this blog post is: 907 words), is that each of us adds to our own problems, and ultimately to the word’s problems.
Chesterton’s point seems to be that we often point the finger at someone else, that in our minds, the locus of the problem is often in someone else’s hands, rather than our own.  Maybe that will be the case for you and your New Year’s goals.  “It’s his fault,” you’ll say when you didn’t get the new job.  “I just didn’t have enough time,” you’ll say while turning on the television as the project you started this year still sits cold and unfinished in your garage next December.
So, what would make the difference?
Well, some goals can be accomplished through sheer determination and will, which for most of us, means turning off the TV, writing down a plan of action and a date you want to finish it, and going at it.
But some goals need help.  And for those goals I want to suggest that the remedy is total dependance on GOD through prayer.  What I mean by this is consistent, regular prayer; it includes inviting others to pray with you and for you.  If there is one thing I learned in 2010, it’s that GOD is near to us when we pray.  Deuteronomy 4.7 has proven to be true to me over and over again: What other nation is so great as to have their gods near them the way the LORD our God is near us whenever we pray to him?
Paul tells us in Philippians 4 that GOD is near, and that his nearness is what removes our anxiousness when we pray.
Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. - Philippians 4.5-7
Several years ago I heard legendary seminary professor from Dallas, Howard Hendricks, speak, and something he said still sticks with me today: “If you can do it without prayer, is it really worth doing?”
The great reformer, Martin Luther, once famously said: “Tomorrow I plan to work, work, from early until late. In fact I have so much to do that I shall spend the first three hours in prayer.”
So, what are your hopes for 2011?  Who are you depending on to accomplish them?  As we’ve been studying all week, our sufficiency, our hope, our everything, is found in Christ and Christ alone.  Could not also our hopes for 2011 be found in him as well?
Could we take our plans, our hopes, our fears for 2011 to Him in prayer?
Take a moment and meditate on the great hymn: What a Friend we have in Jesus
What a friend we have in Jesus, 
all our sins and griefs to bear! 
What a privilege to carry 
everything to God in prayer! 
O what peace we often forfeit,
O what needless pain we bear, 
all because we do not carry 
everything to God in prayer. 
Have we trials and temptations? 
Is there trouble anywhere? 
We should never be discouraged; 
take it to the Lord in prayer. 
Can we find a friend so faithful 
who will all our sorrows share? 
Jesus knows our every weakness; 
take it to the Lord in prayer. 
Are we weak and heavy laden, 
cumbered with a load of care? 
Precious Savior, still our refuge; 
take it to the Lord in prayer. 
Do thy friends despise, forsake thee? 
Take it to the Lord in prayer! 
In his arms he'll take and shield thee; 
thou wilt find a solace there.
He is a true friend indeed!
- Ken Lippold


Then Jesus declared, "I am the bread of life. He who comes to me will never go hungry, and he who believes in me will never be thirsty. - John 6.35
Now, to really understand what Jesus is saying here when he claims to be the bread of life we have to know the context.
At the beginning of chapter 6 Jesus feeds this huge crowd, the text says 5,000 men besides women and children, most scholars explain that somewhere in the neighborhood of 15-20 thousand people were present.
So, we’ve got this miracle and then right after that Jesus is teaching this same crowd who followed him to the other side of the lake, and He says that he is the bread of life.  If you’re like me (Ken), you’re probably wondering: “what is the connection?” or at least: “what is the point?”
What is the point of this miracle?  Why does Jesus do this and then call himself the bread of life?
Well, I think the answer is found in John chapter 6 verse 4: The Jewish Passover Feast was near.
It’s this little detail that John gives us that opens this whole thing up.
Like us today, when major holidays or festivals would come around the ancient Hebrews would study the significant passages related to that holiday.  So when the passover feast would come around they would have been studying and reading through all the passages in the Hebrew Scriptures about the passover in their synagogues.
There is one miracle in particular related to the passover in the Old Testament that shows us exactly what Jesus was trying to explain with this miracle and by claiming to be the bread of life.  If you have some time, read Exodus 16.1-16, if not, I’ll summarize for you.
Right after the Exodus, Israel finds itself in the desert and they are all grumbling and complaining about having enough food to eat. In fact, they were kind of bemoaning the fact that GOD had taken them out of Egypt where it seems that they could just sit around eating entire pots of meat.
So, instead, GOD provides for them bread in the morning and quail in the evening.  I love this part: at the end of the passage in verse 15, the text reads: When the Israelites saw it, they said to each other, "What is it?" For they did not know what it was.  
Do you know what the word Manna means in Hebrew?  It means “what?”  They had never seen anything like this before, so they didn’t know what to call it, so they started calling it “what?”
I can just image the Abbott and Costello routines going on:
What did you eat for breakfast today?
(Louder this time.) What did you eat for breakfast today?
(Even louder this time.) WHAT DID YOU EAT FOR B-R-E-A-K-F-A-S-T TODAY?!?!
This bread symbolized for them GOD’s provision for their needs.
So, this passage would be fresh in their minds as Jesus does a very similar miracle.  Jesus calls down bread from heaven and provides just enough bread for everyone to eat.  When Jesus feeds all of these people, he is intentionally pointing people back to GOD’s provision of manna in the desert.
Then John tells us that when the crowd finally catches up with him again, he says "I am the bread of life. He who comes to me will never go hungry, and he who believes in me will never be thirsty.” - John 6.35
There was this belief that had arisen by the first century that when the messiah finally did come he would do a bunch of the same miracles that Moses had done.  One of the key ones being bringing down manna from heaven.
The common belief of the day was that there was this storehouse of manna in heaven, that GOD had opened up during the era of Moses, and that the storehouse would be re-opened by the Messiah.
There was this prophecy in a really significant Jewish writing that said: “The treasury of manna shall again descend from on high, and they will eat of it in those years.”
So, what is Jesus claiming through all of this?
(By the way, I think Jesus chooses to use bread as the imagery here because it’s far more poetic to say that you are the bread of life rather than the quail of life.)
To really understand what Jesus is claiming you have to know that for the ancient world, and really for many in our world today, if you had bread you were secure, it means you will live to see another day.
We don’t live like that here.  We have so much food it’s ridiculous, for them food is about survival and security, for us food is about enjoyment and pleasure.
So, when Jesus claims to be bread, he is claiming to be security. Notice what he goes on to say...
36But as I told you, you have seen me and still you do not believe. 37All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never drive away. 38For I have come down from heaven not to do my will but to do the will of him who sent me. 39And this is the will of him who sent me, that I shall lose none of all that he has given me, but raise them up at the last day. 40For my Father's will is that everyone who looks to the Son and believes in him shall have eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day." - John 6.36-40
So when he claims to be the bread-messiah he is saying that he offers more security than physical bread.  He offers a secure and final provision for freedom from sin and death.
I think there is a strong connection with John chapter 1 here.  In John chapter 1, the apostle John, the author, got the chance to say: Look the preeminent one, the Word, the one who spoke the world into being, the one who sustains the world, the true form is here: what else are you looking for?”
I think it’s in this passage that Jesus gets to say: “Look, I’m the bread of life, I’m the one who offers you security, not Rome, not physical bread, not the security of your borders, it’s me: what else are you looking for?”
Jesus explains that all who take of the bread of life are secure, he will lose none who the Father has given him.
So today I will simply ask: Where is your security found?  In you job?  In your possessions?  In your bank account?  Or is it found in Christ and Christ alone?
- Ken Lippold

Solid Ground

I know Christmastime is about birth and the beginnings of Christ’s earthly life and all, but today I (Ken) want to reflect on the end of Christ’s earthly life–his death and resurrection.  As I’ve been living in this theme of “hope” over the last couple of weeks a hymn keeps coming to mind, here’s the first verse and chorus:
My hope is built on nothing less 
than Jesus' blood and righteousness. 
I dare not trust the sweetest frame, 
but wholly lean on Jesus' name. 
On Christ the solid rock I stand, 
all other ground is sinking sand; 
all other ground is sinking sand. 
Endings tell us a lot about beginnings.  But even before Christ is born an angel tips his hat to the end of Christ’s earthly life (I don’t know if he wore a hat or not, actually, I don’t really know for sure if the angel is “he” or “she” or if that even matters in the angelic realm of creation).
Matthew records the dream Joseph has where the angel of the Lord appeared to him:
20 But after he had considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. 21 She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.” - Matthew 1.20-21
This proclamation, that the son born to his fiancee would “save his people from their sins,” must have startled and even confused Joseph.  In Joseph’s worldview, the way people were saved from their sins was by observing the Jewish Law and sacrificial system.  Sins were atoned for by the blood of lams and bulls, not by a person.  
I wonder if Joseph contemplated just how Jesus would save his people from their sins.  Do you think Joseph thought about the possibility of Jesus dying a sacrificial and painful death at the hand of the Romans?  Or do you think he thought Jesus would be crowned king of an earthly throne?  Did Joseph think of Isaiah 53?
4 Surely he took up our pain
   and bore our suffering,
yet we considered him punished by God,
   stricken by him, and afflicted.
5 But he was pierced for our transgressions,
   he was crushed for our iniquities;
the punishment that brought us peace was on him,
   and by his wounds we are healed.
6 We all, like sheep, have gone astray,
   each of us has turned to our own way;
and the LORD has laid on him
   the iniquity of us all.
 7 He was oppressed and afflicted,
   yet he did not open his mouth;
he was led like a lamb to the slaughter,
   and as a sheep before its shearers is silent,
   so he did not open his mouth.
8 By oppression and judgment he was taken away.
   Yet who of his generation protested?
For he was cut off from the land of the living;
   for the transgression of my people he was punished.
9 He was assigned a grave with the wicked,
   and with the rich in his death,
though he had done no violence,
   nor was any deceit in his mouth.
 10 Yet it was the LORD’s will to crush him and cause him to suffer,
   and though the LORD makes his life an offering for sin,
he will see his offspring and prolong his days,
   and the will of the LORD will prosper in his hand.
11 After he has suffered,
   he will see the light of life and be satisfied;
by his knowledge my righteous servant will justify many,
   and he will bear their iniquities.
- Isaiah 53.4-11
We have a benefit that Joseph didn’t, we are looking back on history, we have the whole story recorded for us, by four different authors, from four different perspectives.  And what we know of this baby Jesus is that he grows up, and from the edges of society, with a small band of young followers, he emerges through humility onto the scene.  At one point, when John the Baptist encounters him he exclaims of Jesus: “Behold, the Lamb of GOD who takes away the sins of the world.”  I think John the Baptist had Isaiah 53 in mind.
That is ultimately what Christ did, he became the sacrificial Lamb.  He took on our sin, our iniquity, our rightful punishment for us as he went to the cross.  And his righteousness, his holiness, his sonship is placed on us.  By believing in his name and his power to save, we become children of GOD.
But ultimately, our hope is not found in one who remained in the grave.  He is risen!  That is why Christ is a sure hope, he has overcome the world, and to borrow language from the hymn writer, to trust in even the sweetest of frames would be to place our trust in something temporal and unstable.  Christ is the only solid rock upon which we can find our sure footing.
- Ken Lippold

Tuesday, December 28

The Bridge:

I (Ken) have had the privilege of leading 4 mission trips to the Czech Republic over the last four years.  If you know your Czech history, you know that it existed under Communist rule for over 40 years.  And if you know your Marxist doctrine you know that the eradication of religion or the belief in a being greater than humankind is central to communist thought.  What that means is that for 40 years any form of religion, including Christianity, was forbidden.

Over the years, as I have talked with Czechs and shared the gospel with them, one of the major roadblocks to their trusting in the gospel has been this question: “Where was GOD for those 40 years?”

To be honest, I have wrestled that myself.  I’m sure if you and I were sitting over coffee right now we could come up with myriad reasons why it would seem that GOD had forgotten or left alone the Czech people for so long.

One of my Czech friends thinks that the Czech people had abandoned GOD long before the tanks with red stars on them rolled into Prague, and that GOD left them to their own devices, kind of like Romans 1.  I on the other hand, don’t think GOD ever left, or ever forgot about the Czech people.

The Charles Bridge, possibly the Czech Republic’s most well known architectural monument has stood over the Vltava River connecting Old Town Prague with New Town Prague and the Castle district since the early 1400’s.  And lining the bridge, on either side, are statues of various saints as well as a couple of statues of Jesus.  One statue of Jesus stands near the center of the bridge and is the most popular of all the statues.

Another statue was erected in 1955 which stood on the top of a large hill overlooking the city, it was the largest statue of Joseph Stalin ever erected, it stood over 50 feet high and just over 72 feet long.  They blew it up in 1962 after Stalin was convicted of mass genocide of his own people.

Today another statue stands where Stalin’s once stood, it’s a giant metronome and it signifies the unstable history of the Czech Republic as it has changed hands many times throughout it’s history.

A couple of years ago I stood on the bridge in front of the statue of Jesus and was contemplating the question I had heard multiple times from Czechs: Where was GOD for those 40 years?  And it struck me that this statue of Jesus has been standing here for 600 years.  As I stood there, I noticed something that I hadn’t noticed the first two years while standing in this very same spot.  In the distance, behind the statue, I saw the Metronome ticking back and forth as a reminder of all the times the Czech had changed hands over the last 600 years.  And then I realized that at one time Stalin’s statue was in the background and that it had been blown up. 

And it struck me that conquerors had come and gone, governments had come and gone, political ideologies had come and gone, philosophies had come and gone, but through all of it, the Jesus statue stood here as a proclamation of the grace that is offered us through his blood shed on the cross.

As I stood there a passage from Romans flooded my mind:

37 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38 For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, 39 neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. - Romans 8.37-39

And I realized that even as every tongue with the message of the gospel fell silent during those 40 years, the gospel was still being proclaimed as one walked across the bridge and looked at the statues.  And anyone who knew Christ could be encouraged, and could find hope in Christ who has stood the test of time, and regime, and history.

Christ is greater than Charles IV, He is greater than Stalin, greater than Lenin.  Christ is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. *

This all causes me to think: What have I been placing my hope other than Christ?  Myself?  My job?  A political leader or ideology?  My morals?   

- Ken Lippold

*Colossians 1.15-20

Monday, December 27


Annals of a Quiet Neighborhood by George MacDonald is about a young pastor as he takes on his first church in a rural town in England.  The story follows his relationships and his attempts at shepherding this community.  In it, the main character explains:

“I told my people that God had created all our worships, reverences, tendernesses, loves.  That they had come out of His heart and were put into us because they were in Him first.  That all we could imagine of the wise, the lovely, the beautiful, was in Him, only infinitely more than we could imagine or understand.  That in Him was all the wise teaching of the best man and more; all the grace, gentleness, and truth of the best child and more; all the tenderness and devotion of the truest woman and more.  Therefore, we must be all God’s and all our aspirations, all our worships, all our honors, all our loves, must center in Him.”

It is Him who’s birth we celebrated last week.  It is Him who took on flesh and came to dwell among us.  It is him who so tenderly and with such compassion met prostitutes, and lepers, and invalids, and tax collectors, and sinners and offered them forgiveness and freedom and peace.  It is Him who endured such torture and pain and the worst of all deaths on our behalf.  And it is Him who resurrected from the dead and gives us a mighty and true hope of a future resurrection and restoration of all things.  It is Him who’s birth changes everything for us.

Read what the Apostle Paul wrote of Him:

15 The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. 16 For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him. 17 He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. 18 And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy. 19 For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, 20 and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross. - Colossians 1.15-20

He who exists of his own accord, who is eternal, who is before all things and in whom all things hold together, enters our world to serve and to sacrifice. 

And I wonder do we offer Him our all? 

Do we find our all in Him? 

Are we all GOD’s; and are all our aspirations, all our worships, all our honors, all our loves centered on Him?

- Ken Lippold

Friday, December 24

Friday, December 24

For he himself is our peace, who has made the two one and has destroyed the barrier, the diving wall of hostility, by abolishing in his flesh the law with its commandments and regulations. His purpose was to create one new man out of the two, thus making peace, and in the one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross…                                                     Ephesians 2:14-15

Most of us know John McCain as a senator and former Presidential candidate. But many years ago he was also a POW in the Viet Nam war. For five and a half years Mr. McCain was not only held captive in the infamous “Hanoi Hilton” prison camp, but also routinely beaten and tortured. He tells the story of one particularly brutal North Vietnamese guard would enter his solitary cell every morning for two years and humiliate him before beating him. He admits to learning to hate that guard with a hatred he had never known before. During that same time of solitary confinement McCain would also be tied with “torture ropes” at night that would prevent him from being able to sleep. But one night another guard entered his cell and, without a word, loosened his ropes so that he could sleep. A few months later, on Christmas day, all the prisoners were lined up in the yard and this same guard who had showed him kindness walked up beside him, and again without a word, used his foot to draw a crude cross in the dirt. The guard left the cross there long enough for McCain to understand that he was a Christian and that Christ was the reason he had loosened his ropes. McCain said that that simple gesture of compassion and faith both helped sustain him through the horrors of being a POW and rekindled his own faith in God.

In this passage from Ephesians, Paul is referring to the diverse people, groups that comprised the early church, primarily Jews and Gentiles. These were people from different ethnic, cultural and religious backgrounds – people who, outside of the church, would have distrusted and even hated each other. But because of Christ, Paul says, they have peace because Jesus has “destroyed the barrier of hostility.”

He’s telling us that when we understand and experience the grace of Christ that forgives all OUR sin – and the price paid for that forgiveness – we can then offer that same forgiving grace to others, whether they be members of an enemy army or people who live in our own homes!

Last week marked the 30th anniversary of John Lennon’s death. As media outlets recounted the former Beatles star’s life, their words were often accompanied by clips from his famous songs. One of the songs used was “Give Peace a Chance.” As I listened to a few lines from that song, I thought to myself that John Lennon was right:  the world does need peace. But on the other hand, I also realized that peace, in its ultimate form, is not found in governments, political ideologies, or social programs. Peace, peace of mind, peace of heart, peace with the past, present and future, peace with others, and ultimately, God eternal kingdom of peace, is found in a person – Jesus Christ!

Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout, Daughter of Jerusalem! See, your king comes to you, righteous and having salvation, gentle and riding on a donkey…He will proclaim peace to the nations. His rule will extend from sea to sea and from the River to the ends of the earth.                          Zechariah 9:9-10

Amen. Come, Lord Jesus! (Revelation 22:20)

Have a blessed Christmas!

Brian Coffey

Thursday, December 23

Thursday, December 23

 “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you a hope and a future.”    Jeremiah 29:11

I recently had the privilege of conducting a funeral service at the East Campus. In fact, we have had five funerals or memorial services at FBCG over the past few weeks. Walking with people through times of grief is part of a pastor’s role and one that I consider a very great honor. Over and over again people walking through the “valley of the shadow of death” have reminded me of the depth of love we are to have for one another as well as the hope that we have through Christ. The lady we buried today was Joan. Several months ago I visited with Joan and Joe in their home because she wanted to talk to me about her own funeral service. In the course of that conversation she looked me square in the eye, and in a strong voice said, “I want to live. I want to be with my family. I have a lot to live for! But, if I die, I’m good with that. I know that Jesus loves me and I love Jesus – that was settled a long time ago – so either way, I’m good.” Today I reminded her family and friends that Joan’s words – and her faith – were true!

Within the past few weeks we also dedicated 13 children at FBCG – and welcomed at least two newborn babies into our church family. And as I think about those children – each at the beginning of a life that will include joy and sorrow, successes and failure, love and pain – I realize that the promise of God through the prophet are true for each one of them! God promises that nothing can happen to them that he does not know fully and nothing can happen to them that he cannot redeem into their good and his glory!

“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you a hope and a future.”

In the same way, to those who face the end of earthly life, God says, “you have a hope and a future!” Jesus said,

“In my father’s house are many mansions…I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go to prepare a place for you, I will come back to take you to be with me where I am.” John 14:2-4

This is why Joan could face the end of her earthly life with such confidence and hope! This is why, though her family grieves, they grieve with great hope! And this is why, in Jesus, we can have peace with the future – because in him, our eternal destiny is secure.

Brian Coffey

Wednesday, December 22

Wednesday, December 22

Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.
Philippians 4:6-7

When one of our sons was about four years old he didn’t like to go by himself into unoccupied parts of our home. For example, if he needed to go into the basement to retrieve his shoes, he would insist that either a light had to be on in the basement or someone else had to come with him – preferably both! So if I told him to go get his shoes out of the basement, he would walk over to the stairway and stand staring down into the dark basement. Then he would look back at me and say, “It’s dark Daddy.” I would say something comforting like, “Well, turn on the light and go on down. You’ve been in the basement a million times!” He would continue to stare down the dark stairway. Then he would turn again and say softly, “Will you come with me Daddy?” Then I would get up from whatever I was doing and walk over and stand at the top of the stairway – and something about my presence gave him the courage to go down the stairs and get his shoes.

I think that’s what the Apostle Paul is teaching us here about prayer. Notice the promise of prayer is NOT that God will change our circumstances! Of course, he can change our circumstances and he sometimes does change our circumstances – but that is not the promise. The promise is “the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.” The promise is peace.

This is a peace anchored not in circumstances but rather in a person. The basement is still dark and scary but there is one who stands guard! What makes you anxious today? Do you face a difficult or painful issue? The Bible teaches us that we can bring all our anxieties, fears and needs to God in prayer. Paul is teaching us that when we do this, when we open our hearts in honesty and vulnerability to God through prayer, we will receive his gift of peace. For there is one who promises to be with us – and stay with us -  in all the dark and scary places of our lives. He is called “Immanuel” because he is the God who is with us!

Brian Coffey

Tuesday, December 21

Tuesday, December 21

Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.                                                             Romans 5:1

Charles Dickens’ classic tale, “A Christmas Carol” tells the story of Ebenezer Scrooge, a joyless and miserly man whose love of money has robbed him of the capacity to love and care for others. But when Scrooge is visited by three “ghosts” – the ghost of Christmas past, the ghost of Christmas present, and the Ghost of Christmas future, he is reborn. That is, he sees what he has become and he is transformed into a completely new person.

Dickens has essentially given the world a fictional and theatrical version of the gospel! The Good News is that you and I can have peace with our past, and can be reborn into a new and improved version of ourselves! Only it is not through the “ghost of Christmas past” that we receive peace – but through the grace and forgiveness of Jesus Christ.

The Apostle Paul writes “When you were dead in your sins… God made you alive with Christ. He forgave all your sins, having cancelled the written code…nailing it to the cross.” Colossians 2:13-14

Paul here is referring to an ancient court of law where a written charge would be made against a defendant. He is saying that we are all like a defendant who is guilty before a judge – but the charges against us have been cancelled because Jesus nailed them to the cross! When I read this passage, I think of a toy from my childhood – the “Etch-a-Sketch.” You probably had one too, or maybe you still have one somewhere in your basement or attic! Etch-a-Sketches were both fun and frustrating! They were fun because you could create all kinds of designs with them – especially designs that used straight lines and right angles! But they were frustrating because when you tried to make curved lines, maybe to write your own name in cursive, it was very easy to mess up! But the great thing about an Etch-a-Sketch was – and you can see this coming – was that you could turn it over, shake it a few times, and get a fresh start!

That’s what the Apostle Paul says that Christ has done for you! He has forgiven all your sin by cancelling the written charge against you. He has washed the slate clean! Have you trusted him with your past? Have you both asked and allowed him to walk through the deepest places in your heart and wipe them clean? May you know the peace that only the grace of Christ can bring!

Brian Coffey

Monday, December 20


And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”

Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests.”

When 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.”                                                          Luke 2:8-15

As the well-known holiday song says, Christmas is “the most wonderful time of the year!” It’s a time of lights and laughter, family and friends. It’s a time when our whole culture seems to be kinder, happier and more generous. But at the same time, most of us would also agree that Christmas is one of the most stressful times of the year as well! We cram extra things into our already busy schedules  – things like office and neighborhood parties, trips to the mall to do our Christmas shopping, and Christmas concerts at school. Students often face end-of-semester exams right before Christmas and there are family visits to grandma’s house to make.

Just last week I had to make an extra trip to the hardware store to buy an extension cord so that I could fix a problem with our Christmas lights. As I approached the check-out counters I noticed that the line at one of the registers was quite long while the other was very short. So, being in a hurry, I jumped into the short line. Within 30 seconds or so a kind-looking lady who could have been someone’s grandma was ringing up my purchase. Suddenly, a fellow in the long line starts yelling, “Hey lady! How come you’re helping THAT GUY when we’ve been stuck over here in this line for 10 minutes? Can we get a little help here?!” Since I was “THAT GUY” I just kind of put my head down and thanked the poor woman and hurried out of the store. But I remember thinking to myself, “The most wonderful time of the year, indeed!”

“Peaceful” would probably not be the word to describe Jesus’ arrival into this world.  Israel was occupied by the armies of the pagan Roman Empire. Caesar Augustus had decided to levy a new tax and required all Jewish families to return to the patriarch’s birthplace to register for the tax. Imagine the chaos that would ensue if our government tried the same thing today! Roads, airports and hotels would be jammed and people would be stressed and angry! On top of all this, Mary and Joseph had to make the 80 mile trip from Nazareth to Bethlehem on foot, or at best, with Mary on the back of a donkey – while she was 9-months pregnant. Not exactly a peaceful time!

Yet, in the midst of all this, an extraordinary message comes to the shepherds from Heaven itself:

“Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests.”

“Peace.” What kind of peace is this – that comes when our world is turning upside down? What kind of peace comes when everything about our circumstances says anxiety and stress?

The word “peace” used by the angels in this story is anchored in the Old Testament understanding of “shalom” – which was a Hebrew word that carried the meaning of “possessing adequate resources for completion” and almost always was used in the context of the presence and power of God himself. This “peace” is not anchored, therefore, in the circumstances of our lives – but in a person – a person who is the presence and power of God himself. This, then, is a peace that we can experience not only in the absence of trouble or pain – but in the midst of trouble and pain!

We will continue to dig into the peace that Jesus brings in the next few days of “10 Minutes with God,” but for now – in the midst of this busy and stressful season – may you know the presence and power of the one the prophet called the “Prince of Peace!”

Brian Coffey

Friday, December 17


The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told.  – Luke 2:20

I have read the Christmas story from the gospel of Luke just about every Christmas I can remember for the last 20+ years, but I don’t think that I have ever really noticed the significance of this verse before.  The part of this verse that had escaped my attention is really just a single word – it is the word “returned”. 

Luke tells us that the shepherds returned, returned where?  After visiting the Christ child and spreading the news about him the shepherds returned to being shepherds.  They simply went back to the only life they knew, a life of tending sheep.  They were shepherds before they met Christ, and apparently they remained shepherds after they met him as well.  They didn’t write bestsellers about their angelic vision.  They didn’t go on the first century talk show circuit and become rich and famous, in fact we don’t know any of their names or even how many of them there were.  They simply returned to the hills around the Judean countryside and faded into history. 

These shepherds did return to their ordinary lives, but there was something different about them.  Notice that Luke tells us these shepherds “returned, glorifying and praising God.”  They may have remained shepherds, but they were not the same!  Their lives had been radically altered by the encounter they had with Christ.  Those two simple words, praising & glorifying, signify a radical shift in their lives. There is no greater evidence of a transformed life than that it is lived in praise to God and focused on his glory. 

Most of us (although we would not admit it) are focused on our own glory.  We are consumed with ourselves, our desires, our concerns, our happiness (or lack of it), our future, our past, our dreams, our fears, etc.  It is a sad and lonely existence to live for your own happiness and your own glory.  To live for yourself is, in the words of Ecclesiastes, “a chasing after the wind” you can never quite catch it.  The amazing paradox of the gospel message is that when you surrender your life to Christ and live for his glory and for the good of others, you find that your own life has meaning and joy in the process!  The radical change that took place in the lives of those common shepherds, and in the heart of everyone who is transformed by the gospel, is that they were liberated from the tyranny of self!

C.S. Lewis called this concept the principle of First Things, he said, “You can’t get second things by putting them first; you can get second things only by putting first things first….Aim at Heaven and you will get earth 'thrown in': aim at earth and you will get neither.”  But C.S. Lewis was merely echoing the Master’s teaching: “Seek ye first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things shall be added unto you.” (Matt. 6:33)

There are many who will tell you that the promise of the gospel is a transformed life, they are right!  But that transformation is not necessarily a change in your career, or your material wealth, or your earthly security.  It is a transformation of your heart!  When you come to Christ it is entirely likely that you will stay in the same job, the same bank account, the same marriage, the same town, and the same network of friendships, but you will not be the same!

I don’t know about you, but I find it oddly comforting to know that while these shepherds stayed shepherds, their lives were given in praise to God and concerned primarily with his glory!  The simple point is that you do not have to change careers to glorify God.  You do not have to move to the city, or the country or Africa, or anywhere else to live a life for his glory.  You simply have to dedicate the life you are already in to him!  Your everyday, ordinary, common existence can be for the glory of God!

Thursday, December 16


When 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.”  So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger.  When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them.  But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart.  - Luke 2:15-19

When you see a really great movie, which are you more likely to do, try to keep it a secret, or talk about it with your friends?  When you read a great book, hear a beautiful song, or eat at a great restaurant, don’t you feel almost compelled to share that experience with others?  I know (from extensive personal experience) that most sports fans cannot stop talking about the amazing game or the incredible play they witnessed last night, last week, last year (or in the case of Cubs fans, last century!)

Why is it that we can’t stop talking about the food, movies, books, music, and sports that we enjoy, but we are often nervous and hesitant about sharing the love of God in our lives?

This question has often troubled me, both as a pastor and as a Christian who sometimes struggles to share the love of Christ.  C.S. Lewis offers some profound insights on this issue in his little book Reflections on the Psalms;
“But the most obvious fact about praise – whether of God or anything – strangely escaped me. I thought of it in terms of compliment, approval, or the giving of honor. I had never noticed that all enjoyment spontaneously overflows into praise unless (sometimes even if) shyness or the fear of boring others is deliberately brought in to check it. The world rings with praise – lovers praising their mistresses, readers their favorite poet, walkers praising the countryside, players praising their favorite game – praise of weather, wines, dishes, actors, horses, colleges, countries, historical personages, children, flowers, mountains, rare stamps, rare beetles, even sometimes politicians and scholars ... My whole, more general difficulty about the praise of God depended on my absurdly denying to us, as regards the supremely Valuable, what we delight to do, what indeed we can't help doing, about everything else we value.
I think we delight to praise what we enjoy because the praise not merely expresses, but completes the enjoyment; it is its appointed consummation. It is not merely to compliment that lovers keep on telling one another how beautiful they are, the delight is incomplete till it is expressed.” (pp. 93-95)

Whatever those shepherds saw and heard out in that field, it compelled them to go in search of the Christ child, and to share all that they and seen and heard with anyone who would listen!
Luke gives us a snapshot of two different responses to the shepherd’s message. 

First there are the crowds.  Luke tells us that all who heard them were amazed at what the shepherds told them. It is easy to make the mistake of thinking that everyone who heard the message repented of their sin and surrendered their hearts to God.  This is not at all what happened.  The ESV says that they “wondered” at what they heard.  The NKJV says that they “marveled” at what the shepherds told them.  The implication is that the masses heard the message and they were fascinated, interested, even moved by it, but not necessarily changed.  Kind of like the masses who come to a Christmas service at church and are moved by the music and touched by the sermon, but then they go back to their regular lives without any kind of lasting change in their lives.

But, in contrast in to the masses there is Mary. “But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart.” (Luke 2:19)  Mary does two things; she treasures and she ponders all that she heard and experienced.  The word for treasured actually means to “store up”.  In other words, Mary memorized the message!  The Greek word for ponder usually means “to discuss”.  Mary thought deeply about, meditated on, and talked to God about the meaning of all of these things.

Let me ask you a very simple but critical question; Are you more like the masses or Mary when it comes to the message of Christmas?  Do you just feel sentimental, emotional, and a little more religious at this time of year, or do you treasure and ponder the meaning and power of Jesus Christ in your own life!?

Oh God, keep us from casual sentimentalism and shallow religiosity.  Teach us to treasure your truth deep in our hearts and to ponder the meaning of the gospel as it transforms our lives – Amen.

Jeff Frazier

Wednesday, December 15


But the angel said to them,  “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people.  Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord.  This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.” Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests.”   
- Luke 2:10-14

I think the entire gospel message can be summarized in the announcement of the angels to the shepherds outside of Bethlehem; Do not be afraid – Good news of great joy –A Savior has been born to you – Christ the Lord - Glory to God in the highest – Peace on earth!

If we were honest, most of us would have to admit that we human beings are pretty fearful people.  We are afraid of dying.  We are afraid of failure (and sometimes of success).  We are afraid of rejection.  We are afraid of losing.  We are afraid of making the wrong choice.  We are afraid of not having enough.  We are afraid of being alone & we are afraid of others really knowing us.  Parents are afraid their children will make bad choices & children are afraid their parents won’t love them if they do.  

The first message of Christmas is fear not!  God is ruling the world for the great good of his children.  Believe his promises: "Fear not for I am with you.  Be not dismayed for I am your God. I will help you; I will strengthen you; I will uphold you with the right hand of my righteousness…Do not be anxious about your life, what you shall eat or what you shall wear…Cast all your anxieties on God because he cares for you…The Lord is my light and my salvation: whom shall I fear?  The Lord is the stronghold of my life: of whom shall I be afraid?"

And in the place of fear Jesus puts joy. Joyless faith in Jesus is a contradiction in terms. Paul summed up the goal of his whole ministry like this: "for the advancement and joy of your faith." And he told the Philippians and Thessalonians, "Rejoice always, and again I will say rejoice." Always? Yes. Not without tears of grief and pain, but still joyful.  This is the Good News, that our great fear can be replaced with his great joy. 

How?  Because a Savior has been born to us, he is Christ the Lord!

The angels go on to say that this Savior will bring both Glory to God and Peace on earth.  The plan of redemption will bring glory to God, and is designed to express his glory.  It is the highest expression of his love and mercy.  The central purpose for all of creation is the Glory of God!  Nowhere do we see, his glory more strikingly exhibited than in giving his only Son to die for men!  The gospel will bring peace on earth. The Savior was predicted as the Prince of Peace (Isaiah 9:6).  Jesus came to make peace, For he himself is our peace, who has made the two one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility (Ephesians 2:14).

I don’t think the shepherds out in those fields near Bethlehem could possibly have fathomed the incredible depth and power of the message they heard from the angels that night.  More than 2,000 years have passed and we are still pondering its meaning and experiencing its power!  Lives were changed then and lives are changed still today through the incredible message of the gospel – Fear Not – Good News – Great Joy – A Savior Has Been Born – Christ the Lord – Glory to God & Peace on Earth!

Jeff Frazier