Join us this year for a discussion of the question of human dignity and the gospel. So many roads, so much at stake So many dead ends, I’m at the edge of the lake Sometimes I wonder what it’s gonna take To find dignity. Bob Dylan
A small group of children see me taking photos of their school building and scamper to jump in front of the camera. More…
Spiritual Influence: The Hidden Power Behind Leadership by Mel Lawrenz (Zondervan, 2012). Hardcover. 212 Pages. ISBN 978-0310492702
“If you are in a position of positive influence, if you exercise leadership in any way, your faith in God gives you a power—a hidden power—that will allow you to make an enduring difference in the lives of other people and organizations. But how does that power work?” More…
Since influence is all about people, it only makes sense to explore the dynamics of our spiritual influence with other people.
“Circles of Influence” is a simple method anyone can use to take a few weeks and discover how to deepen one’s influence with friends, colleagues, or co-workers. “Circles of Influence” is an excellent team-building exercise. More…
There is an exciting movement today in which people from all walks of life are trying to have a deeper and more enduring influence in their work and relationships. We are all influencers, and we are all being influenced all the time–so, how can that influence be good and lasting? And how does the spiritual dimension of influence and leadership figure in? More…
(One of the truly great examples of people putting faith into action in a big way is the work of International Justice Mission and its founder, Gary Haugen. Every interaction I have had with their staff has been truly encouraging. 600 brave advocates work today around the world on behalf of people who cannot speak up for themselves. Today Gary’s new book, which holds the potential of being a game-changer on the topics of poverty and violence, is out. All author royalties go to the work of IJM. And this week only, $20 is being donated to the work of IJM with every copy sold.)
Some people have a hard time believing in any form of providence. They may acknowledge a creator or designer, but one who is now no longer directly involved in the creation. They don’t see a gigantic hand reaching down from the clouds, or they believe that most of what happens in life can be traced to natural cause and effect. God may be a watchmaker who produced an impressive machine, but now those gears and springs are clicking through their motions on their own. Continue Reading…
It is the first week of January and I find myself wondering what this new year will bring. One more trip around the sun: 8,760 hours. Last year most of those hours turned out as I expected. But a few thousand did not. That’s where the excitement comes in—and the worry.
On many coins and city gates of the old Roman Empire appears a bearded figure with two faces poised in opposite directions. Continue Reading…
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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
At the birth of Jesus, amidst the dirt and straw of a stable, millennia of promises, prophecies, and hopes were fulfilled. In the birth of a child, something that happens every single day all over the world, something happened that would change the world. Everything the faithful were anticipating took shape. It was the alignment of all that was meant to be. But the birth of Jesus has that power and significance only if he really is who he said he was. Continue Reading…
While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born. – Luke 2:6
On the night before Jesus was born, the shepherds would have seen the night sky the way they had seen it thousands of times before. That was a quiet night, in stark contrast to the following night, when an angel would appear with “the glory of the Lord,” announcing the birth of the child—then join with a great company of heavenly beings proclaiming glory and peace. Continue Reading…
That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched—this we proclaim concerning the Word of life. The life appeared; we have seen it and testify to it, and we proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and has appeared to us. – 1 John 1:1-2
Beginning. The Beginning. How much we all want to know about the beginning of all things, in order to understand the now of all things, and to pursue the way things are supposed to be in our lives today. The original design must be the ideal, the way things ought to be. The Bible’s opening words: “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth,” delineate between a time in which there was only God, and a new time in which his magnificent creation began (Gen. 1:1).
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For my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the sight of all people, a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people Israel. – Luke 2:30-32
The winter solstice on December 21, the darkest day of the year, means for many of us who live halfway between the equator and the North Pole, that we have breakfast when it is still dark outside, and that by supper, the sun has long set. That slide toward the shortest day of the year seems like sinking into a black hole. No wonder people in ancient cultures celebrated the days when the sun began to return. The prophet Malachi spoke of the healing power of light: “The sun of righteousness will rise with healing in its wings” (Malachi 4:2). Continue Reading…
The word became flesh, and made his dwelling among us. – John 1:14
Not only did the Son of God become a baby, but also he became flesh. Divinity joined to corporeal muscle, blood and bones. In this humbling of the eternal Son of God, the Word who was with God from the beginning and was God, chose to begin in the way all flesh does—as a newborn.
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. When they saw the star, they were overjoyed. – Matthew 2:9-10
In Psalm 19, David gives voice to the stars:
The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands. Day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they display knowledge. There is no speech or language where their voice is not heard. Their voice goes out into all the earth, their words to the ends of the world. (Vss. 1-4)
If you have ever stood outside at night and looked up at the canopy of stars, away from the city, away from noise, you may have seen that the stars have a message. In silence they speak, and their voice is thunderous.
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After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem and 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.” – Matt. 2:1-2
Mary and Joseph stayed in Bethlehem many months after the birth of Jesus, yet we know nothing about that time. How was Mary treating her baby, knowing she would have to submit to him as her Lord? How much attention were they getting from the townspeople? What were they telling people, if anything? We simply don’t know. But we do know that one day some travelers from the east—maybe Persia or Mesopotamia (the regions of modern day Iran or Iraq)—suddenly showed up in Bethlehem, claiming to have been guided to a new king by a star.
And he will be called…Prince of Peace – Isaiah 9:6
In ancient times, princes, whether they desired it or not, often became warriors. Rulers of nations may talk about peace, but nothing is more elusive than peace. And so, when Isaiah talked about a child who would be born, a son who would be given, who would be called “Prince of Peace,” it sounded like high rhetoric, wishful thinking. Could it ever possibly happen?
And he will be called…Everlasting Father. -Isaiah 9:6
What a remarkable string of names in Isaiah 9:6! Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
Now, these were radical statements indeed, and they described the one who was coming to rule heaven and earth. A coming ruler might—if he were an ordinary ruler—simply assert his authority and prerogatives as sovereign. As we well know, a king is one who has the power because he has an army, and who has wealth because he controls the resources of his realm. That is the way of earthly rulers. But Isaiah also spoke of a ruler whom people would look to in far more personal terms: “Father.” Continue Reading…
In the Old Testament, some of the prophecies about Christ are mysterious statements. They were so bold and so large that they were treasured through the generations, until they were fulfilled and finally understood. Isaiah’s oracle about a son who would be born—Wonderful Counselor, Prince of Peace, and all the rest—was one of those landmark prophecies. In that moment of inspiration, Isaiah revealed he would be Mighty God.
For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders…and of the increase of his government and peace there will be no end. He will reign on David’s throne and over his kingdom, establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time on and forever. – Isaiah 9:6-7
Government. Does that word strike a positive note in you, or negative note? The word has good and bad connotations. Over the centuries, many corrupt governments run by greedy and power-hungry people have imposed tyranny rather than justice. Their form of order is more often a form of chaos.
For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. -Isaiah 9:6
“What is the baby’s name?” The people in Bethlehem who had heard of a baby born in a stable must have stopped by to talk to Mary or Joseph. Mary and Joseph voiced the name they themselves had not chosen: Jesus. But hundreds of years earlier, other names had already been announced for the Anointed One. Among them, Isaiah spoke of one who would be called Wonderful Counselor. Continue Reading…
This is post #13 in the Christmas devotional “Christmas Joy.”
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My soul magnifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior. -Luke 2:46-47
One of the worst things that can happen to a person is to live with a shrunken understanding of God, a shrunken soul. This is the perfect reason to take Christmas seriously, as our best hope for our minds and hearts to be enlarged with God’s greatness.
Mary’s response to the message that she would bear the savior was a remarkable song of praise, sometimes known as the Magnificat (Luke 2:46-55). It begins, “My soul magnifies the Lord,” which means that because God’s announcement opened her heart him in a way that she couldn’t have imagined, her soul was beginning to grasp the bigness of God.
All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: “The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel”—which means, “God with us.” -Matt. 1:22-23
My wife and I have only seriously lost track of our daughter once. We were walking through a crowded tourist town and the streets were lined with shops. It was evening and the crowds were dense. Suddenly, I noticed that neither my wife nor I had our eight-year-old daughter by the hand. We spun around, unable to spot her. With candy stores beckoning children indoors, and winding side streets all around, she could be anywhere. Continue Reading…
This is post #11 in the Christmas devotional “Christmas Joy.” Christmas Joy as eBook HERE.
So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David. -Luke 2:4
Bethlehem was like any other town in the hills of Judea. Yet, it was the birthplace of the greatest king of Israel, David, and one thousand years later, the Messiah.
How does such honor come to the ordinary? Were the people of this town particularly worthy? Was there some great strategic advantage to where it lay? Were the people of Bethlehem politically savvy, having a long history of producing great leaders? Not at all. The little town of Bethlehem was in the shadow of great Jerusalem just six miles to the north. Even the meaning of Bethlehem, “house of bread,” is unremarkable.
Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord. -Luke 2:11
Some people think that “Christ” is Jesus’ last name. Jesus Christ, like Joe Johnson or Audrey Smith. If you have thought that, don’t feel bad. It is just evidence that over the centuries our understanding of Jesus as the Christ has become so solid in our thinking that we don’t think of “Jesus” without “Christ.” Continue Reading…
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. – Luke 2:7
Sometimes a name is just a name, and sometimes a name captures someone perfectly. The ancients inclined to choose names carefully, so as to make a lifelong statement about a person’s identity. “Jesus” is a name so familiar to us, that we easily forget that it was a name with an extraordinary significance. The name an angel announced should be given to Mary and Joseph’s new child. And what a name! “Jesus” means “the Lord saves.” Continue Reading…
Where is the first place a baby is placed after it emerges from the mother’s womb? Today we use hyper-sterilized blankets and sanitized cribs. A Plexiglas dome, if necessary. All precautions go toward minimizing the germs the child may come into contact with.
But Mary laid Jesus in the feeding trough for an animal. The Good Shepherd took refuge that night in the sheep’s manger, and when the shepherds came to see what was announced to them, how stunned they must have been. Continue Reading…
This is post #7 in the Christmas devotional “Christmas Joy.” Previous days HERE. Christmas Joy as Kindle book HERE.
He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever; his kingdom will never end. -Luke 1:32-33
Christmas represents a beginning that only makes sense if we comprehend the end. The beginning is a child—a humble birth in an earthy stable. But the end… The end is an explosion of divine glory bright enough for the whole world to see—like the birth of new star. The end is a kingdom. Jesus came to forward the kingdom of God, to open people’s eyes to the power of God, to make it the central reality of their lives. “His kingdom will never end.” Continue Reading…
This is post #6 in the Christmas devotional Christmas Joy. Receive Christmas Joyvia email.
This is how the birth of Jesus Christ came about: His mother Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be with child through the Holy Spirit. Because Joseph her husband was a righteous man and did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly. -Matthew 1:18-19
We know so little about Joseph. He is only mentioned in the birth and childhood stories of Jesus. He was named after an ancient patriarch who used his success in Egypt to save his family and a future nation. Joseph was a carpenter who lived in the town of Nazareth. His ancestors were from Bethlehem, so when a Roman ruler, Caesar Augustus, wanted a census, Joseph had to go back to Bethlehem, even though his wife was well along in her pregnancy.
This is post #5 in the Christmas devotional “Christmas Joy.” To get via email, sign up HERE.
And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby keeping watch over their flocks at night. – Luke 2:8
It may seem like a stretch of the imagination, but try it anyway: If you were God, and could announce the arrival of the savior of humanity, would you send your messengers to some shepherds out in the fields, as they whiled away their nighttime watch? Why not instead send angels to an assembly of the religious council in Jerusalem? Why not to the megalomaniac King Herod? How about Caesar? Wouldn’t that be a night of work—to blow opens the doorways of society, to change everything with a few simple words. Continue Reading…
God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a town in Galilee, to a virgin pledged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. The angel went to her and said, “Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you.” Mary was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be. But the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, you have found favor with God. You will be with child and give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus.” -Luke 1:26-31
Can any of us fathom the immense amount of faith Mary was called on to have? She was young. She was a virgin. She was probably expecting to lead no more than an ordinary life in a no name Galilean town.
Then the message came from heaven.
To be visited by an angel would be miraculous in itself. But the words! Those powerful, surreal words: “The Lord is with you.” Certainly that is true for all of us, generally speaking, but in this case the emphasis was: The Lord is with you, Mary. The creator of the universe has handpicked “you who are highly favored”. As with Abraham, Moses, Isaiah, Ruth and David, God had chosen Mary to be his instrument, to do his work in the world. A high favor indeed. Continue Reading…
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. 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
Angel: 1). A spiritual being believed to act as an attendant, agent, or messenger of God (Oxford English Dictionary).
What did Mary see when the angel Gabriel appeared to her? What kind of being came with foreknowledge of a supernatural conception and with words that would change her identity forever? “Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you” (Lk. 1:28). How would the shepherds have described the angel with the glory of the Lord shining about? How could they encapsulate “a great company of the heavenly host,” whose voices poured out a sudden tidal wave of sound, a booming chorus?: “Glory to God in the highest!” (Lk. 2:14). How would Joseph his own encounter with the angel? Or what would Zechariah, John the Baptist’s father, say about their messengers? In the days leading up to the birth of Jesus, supernatural appearances and utterances were occurring like they never had before—an electric buzz of Heaven’s voices among us. Continue Reading…
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 2:13-14
Peace is a noble aspiration at any time. In times of war or in times of harmony. When you find yourself at odds with someone, or when you are feeling pretty good about your relationships. When you feel in harmony with God, or when you feel a discord. It is always important to pursue peace. Continue Reading…
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.” - Luke 2:10-11
Great joy? Is it almost too much to hope for?
Where did all the Christmas joy go? How did things get so complicated? So rushed? So squeezed and cluttered? A non-stop buzz of Christmas lights and weary shoppers, boisterous television specials and pleading children. It doesn’t have to be this way. We can choose to step aside, step into a quieter moment, and read the angel’s words that came on the night that changed the world: “I bring you news of great joy!”
In America this week we celebrate Thanksgiving Day. I have always treasured this holiday because its intention is so clear and so right. It is not so cluttered with commercialism and busyness. It recalls the harvest of fields, and invites us to look for a harvest of God’s goodness in our own lives.
Hundreds of millions of people will be preparing for Christmas in the days to come. But how will we prepare our hearts and minds?
Thought for today: The Christmas carol “O Little Town of Bethlehem” mentions “the hopes and fears of all the years.” The coming (“advent”) of Jesus strengthens our hope and gives us ways to deal with our fears. Continue Reading…
“Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away.” Revelation 21:1
The popular conception of heaven is something I don’t want to have anything to do with.
Close your eyes. Picture heaven. What do you see, or not see? Are the images based on stories or movies, or on what Scripture actually says?
Whoever thought it was a good idea to depict heaven as the complete negation of everything good that we know in this life should be made to stand waist-deep in a cloud for ten years and see how he likes it. Continue Reading…
Elmbrook Church is pleased to have Os Guinness speak in all worship services for the opening of Harvest Fest 2013 the weekend of Oct. 26 & 27. He will also speak Monday evening, October 28 at 7PM. Continue Reading…
This weekend Pastor Mel Lawrenz continues the sermon series “Called – Reimagining Our Place in God’s Plan” at Elmbrook Church, looking at what it means to be called to a distinctive way of life. In all of the uncertainties of our lives, God remains the one called “I AM.” When we lack confidence (like Moses), God gives us courage. And we’ll see how God recognizes misery and injustice in the world and sets about to deliver people. (Read ahead: Exodus 3:1-17.)
I find this week’s cover of Newsweek magazine for the 10-year anniversary of 9/11chilling. It is simply a brilliant blue sky and in the upper right corner the underside of a jetliner frozen in a moment of time before calamity.
People are starting to tell their 9/11 stories to each other again. Where were you? What were you thinking? How did it affect you?
Debates about the philosophy and methodology of church ministry abound. In the middle of it all sometimes one fundamental reality gets forgotten: the church is the one institution in society positioned at the intersection of human need and divine resources. This is an enormous privilege and a sober responsibility of every church.
“Engagement” is bringing together God’s supply and human need. It means closing the God-gap. Continue Reading…