Ideal December

My wife, Ingrid, and I were talking yesterday about how we might keep Christmas simple this year in order to focus on the things that really matter. (This, by the way, is a conversation we have every year, and sometimes it actually makes a difference!) The thing about festivals and holidays is that you have to be intentional about focussing on meaning and avoiding distraction. It doesn’t happen automatically.

My ideal December includes:

Together Again

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And they sang a new song, saying: “You are worthy to take the scroll and to open its seals, because you were slain, and with your blood you purchased for God persons from every tribe and language and people and nation. You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to serve our God, and they will reign on the earth.” Revelation 5:9-10

It is an amazing sight when the General Assembly of the United Nations is gathered in the great hall in the UN building in New York. In the massive hall with giant wood panels, lofty ceiling,

No More Pain

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Then the end will come, when he hands over the kingdom to God the Father after he has destroyed all dominion, authority and power. For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. The last enemy to be destroyed is death.
1 Corinthians 15:24-26

It was the largest crowd ever to have ever gathered in Times Square in New York City. A LIFE Magazine photographer captured what would become an iconic photo of a solder kissing a young girl in a white dress. The cheering of the crowds was deafening. And all around the world, similar celebrations unfolded on August 14, 1945, the day the worst war the world had ever experienced was officially over. After six years of blood, 50 million deaths, the destruction of entire cities, World War II was over. The end.

The prophets and the apostles have many descriptions

Hope is More Than Wishful Thinking

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I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in his holy people, and his incomparably great power for us who believe. That power is the same as the mighty strength he exerted when he raised Christ from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms, far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every name that is invoked, not only in the present age but also in the one to come. Ephesians 1:18-21

We are all looking for a measure of security and certainty in life, and that is understandable given the sometimes shocking news of the day when violence breaks out, or someone discovers deep corruption in government, or there is an economic crisis. We are also shaken by personal loss and tragedy, whether an untimely death, an unexpected diagnosis from the doctor, or loss of a job.

Focus on What Matters

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For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking, but of righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. Romans 14:17

The Easter season was always challenging for the three generations of the Morris family. It seemed as though everybody had their own ideas about how to mark and celebrate this season in which Christians traditionally focus on the death and resurrection of Jesus.

The Seduction of Comfort

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Paul and Barnabas preached the gospel in that city and won a large number of disciples. Then they returned to Lystra, Iconium, and Antioch, strengthening the disciples and encouraging them to remain true to the faith. “We must go through many hardships to enter the kingdom of God,” they said. Acts 14:21-22

In a recent sermon, Pope Francis lashed out at the “culture of comfort” that convinces people that they can have a more carefree life if they forgo having children. In an article entitled “The Dangerous Culture of Comfort,” writer Francisco Dao asserts that the culture of comfort has taken its toll on American initiative and explains why Americans no longer develop technology or start companies at a similar ratio to those foreign-born living in the United States. Comfort, he concludes, is the enemy of ambition.

Blinded By Might

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Jesus said, “My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jewish leaders. But now my kingdom is from another place.” “You are a king, then!” said Pilate. John 18:36-37

Pastor Ed Dobson at one time had access to the highest places of power in the U.S., including the White House, and was a national Christian figure. But today he lives a physically limited life as a result of the incurable neurological condition ALS, commonly known as Lou Gehrig’s disease. His devoted wife, Lorna, helps him dress and prepares him smoothies to eat—a far cry from the soccer star he was while growing up in Northern Ireland.

Suffering and Proclaiming

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Then you will be handed over to be persecuted and put to death, and you will be hated by all nations because of me…. And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come. Matthew 24:9, 14

Traian Dorz, a 20th century Romanian poet and Christian, spent over 16 years of his life in prison under the communist regime. As the spiritual leader of a renewal movement in the Romanian Orthodox Church, Dorz was severely persecuted for his missionary activities and writings.

Rocks

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And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven. Matthew 16:18-19

The village of Lalibela in northern Ethiopia has some of the most unique church structures in the world. Commissioned by the 12th century Ethiopian King Lalibela, the 11 churches, which lie beneath the surface of the ground, were carved out of the solid rock of the land. Services still take place daily. Over 80,000 people visit the place every year.

As extraordinary as these edifices are, their significance pales in comparison to Jesus’ words to Simon Peter—as he combined the imagery of solid rock with the promise that he would build his church.

International Center Open Forum

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THURSDAY NIGHT – INTERNATIONAL CENTER OPEN FORUM
I am really looking forward to drawing out the stories of our 20 guests from 18 different countries for the Elmbrook Church International Center tomorrow night (Thursday )from 6:30-8pm. If you’re in the area, c’mon over to the Chapel. Expand your world–grow your heart! These people have amazing stories. (They are from Argentina, Brazil, Kenya, Romania, Germany, Northern Ireland, Nigeria, Vietnam, Peru, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Portugal, South Africa, Ethiopia, India, Guatemala, Spain, and Jordan.)

You Cannot Force Someone Toward God

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From the days of John the Baptist until now, the kingdom of heaven has been subjected to violence, and violent people have been raiding it. Matthew 11:12

One night in April 2014, a group of armed militants broke into a girls’ secondary school in Chibok, Nigeria, killing the guards and abducting hundreds of girls ages 16 to 18. The girls were taken away in trucks to a remote location where some of them were sold as slaves, some forced into marriage, and all of them indoctrinated, even brainwashed, into radical jihadist doctrine.

This is one of the diabolical methods of Boko Haram, the radical group that has declared jihad against Christians in Nigeria, who believe that the education of young girls is wrong, and who have killed thousands of people with bombs, guns, and machetes. Their motive is to impose radical Islam on the country. Their method is brute force.

It is not the first time extreme violence has been used in the name of religion.

Appearances Can Be Deceiving

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Once again, the kingdom of heaven is like a net that was let down into the lake and caught all kinds of fish…. The angels will come and separate the wicked from the righteous and throw them into the blazing furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. Matthew 13:47-50

By all external standards, FBI agent Robert Hanssen was a committed law enforcement officer, a devoted husband and father, and a devout Catholic who attended mass every day at 6:30 a.m. He was promoted through the ranks of the counterintelligence departments of the agency, at one time in charge of the division detecting possible double agents. But for 22 years of his time in the FBI, Hanssen secretly worked as a spy for the Soviet Union. He betrayed sensitive information not for political reasons, but just for the money.

Sold Out

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The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field. When a man found it, he hid it again, and then in his joy went and sold all he had and bought that field. Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant looking for fine pearls. When he found one of great value, he went away and sold everything he had and bought it. Matthew 13:44-46

In February 2013, while walking their dog on their land in California, John and Mary saw an old, rusted can sticking out of the ground. John pried the heavy can loose and managed to carry it back to their house, where they discovered that it was filled with gold coins.

Brainwashed or Transformed?

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The kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman took and mixed into about sixty pounds of flour until it worked all through the dough. Matthew 13:33

Kim Joo Il was a soldier in the North Korean army for eight years, serving the dictates of the “Great Leader,” Kim Il Sung. As he recalled, a third of his studies in school had been about the Great Leader. In the army he was beaten once a day, hungry 24 hours a day, subject to constant dehumanizing humiliations. Yet he felt honored to be in the army in a country that he thought was paradise.