In the synagogue there was a man possessed by a demon, an impure spirit. He cried out at the top of his voice, “Go away! What do you want with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are—the Holy One of God!” “Be quiet!” Jesus said sternly. “Come out of him!” Then the demon threw the man down before them all and came out without injuring him.
I find a lot of noise in my life. My neighborhood is noisy. I live in what most people would call the “bad part of town”. We had a drug dealer across the street from our parsonage until he was busted by the cops about a year ago. Stereos are always loud in the neighborhood. You can hear people cussing and fighting on the streets every single day. It is a noisy place to live.
My kids are noisy. They talk much louder than any normal person should talk. Their indoor volume is definitely set to 11. Not only do they talk loud, but they watch TV loud and play loud. So as you can see the house is very noisy.
But do you know where the most noise comes from in my life?
I spend way too much time letting the voices in my head speak. You know the voices. The ones that whisper to you that you can do something you shouldn’t. The ones that say you can get away with doing something wrong. The ones that make you feel haughty or mean. The ones that tell you to envy what others have. The ones that make you covet.
These voices are much louder than anything else in my life, and these voices are the reason that I keep returning to God each day in prayer.
What are the voices in your life that you need Jesus to hush?
“What should we do then?” the crowd asked. John answered, “Anyone who has two shirts should share with the one who has none, and anyone who has food should do the same.” Even tax collectors came to be baptized. “Teacher,” they asked, “what should we do?” “Don’t collect any more than you are required to,” he told them. Then some soldiers asked him, “And what should we do?” He replied, “Don’t extort money and don’t accuse people falsely—be content with your pay.” (Luke 3:10-14 NIV)
There was a time when the church was very powerful in the time when the early Christians rejoiced at being deemed worthy to suffer for what they believed. In those days the church was not merely a thermometer that recorded the ideas and principles of popular opinion; it was a thermostat that transformed the mores of society. Whenever the early Christians entered a town, the people in power became disturbed and immediately sought to convict the Christians for being “disturbers of the peace” and “outside agitators”‘ But the Christians pressed on, in the conviction that they were “a colony of heaven,” called to obey God rather than man.(Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.)
Today we celebrate the legacy of Martin Luther King, Jr. His prophetic voice is one that continues to push us forward in our journey with Jesus. Every year I take time on this day to reread his Letter from the Birmingham Jail. More than anything else in Dr. King’s legacy this letter is addressed to those of us in a pastoral profession. Every year this letter is tough for me to read because I forget.
I forget how I have failed to stand up for the neglected.
I forget how well I have it compared to others.
I forget to act with mercy and justice.
I forget that I am an agent of transformation.
Dr. King’s voice reminds me most of John the Baptist. His persistence calling us back to the right way once more.
And I need to be reminded of what I should do.
What is John the Baptist and Martin Luther King, Jr. telling you to do?
A man named Simeon was in Jerusalem. He was righteous and devout. He eagerly anticipated the restoration of Israel, and the Holy Spirit rested on him. The Holy Spirit revealed to him that he wouldn’t die before he had seen the Lord’s Christ.
Imagine what it would be like to wait your entire life for one single event. Simeon waited his entire life just to see Jesus, and then he sings:
“Now, master, let your servant go in peace according to your word,
because my eyes have seen your salvation.
You prepared this salvation in the presence of all peoples.
It’s a light for revelation to the Gentiles
and a glory for your people Israel.”
Simeon wasn’t the only one in the Temple.
The prophet, Anna, was also there waiting for this incredible event. Can you imagine this 84 year old widow praying and fasting in the Temple night and day? Every single day! She knew something was going to happen and wanted to be ready. As soon as she saw Jesus:
She began to praise God and to speak about Jesus to everyone who was looking forward to the redemption of Jerusalem.
Two people expressing so much joy and thanksgiving for one event. Simeon is so happy that he says he can die in peace. He knows that God’s plan is being fulfilled and the redemption is here. Anna is so overjoyed that she cannot contain it. This 84 year old widow starts talking to everyone who will listen about Jesus!
Why have we turned Jesus into such a cliche when clearly he is so much more amazing than we can even begin to imagine? These two people saw this little baby and knew God had just changed the story.
When has your story been changed? How did you react?
I used to love to read. I would read all the time. I grew up reading book after book after book. The stories just fueled my imagination and wonder.
But something happened.
In seminary reading became something of a chore instead of something I enjoyed. I would have to read 3-4 books for 3 different classes in a semester, and a lot of those books were dry technical books full of big weighty concepts. Reading became something I had to do instead of something I wanted to do.
That changed this year. I wanted to reclaim my love of reading, so I took 3 steps to help me become a better reader(again):
1. I fully committed to ebooks. I know for book purists this is a cardinal sin, but for helping me become a better reader this platform is really easy. Amazon makes kindle available on every single device you own. eBooks are always going on sale. You can have your book on your phone, your tablet, your computer, and your eReader. Best of all it syncs across every device so your books are on whatever chapter you are on. I can pick up my phone and start reading where I left of on my tablet. Even if you own a tablet I would suggest you get a dedicated eReader. My choice is the Kindle Paperwhite. eInk is easy on the eyes for longer reading, battery life is amazing, and the most important thing is that it doesn’t distract you from reading with thousands of apps calling your name.
2. I became a social reader. My friend Chad Brooks posted a challenge on his blog called the empty shelf challenge where you spend 2014 filling that empty shelf with books you read. Reading is more fun when you are reading with others. Friendly competition gets involved. What books will I read and what books will they read? The biggest movement in social reading is Goodreads. You can see what your friends and favorite authors are reading right now. Goodreads takes the loneliness out of reading. Best of all the new Kindle Paperwhite automatically syncs with Goodreads and takes the guess work out of it.
3. My final secret this year is that I appropriated Jerry Seinfeld’s productivity secret. The secret is this: he would write every day and mark of the day on the calendar. He wanted to keep the chain of writing going for as many days as he could. So every single day he would try to get something written and not break the chain. I altered it for reading. Every single day I read at least 1 to 2 chapters of a book in order not to break the chain. If the chapters are short I will read 3 or 4. A typical novel has 18 chapters, so in 12 to 14 days a typical novel is finished. That is two novels a month you can be reading.
Zechariah said to the angel, “How can I be sure of this? My wife and I are very old.”
The angel replied, “I am Gabriel. I stand in God’s presence. I was sent to speak to you and to bring this good news to you. Know this: What I have spoken will come true at the proper time. But because you didn’t believe, you will remain silent, unable to speak until the day when these things happen.” – Luke 1:18-20
I have been unable to speak many times in my life.
Once when I was getting married. Everything around me just froze and I found myself unable to form words.
Once when I was getting ordained. I felt the hands of my mentors and friends on my shoulders and I found myself mute in that moment.
Once when I found out we were getting children. My wife and I are unable to have children or so we thought. This past year we became foster parents to three amazingly wonderful children with the hope to one day become permanent parents. I remember sitting in the sanctuary crying and then I found myself unable to speak. I still worry and doubt, but Zechariah reminds me to be silent while the Lord works in mysterious ways.