i believe in miracles

do you? why not add your miracles too?


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The Christmas Story

 

baby-jesus-in-mangerHere’s a highly readable version of the Christmas story. Great for families with elementary or junior high school kids, or those who haven’t grown up in church.

At just the time God had planned it from the beginning, He sent a messenger named Gabriel to the town of Nazareth, in Galilee, (in the country of Palestine, which is now Israel).  His mission was to see a young woman named Mary. Now Mary was a virgin—she had never been intimate with any man. She was engaged to marry a man named Joseph. Although he was an average guy, his family was descended from Israel’s most famous King David.

Gabriel found Mary and said, “Hello! You are one of God’s favorites.”

This was a highly unusual way to start a conversation with a stranger, and it freaked Mary out. But Gabriel said to her, “It’s OK, Mary, nothing to fear. God is quite pleased with you. So much so that you’re going to be the mother of a son who you’ll name Jesus. He’s going to be amazing and people will call him the Son of God. God himself will set him as king, like his ancestor King David. He’ll reign over all of your people forever—and I mean forever, like never-ending forever.”

“How exactly will this happen,” Mary asked Gabriel, “since I’ve never done anything to get pregnant?”

He answered, “Well, God’s Spirit is going to come and sort of hover over you, and God’s power will cause you to become pregnant, which is why the child will be called the Son of God. Oh, and, did you know that your relative Elizabeth is going to have a baby too—even though she’s supposedly too old to have a baby? Yep, the very one people called a barren old woman is now six months pregnant! God commanded it, so basically, it’s a done deal.”

“Well, I want to serve God with my life,” Mary answered, “so I’m totally on board with this.”

Gabriel left, and Mary got ready and hurried out to the town in Judea where Zechariah and Elizabeth lived. As Mary was entering their house, she called out a hello, and at that moment, the little unborn baby John that was inside Elizabeth’s belly jumped, and God’s spirit overpowered Elizabeth. She shouted out, “You’re the most fortunate woman ever, and your child will be fortunate too. And to what do I owe this great honor of a visit from the mother of our future leader? Do you realize that as soon as I heard your voice, my baby jumped for joy inside me? What an incredible honor, this promise from God, and how wonderful that you’re so accepting of it!”

Then Mary said: “I can’t tell you how grateful I am to God, and how happy I am that God has chosen me—even though I’m a nobody. Do you realize I will have a place in history? People will know my name—all because our powerful God has chosen to use me! He has so much compassion on all those—past, present and future—who love him like a Father. It’s amazing how he shows his power: He brushes aside people who are full of themselves. He can bring down an emperor in a skinny minute. On the other hand, he raises the rank of people who never considered themselves deserving of honor. He gives the best food to the hungry, and sends the rich off to beg. Just look at all he’s done for the nation of Israel, just like he promised our great, great… grandfather Abraham he would.

As time passed, it became obvious that Mary was pregnant, but only she knew it was with God’s child. Mary was engaged to marry Joseph. This was really embarrassing to him, but since he was a really nice guy and didn’t want to make a huge scene, he thought he would call off the wedding.

He was just about to do it when he had a dream in which an other-worldly being appeared to him and said, “Joseph Davidson, don’t be afraid to get married to Mary. The child she’s carrying belongs to God’s Holy Spirit. It’s going to be a boy and you will name him Jesus. And he’s going to rescue those who belong to him from the punishment they deserve.”

When Joseph woke up, he believed the dream and married Mary. However, he kept his distance from her until after she gave birth.

Around this same time, the Roman Emperor Caesar Augustus issued a command that every person in the Roman Empire had to be counted–this included everyone in Israel, which was part of the Roman Empire. (This was the first census that took place while Quirinius was the governor of Syria, fyi.) So everyone had to go to their grandparents’ home to register. That meant that Joseph had to leave his present home in Nazareth, Galilee, and go back to Bethlehem, Judea, which is where all the Davidson’s were from. He took Mary along, pregnant as she was.

Bethlehem was packed with people and there were absolutely no hotel rooms. People were sleeping everywhere; Mary and Joseph found a barn to sleep in. While they were in Bethlehem, Mary went into labor and gave birth to a son, her first child. Lacking the proper supplies for a newborn baby, they just wrapped him in whatever cloth they could find and used the animals’ feed trough as a cradle.

On the night Jesus was born, there were some shepherds who were watching their sheep in the fields outside of Bethlehem. All of a sudden they saw something amazing surrounding them—not of this world—and then a being appeared to them. It was terrifying.

The being said, “Don’t be afraid. I’ve got great news that’s going to make everyone happy. Today, right over there in Bethlehem, the Rescuer has been born. He’s the one God has appointed to rule. You’ll know you’ve found him when you see a baby wrapped in rags and cradled in a feed trough.”

All of a sudden there was a whole military company of these beings in the sky and they were saying, “All the credit goes to God who lives in the highest places outside of time and space. Peace to the people of Earth who God favors.”

Then they were gone.

The Shepherds said, “We ought to go to Bethlehem and find this baby that… that… those things told us about.”

They rushed off and were able to find Mary, Joseph and the baby, cradled in an animal’s feed trough. After seeing this, they told everyone they could what had happened and who this child was. Everyone who heard their story was amazed. Mary took careful note of everything that was happening and she contemplated it—not with her head, but with her heart.

The shepherds eventually went back to tending sheep, but for a long time after, they marveled and were in awe at how God announced the child’s birth to them and how they found the child exactly as the being had described.

This all went down just the way God said it would hundreds of years earlier through the words of a prophet: “A virgin will get pregnant and give birth to a son who will be known as God with us on Earth.”

After baby Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, some scientists from somewhere farther east (possibly modern-day Iran, Iraq, India or China) arrived in Jerusalem wanting to know, “Where is the newborn king of the Jews? We’ve been studying the stars and saw the cosmic sign that he was born. We want to honor him.”

This was news to King Herod, and not the good kind. In fact, it had all of Jerusalem in a clamor. He called together all the top dogs of the church and the law and asked where this appointed child was supposed to be born, according to the ancient texts.

“In Bethlehem, Judea,” they replied. “An ancient prophet wrote, ‘Don’t belittle yourself, Bethlehem. Stand tall among the rest of Judea because you are going to be the hometown of a ruler who will guide my people, Israel.’”

Behind closed doors, Herod met with the scientists from the east and got them to tell him the exact time the star they followed had appeared. He sent them on to Bethlehem with instructions to, “Search out the child, and as soon as you find him, send news to me so I can come and honor him too.”

With this, they left, and they were able to follow the celestial body right to the place where Jesus was residing. It just hung over the place. They could hardly believe their eyes and were overjoyed. When they entered the house, they saw Jesus with his mother, Mary, and they got down on hands and knees and pledged their confidence and service. Then they brought Christmas gifts: presents of gold, frankincense and myrrh—all really expensive stuff in those days.

That night, the scientists had a dream that warned them against King Herod, and wise men that they were, they decided not to go back the same way they came, so they could avoid seeing Herod.

Eventually, the happy little family settled down in the town of Nazareth, Galilee. Jesus grew up strong, he was full of wisdom and God made him gifted and talented.

That’s the end of the Christmas story, but that same baby Jesus grew up to be the reason we celebrate Easter too. All of this happened more than 2000 years ago, but Jesus is still important because he is the Son of God, and He lives in the hearts of people all around the world who know God as their Father.

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Christ Incarnate Fleshes out the Law: Matt. 5:17-26 (how I would say it)

“Don’t think I’m here to do away with anything you hold sacred—the Law of Moses or the prophets’ teachings. I’m not here to do away with them, but to complete them. The fact of the matter is that as long as there is a planet Earth with the sky above, every word of the Law is still valid—every dot on every “i” and every cross on every “t”—until it has fulfilled its purpose. Anyone who thinks it’s okay to disregard even the lightest of the commands, and goes around telling other people it’s okay too, will never advance past private in God’s ranks. But anyone who practices the Law and teaches other people how to live according to it rise to general in God’s ranks. You see, you have to be more just and fair than religious leaders and seminary professors to even make it into God’s ranks.

“For example, traditionally we’re taught that murder is wrong and if you murder someone, you have to face trial. But the principle is that even being angry with a brother or sister is wrong—and you will be held accountable for that wrong too. Likewise, if you slander someone, you can be sued for that action. But in principle, even calling them an idiot puts you in danger of God’s judgment.

“This is why if you come to the house of God ready to praise and worship and on your way in recall that you wronged a friend or family member, you should just do an about-face and first go and make things right with that person, then come back to praise and worship.

“Don’t let arguments fester—especially if it’s something that could end up in court. Don’t waste any time in reaching an agreement or apologizing. Otherwise, the matter could end up in court and if the judge rules against you, you’ll face fines or jail time. Then your only option is to pay the fine and do the time to the last penny and hour.”


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Salt and Light: Matt. 5:13-16 (how I would say it)

light path

You are the element that is preserving humanity. If that element loses its defining properties, how can they ever be restored? The element is rendered useless, no better than a common rock used to pave a path.

You are the light of the world. You can see a city on a hill from a long way off at night time. Tell me, would you walk on a dark path with a flashlight that’s not turned on? No. You would turn on the flashlight so everyone can see where they are going. That’s you—the flashlight. Shine light on the path that leads to God. People will be grateful for the light, but only because it shows them the way.


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Lucky Redefined: Luke 6: 17-19; Matt. 5:1-12; Luke 6:24-26 (how I would say it)

celebrity

Note: Can we suspend, please, for this reading, the idea that luck denotes godless coincidence? In my use of the word “lucky” below, I mean it in the sense of “blessed” and “fortunate”—both synonyms of “lucky.” But I chose to use “lucky” because of its prevalence—we use it all the time in the same way Jesus uses “blessed.”

Jesus was surrounded by a large crowd made up of his followers, as well as people from all over Judea, Jerusalem and the coastal regions of Tyre and Sidon. Everyone wanted to hear him speak and to be cured of what ailed them. People with mental illness were walking away sane, and people everywhere were trying to just get a finger on him, because he was oozing power that was healing them all. [He was a real celebrity.]

At one point, Jesus found a nice level spot to teach from and he said, “Let me tell you who’s got it good. You are truly lucky if you esteem others as highly, or more highly, than you esteem yourself. This is the kind of person who matters in God’s kingdom.

“You’re truly lucky if you’re concerned enough about people to grieve over them, because consolation will be in your future too.

“You’re truly lucky if you have learned to harness your strength and power, and you don’t abuse your position. You will be the last man standing.

“You’re truly lucky if you yearn for and work for justice, because justice is coming, and you will get your fill of it.

“You’re truly lucky if you have a heart of compassion for others, compassion is coming too, and you will get your share.

“You’re truly lucky when you have kept yourself pure—not giving in to greed, lust or cynicism. Through these “clear lenses” can see God in creation and working in your life, and one day you will see him in person.

“A person who tries to make and keep peace is truly lucky because this is the kind of person who calls God ‘Father.’

“If you’re willing to suffer loss for doing the right thing, you’re truly lucky. You can be assured of your citizenship in God’s kingdom.

“For that matter, you’re truly lucky when people insult you, treat you poorly and say all kinds of mean things about you because you believe in me. That ought to make you jump for joy because, not only are you in good company with God’s prophets who were treated the same way, but you’ll be handsomely rewarded for your loyalty to God’s kingdom.

“But you know who I really feel sorry for? I really feel sorry for rich people, because money is their only consolation.  I feel sorry for people who have everything they want, people who have never had to go without. A time is coming when they will, in fact, go without. I feel sorry for people who don’t take life seriously. Everything is a joke, life is a party. When the gravity of life finally hits them, it will be devastating. And I feel sorry for people who seem to have the perfect life—everybody loves them and flocks to be around them. You know the false prophets were celebrities too once.”


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Time to Deputize some Men: Matt. 12:15-21; Mark 3:7-19; Luke 6:12-16 (how I would say it)

Jesus and his disciples headed out to the lake with a large crowd in tow. Word was really getting around about all the miracles he was doing, so people came out of the woodwork from places like Judea, Jerusalem, Idumea and the regions on the other side of the Jordan River, and even from as far away as Tyre and Sidon.

Jesus asked his disciples to set him up in a small boat in the lake, to keep the people from crowding in on him. All those miracle healings had sick people rushing to touch. Whenever people with mental illness saw him, they fell down in front of him and cried out, “You are the Son of God.”

Jesus warned people to not tell anyone else about him. All of this fulfilled the prediction that Isaiah had made when he said:

Here’s the one I’ve chosen—the one I love; the one who brings me joy. I will put my Spirit on him and he will preach justice far and wide. He won’t argue or plead with anyone; he won’t preach on a soapbox either. He won’t so much as pull a weed or kill a fly until he has caused justice to prevail. People all over the world will put their hope in him.

During one of the days at the lake, Jesus went out on a mountainside and spent the night speaking with God. The next morning, he called all of his followers over and designated 12 of them as deputies of sorts, giving them authority to reteach his teachings and to force the evil out of people. Here’s who made the squad: Simon (who he called Peter), his brother Andrew, James, John, Philip, Bartholomew, Matthew, Thomas, James Alphaeuson, Simon who everyone knew as the Zealot, James’ son Judas, and Judas Iscariot, the one who turned him over to the authorities in the end.


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Sabbath Savvy: Matt. 12:1-14 (how I would say it)

One Saturday, Jesus was walking through a wheat field. His followers were running on empty, so they just decided to help themselves to the heads of grain. Always under close scrutiny, of course some of the Jewish religious leaders called them out. “Look! Your followers are breaking a law!”

Jesus answered, “Haven’t you read what David did when he and his friends were hungry? He went right into the temple and ate the communion bread. That was against the law too, only the priests were allowed to eat it. Oh, maybe you missed the nuance there. The priests were able to eat the holy bread—clearly an infraction of the law—without actually being guilty of breaking the law. Well, guess what. We’re in the middle of something a lot more monumental than the temple. If you had done the homework I assigned you and learned what it means when God says, “I don’t want you to act out of duty, but out of compassion,” you wouldn’t be slamming these guys for no good reason. A day of rest was instituted to benefit people, not to penalize them. The Son of Man is in charge of the day of rest.”

He walked on and entered the synagogue. There was a man with a shriveled hand there. The religious leaders were trying to find some way to incriminate Jesus, so they asked, “OK, then, so is it against the law to heal a man on the day of rest?”

He replied, “If your dog got tangled in barbed wire on the day of rest, wouldn’t you help it out? And isn’t a person worth more than a dog? So no, it’s not a crime to help people out on the holy day.”

Jesus told the man with the shriveled hand, “Come here, sir, and stand in front of everyone.”

Then to the religious leaders, he asked, “Which is acceptable on a holy day: good or evil; to save someone or to kill someone?”

[Chirp, chirp.] Total silence.

Jesus looked around in disgust at these guys and their stubbornness. He told the man, “Stretch out your hand.”

He did, and it was completely restored—just as good as his other hand.

This really ticked off the religious leaders. They huddled up and started brainstorming ways to do him in—they even “reached across the aisle” to their political opponents, the Herodians, to devise a way to kill him.

[Irony alert: After unsuccessfully trying to bust Jesus on a Sabbath law infraction, religious leaders plot first degree murder on the Sabbath. I’m pretty sure that was against the law.]


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Can I Get a Witness? John 5:31-47 (how I would say it)

DSC05233fb (totally random Maypole)

I’m telling you straight up who I am, but nobody believes it. But I’m not the only one, there’s someone else saying the same thing, and it’s all true. You asked John about me and he told you the truth. Not like he’s any real authority, after all, he’s just human, but I’m just trying to help you to understand this for your own eternal good. John was like a beacon pointing to me, and for a while, it looked like you might see the light.

What I say about myself carries a lot more weight than what John says about me. Every time I do what I’ve been sent here to do, I prove I’m from the Father. Even the Father has proven that I’m for real. But I guess you’ve never really seen God or never really internalized his word if you don’t believe the proof he’s offering you. You burn the midnight oil analyzing the ancient texts, thinking in some way this is going to make you good with God. Those same texts prove my identity, and yet you refuse to come to me to save your life!

It’s not like I’m looking for people to fall all over me, I’m just saying, I’ve got your number. There’s no love of God in your hearts. Here I am, representing my Father, and you just don’t buy it. But along comes someone else with absolutely no backing other than his name printed on a business card and you’re welcoming him into your club. How could anyone expect you to believe in the real deal when you’re so busy congratulating yourselves, and spending zero effort to discover what God can award?

Don’t worry about me telling my Father, though. Moses has that covered. After all, he’s the one you’re counting on, isn’t he? Then again, if you really believed what Moses said, you’d believe in me, because he was the first to write about me. But you don’t believe what he wrote, so how could you possibly believe I say?