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


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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What Gives Him the Right? John 5:16-30 (how I would say it)

DSC05172 fb (random pic from my recent trip to Hohenschwangau)

The Jewish authorities really had it out for Jesus because he had broken the laws about working on Saturday (their holy day). In his defense Jesus said to them, “My Father works nonstop and so that’s how I work.” This only made things worse. Then they were really hot because not only was he breaking the law, he was also calling God his Father in a literal sense, which in Jewish custom is as good as saying you’re equal with that person.

Jesus tried to explain: “It’s like this: the Son can’t do anything on his own; he can only follow the example of his Father. Like father like son. And since the Father loves the Son, he shares everything with him. That’s right, and you haven’t seen the half of it. What’s still to come is going to blow your mind. Just like the Father can even bring people back from the dead, give them another chance at life, the Son can also give life away to whomever he feels like giving it to. More than that, the Father has delegated to the Son the authority to declare someone guilty or not guilty. Dis’ the Son, you dis’ the Father—the one who gave the Son his marching orders.

Listen, it’s like this: If you will just open your minds and accept the Father’s decisions, you’ll get life after death. You won’t be declared guilty because you’ve crossed over into the camp of the living. Real soon, in fact the wheels are already in motion, dead people are going to hear the Son of God, and the ones who do are going to cross over into the camp of the living. Just like God has the power to give life, he’s also delegated to the Son the power to give life. And he delegated to him the authority to declare someone innocent or guilty because he’s the Son of Man.

Don’t let this shock you. It’s mild compared to what else is going to happen—the day of the living dead, when everyone comes back to life at the sound of the Son’s voice. Then those who are declared innocent will live on forever, and those who are found guilty will come back to life to get what’s coming to them. So, you see, I’m no maverick. I’m just calling ‘em like I see ‘em and I always make good calls, because my sole motivation is to follow my marching orders.

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Bummed out by Bethesda: John 5:1-15 (how I would say it)

Jerusalem Bethesda BW 1 (Pool of Bethesda today. Not much to look at…)

Later on, Jesus went to Jerusalem for one of the Jewish festivals. Near the Sheep Gate in Jerusalem, there’s a pool called Bethesda (an Aramaic word). The pool is encircled with five rows of columns, which are shaded. A lot of people with various disabilities—blindness, mobility challenges, paralysis—hung out there. One of them was a man who had been disabled for 38 years. Jesus saw him lying there and struck up a conversation. When he found out how long he had been disabled, Jesus asked him, “Do you want to be free of your disability?”

“Sir,” the man replied, “When the water starts to bubble, I try to get in the pool, but I never make it in time because I don’t have anyone to help me. Other people always beat me to it.”

Then Jesus said, “Just get up already! Take that mat you’re lying on and get going.” Immediately, the man stood up, picked up his things and off he went.

It was a Saturday, the Jewish holy day, and the Jewish religious leaders busted the guy for walking with a mat, saying, “Hey, you can’t carry that today! It’s a holy day and it’s against the law to carry anything.”

But he replied, “Listen, I just got healed and the man who made it happen told me to pick up my mat and get going, so that’s just what I’m going to do.”

They asked, “Who was this guy who told you to pick up your mat and get going?”

The man looked around but couldn’t spot Jesus because he had slipped away in the crowd, and he hadn’t bothered to ask his name.

Later Jesus ran into him at the temple and said, “Look at you, you’re all better! Now you better start living right or you’ll be worse off than before.”

The man went off and found the Jewish leaders and reported to them that Jesus was the one who had restored his abilities.

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In Through the Roof, Out Through the Door: Mark 2:1-12; Matt. 9:1-8; Luke 5:17-26 (how I would say it)

Jesus went back home to Capernaum a few days later, and word got around quickly that he had returned. People found out where Jesus was and mobbed the place to the point it was standing room only with people spilling out the door. While he was teaching, four men rolled up carrying a paraplegic friend. They figured there was no getting to Jesus from the ground, so they climbed up on the roof and dug a hole through it. They lowered their friend down on the mat he was lying on.

Jesus took note of their effort and he granted the paralyzed man a full pardon of all past wrongdoing, saying, “You have a clean slate starting today.”

Some law professors who were sitting in the crowd thought to themselves, Who does this guy think he is? Only God can pass that kind of judgment. Does he think he’s God?

As the thoughts were forming in their heads, Jesus sensed it and said, “Why you gotta think like that? Which is easier: for me to tell this paralyzed man that he has a clean slate, or to tell him to get up and walk? Just so you know that the Son of Man is fully authorized to pass that kind of judgment while I’m here…” Turning to the paralyzed man, he said, “Go ahead, get up, take your mat and go home.”

The man got up, took his mat and walked out in plain sight of everyone there. People were floored. They said, “We’ve never seen anything like this!” And they credited the miracle to God.

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The Case for Caring for Your Grandparents: John 13:4-17 (how I would say it)

After dinner, Jesus got up, took off his Sunday clothes and tied an apron around his waist. He poured some water into a bucket and went around, one by one, washing the grime (dust, goat goo, etc.) off of the feet of his closest followers.

When he got to Simon Peter, Peter said to him, “Lord, should you really be doing this?”

Jesus answered, “I know you don’t get this right now, but it will make sense later on.”

Peter replied, “There’s no way you’re washing my feet!”

Jesus said, “Peter, if I don’t wash your feet, we’re finished. We have no future together.”

Peter replied, “In that case, wash my hands and face too!”

Jesus said, “Peter, did you take a bath today? Then all we need to do is get the grime off your feet. Besides my followers are always clean. Well, not all of you…” (He was referring to the one who was going to betray him.)

After he finished, he sat down and asked, “Any idea what just happened here? You call me ‘boss,’ ‘teacher,’ ‘master,’ yadda yadda, and that is exactly what I am to you. So if your master will perform for you the most menial hygienic service which we allow another person to do for us, is there any reason why you shouldn’t do this kind of thing for each other? I did this to set precedence for you to do likewise. Are any of your better than I am, that you can’t do this kind of thing? Is there such a thing as a disciple who is greater than his teacher? Of course not. You know that, so just do it—any and every kind of service that any brother needs. Serving each other in even the most humbling ways will give you a deep sense of contentment.