Preparing for Advent 2012: Setting Captives Free

Luke 4:14-19

14Then Jesus, filled with the power of the Spirit, returned to Galilee, and a report about him spread through all the surrounding country. 15He began to teach in their synagogues and was praised by everyone. 16When he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, he went to the synagogue on the Sabbath day, as was his custom. He stood up to read, 17and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written: 18“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, 19to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

Jesus had just come from a forty-day fast in the wilderness, where he had battled (and won) intense temptation direct from Satan himself. Upon his return to civilization, Jesus ended up in his hometown of Nazareth, making his way to the synagogue where he announced his life mission statement, direct from the book of Isaiah.

As I read these words, “He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives,” I am reminded of the scene in “A Christmas Carol” when the ghost of Jacob Marley, bound in heavy chains, visits Ebenezer Scrooge on Christmas Eve.

Scrooge looked very unsettled by this, and quaked all the more violently. “You are fettered Jacob!” he said, his voice shaking. “Tell me why!”

“I wear the chain I forged in life,” I told him, repeating what Mortimer had told me in the courtroom. “I made it link by link and yard by yard. I girded it on of my own free will, and of my own free will I wore it! Is its pattern strange to you?”

Scrooge shook his head, his lip trembling.

“Would you know the weight and length of the strong coil you bear yourself? It was full, heavy and as long as this, seven Christmas Eves ago, and you have labored on it since. It is a ponderous chain you’re making, Scrooge!”

  • I believe we are all captives, bound with chains, mostly of our own making.
  • But the Good News is, Jesus came to set us free from those chains.

What are the chains that hold you captive? What hurts, habits or hang-ups keep you fettered in life? What keeps you from fulfilling your life’s mission statement?

Whatever it is, Jesus came to set us free. My prayer for you and for me is that this Advent season, we will take time away from our chains of busyness, stress and anxiety that tends to bombard us during the holiday season and simply rest in the presence of our liberator, Jesus of Nazareth.

Advent Application: Commit to taking 5-10 minutes each morning to read a devotional during the season of Advent, which begins the first Sunday of December. I will be offering daily devotionals on my blog: www.spiritualsidekick.com or you can find other great resources online, such as this one: http://www.d365.org/todaysdevotion/

If you prefer reading “hard copy” devotionals you can find some at your local Christian bookstore.

Dogs and Cats: An Allegory


“The loyalty of a dog is to its master and family. The loyalty of a cat is to its territory and self. Sounds like worship change.” David Manner

Brody’s wagging tail cleared everything off the coffee table as he ran past to make his announcement to everyone in the house.

“He’s here! Master is here! He’s walking through the door!”

Brody’s deep Labrador bark resonated throughout the house. Louie and Sadie, the resident mongrels rose from their naps and ran quickly to the large vestibule to greet their master. Brody followed close behind.

As Master opened the front door, the bright afternoon sunshine burst in and enveloped the darkened vestibule, transforming it into a cathedral of light. The trio barked and clumsily scurried across the marble floor, making their way toward the shadow of their master. With tails wagging jubilant hallelujahs, they continued their incessant barking as each took their turn sniffing and postulating at their master’s feet.

Master put down his briefcase and bent low to the ground, reaching his hands toward his excited canines. He petted each one behind their ears and tousled their fur as they licked his gentle hands. Brody got a little carried away and jumped into his master’s lap, knocking him over with a thud. Master chuckled and began playfully wrestling with all three of his adoring fans. The room was filled with happy barks of laughter.

From the corner of Master’s eye, he spotted Elsie and Myrtle, his two Siamese cats perched high a top the living room sofa. They appeared mildly annoyed by the dogs’ unseemly display of emotion. Elsie turned away as she saw her Master looking her way. Myrtle was busy licking herself clean. Master stood up and began walking toward them.

Elsie quickly jumped down from the sofa and ran toward the open door. Master reached down to swoop her up but she was in no mood for coddling. She protracted a single claw and hissed herself loose, escaping out the door into the cool winter air. Myrtle sat oblivious to the scene focusing only on the comforting sensation of her own tongue licking her beautiful fur coat.

Master turned away and pushed the front door shut. The vestibule returned to darkness. As he walked down the hall toward the warmly lit kitchen his three panting friends followed at his heel.

The greek word of worship is “proskuneo” which literally means, “as a dog licking his master’s hand.”

Worshiping Ourselves

I just downloaded a cool new app on my phone. It’s called MindReader*. Basically what you do is take a picture of someone or a group of people and then when you click on their faces, it will read their minds. I recently tried it out on my church.

Here’s a picture of one of our church services. Everyone looks like they are deep in prayer don’t they?

But then I clicked on this guys face and look what he was thinking about:

I did this a number of times, and each time it appeared the person in the picture had something on his or her mind other than worship.

Or did they?

What does it mean to “worship”?

I believe it is in our DNA as humans to be worshipers. We all worship something. I’ve heard it said, we all have a God-shaped vacuum we are trying to fill. Whatever we create to fill that vacuum, whatever we place as our supreme worth or highest priority is what we worship. The English word for worship is rooted in the word “Worth”. To “worth-ship” is to ascribe worth to something or someone.

It might be another person, a girlfriend or a boyfriend, a parent or a child. It might be a hobby that takes up all our free time and extra income. It might be a sports team. It might be our career or our salary. It could be our country. Patriotism is wonderful, but if we put all our hope in tomorrow’s election, could we actually be worshiping our government as our supreme worth? Whatever we place as our supreme worth is what we worship. Now, please hear me. I’m not saying any of these things are necessarily bad or evil and some of these things need to be priorities in our lives, but if they get elevated to our highest priority, they can become an idol.

On the other hand, our idol could be something bad or unhealthy like an addiction. Whatever it is that we become preoccupied with, that is our object of worship. Food can become an object of worship for me. I can be sitting down for a meal and start wondering what my next meal will be. Comfort is another idol I wrestle with. I want to be comfortable at all times and anything that gets between me and my comfort is to be avoided at all costs. That’s why I sometimes shun confrontation, because it makes me uncomfortable. That’s why I can talk myself out of exercising or going for a walk, because it disrupts my comfort. Any of these things, good or bad, if they are elevated to our highest priority are our objects of worship.

So answer honestly for yourself, what is it you place as supreme worth in your life? What is your object of worship? Your idol? What gets priority in your time and money? Could it be your family or your country citizenship or ethnicity, or perhaps your church? Could it be an addiction to comfort or some substance like food or alcohol?

Whatever it is that we elevate as our highest priority, good or bad, I believe when we boil it all down, it really comes down to one common idol – Ourselves. When we choose our own comfort, pleasure, or our own preferences, we’re actually worshiping ourselves.

So what’s it going to take for us to reprioritize our lives and elevate Christ as our Utmost and Highest Priority? We need to come to the place where we can say, just as John the Baptist did, “He must increase, but I must decrease.” (John 3:30)

 

 

 

*Obviously this is a fictitious app. Or is it? Bwahahahaha!

Communion of the Saints

This is a creative writing piece I recently wrote:

I observe them chatting softly between the hardwood pews, passing the peace. They seem a friendly lot, smiling and nodding. I see the men shake hands, occasionally slapping a back or two, conversing over scores and strategies. The women appear more prone to hugs and whispered conversations about family and friends. From my end of the sanctuary my heart embraces the scene. But even in the warm embrace of Christian fellowship, I feel the slight draft of winter wind.


I hear the invitation of Jesus, “Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest.” I’m weary, Jesus, but where are you? Are you here in the sanctuary? Are you here in the midst of the singing and the chatter? If I laid down right here, would I be allowed to rest? Everyone seems so busy, maybe too busy. Are they too busy to hear my story, too busy to make eye contact? Do they see me? Do they care?
I hear another invitation, “Come to the table.” I’m hungry, Lord. I’m hungry for you, but I’m also hungry for communion. I come to the table to be fed, but I fear some want to shorten the invite list. I’m a sinful man. Am I really invited to the table? Lord, only you know my heart. Only you can prepare a table for me in the presence of my enemies. Are these my enemies, Lord, or my brothers and sisters? Sometimes I’m not certain. Perhaps an invitation to their table where we dined not only on the bread and cup, but meat and potatoes, would make me feel a part of the communion of the saints.
From my vantage point, I see the congregation of beautifully broken saints covered in their Sunday best and I wonder if I belong. Am I a part of this family of faith? Do they see me from where I’m standing?
I am here, right in front of them, hiding behind the pulpit.

 

What Our Rescue Dog Taught Me About Worship

Sally and I recently adopted a rescue dog, a little ragamuffin Benji-mutt named Trixie. She’s the perfect dog for us; low energy, already house broken, virtually shed-less, and great with grandkids. We couldn’t be happier. And because she’s been such a great dog so far, we’ve gone against all our dog-expert family members’ advise and allowed her free reign of our home. I realize we may pay for this later, but that’s okay, if she messes up in the future at least we’ll have stories to tell our friends.

One of the things I swore I would never do, NEVER EVER, was to let our dog on the couch. But when Trixie walked over to me and looked up at me with those fur-covered peepers, how could I resist? I know, I know, I’m weak and totally useless as an Alpha dog. I’ll leave that up to Sally.

Most evenings, Trixie sits at my feet and lets me pet her. While I pet her, she’ll reach up and lick my hand. I’ll turn and look at her and she’ll look up at me as if to say, “Thanks, master, for rescuing me from the death chamber. Thanks for giving me shelter and food. I love you.” Then she’ll lick my hand again and I’ll reach down and kiss her on her wet nose. It’s all very mushy and a bit undignified.

Did you know the Greek word for worship is Proskuneo, which literally means, “As a dog licking his master’s hand?” That’s right, Trixie worships me. She’s just a dog, but she totally gets it. She understands that I’m her master and she depends on me for everything. She realizes that if it weren’t for me, she could end up on death row with no hope. That’s proskuneo, that’s worship.

Would you be willing to act in such an undignified manner as to lick your Master’s hand? What would proskuneo look like for you?

A Confession

This might disappoint you, or it might actually relieve you to know this is not some tell-all blog post. I’m not getting ready to air my dirty laundry. This is a corporate confession I put together for our worship gathering this Sunday. I hope it can be helpful in your personal worship time as well. Blessings!

Call to Confession
This is the message we have heard from him and declare to you: God is light; in him there is no darkness at all. If we claim to have fellowship with him yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live by the truth. But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin.
If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. 1 John 1:5-9 (NIV)

Moment of Silent Reflection and Confession

Prayer of Confession

Father God, Light of the world, we come to you as children, children afraid of the dark, yet walking in it. Someone has turned out the lights in our world and we are finding ourselves with stubbed toes and bloody noses. Others of us have much graver injuries from walking in the dark. Some of us are trying desperately to find the light switch while others of us secretly love the dark and are resisting the light. Help us to see through your Light that we are lying to You and to ourselves if we insist on walking in our blindness.

Please forgive us of our sin that dims your light in our lives. Help us to humbly admit that we are not without sin and to confess it to you. In your faithfulness and mercy, please shine your cleansing light into our darkness. Like sun-bleached, radiant white linen hanging from a clothesline on a summer afternoon, may we be caught up in the Holy Breeze of you Spirit, surrendering to your Light and your Truth.

Thank you for the promise that if we confess our darkness, You will forgive us, mend our wounds and lovingly guide us toward the Light.

We pray this in the supreme name of Jesus, the Light of the World
Amen


Gratitude: Black and White

Life would be so much simpler if everything was black and white;

Like reruns from the 50’s; Lucy, Ozzie and Harriet, Father Knows Best.

But life doesn’t happen in black and white;

It is filmed in Technicolor before a live studio audience.

 

While some things are black and white, agreed upon do’s and don’ts;

Other things in life don’t fit so neatly into our embedded categories.

Life doesn’t always fit into well-organized systems.

Cause and effects aren’t always consistent.

 

We must often make room for a blending of the black and white;

But rarely is gray listed as someone’s favorite color.

Gray appears drab and old, like a communist’s uniform,

Or an old white t-shirt washed too many times with the colors.

 

But we are often called to accept the gray in life,

Like the strands of hair stripped of youthful color.

But I have realized that if you add reflection and light into it,

Drab gray is beautifully transformed to radiating silver.

 

I thank you God, Creator of Light

For allowing us to reflect your light into a vast spectrum of color.

It is in and through your Eternal Light

That we discover the brilliant jewels and precious ore of life.

Gratitude: Purple

Sweet grape jelly on warm buttered toast,

Eggplant Parmesan, a food I like most,

Mom’s purple cabbage served once a year.

These are the purple foods that make me cheer.

 

A big, audacious purple bruise

From a fight that I didn’t lose,

A badge of honor to my name,

As a young boy, it would bring me fame.

 

Singing “purple people eaters” just for fun,

Making those around us want to run.

Dancing to Prince’s “Purple Rain”

People wondering if we were insane.

 

Cheering for the purple and gold

At NKC High, it never got old.

Giving purple flowers to my new love;

I knew she was a gift from above.

 

These purple memories from my past,

Remembered with gratitude that will last.

Another color in the rainbow,

An inspiration for love to grow.

 

But none of this would have really mattered,

If it hadn’t been for the bruised and battered;

Who loved our country from the start;

Returning home with a purple heart.

 

 

 

Gratitude: Orange

Who takes orange so serious?

Orange is all about fun.

Except for traffic cones, I suppose.

But wouldn’t it be fun to hit one?

 

I believe that if everyone wore orange,

No one would take themselves serious.

Talking with a man in a bright orange suit,

Would simply make me delirious.

 

Oranges are orange, and yes, they’re nutritious;

But oranges are also quite fun.

Oranges squirt and squirting is funny.

So’s an orange peel grin, big as the sun.

 

Circus peanuts and orange candy slices;

Orange colored candy is fun.

Orange popsicles and creamsicles rule,

But orange soda pop’s number one.

 

Pumpkins are all the rage in the Fall,

So is playing in orange crinkly leaves.

Kids named Rusty with freckles and orange hair,

Who doesn’t smile at these?

 

Everyone loves Nemo, the lost orange fish,

And Pooh’s orange friend named Tigger.

Which reminds me of the fun we all would have

If the zoo tiger exhibit were bigger.

 

Last, but not least are orange cheese curls,

The snack that just keeps on giving,

There’s just no way to eat them all up

Without some orange finger-licking.

 

Thank you, God for orange.