“Grape” Expectations

I love quotable quotes and one that makes my Top 10 list is by missionary William Carey. He said, “Expect great things FROM God. Attempt great things FOR God.”

We all want to to do that, don’t we? We don’t just want to exist on earth for 80 years and then die and go to heaven. We want to make a difference. We want to make an impact. We want to attempt great things for God and expect that He’ll do great things through us in the process.

In biblical terms, we want to bear “fruit.”

And that’s what Jesus wants for us as well. Less than 24 hours before the crucifixion, He said to His closest followers: “This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.” (John 15:8).

So the question is, how do we actually do what Jesus said? How do we not just bear fruit, but MUCH fruit?

Answering that question is trickier than it sounds. It would be tempting to think that all you need to do is read the commands in the Bible, and — to borrow a phrase from Nike — Just Do It!

After all, the Bible commands us to do things like feed the poor, share your faith, pray for people, love your neighbor… the list goes on. And all of those things are examples of fruit that God wants us to produce, right? So should we roll up our sleeves and Just Do It?

Nope.

In fact, before we do any of those commands, before we bear any fruit in our lives, we need to do something else first. Something critical. Something that might not be obvious. Something that might even feel like a waste of time.

You see, a handful of verses before Jesus explained how He wants us to bear fruit, He explained the first critical (and often neglected) step:

“Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in Me. I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit; for without Me you can do nothing.” – John 15:4-5 (NKJV)

Jesus tells His disciples the key to bearing much fruit in their lives is this: abiding in Him. And He doesn’t just say it one time. He says it over and over and over again. In fact, the word “abide” appears 10 times within 6 verses of John 15.

And since Jesus is a Master Teacher, He didn’t repeat Himself because He had A.D.D. or because He forgot where He was in His sermon notes and accidentally said the same thing a few times. 🙂

Jesus said the word “abide” 10 times because He wanted to make sure His original disciples got the point — and He wanted to make sure readers of that text 2,000 years later got the point as well. The point? To abide in Jesus is a big, big deal.

Now I realize the word “abide” is not one you probably use a lot in your everyday conversations. So here is a helpful definition I came across in great little book by Bruce Wilkinson called Secrets of the Vine:

To “abide” means to remain, to stay closely connected, to settle in for the long term. With this picture Jesus is showing the disciples how an ongoing, vital connection with Him will directly determine the amount of His supernatural power at work in their lives.

So that’s what it means to abide in Jesus. But a key question remains… just how do you do that? Here are a couple Action Steps for you:

  • For the past few weeks I have been preaching a series on Spiritual Pathways where I give very practical ways to “abide” in God. Please click HERE to watch and/or listen to the first sermon in that series (A Game Changer for Spiritual Growth)
  • In addition, why not add Secrets of the Vine to your summer reading list. In fact, you won’t need all summer to read it from cover to cover. Just a few hours. That book is an example the cliche: good things come in small packages.

***This weekend marks the unofficial start of summer. And regardless of what happens with the coronavirus, what if it was a summer of life for you! This week’s sermon will focus on spiritual pathways to connect to our good God, ancient pathways that often go untraveled. Our hope is that it will set the stage for the rest of the summer so that your spiritual temperature will remain “hot” between now and Labor Day. This sermon as well as an entire online church experience (including worship, Communion, etc.) will be available “on demand” at www.themission.church starting at 9am on May 24th.

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A Grandma, Birthday Hats, and Playing in the Basement

This Sunday will be the third Mother’s Day without my mom, known to everyone at our church not as “Phyllis” but as “Grandma Kopp.” So I decided to write this blog, not only to honor her, but to challenge YOU to live like she did in one very particular way. Read on…

One thing my mom embraced on her spiritual journey and something I believe Jesus wants you to embrace on your spiritual journey is the invitation to become child-like.

As followers of Jesus, He invites us to get younger as we grow older. To become more and more like little children. Before I talk about how my mom lived this out, let me frame it with a passage: 

At that time the disciples came to Jesus and asked, “Who, then, is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” – Matthew 18:1

Jesus was a Rabbi, a teacher. And His students are bold enough to ask Him a question that in modern-day terms would sound like this: if God had an All-Star Team, who would be the MVP??? If we took a survey and asked who is the greatest in God’s eyes, I would expect people to give the names of famous pastors, best-selling Christian authors, or evangelists who filled stadiums.

That is how we would answer that question of who is the greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven. But here is how Jesus answers it. And He doesn’t just answer the question with words; He answers it in a much more powerful way:

He called a little child to him, and placed the child among them. And he said: “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.”Therefore, whoever takes the lowly position of this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. And whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me. – Matthew 18:2-5

In this verse, Jesus tells His students that they need to transform their way of thinking and acting, that they need to become like children.

And those words from Jesus aren’t just for the Apostles… they are for us!

What I mean by that is this: we need to become like children in how we interact with God and in how we live our everyday lives.

And that defined my mom to a “tee”!!!

She accepted the invitation of Jesus to be child-like again and again. And in doing so, she was being the MOST HUMAN she could be.

Here is a quote that explains what I just said:

“Play is at once intense (just watch a four-year-old with Matchbox cars and a few blocks!) and liberating. [When we play] we are freed from our compulsions for right answers, freed from the need to acquire and achieve, freed from anxiety by the transitory nature of play…the human being is completely human only at play.” (Margaret Guenther – Holy Listening)

If you had to describe what kids love to do and you could only use one word, what word would you use? I’d use the word “play.” Kids love to play. And according to this quote, playing is not just a thing for children. It’s for all of us because we are most human when we play.

Because when we play, we are freed from our compulsions for right answers… we are freed from the need to acquire and to achieve… we are freed from anxiety.

When it came to my mom, she was a living and breathing example of that quote. She accepted the invitation of Jesus to be child-like again and again. And in doing so, she was being the most human she could be.

Mom loved it when the grandkids came over, because when they did, she wouldn’t just send them down in the basement to have fun…. She would go right down with them!

And play jump rope…

And crawl on the floor…

And play hide and seek…

And anything else you could imagine!

And whenever it was her birthday, she would buy hats… for everyone! So she would always wear one and try to get everyone else to put one on as well. (And *most* of the time… I did!)

And mom would do something else a child would do, especially one around age 3 or 4. She would ask questions. Oh my, would she ask questions! 🙂

I always said mom missed her calling as a prosecuting attorney because when you talked to her, you could feel like you were being grilled at times. You weren’t. There was no malice in her. No ill-will. She was just curious… like a child.

So that’s what I wanted to share about my mom. Now let’s turn the focus toward you. Here are a couple of questions that I pray you take some time to reflect on:

  • How would your view of God and your spiritual journey be different if you had a childlike faith (e.g., the innocence and perspective of a child.
  • What would it look like for you to become more child-like in general?

Take some time to pray into those questions. And then put your answers into action. May you and I accept God’s invitation to become more child-like!

***God wants us to draw near to Him in ways that make us ALIVE. But if you are honest, there are times where you will feel DEAD in your faith as well. And God wants to make you those areas come alive once again! In this new series, I am teaching a concept called “spiritual pathways” that revolutionized my spiritual journey… and the same can happen to you! And since May 10th is also Mother’s Day we’ll be giving a special blessing to moms as part of this sermon! This sermon as well as an entire online church experience (including worship, Communion, etc.) will be available starting at 9am on May 10th at http://www.themission.church***

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Sometimes Love Looks Like a Bag of Groceries

Kerry Bandlow (member of our church and proudly wearing his gear as a city of Rochester firefighter) delivering groceries to a senior citizen in Shelby Township

“What can we do to help?” It’s a simple question. But it’s an incredibly powerful question.

In this “unprecedented” time we are in (I think I’ve heard that word about a thousand times over the past month!), as believers and followers of Jesus, it’s our time to shine. To bring light into darkness.

So this blog is about our what our church is doing. Not to pat ourselves on the back, but to hopefully inspire you to put your faith in action! So here goes…

Just over one month ago, when everything started to shutdown, I picked up the phone and contacted the local government of Shelby Township (where we live as well as where our church is located). I basically said, “We’d love to be a ‘friend to the Township’ with no-strings-attached. So what can we do to help?”

A few days later, a government official contacted me saying a couple senior citizens reached out to them, asking for assistance getting groceries and other necessities (but no, they didn’t ask for toilet paper! 🙂 ). I personally called both folks to better understand specifically what they needed (“You want cheese. Ok, what kind… a block, sliced, shredded? What brand?”) and posted about it on our church’s Facebook page.

Two awesome members of our church — Kerry & LeAnne Bandlow — stepped up, went grocery shopping on behalf of both senior citizens, and even delivered the groceries to their doors! And our church picked up the tab!

Why? Because sometimes love looks like a bag of groceries.

So that’s one of the things our church is doing right now. To be clear, this is NOT a “grocery delivery ministry.” It’s just an example of what can happen when you lead with the question, “What can we do to help?”

May God give YOU eyes to see the needs right around YOU. If there is an elderly person who lives near you, check on them. Make sure they are ok. See if they need any groceries… If there is someone on your block who was already struggling to make ends meet before all of this happened, bless them in some way… Pick up the phone and call someone and see how they are doing… Maybe ask someone, “Can I pray for you right now?” … Maybe go “old school” and mail someone a card or write a letter to encourage them.

Pray about it. See how the Holy Spirit leads you as you ask the question, “What can I do to help?”

Whatever you choose to do, may you shine. May you shine in this time of darkness.

“You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.” (Matthew 5:14-16)

***If you liked this blog, please “go” to our church this weekend by connecting with us online! We just launched a new sermon series titled “It Is Well… With My Soul.” We are looking at the deepest part of you — your soul — and asking, “How is your soul doing?” Sermons and an entire online church experience are available at www.themission.church***

 

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What the 24 Hour News Cycle Is Doing To Your Soul

The coronavirus pandemic hit our state just over a month ago. The first reported case in Michigan was on March 10th…. it feels like
5 YEARS ago instead of just 5 weeks ago, doesn’t it?

On that note, I recently saw this Facebook post: 2020 is a unique Leap Year. It has 29 days in February, 300 Days in March, 
and 5 Years in April. That about sums it up, doesn’t it? 🙂

When the news started unfolding, I consumed a ton of it. I stayed on top of things during during my work day on the internet. I got updates on my phone. I watched ABC World News Tonight… every night!

And it was damaging my soul.

Let me rewind back a couple weeks… Palm Sunday began what is known as “Holy Week.” And while “holy” is often associated with puritans and judgment, its basic meaning is “to be set apart.” So in my sermon that Sunday (you can click HERE to watch it!), I challenged everyone to make it the most holy “Holy Week” ever. In other words, to live differently.

One of the Action Steps I gave in my sermon was to “fast” from the news… not for the entire week, but for a period of time. And that’s what I did. I took 24 hours off from all news about the coronavirus.

And it healed my soul a bit.

So during the rest of Holy Week, I fasted from the news every other day. That way, I still stayed on top of things. I didn’t bury my head in the sand. But I also didn’t let the news consume my thoughts. I didn’t give the devil the opportunity to fill me with fear.

Fast forward to today… even though Holy Week is in the rear view mirror, I have continued to practice that same rhythm when it comes to the news. One day on. One day off.

And it has been a good week for my soul.

So let me encourage you to follow in my footsteps. Figure out how much news you really need to watch. How much news you really need to consume. Set a limit (just like we set a “screen time” limit for our kids… may we do the same for us grown ups!). Maybe for you, you’ll land on 15 minutes a day. Or maybe 15 minutes morning and evening. Or maybe every other day. Or even less.

Pray about it. And follow however the Holy Spirit nudges you.

If you do, I believe it will bring health to your soul.

And if you liked this post, please consider “going” to our church online this weekend. Here is a sneak preview of my sermon:

***It’s common in our culture to ask, “How are you?” And the standard response is, “I’m fine, how are you?” We all say that … even during this coronavirus pandemic! This week we are launching a NEW SERIES where we are going to look at the truest part of who you are: your soul. And we are going to ask a much deeper question: “How is your SOUL doing?” How is your soul doing with the events unfolding around the globe? And what can we do to bring peace and even joy to our souls? This new series is called “It Is Well… With My Soul.” This kickoff sermon as well as an entire online church experience (including worship, Communion, etc.) will be available online on our homepage — www.themission.church — on April 19th by 9am.***

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A Harmony of the Gospels: From the Last Supper to the Tomb

As I wrote in my last blog, this is known as Holy Week. At it’s root, “holy” simply means “to set apart.” In my last post I encouraged you to live differently this week. To press into your spiritual journey in ways you normally don’t.

So I decided to go into my “blog archives” and share this post about what I truly believe is the perfect Bible reading plan for Holy Week or for Good Friday itself! Read on…

Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John are four biographies of Jesus. Instead of being four carbon-copy accounts, each could be viewed as a portrait that “paints” Jesus in a particular way.

While each author was inspired by the Holy Spirit to write what they wrote, each one emphasized certain details, omitted others, and at times compressed the narrative for reasons God only knows (literally!). So when any given event appears in more than one gospel, it’s a great idea to read each account of it because in doing so, you’ll get the complete picture.

This is especially true when it comes to the final 24 hours of Jesus’ life. Below is a harmonization of the gospel accounts from the Last Supper to the moment Jesus’ lifeless body was placed in the tomb. You could consider this the all-inclusive or unabridged version of the last 24 hours of Jesus’ life in the actual order that the events happened.

I chose to break the story up into 6 distinct “Acts” because the number 6 represents incompleteness/imperfection. In this way, Act 7 – the Resurrection – completes and perfects the narrative.

I encourage you to grab your favorite Bible and read these Scriptures in the order shown below. Take your time as you do this. Slowly turn the pages as you flip between each gospel account. Reflect as you read. Pray. And may this narrative come alive to you like never before….

Act 1: The Last Supper

  • Matthew 26:17-20
  • John 13 (all)
  • Matthew 26:26-29

Act 2: From the Upper Room to the Garden of Gethsemane

  • John 14 (all)
  • John 15 (all)
  • John 16 (all)
  • John 17 (all)
  • Luke 22:39-46

Act 3: Betrayal and Arrest

  • John 18:2-11

Act 4: On Trial

  • John 18:12-14,19-23
  • Mark 14:53-72
  • Matthew 27:1-14
  • Luke 23:6-25

Act 5: Crucifixion and Death

  • Matthew 27:27-30
  • John 19:16b-30
  • Mark 15:38-41

Act 6: Burial

  • Luke 23:50-56

***We’d love everyone to “go” to our church twice this weekend. Our Good Friday sermon will be available on our website first thing on April 10th so you can view it anytime that day. In addition, we will have an entire online church experience for you to engage in on Good Friday! (And the same for Easter Sunday!). More details about both services can be found at themission.church***

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Don’t “Jump Ahead” To Easter Sunday

I am writing this on the Monday of what is known as Holy Week. So we are 4 days away from Good Friday and 6 days away from Easter Sunday.

As a Christian living in America, it’s very easy to blow right past Good Friday and focus on Easter Sunday. After all, Easter is the day of the party (even if it won’t be as big this year as we “stay home and stay safe.”) It’s the day you give your kids a basket of goodies. It’s the day everybody dresses up when they go to church (remember those days… when you could go to church!!). 🙂

So I felt a nudge from the Holy Spirit to write this blog to encourage you to take Holy Week one day at a time. So here are some things to think about to help you slow down and focus on Good Friday…

For the joy set before Jesus, He endured the cross… (Hebrews 12:2). The joy set before Him was you and me. The joy set before Him was our freedom from sin. The joy set before Him was making it possible for us to become children of God.

And the Cross was the ONLY WAY to make those things happen.

To explain why the Cross was the only way, let me take you back to a fascinating verse of events that took place the day before Jesus was going to die. The Last Supper has just taken place and Jesus is in the Garden of Gethsemane:

Going a little farther, he fell with his face to the ground and prayed, “My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will.” (Matthew 26:39).

This is an absolutely fascinating verse! After all, Jesus was predestined to go to the Cross. Theologians like to say Jesus was born to die.

So the Cross was the culmination of God’s plan of salvation.

But less than 24 hours before the first nail was driven into Jesus’ hand, the Son asks the Father, “My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me.”

In other words, Jesus is saying: Is there any other way we can do this? Is there any other way we can accomplish what we need to accomplish? I know this has always been the plan. But can we pull an audible at the last minute? Is there any other way to defeat the devil, sin, and death?

Now don’t miss this…God is a good good Father. And a good Father would not have had His Son go to the Cross IF there was any other way to accomplish the same goal.

Therefore, Jesus HAD to go to the Cross. There was NO other option.

God the Father did not want Jesus to be crucified because He was a mean dad. And Jesus didn’t choose to be crucified because He enjoyed pain.

As Christians living in America we need to re-think what we assume about the Cross. We need to re-think things to fully grasp what the Cross accomplished and oftentimes our church background gets in the way of that. Familiarity with the Cross has led to unfamiliarity!

We need to realize that the Cross was the only way to defeat the devil and defeat sin and defeat death. And this makes sense when we begin to wake up to the fact. That we are in war zone.

We need to view the Cross as an an instrument of war and Jesus’ death as an act of war in what is known as spiritual warfare… to defeat Satan and his works, including sin and death.

So because of that… because of the Cross… may you and I not “jump ahead” to Easter Sunday. May we take Holy Week one day at a time. And here are three practical ways to do that:

  1. Between now and Easter Sunday follow a special Bible reading plan. Click HERE. It’s a blog I wrote a few years ago that contains a harmonization of all 4 gospels that contains a list of passages to read, focused on the final 24 hours of Jesus’ life from the Last Supper to the Tomb.
  2. Treat Good Friday as the unique day that it is. Don’t spend those 24 hours like you do any other day of the year. Because it’s not any other day. It’s Good Friday. So here are some suggestions: Fast from food. Keep the TV off. Spend extra time in the Bible or in prayer day. “Help those who need help” by serving a neighbor in a creative way.
  3. “Go” to church online on Good Friday. Hopefully this blog will re-wire your thinking so that church on Good Friday isn’t an obligation that you “ought” to do but something you are compelled to do. And no matter where you live, we’d love to have you encounter God through what we are calling the “Home Edition” of The Mission!  Info is below….

***We’d love everyone to “go” to our church twice this weekend. Our Good Friday sermon will be available on our website first thing on April 10th so you can view it anytime that day. In addition, we will have an entire online church experience for you to engage in on Good Friday! (And the same for Easter Sunday!). More details about both services can be found at themission.church***

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When Holy Communion Is A Banana and Mountain Dew Instead of Bread and Wine

eiliv-sonas-aceron-k9X5yGle-NA-unsplashWe are living in a moment of history right now. Each day of news feels like a month of news under normal times, doesn’t it?

So we need to stay connected to Jesus more than ever before. And one of the ways to do this is through the ancient practice of taking Communion. But how can you do that if your church building is closed on Sundays?

Several years ago, I wrote a blog that I wanted to repost. May these words bless you! And may they stretch your theology where it needs to be stretched! 🙂

The most meaningful experience I ever had taking Communion wasn’t with bread and wine in a church building, but with a banana and Mountain Dew in a garbage-filled field. Let me explain…

I was born and raised in the Catholic church and Communion was the high point of the Mass. It was a big deal!

My passion for Communion has stayed with me all these years and that’s one of the reasons we offer it every single Sunday at our church (The Mission). I have had many “God moments” in serving the elements and have talked to scores of people that had encounters with God as they received the bread and grape juice during our service.

But as I think back, the most meaningful Communion experience I ever had didn’t take place at St. Ronald’s or inside any other church building. It took place in a field while I was going to seminary out in California.

I was on a weekend retreat and before we left, it seemed fitting to celebrate Communion together. But we didn’t have any unleavened bread and wine. So a couple guys were commissioned to find substitutes for these while the rest of us went outside. We walked to an empty field near the retreat house. In the middle of this field was a sizable pile of garbage. People had been using this field for illegal dumping.

We gathered in a circle around this pile of garbage and someone pointed out a pair of shoes in the trash. Not one random shoe (which would be what you would expect to find) but a pair… and they looked to be in good shape. Someone pointed out the shoes and said, “Someone came across this pile of trash and felt led to take off their shoes and leave them here. Because this is holy ground.” He was mirroring what God told Moses: “Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy ground.” (Exodus 3:5)

So we followed suit. We took off our shoes and felt the dirt between our toes. At the same time the guys from the house arrived with the Communion elements. They landed on a common cup of Mountain Dew and some bananas they sliced up.

As a kid who grew up in the Catholic church this was a massive stretch for me. 🙂

They pointed out that when Jesus used the unleavened bread and wine during The Last Supper, there wasn’t anything particularly special about those two elements. They were simply things that were on the table during the meal that evening. Jesus was using what He had available to Him. And we were doing the same thing.

Before eating the banana and drinking the Mountain Dew, there was an extended time of prayer. And their prayers brought me to tears. Actually that’s an understatement. It led me to sob.

Folks around the circle confessed how our lives are often like this field, filled with the garbage of sin. They prayed that God would redeem the garbage in our lives and transform us into works of art. They prayed that God would transform the field we were standing in, from being an eyesore to the community to being a blessing to the community… like a playground. They prayed God would transform our cities and then they shouted out many by name: Long Beach… Pomona… Chino… San Bernardino…

This trash-filled field became an altar.

“…when Jesus had given thanks, he broke it and said,This is my body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of me.” (1 Cor. 11:24). We took the banana and ate. “In the same way, after supper he took the cup, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood; do this, whenever you drink it, in remembrance of me.” (1 Cor. 11:25). We passed around the common cup of Mountain Dew and drank. “For whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.” (1 Cor. 11:26).

In an outside-of-the-box, comfort-zone stretching way, that’s exactly what we did that morning. It was a holy moment. In the middle of a pile of garbage.

So when you meet together this Sunday or sometime this week as a “house church” or even if you are by yourself, ask God to show you what elements around the house to use for Communion. And may you encounter our God who conquered the grave as you do!

***Due to the Coronavirus outbreak, I launched a new sermon series called “The World Says Fear. God Says Peace.” Please click HERE to be directed to those sermons***

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When You Get “Squeezed”

Screen Shot 2020-03-13 at 1.22.34 PMThis past Monday it seemed like things began to ramp up when it came to the coronavirus, but as the week began I could have never mimed where we’d be as of today (Friday).

Even though it’s just been a few days since things have been “normal”, it feels like it’s been a few months. I’m sure you feel the same.

On Tuesday morning I switched gears in my sermon prep, feeling a nudge to put our current series on the shelf for a bit so that my sermon would be as relevant as possible. Little did I know on Tuesday what would be happening in the world today.

I plan to preach much more on this but for now let me know you with this quote from Paul Martini and his book Access and Release God’s Peace. I pray the Holy Spirit really speaks to you through it:

When I slice open an orange and squeeze it, orange juice comes out. If I squeezed an orange and apple juice came out, then I would find it odd indeed. Oranges should produce orange juice, and apples should produce apple juice. As Christians, we should also find it odd if fear, doubt, worry, stress and anxiety come out of us when we get squeezed. When the pressures of this world are upon us or the attacks of the enemy come at us, more peace should come out of us, not less. When we are under pressure, more peace, more joy, more hope and more love should be released.

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The Christmas Star That Isn’t a Star

Today (January 6, 2020) is one of those overlooked holidays on the Christian calendar. It’s the “Epiphany of the Lord” (a.k.a., Three Kings Day), the day the Wise Men visited Jesus! And because of that, I decided to post this blog about the Christmas Star in that story. Because that star is not what you think it is! Read on!

There are some fascinating details in the biblical account of the Christmas story that are often overlooked. Here’s what the Bible says:

After [the Magi] had heard the king, they went on their way, and the star they had seen in the east went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was. When they saw the star, they were overjoyed. – Matthew 2:9-10

Those verses contain details I always wondered about when I heard the Christmas story at St. Ronald’s Catholic Church as a kid. After all, how could a star that is a million miles up in space MOVE around in the sky and then STOP over a house? And how would the wise men know which house it stopped over if it was that far up in space?

Those details never made sense to me.

And then I did some research.

Biblical scholars have had a field day trying to figure out what this star was. And in this blog I wanted to share the top two theories I came across…

One widely discussed possibility is a very rare astronomical event that took place on May 27 of 7 B.C. On that date, Jupiter, Saturn, and the constellation of Pisces all aligned. This theory states that the star in the Christmas story was these three things converging.

And what makes this significant is what each of those things represents:

  • Jupiter was seen as the primary god in Babylonian astrology
  • Saturn was a planet associated with the Jews
  • The Pisces constellation represented Palestine

So according to this theory, these three coming together told the Magi “who, what and where.” Jupiter told them the “who” — a King was born. Saturn told them the “what” — it involved the nation of the King. And the Pisces constellation told them the “where” — it explained where they were to look for him.

And maybe God did something supernatural that you often see in movies that depict this event: that light from the convergence of these 3 things came down from space in a tight beam and focused on the manger. And if God created all things, then He could take a natural event like the convergence of Jupiter, Saturn, and the constellation of Pisces and do something supernatural with the light it emitted, couldn’t He?

So that’s one theory of what the Christmas Star was. And I think it’s a pretty cool one.

Here’s another theory . . . and this one suggests the star was NOT really a star at all.

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The Kopp Family Manger Scene on our Front Lawn

We have a manger scene we put up in our front yard just before Thanksgiving each year. Kellie inherited it from her grandparents. It has a star that’s on an 8-foot pole and we put the star right over the wooden manger. Then we cover the star with Christmas lights and rows of streaming lights so everyone can see it up and down our street.

While we don’t have plastic Magi figurines to go along with our manger scene, everyone on our block could find baby Jesus if they used our Christmas Star as their guide. Simply look for the lit up star and then look down about 8 feet! 🙂 There’s baby Jesus being held by His mommy, the Virgin Mary! Nice and simple.

But the star in the biblical account isn’t 8 feet up in the air, because stars are millions of miles up in space. So how were the Magi led by this star??? Here is the theory…

The Christmas Star was not really a star at all, but it was actually an angel. That might sound weird at first, but there is precedent for it in the Bible. In the Scriptures, angels are sometimes referred to as stars. For example: The mystery of the seven stars that you saw in my right hand and of the seven golden lampstands is this: The seven stars are the angels of the seven churches… (Revelation 1:20)

Some scholars think this is what was going in the Christmas Story. This would explain why this “star” could lead the Magi… and how it could stop over a house.

According to this theory, The Christmas “Star” (Angel) wasn’t a million miles up in space. It was probably just a little higher than the star we have on our pole for our manger scene.

In fact, there is some early church tradition that agrees with this theory. Here is a quote from an early church writing called The Gospel of the Infancy. I need to stress this book is not part of the Bible, but it is part of early church tradition which carries some weight.

This writing is all about the birth of Jesus, just like chapter 2 of the gospel of Matthew. But this ancient text contains additional details:

In the same hour there appeared to them an angel in the form of that star which had before guided them in their journey, and they went away, following the guidance of its light, until they arrived in their own country. – Gospel of the Infancy (chap. 7)

In commenting about this non-Biblical source, one Christian scholar said: “This, I believe, only makes explicit what is implicit in Matthew, namely, that the guiding star was a guiding angel.”

Again, we don’t know what the Christmas Star was for sure. But both of those are pretty fascinating theories.

***What if 2020 was a year of spiritual breakthrough for you! A year where you saw mountains move! A year where you felt closer to God than ever before! And what if that breakthrough came from pressing into prayer like never before. How? By developing “A Practical Plan for Personal Prayer.” And that is the title of my sermon for this Sunday Jan. 12th. Please join us at The Mission (52767 Shelby Rd.) at either 9:15am or 11:00am . . . and may you never pray the same way again! More info at themission.church***

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Experiencing Advent

DSC01213For the first several years of our marriage, Kellie and I had a rule: “thou shalt not play Christmas music in our house prior to Thanksgiving.” So while 100.3 FM (“Detroit’s Christmas Station”) always started playing it at the start of November, we wouldn’t tune in until the day after Thanksgiving.

That was the way it always was. Until a few years ago. Due to intense pressure from Faith, Evelyn, and Elizabeth 🙂 beginning a few years ago, we started locking in 100.3 FM the day they started playing Christmas music (this year it was Nov. 2nd).

And we have made this switch because it stretches out the Christmas season for us. This really is the most wonderful time of the year, and I felt like I get into the Christmas mindset a few weeks earlier because of the music that fills our home.

As I thought about how the Kopp household began playing Christmas music earlier nowadays, I realized what we do mirrors what is happening in our culture when it comes to Christmas.

Many stores will be open on Thanksgiving Day and many others began having “Black Friday” deals already (I think amazon.com started their Black Friday specials before Halloween this year!).

With this flurry of activity, it is easy to lose “the reason for the season” — the birth of Jesus Christ — in the midst of it. So I believe it is more important than ever for Christians to have a plan between now and Christmas Day on what you will do to raise your spiritual temperature… instead of allowing it to drop as fast as the thermometer outside will drop between now and the new year.

By the way, for almost 2,000 years Christians have had a “plan” how to do this. It’s the season known as Advent. And that is why every year I create an Experiencing Advent handout for my church and why I want everyone of you to have a copy as well.
(Click HERE for your free copy). Here’s a glimpse of what is inside the 2019 version of it:

  • The 12 Days of Christmas is one of the most well known Christmas Carols… even if we don’t remember if there were 8 or 7 “swans a swimming”! Instead of 12 DAYS of Christmas, here are 12 WAYS of Christmas — a dozen very practical ways to live differently from the time between now and Christmas Day.
  • A Bible Reading Plan. Actually two of them! Two plans to choose from that will show you what Scriptures to read on which days between Dec. 1st and Dec. 24th.
  • Praying 101 and Fasting 101 during Advent.
  • Ideas how to “help those who need help” who are often forgotten, especially during the holiday season.
  • Discussion questions to process by yourself, with your family, your friends, or your small group.

It’s 3 days before Thanksgiving… and 4 before Black Friday… and 6 days before the First Sunday of Advent. The craziness of the Christmas season is just about to begin. May you live differently this year. May you not wake up physically exhausted and spiritually depleted on December 26th. May your focal point be Christ. May you press into the season of Advent like never before and because of that may you reach new heights on your spiritual journey between now and Christmas Day.

***At this time of year we sing Joy to the World and we watch It’s a Wonderful Life. And yet… while this *should* be the most wonderful time of the year, it often isn’t. We let our joy get robbed from us. So how do we keep that from happening? And better yet, how can we overflow with joy as we speed toward Christmas. Our all-new sermon series kicks off THIS Sunday Dec. 1st with my sermon titled, “It’s an Amazing, Incredible, Wonderful Life.” Please join us at The Mission (52767 Shelby Rd. in Shelby Twp.) at either 9:15am or 11:00am. More info at themission.church***

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