Favorite Bible Verses (Part 1)

What is your favorite Bible verse?  Americans have weighed in on this question.  In this episode of the Scripture and Spice Podcast, Micah and Curtis  begin a discussion on our favorite Bible verses.

Also in this episode

  • The problems with taking scriptures out of context
  • The worst bible verses to put on church signs
  • Jeremiah 29:11  For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.

 

Celebrating Christmas

Christmas is the day that we choose to honor the birth of Jesus.   In this special edition of the  Scripture and Spice Podcast, Micah Spicer and Curtis Hannah discuss the purpose of Christmas and contemplate the way we choose to spend it.

The Spirit of Christmas

The Christmas season is designed to be merry and bright.  Christmas lights, trees decorated with ornaments and angels, carolers singing hymns of the Messiahs birth, and figgy pudding make up the ambiance of the season.  Gift exchanges and family gatherings highlight our favorite time of year.  More importantly we celebrate the birth of Jesus, the Messiah, on Christmas.  Children’s Christmas plays reveal an adorable portrayal of Jesus’ birth surrounded by angels, shepherds, sheep, and wise men offering gifts to the newborn king.  Nativity scenes also reveal the charming nature of the event that would alter the cosmic course of history.  This Christmas I would remind you that the first Christmas was anything but merry or bright.

Jesus was born an illegitimate child, according to his peers, to Joseph and Mary, a poor couple from an undesirable neighborhood.  In order to prevent their newborn from being slaughtered at the hands of Herod the Great, the migrants smuggled the infant across the Egyptian border until it was safe to return to Israel.  Growing up in Nazareth Jesus would, no doubt, have been relentlessly teased as a child for being poor and having a “scandalous” mother.  This reality brings a whole new meaning to “treat others the way you want to be treated” (Luke 6:31).  This is the harrowing tale of Christmas, the colossal event often referred to as the Incarnation.  In this way God joins the human race to demonstrate His unending love and offer His perfect peace.

The story of Christmas is not as pretty as we present in children’s plays or pose in our nativity scenes.  It is a frightening tragedy.  The Christmas story should even challenge our own preferred holiday traditions.  When we swipe our credit card to purchase that final stocking stuffer, are we sharing the Christmas spirit?  What about when we order that Barbie doll for that special girl in our life, you know the one who already has 14 Barbie dolls?  Is this how Jesus really wants us to celebrate his birthday?  Some say we should make every effort to “put Christ back in Christmas,” but I wonder if we have corrupted Christmas to the point where Jesus would rather sit the holiday out.  “Let Satan have this one,” I can imagine Jesus saying.

Christmas is a vital part of God’s redemptive plan for humanity.  Christmas calls us to worship God, welcome the stranger in our midst, root out prejudices, and love others like God loves us.  Christmas is an invitation to Trust God, Bless Others, and Celebrate Grace.  Only when we do this do we reclaim the theological truth and the spirit of Christmas.  Merry Christmas!

Jesus: our Prince of Peace

For Christians, Jesus is our Prince of Peace.  In this world that celebrates violence, what can we learn from the ways that Jesus handles violence?  During Advent, we celebrate the peace that God gives to the world through Christ.  In this episode Micah and Curtis contemplate ways to achieve peace in our world today.

Also in this episode:

  • We consider Jesus our Prince of Peace, but there was another Prince of Peace in the ancient world.  Who was this hero?
  • What do the disciples think about achieving peace?
  • How do we achieve peace in our world today?
  • Scripture of the Day:  Isaiah 9: 6-7

For to us a child is born,
    to us a son is given;
and the government shall be upon[d] his shoulder,
    and his name shall be called[e]
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
    Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
Of the increase of his government and of peace
    there will be no end,

Hope of Christmas

Why is the season of Advent is a special time to recognize the anticipated arrival of the Lord Jesus?   The festivities and family traditions of Christmas serve a purpose, but cannot match the hope God grants us through the coming of Christ.  Micah addresses the underlying message of comfort that arrives on the first Christmas.

Also in this episode:

  • Why is Advent a celebrated season given that Jesus’ birthday is not specified in the Bible?
  • What is God’s message to those who suffer?
  • What lessons did God teach Micah with the passing of his father?
  • How can churches remember the sufferings of their parishioners during Christmas?
  • Scripture of the Day:  Isaiah 40:1-5

Comfort, comfort my people, says your God.
Speak tenderly to Jerusalem,
    and cry to her
that her warfare[a] is ended,
    that her iniquity is pardoned,
that she has received from the Lord‘s hand
    double for all her sins.

A voice cries:
“In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord;
    make straight in the desert a highway for our God.
Every valley shall be lifted up,
    and every mountain and hill be made low;
the uneven ground shall become level,
    and the rough places a plain.
And the glory of the Lord shall be revealed,
    and all flesh shall see it together,
    for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.”

Paul the Decorated

What makes Paul, the Apostle, an authority figure in the early church?  Does he have the right education, credentials, or job experiences that make him an expert?  Questions of authority arise early and often during Paul’s career.  In this Scripture & Spice Podcast episode, we consider church authority in our times and in Paul’s day.

Also in this episode:

  • What’s on your resume?
  • How does society recognize achievements?
  • Paul’s complicated relationship with the Corinthians
  • What gives someone authority in church?
  • Scripture of the Day: 2 Corinthians 11:22-27

23 Are they servants of Christ? I am a better one—I am talking like a madman—with far greater labors, far more imprisonments, with countless beatings, and often near death. 24 Five times I received at the hands of the Jews the forty lashes less one. 25 Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I was stoned. Three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I was adrift at sea; 26 on frequent journeys, in danger from rivers, danger from robbers, danger from my own people, danger from Gentiles, danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger at sea, danger from false brothers; 27 in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, in hunger and thirst, often without food,[b] in cold and exposure.

Christianity as a Lifestyle

In 1966, The Monkees made famous a song entitled “I’m a believer.”  The song is a typical shallow, yet catchy love ballad.

Then I saw her face, now I’m a believer
Not a trace, of doubt in my mind
I’m in love, I’m a believer
I couldn’t leave her if I tried

Christianity, for many Evangelicals, is about being a believer.  Granted, we don’t all claim to believe in love at first sight as this song suggests; instead, we believe in a host of truths.  We believe that the Bible is inspired and authoritative.  We believe that the scriptures speak to the human condition and are relevant today.  Christians believe that Jesus is the Son of God.  We believe that His atoning death and resurrection reconcile us to God and to one another.  These are core beliefs. Moreover, these beliefs are important.  My convictions are important to me, as yours are to you.

Beliefs, however important, are not everything.  I suggest that Christianity is not about the theological correctness of our belief system.  I wholeheartedly doubt that Christ will deny me, or anyone else, access to Eternity because we misinterpreted 1st Thessalonians 4.  It’s a good thing, too.  God knows that misinterpretation is one of my spiritual gifts. Ha!

Instead, Christianity is about the ripe old calling of Jesus who says, “Follow me!”  (Matthew 4:19)  While calling followers, Jesus did not require an A+ on a theology exam to become a disciple.  His challenge was not about believing the right things or understanding deep theological issues.  His challenge has always been about adopting a new way of living.  Christianity is a lifestyle, not merely a system of beliefs.  I hope that you are a believer in Christ, and that you affirm the core tenants of Christianity.  I also hope that you remember to adopt Christianity a part of your lifestyle, and not just a set of thoughts and beliefs.

God’s Community

As a child my parents encouraged me to participate in a variety of sports and organizations.  Swimming lessons and t-ball, along with backyard excursions with my neighbor Brett, were some of those childhood summer activities that kept my entire family on their toes.  As I grew I continued to stay involved in a variety of organized activities.  During high school I was a state officer for the Future Business Leaders of America, played basketball for the Graves County Eagles, and even attended a foreign language festival.  Granted, my participation involved dancing the salsa because I wasn’t very good speaking Spanish.  These memorable experiences were fun for me.  However, they weren’t just fun; they were formative.

The Bible teaches that humans are made in the image of God and that we don’t do so well alone.  We are social creatures who thrive in community.  I have found community in teams and organizations during my formative years.  I spent time with people who shared common purposes and goals.  Like most teams and organizations, the church is a created community of people who share common purposes and goals.  Unlike other teams and organizations, we believe that there is something particularly special about the church.  As people of faith, we believe in a meta-narrative –a “big picture.”  We believe that there is a God and that he is working within his creation.  The scriptures give us glimpses into God’s story that include: creation, the fall, Israel, Jesus, and the church.

The church plays a critical role in God’s story.  The church is a family connected through our mutual faith in Jesus and our commitment to following Him.  Being a part of the church makes us a part of God’s redemptive story.  The church isn’t perfect.  She has made mistakes.  She fails in her responsibilities quite often.  In spite of the pain that the church has caused along the way, I maintain that Christ wants us to be active participants in church.  After all, Christ launched this community that we call church.  He gave His life for the church.  He then commissioned the church to be his hands and feet in the world.  What a joy it is to be a participant in God’s redemptive plan in the world!  What joy it brings to be involved in His Church!  I hope you share my enthusiasm, and I hope that you are committed to doing your part to aid in God’s story of redemption through your active commitment to the church.

-Micah

Easter

Easter is without a doubt the most important day in the Christian calendar. The argument for the assembly of churchgoers hinges entirely upon the events of the first Easter morning. On that morning Jesus rose from the dead. While this is a happy ending to the narrative of Jesus of Nazareth – a wrongly accused and convicted man who suffered and died at the hands of corrupt and greedy political and religious leaders – it is only the beginning of our story. In fact, it is the new beginning for our story. Humanity’s fallen state is exposed as we see violence, oppression, and injustice all around us. Like so many people throughout history, many in our world still bear the image of Adam. The problem is that the attributes associated with this image lead to sin and death. God made humanity in his image, but our self-centered actions have distorted what was once incorruptible and immortal.

Instead of giving up on His creation, God rescued his creation. This task involved the divine entrance of God into the human existence through the person of Jesus of Nazareth. Unlike Adam, and all others in human history, Jesus perfectly embodies the image of God. Through love, compassion, mercy, and humility Jesus personifies the original intent of the human creation. Moreover, on that Easter morning, we see that Jesus has prevailed and proven Himself victorious over the forces of evil. Not only does Jesus win on Easter, but humanity wins on Easter. Our broken lives are made whole. Our wounds are healed. Our addictions no longer enslave us. Instead, those of us who follow Jesus are transformed into the true Image of God displayed in Christ. This means that we now live by the Fruit of the Spirit: Love, Joy, Peace, Patience, Kindness, Goodness, Faithfulness, Gentleness, and Self-Control. Now that we have been liberated through resurrection we have but one question to ask, what are we going to do now?

-Micah

Life Lessons from Unexpected Places

The human experience is filled with new challenges at every stage.  One of my parishioners was a caregiver her entire adult life.  Shortly after she married, her husband’s brothers moved in, both with severe physical and developmental handicaps.  She cared for them, bathed, brushed, scrubbed, and fed them.

As a young married woman, homemaker, and caretaker, she took on yet another role.  She became a mother to Stephanie.  Stephanie, like her uncles, was diagnosed with similar physical and developmental handicaps.  Stephanie’s mother, Penny, spent her entire adult life taking care of those unable to take care of themselves.

By the time I met Penny, her husband and his brothers were deceased.  Faithfully she brought her daughter to church Sunday after Sunday.  Stephanie would greet me the same way every morning, “How you getting along?”  She would smirk from her wheelchair.  “I’m well, how are you today?” I would respond.

I watched Penny take care of her daughter those next few years.  Her faithfulness and determination were impressive.  One Sunday afternoon, I received a phone call from Penny that I’ll never forget.  There was panic in her voice.  “We were eating and she just stopped breathing!”  Stephanie was on her way to the hospital, by way of the ambulance, and Penny was following closely behind.  Sadly, Stephanie died that day.  She was a special person who impacted the lives of many people around her, including me.  But I’ll never forget what her mother told me after we returned to her home after the trip to the hospital.  She said with a soft voice and sad eyes, “Brother Micah, I’ve never spent the night alone before.”  I was astonished to hear this confession.  Her life story flashed through my mind.  She left her childhood home to build a life with her husband, Brent.  What dreams she might have once dreamed were quickly squashed by the reality of the needs of her husband’s brothers.  She became a caretaker.  The caretaking role she was nurturing would come in handy as she became a mother to a special needs child.  The role of caretaker consumed her life for the rest of her life, or at least up to this point.  Now she was alone.  She would need to accept this new life and the challenges that would be sure to follow.

The human experience can be summarized as a set of new challenges followed by more new challenges.  Many times, such circumstances we face are completely out of our control.  But it is up to us, no less, to face such challenges with strength and determination.  For that is how we truly measure the success of a life lived.

Micah

Visionary Leadership

I grew up attending church with my family.  I found Jesus in a church.  Moreover, I have encountered some of the nicest people on planet Earth in church.  Over the years I developed a deep love and appreciation for the church, her people, and her mission.  My love for the church led me on a path to become a pastor.  During my pastoral tenure I have become passionate about nurturing and growing the church.    This task is not without difficulty.  Given current social trends it is not surprising that so many churches are struggling to keep their doors open.  Meanwhile, such struggling churches focus almost all of their resources on surviving, thus they lose sight of their mission of service and ministry that had once been such a vital role of the church’s story.  Somewhere along the way, the church has lost its vision.

The arrival of 2019 provides the church a great opportunity to think about her future.  What dreams and goals do we have as a church?  What is it that God wants from us in the years ahead?  And how are we going to get there?  These are the kinds of questions that weren’t answered in seminary.  Being a visionary leader in the church is not a recommendation; it is a requirement!  As the Scripture says, “Where there is no prophetic vision, the people perish.”  (Proverbs 29:18)  We must hone in and commit ourselves to the church’s future.  Pray for your church, her leaders, and that the vision becomes crystal clear.  And get ready for a fun and fruitful 2019.

-Micah Spicer

Immaculate Conception or Virgin Birth

As we approach Christmas, I am enjoying my time spent preparing for a sermon series on Jesus’ family tree.  Each week, I examine another woman listed in Jesus’ family tree according to the genealogy in Matthew’s Gospel.  Five are mentioned: Tamar, Rahab, Ruth, Uriah’s wife, and Mary.  As we read the introductory verses in the New Testament, the regular drumming pattern of a list of male names is jarred by mention of these women.  Simply put, they do not belong in a formal genealogy of the royal family.  The author purposefully injects these women into this lineage.  Strikingly, these women share a common thread – sexual promiscuity.  Tamer, a widow desperate for a child, purposely got pregnant by dressing up as a roadside prostitute and enticing her own father-in-law.  Rahab was a prostitute.  Ruth was a Moabite woman who crawled into the bed of Boaz after getting him drunk one night.  Bathsheba had an adulterous affair with King David and ended up pregnant, bringing shame on the Great King of Israel.  Mary is an unmarried teenage girl who becomes pregnant.  Such scandal!

Unlike the women whose stories are told in the Hebrew Bible, Mary becomes a focal figure in Christian theology very early in the life of the church.  The earliest creeds affirm, based on Scripture, that Jesus was “conceived of the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary.”  A friend told me that he listened to his preacher deliver a sermon on his belief in the “immaculate conception.”  This friend, a biblical scholar, then had the audacity to correct the preacher by saying, “you do not believe in the ‘immaculate conception;” instead, you support the ‘virgin birth” theory.  It is easy to confuse the “immaculate conception” with the “virgin birth.”  I would like to end by sharing the distinctions with you.  The Immaculate Conception, as taught by the Roman Catholic Church, refers to the conception of Mary by her mother, not to the conception of Jesus.  This teaching holds that Mary was born without “original sin.”  Because she was without sin, she was able to give birth to Jesus in a special state of moral purity.  The “virgin birth,” on the other hand, is the belief that Mary, without a man, became pregnant through the agency of the Holy Spirit.  It refers more to the source of pregnancy than to the birth itself.

– Micah Spicer