Sunday, December 28, 2008

The Gift Is Given

Isaiah declared that "unto us a child is born, to us a Son is given." The Ultimate Christmas Gift was given thousands of years ago. It has your name on it. But we have not all received the Gift.

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2He was with God in the beginning. 3Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. 4In him was life, and that life was the light of men. 5The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not understood[put it out] it. 6There came a man who was sent from God; his name was John. 7He came as a witness to testify concerning that light, so that through him all men might believe. 8He himself was not the light; he came only as a witness to the light. 9The true light that gives light to every man was coming into the world. 10He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him. 11He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. 12Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God— 13children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband's will, but born of God. 14The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth. 15John testifies concerning him. He cries out, saying, "This was he of whom I said, 'He who comes after me has surpassed me because he was before me.' " 16From the fullness of his grace we have all received one blessing after another. 17For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. 18No one has ever seen God, but God the One and Only, who is at the Father's side, has made him known. John 1.1-18 (NIV)

Everyone's Gift

Pardon my Arminian emphasis but over and over in John 1 we hear God declare his plan for ALL humanity, not just a select few. God give light to everyone. Everyone who believes is blessed. The Gift has all our names on it.

Gifts are not paychecks, we don't earn them. I am not fond of the strong-arm behavior management use of Christmas. You know, the "You'd better be good or Santa won't bring you anything." "You'd better be good for goodness sake." My children will receive presents regardless of behavior. They are gifts, not something they earn. The gifts reflect our [Lisa's and my] love and our empassioned desire to bless our children.

This is especially true of the Ultimate Gift -- Jesus. God gave him out of a heart of love and a desire to bless the people of the world. He sent Christ to the good, the bad and the ugly. While no one would imagine they could earn such a One as Jesus, we must not imagine we could be so bad as to be disqualified from the Gift. God gives him to ALL.

Not Universalist

While God gave the gift to everyone, not everyone has the gift. Gifts are not earned, but they must be received. So many or, more acurately, most still have not benefited from the Ultimate Gift. It remains enclosed in a box and hidden in the wrappings of the holiday.

We must do as John 1 instructs. We must receive Jesus in order for the Ultimate Gift to have the Ultimate impact on our hearts and lives. But how does one receive this Best-of-Gifts?

Receive HIM

Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God—John 1.12a

We receive Jesus first when we are willing to take him "as is." So often we think of Jesus as a Genie in a Bottle. He's there to help us out and make our wishes his command. He makes miraculous things happen at our behest. Or we might have any number of other false or warped images of who Jesus is based on family or church history. But like any other person with whom we wish to have relationship, we must take Jesus the way he really is and "seek not to alter when alteration find."

Believe in His Name

As we open ourselves to the Jesus who really is and cease from trying to fit him into the boxes of our imaginations, we will begin to trust him. That's what the Bible word believe implies to relating to God -- trust. We will grow in our interdependence on him as we release the need to control and learn more of his character. Time and intimacy with the Almighty leads us to trust even when we do not understand fully how or even what He is doing. This trust is the center of our relationship.

Given the right to BECOME.

We continually expand our understanding of the Jesus who really is and deepen our trust of him. He in turn continues a process of growth and development that changes us from the inside out. Faith in the Bible narratives is ALWAYS transformational. We have stopped trying to shape Jesus to fit our plans and entered into a change where he shapes us to fit his plan.

Here is where habits and patterns are deconstructed and new, wholistic ones constructed. Our spiritual and character DNA is spliced with that of Jesus. We literally become more and more like our Savior by his amazing grace.

So... have you RECEIVED this Ultimate Gift. The final steps of unwrapping him are as simple as A, B, C. Accept Jesus as he is revealing himself to you. Stop trying to use God and start allowing him to use you for his purposes. Believe or trust him and act as if his directions are the best and have your best interest at heart. Commit to the transformation process and to following his lead.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Jesus: The Prince of Peace

We have been unwrapping the Ultimate Gift: Jesus Christ. God gave this gift to everyone and yet not everyone experiences the blessings of this gift. We hope to find new dimensions of His presence as described in Isaiah 9.6 this Christmas.

For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.

Prince of Peace

The final aspect of this Ultimate Gift is the peace He brings into the lives of those who receive Him. Isaiah further promised that Of the increase of his...peace there will be no end. What does it mean to have His peace that always increases and never ends.

Isaiah fleshes out this Reign of Peace in Chapter 32:

1 See, a king will reign in righteousness and rulers will rule with justice. 2 Each man will be like a shelter from the wind and a refuge from the storm, like streams of water in the desert and the shadow of a great rock in a thirsty land...16 Justice will dwell in the desert and righteousness live in the fertile field. 17 The fruit of righteousness will be peace; the effect of righteousness will be quietness and confidence forever. 18 My people will live in peaceful dwelling places, in secure homes, in undisturbed places of rest. 19 Though hail flattens the forest and the city is leveled completely, 20 how blessed you will be, sowing your seed by every stream, and letting your cattle and donkeys range free.

Prince of Peace [and Quiet]

When the Prince of Peace sets up His forever Reign, it will include quietness. This is the effect of right living. In our hustle and bustle toward Christmas Christ offers us quietness of heart and soul. How frazzled our spirits can get in the pursuit of the Perfect Christmas. Jesus wants to calm and quiet our heart like he did to the stormy lake. Today, hear him say to you, "Quiet! Be still!"

Prince of Peace [and Confidence]

Confidence is that calm assurance that all is well. When the Reign of Peace comes to stay, people will have such assurance. But even today, we can have the Blessed Assurance that Jesus is near. When my family went Christmas shopping, we had to go to Charleston. I was a small boy from the country and the city scared me with all the people. But as long as I held Mom or Dad's hand, I felt confident and sure. So it is with Jesus, he holds our life in his hands and we can be confident.

Prince of Peace [and Security]

When the Kingdom comes, the lion and the lamb will lay down together, children will play outside snake holes and all will be safe. We "ain't gonna study war no more" and spears will be refitted as plowshares. Peace will preside over all.

One of my favorite Christmas stories comes from the era of World War I. The whole of Europe was divided by a series of trenches interconnected with tunnels. It was a stalemate. In almost pointless procession, solders would receive orders to climb out of their trench and run across "no-mans-land" toward the enemy trenches. The goal was to break the stalemate and advance the battlelines. Almost always it resulted in the death and wounding of hundreds of men who would eventually have to fall back to their original position.

One Christmas eve after nightfall, the sound of singing drifted from the German side toward the Allied side of "no-man's-land." In German someone was singing "stille nacht, hailege nacht..." Silent Night. Soon some English and French singers joined the song.

Eventually, these singers climbed out of the trenches and walked toward each other. They exchanged Christmas greetings and the fighting ended...briefly. For just a while, eternity's peace invaded earth's warring.

Prince of Peace [Chieftain of SHALOM]

The Hebrew word for peace encompasses wholeness of the entire person. God sent Jesus to make a whole out of our fragmented selves. Paul prayed for the Thessalonian Christ-followers, May God himself, the God who makes everything holy and whole, make you holy and whole, put you together—spirit, soul, and body—and keep you fit for the coming of our Master, Jesus Christ. The One who called you is completely dependable. If he said it, he'll do it!

God wants to pull together our brokeness and make us whole persons again.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Jesus: The Everlasting Father

The original Christmas gift was Jesus. He remains the Ultimate Gift. Advent 2008 calls us to finally unwrap this best of gifts. We were on God's Christmas List when He gave Jesus.

For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Isaiah 9.6

The Everlasting Father.

Before His birth, Jesus was. Before the birth of His ancestors David or Abraham or Adam, Jesus was. Before the creation, Jesus was. He is the eternally Begotten of the Father who has lived with Him and the Holy Spirit in perfect harmony as God from before all time past. He is the Everlasting Father.

As such He exists eternally in the present. When speaking of Abraham, Jesus said, "I tell you the truth before Abraham was born, I am!" John 8.58 When Moses asked God what he could tell the Hebrews His name was, God relpied, "I AM." Jesus is present, never past or future. We may refer to His past acts or long for His future return, but Jesus lives in an eternal now that knows no past or future.

The proclaimation at every Meal of Grace (Communion, Lord's Supper or Eucharist) is "Christ has died. Christ is risen. Christ will come again." Advent especially reminds us of our expectant waiting for Jesus' Second coming. The future is bright for those who have opened the Gift of the Everlasting Father.

The Everlasting Father.

How many gifts from previous Christmases can you name? Not many, huh? How many gifts do you still have? Even fewer, I would guess. Every gift you get this year will in time fade, break down or wear out. These Neverlasting gifts promised happiness or convenience or renewed health or labor-savings. But the reality disappointed.

Jesus is EverLASTING not Neverlasting. Even the very world in which we live will wear out, declares Psalm 102.25-27, "In the beginning you laid the foundations of the earth, and the heavens are the work of your hands. they will perish, but you remain; they will all wear out like a garment. Like clothing you will change them and they will be discarded. But you remain the same, and your years will never end." So we must put our hope in the only One who will never change: Jesus Christ, the same yesterday, today and forever!

The Everlasting Father.

When Christians speak of God we mean the One who is Three persons. God is Father, Son and Spirit. The Father is not the Son or the Spirit, the Son is not the Father or the Spirit, the Spirit is not the Father or the Son. God is distinct in Persons, and one in Essence.

So why refer to the Son as The Everlasting Father?

The title fits very well with the remainder of the prophecy about this coming One. "Of the increase of his government and peace there will be no end. He will reign on David's throne and over his kingdom, establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time on and forever. The zeal of the LORD Almighty will accomplish this." Isaiah 7-8

Jesus will be the Father of a New Era of Justice and Peace, like Simon Bolivar was to South America or George Washington was to the United States. (By the way, Washington never "fathered" any physical children.) Jesus will initiate this new Kingdom of God with His second coming. We look for a city whose "achitect and builder" is Jesus (Hebrews 11.10.)

And this Era of Peace will never end. Come quickly, Lord Jesus!

Monday, December 08, 2008

Jesus: The Mighty God

Jesus is the Ultimate Christmas Gift. But many have never openned the gift God provided. This Advent is a call to open ourselves to Jesus: the Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father and Prince of Peace.

The Mighty God.

First, this is a divine title for Jesus. He is God. With the Incarnation, God became a man. In Him we see what God is like, how he would respond and how he would have us live. Jesus is not just an historic figure. He requires greater notice than a "good teacher."

Jesus claimed to be God! Along with C.S. Lewis we must proclaim the Tri-lemna. Either Jesus is a lunatic: someone out of touch with reality in claiming to be God like someone might claim to be an Easter Bunny, or he is a liar: someone who knows good and well that he is not God but claimed to be anyway, or he is Lord: someone who really was God-in-flesh-appearing.

The life of Jesus does not reveal someone mentally unstable. His teachings and ethics are matched by his lifestyle. He is a man of integrety.

It is the claim of Scripture and the teaching of the Church that Jesus cannot be thought of as a good man or teacher. He is The Mighty God.

The Mighty God.

Second, this name for the promised Son reveals his nature as a victorious warrior. The coming One would be like the Mighty Men of Valor in the Hebrew Scriptures. These were men whose military exploits made them national heroes. They were brave, strong, persistant and won the victory.

Jesus, though his Suffering, Death and Resurrection, has become the Victor. He now has victory over death, Hell and the grave. When he rose again to life he lead captivity captive and made an open triumph over the law and sin. He will return in the clouds as a Prince at the head of a vast army of light. He's the All-Time-Undefeated-Undesputed Champion.

The Gift.

With this Mighty God as your present Christmas gift, you can be made more than a conquerer! Nothing in all of creation can defeat you with Jesus as your Champion. The habits, hurts, heartaches, hardships and hurdles that have defeated you in the past are no match for this Mighty God. Turn these over to Him today and experience what true victory can be like.

Thursday, December 04, 2008

Prepare the Way of the Lord

Advent means coming. Like parousia, it often refers to the Second Coming of Jesus to the earth. We focus on His coming as the Babe and as the Bridegroom, the kid and the King, the infant and the Infinite.

But what of our coming to him?

I use purple as the liturgical color for Advent because I believe it calls us to move toward Him as well. Many have moved to the royal blue and away from the penitential purple. But, like John the Baptizer, Advent cries out, "Prepare ye the way of the LORD! Make straight paths." Advent demands we level the way, lowering the lofty and lifting the low. Roughed up people and relationships need smoothing. Advent calls us to work at ushering in the Coming One, walk the way of preparation and watch for His approach.

James teaches that if we "draw near to God, He will draw near to you." The Gospel empowers us to be workers together with God in advancing His kingdom. Our participation is a privilege. God invites us as persons of will to journey with Him in this path of reconciliation. But we could never reach Him if He were not reaching for us. He doen't do this to us, but in cooperation with us.

In the din of voices crying, "Buy!" "Sale! Sale! Sale!" there is one clarion call.

"Prepare the way..."

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

I Come from "Good People"

They are "Good People." This is an Appalachian expression I've heard all my life. And over the past few days I have seen what it means. Two of my uncles stopped by during our mourning the passing of Grandma McCoy to show support and condolences. First my Uncle June (Oscar E. Anderson, Jr.) stopped by the funeral home. I'm sure he did so just to see me and Lisa. He doesn't really know the rest of the family very well. He was on his way to a Boy Scout council meeting. That was "Good People."

Then on the day of the funeral, my Uncle Robert paid his respects. He is my Aunt Mary (Shinn) Kennedy's husband and a good ol' boy from up Sanderson. He knows Roger well as they serve in the same district of TWC. He also shook hands and spoke in a familiar way with all Edna's children. No one else did so all day. Then I spoke briefly with him. That is definitely "Good People."

I am blessed to be among and from such "Good People." I have a rich Appalachian heritage and am truly blessed by God to belong to and with such wonderful, simple folks.

The Ties that Bind...

Families are a mixed blessing. In them we form our basic identity, patterns of operation and relationships that will go with us throughout our lifetimes. Positive behaviors and self-limiting self-talk take shape among family. We share more than just genetics we share experiences--both good and not so much. In this sharing we find common strengths and weaknesses.

The basis for family is marriage. Each marriage builds a new one from the remnants of two previous ones. The relationship and relatings of Mom and Dad inform the relationships and relatings of the children in the family. The stability of the family comes from a strong marriage partnership.

Yesterday, Lisa's Grandma McCoy was laid to rest.

I've thought much over the last few days about Laco and Edna. I also thought of Lovell and Allie and Os and Louise. These relationship were not perfect but they were permanent. The bedrock of whole tribes of children, grandchildren and great-great grandchildren. These folks and their salt-n-pepper partnership could be counted on. There used to be something unchanging in the rapidly changing world.

I want so very much for my children to have memories of their Mom-maw and Pop-pops, their house, their love, their example and their always being there. My own parents cannot provide this stability. My childhood family now has dual addresses and lifestyles.

I am Appalachian. We are a people bound to our land and to our clan. I pray daily that my children's children can find such a blessed heritage as Lisa and I have known in our grandparents. Amen.

Jesus: Wonderful, Counselor

My denom, the Wesleyan Church, has created a church-wide Advent resource this year. It has some great helps, ideas and multi-media. We like so many others are following the outline for our Advent Worship and spiritual formation.

The first Sunday, November 30, focused on Jesus: Wonderful Counselor. This series will unpack the four names of Jesus given in Isaiah 9.6 and what it might mean to receive Him as the Ultimate Gift in these ways this Christmas.

But are there 4 names (Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace) or five (Wonderful, Counselor, the Mighty God, the Everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace)? The modifier/noun pattern supports the grouping of four. The fact that wonderful and counselor do not have a definite article (the) preceeding them as the others do lends credance to the grouping of five names.

The words themselves are an interesting mix. Wonderful comes from a Hebrew word that most often is translated as miraculous work attributed to God. It is an amazing mystery how these things were accomplished. These works of God form the basis for exalted praise.

Counselor denotes one who leads with a plan. Like those who advise a king, this counselor will provide wise planning to carry out a goal or objective.

It was not too exegetically palatable or homiletically smooth to teach Jesus as Wonderful Counselor. But I did Sunday. Amazing, jaw-dropping things happen when we follow the leading of this Counselor rather than hurry to the Throne of Mercy/Grace and ask Him to bless our plans that they might succeed. The former leads to victory, the latter leads to confusion about God's love, power and leadership when our plans do not succeed.

Monday, December 01, 2008

Faith's Worship, November 30, 2008

This is what Worship Time looked like at Faith this first Sunday of Advent:

Gathering Time
Musical Call to Worship: Our God Saves
Advent Candle: The Light of HOPE
Opening Prayer

Gathered Time
Community Singing
Come, Thou Long-Expected Jesus, Here I Am to Worship, Forever, Sing to the King
Morning Prayers
Special Music: Tim Allen

Teaching Time
Isaiah 9.1-2, 6-7 Nevertheless, there will be no more gloom for those who were in distress. In the past he humbled the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, but in the future he will honor Galilee of the Gentiles, by the way of the sea, along the Jordan- The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned...For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government and peace there will be no end. He will reign on David's throne and over his kingdom, establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time on and forever. The zeal of the LORD Almighty will accomplish this.
Teaching: Jesus, The Ultimate Gift: Wonderful, Counselor

Dismissal Time

Monday, November 24, 2008

The Exploited Become the Exploiting

This past week's reading from Ezekiel was extremely convicting for me as I prepared and presented the Teaching Time to Faith Community Church. The passage begins with a rebuke of the shepherds, or leaders, God had appointed over Israel. They took advantage of the very sheep they were to lead, protect and provide for. God was displeased.

But what really haunted me was the rebuke God gives to the exploited sheep. It seems they began exploiting each other in the scarce and scary circumstances created by the bad shepherds. Is it not enough for you to feed on the good pasture? Must you also trample the rest of your pasture with your feet? Is it not enough for you to drink clear water? Must you also muddy the rest with your feet? Must my flock feed on what you have trampled and drink what you have muddied with your feet? 'Therefore this is what the Sovereign LORD says to them: See, I myself will judge between the fat sheep and the lean sheep. Because you shove with flank and shoulder, butting all the weak sheep with your horns until you have driven them away, Lean times had made the sheep mean. When things got tough, the sheep got tough on each other, too.

I thought of all the negative "normals" in which people develop. Homes with addicted parents, abuse (verbal, physical and sexual) and so on. How tragic that many in these situations repeat the offenses they found so offensive as children. We need a Shepherd, a King, to teach us a new normal.

I thought, too, of the times I have been put upon only to turn and take it out on someone else. The traffic jam, caused by a wreck, irratates me because it slows me up. So I get aggressive in my driving. The person in the "10 items or less" isle that obviously is too self-absorbed to notice she has 100 items and is upsetting MY rights and privileges. Displaced agression that expresses itself in harsh words to my family, irratibility with my coworkers and even "kicking the dog."

We need a shepherd to teach us how to face injustice like a lamb. We need a king to teach us how to be patient in suffering. We need to know what it could mean to "suffer long and remain kind."

Faith Worship

The liturgy for Faith looked like this Sunday, November 23:

Gathering Time
Call to Worship: Psalm 100 Shout for joy to the LORD, all the earth. Worship the LORD with gladness; come before him with joyful songs. Know that the LORD is God. It is he who made us, and we are his; we are his people, the sheep of his pasture. Enter his gates with thanksgiving and his courts with praise; give thanks to him and praise his name. For the LORD is good and his love endures forever; his faithfulness continues through all generations.
Ticket to Worship: One "Thank you, God." Personal praise sentences.

Worship Time
Musical Praise
Come, Now Is the Time to Worship
For the Beauty of the Earth
Sing to the King.

Morning Prayers
Special Music: Offering gratefully received at this time.

Teaching Time
Lesson One: Psalm 23
Lesson Two: Ezekiel 34.11-24 'For this is what the Sovereign LORD says: I myself will search for my sheep and look after them. As a shepherd looks after his scattered flock when he is with them, so will I look after my sheep. I will rescue them from all the places where they were scattered on a day of clouds and darkness. I will bring them out from the nations and gather them from the countries, and I will bring them into their own land. I will pasture them on the mountains of Israel, in the ravines and in all the settlements in the land. I will tend them in a good pasture, and the mountain heights of Israel will be their grazing land. There they will lie down in good grazing land, and there they will feed in a rich pasture on the mountains of Israel. I myself will tend my sheep and have them lie down, declares the Sovereign LORD. I will search for the lost and bring back the strays. I will bind up the injured and strengthen the weak, but the sleek and the strong I will destroy. I will shepherd the flock with justice.
'As for you, my flock, this is what the Sovereign LORD says: I will judge between one sheep and another, and between rams and goats. Is it not enough for you to feed on the good pasture? Must you also trample the rest of your pasture with your feet? Is it not enough for you to drink clear water? Must you also muddy the rest with your feet? Must my flock feed on what you have trampled and drink what you have muddied with your feet?
'Therefore this is what the Sovereign LORD says to them: See, I myself will judge between the fat sheep and the lean sheep. Because you shove with flank and shoulder, butting all the weak sheep with your horns until you have driven them away, I will save my flock, and they will no longer be plundered. I will judge between one sheep and another. I will place over them one shepherd, my servant David, and he will tend them; he will tend them and be their shepherd. I the LORD will be their God, and my servant David will be prince among them. I the LORD have spoken.

Teaching: The King Is Coming
Response: You Are My All in All

At the Lord's Table of Grace
Instruction, Reading (1 Corinthians 10.16-17), Invitation, Distribution and Participation
You Are My All in All (verse 2 & chorus)

Dismissal with Blessing
Hebrews 13.20-21 20 May the God of peace, who through the blood of the eternal covenant brought back from the dead our Lord Jesus, that great Shepherd of the sheep, equip you with everything good for doing his will, and may he work in us what is pleasing to him, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Not Willing...

The Momma and I try to instill in our children the importance and fun of trying new things. So from time to time we introduce new experiences and foods and games to them. We hope they will at least be gracious and courteous when confronted with different things while we are guests in someone else's space.

Well...last night we served lasagne for dinner.Jillian ate all we would give her. Eli was not hip to the idea. So we applied the try-just-one-bite procedure. If Eli tried just one small bite, he would share in the cookie desert. Otherwise he would not.

He did not. He kept leaving the table. We have already established the may-I-be-excused procedure. He tried escaping the choice, begging out of the consequence and outright hostility all in an effort to avoid the lasagne. He threw such a fit that we went to phase two and started a count-down clock. Still he refused. He went to bed without desert.

As I sullenly sat in the doorway, barring his intended raid on the cookies in the kitchen, he intermitantly said, "Leave me alone" and "get away from me." I cannot tell how this tore at my heart. I was already sad that he had chosen to miss the cookie. I was distressed that he was upset.

Suddenly it was not his voice I heard. It was my own. I thought of many times I said the same thing to the Heavenly Father. My head began to spin as I thought of the human condition. What we long for is right there within easy attainment. But we stubbornly insist on our way, thinking it better than the Father's way. Humanity is broken in ways that only lead to more brokeness. All the sadness and stress would disappear if he (we) just did the requested.

To paraphrase C.S. Lewis, unconverted mankind spends their lifetimes saying, "Leave me alone, God." And in eternity, God will finally let us have our way...

Last night I stopped trying to convince Eli to eat. I just lay down beside him and cried, too. I could not make him do this simple thing without becoming a cruel dad. I could not remove the consequence without becoming an indulgent dad. But I could not let him face it alone. I hope that means I might be a good dad.

Every day I'm a daddy, I am overwhelmed with the love, patience and pain the Heavenly Father must have.

Thursday, November 06, 2008

Dual Citizenship

My people were Pilgrim Holiness. The name is a descriptor. The holiness aspect has been emphasized alot in my posts. Today, 2 days after the national election, I feel the need to stress the pilgrim aspect a little.

Many of my friends and relatives are in a state of concern, mourning and dismay after the election returns placed a liberal Democrat in the White House. My people are by nature conservative. Some have a feeling of disappointment and others a sense of dread.

But I can't get very worked up about it all. I remember the dejection and fear that gripped the conservatives when Bill Clinton was elected. I remember the predictions of woe and doom. I bought in to the fear and sadness. But we survived that period.

I remember the joy and expectation when the Republican regained the White House and Congress. Again, I bought in to the euphoria. But the Republican-controlled White House and Congress turned out to be not so very different in spending and power-grabbing for the next 8 years. We survived that period.

I keep coming to a bedrock belief that Washington, D.C. is not the center of my universe. The places of power in this world are not my hope.

"My hope is built on nothing less than Jesus' blood and righteousness. I dare not trust the sweetest frame, but wholly lean on Jesus' name. On Christ the Solid Rock I stand. All other ground is sinking sand. All other ground is sinking sand."

Today, I want to affirm my Pilgrim roots. I am a dual citizen. I am an active citizen of the United States of America. I am thankful for the blessings I enjoy here. I support my country.

But I am a dual citizen. Heaven is my native land, through Jesus Christ. My country has a King, that is not subject to polls or the "will of the people." Because He is just and good and all-powerful, His governance goes on uninterupted in peace and stability.

The Roman Empire was falling to pieces. Internal corruption from the power-hungry and external invasions from barbarians tore at it. By this time the Church was the official religion and no longer an underground movement. The believers were losing hope as they saw their City being destroyed. Then Augustine called for a refocus of faith, not in the City of men (the body politic) but in the City of God (the body of Christ), the "eduring city" of Hebrews 13.14.

So today, brothers and sisters, both Democrates and Republican, Independents and Greens and Libertarians, work hard to bring righteousness, justice and peace to our land in the name of the Kingdom. Support, campaign and vote your conscience.

But look not to the City on the Potomac, look to the Coming City! Keep the anchor for your future hopes in the King who comes! Only on the New Earth will our pilgramage be over.

Just out of my reach...

Yesterday after work, we took the kids to a local playground for some good-natured goofing off in the warm sunshine. The weather is supposed to turn back to cool and cloudy in a couple of days. Jillian ran around and tried to replace all the loose gravel back in to the play area--one gravel at a time. She worked for a very long time on this task. She shows signs of real determination (stubborness.)

Eli desided he would climb the "rock wall." He loves these and usually attempts them. Most children's "walls" are generously sloped for better gripping and only 5-6 feet tall. This allows a parent to "spot" the climber to prevent falls.

The wall E attempted was at least 10 feet high. It was designed so the child could dismount onto a raised platform only 6 feet up. The first 3 times he climbed it, he used this approach. I spotted him and things were fine. He really didn't need any assistance, but I felt better providing a Papa safety net.

Attempt 4 was more adventurous. E climbed straight up and said he was going over the wall. The last 2.5 to 3 feet I could only touch the bottoms of his shoes as he struggled to throw his leg over the top of the wall and then hoist himself over.

I cannot describe the sensation of wanting to keep him safe and yet being so very proud of his adventurous spirit and obvious strength and coordination that was lifting him to conquer a challenge. Impressive for any 3 year-old, I think. A voice of panic kept rising in my throat and yet the will to act kept it from escaping my mouth. It was a most terrific and exilerating sensation that literally swept over my whole self in wave after wave.

Having clambered over the top, he looked down with an expression of joy and pride.

And as I stood there, I realized my hands were still stretching up to hold him...

...then the swurling thought that accompanied the panic/pride solidified into a crystaline form. This is the rest of my life with my boy. I will always have to balance his need for assistance with his need to attempt. I must provide support while allowing him to struggle. This panic/pride sensation will be the emotional soundtrack of my role as his Papa.

After descending the slicky-slide, he started climbing again. "Help me, Daddy," he said. At the crucial last 3 feet of his second ascent, I prayed, "Help me, Father..."

Monday, November 03, 2008

A Vote of Conscience

Yesterday I spoke to Faith Community Church about a Vote of Conscience. My goal, to describe with broad strokes the options Christ-followers have taken in regard to elections and some issues that the Scriptures address, challenged me as a speaker and I hope my folks as listeners.

I believe the Bible is not partisan but is political. Issues like support of life, care of the poor, widows and orphans, stewardship of the earth, justice, women's role in society, treatment of aliens and workers flesh out in the body politic of any society. Laws either sanction or subvert these Biblical values. Even if we choose not to engage in political activity, we must admit a political element to these issues.

Views of a Vote of Conscience

1. Declare one political party the "Christian" party. Evangelicals as a whole have adopted this view of voting since the mid 1970's. During this time the Republican party has been canonized as the Right party. Those looking at politics through this lense struggle to understand or accept that a Christ-follower could, in good conscience, vote Democrat. This outlook often expresses itself in voting "Straight-ticket."

2. Declare all political parties "Pagan." Some in my particular denominational heritage followed this thinking. The world system is evil and we are "just-a-passin'-through" anyways so leave the government to crooked politicians. Most would associate the Amish with this fortress and separatist mentality now. This view is expressed in not voting or otherwise engaging in the political process.

3. Vote on Issues of Conscience. A middle way between the extremes of #1 & #2 is to set personality and party aside. Key issues involved in each election are weighed against Kingdom building and Kingdom values. This approach requires that the Christ-follower enter into a deliberative process. A clear understanding of Kingdom values, priorities of values, position statements of candidates on the issues and comparisons must be found. Then the informed voter votes for the candidate based on Conscience.

ISSUES that GOD is Conscious of...

Not every plank of a candidate's platform rises to the level of a moral issue. Big government or smaller government, free-market capitalism or socialism or communism or feudalism, representative republic or direct democracy or even monarchy all deal with intricacies important to Americans, but not necessarily any is right or wrong. Christ's Kindgom is growing independent of all of these in every part of history and the globe.

But even a casual look at the Bible reveals several issues that are of repeated interest and emphasis.


God, in numerous places, takes a strong stand for life. God creates life. God commands man and woman to procreate life, to "be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth." He declares life sacred and attached the sternest penalty to any man or beast that takes the life of a person.

God speaks of the unborn as persons. Psalm 139.13-16 describes the intimate involvement of God with the writer, prior to his birth. Isaiah 46.3-4 takes this "from-conception" involvement and shows it extends to the aged. Those at the ending of life are not to be discarded, as many ancient cultures thought, but supported. One's value does not depend on productivity or contribution. James 5.6 also declares God's concern for those wrongly condemned and executed. People are not to be "thrown away" or devalued even after committing henious crimes. The Bible does call for capital punishment, but sets a very high standard for its enactment. The condemned remains a person.


The prophets cried out against injustice more than any other "political" issue. The effects of sin are corporate as well as individual. Whole societies need salvaging and sanctifying. The poor often suffer injustice as those with more resources can present a more developed case in court. Many of our current practices exploit the poor -- exorbitant interest rates and fees from check-cashing companies, the lottery, rent-to-own...

The uninsured are treated differently than those with insurance. Medical and life-changing decisions are made based on ability to pay. The poor receive poor care.

God is concerned about the treatment of aliens and strangers among His people. Those visiting our country need to be treated with care and their personhood maintained. This is often a difficult mandate to balance with the need for safety and immigration control.

The worker who is defrauded honest wages also concerns the heart of God. James decried the abuse of workers that further enriched the wealthy. Today large companies make decisions in favor of profit sharing with stock holders over paying or retaining the workers that produce the profits.

God safeguards the rights of women. In Numbers 27, god affirms the inheritance rights of women. The divorce laws in Deuteronomy provide protection to women who were being "swapped" at the whim of husbands. The law specifically forbids divorcing and then later remarrying a wife after she has been remarried to another man. This effectively put an end to the trade of women as property and emphasized their personhood.


Everyone has certain basic needs. Among these are food, shelter and clothing. Matthew records Jesus' teaching about the final judgement of humanity. There God will seperate persons based on the following criteria: "I was hungry and you fed me. I was thirsty and you gave me drink. I was naked and you clothed me. I was a stranger and you took me in." The astonished examinee will declare they can't recall doing these things for Jesus and he says, "If you did it for the least of these, my brothers, you did it to me."

Lastly, the Judge recalls that he was "sick and you cared for me. I was in prison and you visited me." Humans also need, in a very basic way, interaction with other human beings. We all too often will give toward charities that meet the basic needs of others. But we do not personally interact with others ourselves. Everyone needs to be looked in the eye, taken by the hand and given a pat on the back. No one benefits from being looked down on or ignored. No one should feel abandoned or invisible.

Monday, October 27, 2008

The Born [again] Communion

On this Sunday before All Saints Day (November 1), we will conclude our examination of the Born [again] experience with The Born [again] Communion.

Dear friends, although I was very eager to write to you about the salvation we share, I felt I had to write and urge you to contend for the faith that was once for all entrusted to the saints. Jude 3

What is that faith for which we are to contend?

I believe in God the Father, Almighty,
Maker of heaven and earth:
And in Jesus Christ, his only begotten Son, our Lord:
Who was conceived by the Holy Ghost, born of the Virgin Mary:
Suffered under Pontius Pilate; was crucified, dead and buried: He descended into hell:
The third day he rose again from the dead:
He ascended into heaven, and sits at the right hand of God the Father Almighty:
From thence he shall come to judge the quick and the dead:
I believe in the Holy Ghost:
I believe in the holy catholic church: the communion of saints:
The forgiveness of sins:
The resurrection of the body:
And the life everlasting. Amen.

But who were the saints? The New Testament refers to "saints" more than fifty times. It is a term applied to Born [again] Christ-followers. It does not attach this word to super heroes with impressive resumes of super feats. It is the Bible's title for those who follow God with Simple Faith.
Believing in "the communion of the saints" means belonging to the body of Christ that not only extends around the present world (that's the catholic/universal church) but extends from this present moment to past and future Christ-followers. It refers to the union of the visible church at work building the kingdom on earth and the invisible church already at rest from their labor with our God. Without us, they are incomplete. Without them, so are we.

What GOOD Thing Must I Do?

Now a man came up to Jesus and asked, "Teacher, what good thing must I do to get eternal life?" "Why do you ask me about what is good?" Jesus replied. "There is only One who is good. If you want to enter life, obey the commandments." "Which ones?" the man inquired. Jesus replied, " 'Do not murder, do not commit adultery, do not steal, do not give false testimony, honor your father and mother,' and 'love your neighbor as yourself.'" "All these I have kept," the young man said. "What do I still lack?" Jesus answered, "If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me." When the young man heard this, he went away sad, because he had great wealth.
Then Jesus said to his disciples, "I tell you the truth, it is hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven. Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God." When the disciples heard this, they were greatly astonished and asked, "Who then can be saved?" Jesus looked at them and said, "With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible."

This is the universal question of humanity: What must I do? We seek to do something to correct our alienation from God, our world, others and even from our true selves. The damage is extensive and we have a gut feeling it will take a lot to pay for repairs, to right the ship again. We want to DO something.
In Jude, Matthew and Micah 6.6-8, the answer to this question is clear: God has already told us what to do. In all three (we try to follow the traditional use of multiple Scripture portions each week, often directly from the Lectionary) we find humanities stark realization that there is so much needed to right the wrong and amazed disbelief that God has worked it all out and only asks us to cooperate with His work.
With what shall I come before the LORD and bow down before the exalted God? Shall I come before him with burnt offerings, with calves a year old? Will the LORD be pleased with thousands of rams, with ten thousand rivers of oil? Shall I offer my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?
He has showed you, O man, what is good. And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God. Micah 6.6-8
So what has God told us is beneficial and required? What do the members of the Born [again] Communion do? They ACT, LOVE and WALK.
They ACT...
The first is to act. God is VERY concerned with our actions. Being one of the Born [again] Communion does not simply change "the way God sees me." It literally changes me. This is the witness of every generation of Christ-followers. Believing alters behavior.
They act...justly. A member of the Born [again] Communion holds himself or herself to a strick standard of treating others rightly, of acting the right way in all circumstances. The ideals of fairness and respect and order and decency are applied to all human interactions. We do not excuse our unrighteousness with the flip "I'm not perfect, I'm just forgiven." Being forgiven starts us on a journey of being perfected.
They LOVE...
The second is to love. We are to love God, of course, but this love is more human directed. On the heals of God's requirement to act justly, we are told to love mercy. Those of the Born [again] Communion hold others to the standard of mercy. When confronted with unrighteousness or unfairness, we give the offender the benefit of the doubt. We hold ourselves to a strict account as we act justly. But loving mercy means we try to take into account all mitigating factors that may have contributed to someone else's misbehavior.
Typically we apply justice and mercy in the reverse. When wronged we want justice to fall on the offender. When we are in the wrong, then we cry out, "Lord, have mercy on me a sinner!" God is saying that the opposite is beneficial and what he requires. We are to want mercy on the other guy or gal and judge ourselves based on the "rightness" of our actions. Only then does our character flaws and fallenness come to light and, in the light, find wholeness in Him.
They WALK...
Members of the Born [again] Communion have always understood the experience as a process. We walk with God. This is not a once-for-all experience. The first instant of belief launches us on a life-long process of growth. We have not reached the end with our conversion, we have only crossed the starting line. The goal is not to get someone to believe, but to help them believe and start becoming the children of God. We are called to make disciples, not just decisions.
They walk humbly...All that we are or ever will be is a gift from a gracious, merciful and loving Father-God. Even with its emphasis on seeing grace worked out in the life of a believer, Wesleyanism declares that all we do is really "...God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose." Philippians 2.13 We are always humbly grateful.
They walk...with their God. Herein is the heart of the matter. We walk in a personal relationship with our God. We keep in step with His leading. We hold His powerful hand. And like a child dependent on its father, we must stay at it to keep pace. But as we grow and mature, the struggle to keep up is replaced with the joy of the journey. God, our loving Father, pauses at the proper places to allow us to catch up and to catch our breathe. But we are never far behind, only the length of his outstretched hand. Confidence, calm and comfort are found here.
Along the way, our faltering footfalls join the rhythm of His. We march now to His cadence. Our will more and more is synced to His. Being with God is to walk as He walks, to reflect His character more and more.
His is to lead and guide and set the pace. Ours is simple to trust Him and walk His way...

Friday, October 24, 2008

An enigma, wrapped up in a riddle, surrounded by mystery, contained in a cunundrum...

I have one unanswered question. I ponder it often in moments of quiet reflection. I wrangle with its complexity. Like an unfinished quest, I pursue its meaning.

And just yesterday, it assaulted my thinking again. The onslaught began so innocently:

Q: "How did a guy like you get such a beautiful wife."

A: " I don't know, but she is, isn't she!"

And there I was, face to face with the question with no answer -- the riddle with no solution -- the quest with no end.

I do not know how, since I barely proposed. It actually involved a spreadsheet-type financial analysis of the benefits of our getting married! She actually had to ask, "Are you proposing?" This is not a strategy I will recommend to my E when he finds the One.

As to why she actually did, this is the greater mystery. I cannot even pretend an answer to this one.

So I am coming to the resolution I always do when assaulted by the amazing truth that Lisa did, and is remaining married to me. "I don't know, but I thank God every day that she did!"

Sunday, October 19, 2008

The Born [again] Ultimatum

Today we conclude the discussion of the born again experience as framed by the Bourne Trilogy. Our last investigation is the Born [again] Ultimatum.


I am sometimes overwhelmed at the intricacy of the Bible. The interaction between Jesus and Nicodemus is tight with word choice use and counter-use. It is beautiful and powerful to see Jesus using Nicodemus's words to move him from a very imperfect understanding of spiritual truth toward illumination. Several volumes could be dedicated to this literary quality of the Bible and the incarnation as Jesus works it out in his use of language in human interactions. The word play of interest here involves the original words for "no one," "no one is able," "know/perceive and see," and "enter." This whole section (John 3) "fleshes out" John's introduction: "In him was life, and that life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not understood it...He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him. He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God— children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband's will, but born of God." John 1.4-5, 10-13

Finally, I find it interesting that Jesus chose a multi-layered word like ανωθεv which can mean "again" or "from above" as in the NIV footnote. Jesus had to discuss it repeatedly before Nic understood he was offering more than a Mulligan.

{end digression}

We find the Born [again] Ultimatum in John 3.1-8, Now there was a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a member of the Jewish ruling council. He came to Jesus at night and said, "Rabbi, we know you are a teacher who has come from God. For no one could perform the miraculous signs you are doing if God were not with him." In reply Jesus declared, "I tell you the truth, no one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again [John 3:3 Or born from above; also in verse 7 ]." "How can a man be born when he is old?" Nicodemus asked. "Surely he cannot enter a second time into his mother's womb to be born!" Jesus answered, "I tell you the truth, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless he is born of water and the Spirit. Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit [John 3:6 Or but spirit] gives birth to spirit. You should not be surprised at my saying, 'You [John 3:7 The Greek is plural] must be born again.' The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit."

You MUST be Born [again.]

In verse seven, Jesus specifically and clearly states the Ultimatum, "You must be born again." This is the offense of the Gospel in our post-modern world. Jesus has declared it necessary, not optional, to be born again. In a society celebrating multi-culturalism as its religion and tolerance as its rule, those who call themselves Christ-followers, must clearly continure to declare His message. It is His, so any problems with the exclusivity of it should be addressed to Him.

The Born [again] Ultimatum repeats thoughout the New Testament. In John 10.7-9, Jesus claims to be the gate for the sheep and that all others who came before Him were thieves. In John 14.6 He declares himself "the Way, the Truth and the Life" and that "no one comes to the Father but through me." The first Christ-followers echoed this claim when they preached that "there is no other name...whereby men can be saved...'

There are not many roads to God. There is just Jesus. Besides, when you get to God you will be arriving at Jesus -- He is God. He is not a man pointing the way to God, He is God incarnate bringing us back to Himself. This we declare to the post-modern, multi-cultural society with the humility of servants of Christ, not with the arrogance of those who know more than others.

You must be Born [again.]

...otherwise we don't have the ability to see. Nicodemus told Jesus, "we know you are a teacher who has come from God. For no one could perform the miraculous signs you are doing if God were not with him." Jesus challenges the collective perception by saying no one can see [perceive] unless he is born again. Without the radical re-orientation being Born [again] brings, we cannot even see the door to the spiritual realm, let alone claim to understand God's will and way. Nicodemus counters that no one has the ability to enter the womb a second time.

Jesus shifts Nic's perspective on the Born [again] experience from a "do-over" to a radical overhaul. Nic cannot understand how to enter the womb to be born again. Jesus offers him more than a Mulligan when he suggests the new birth empowers us to enter the kingdom of God. Like John 1, the birth here is from above, God invading our space to bring His rule and its peace.

For illustration and emphasis, Jesus likens the elusive nature of God's work in the world to a simple breeze. We can appreciate and benefit from the blowing wind. But we cannot say with certainty the direction from which it came or to which it is going. Only those born of the Spirit are able to flow with this breeze.

It is the new birth that give us access to the kingdom of God. John 1, "he gave the right to become children of God." Only then can we see and enter this blessed life.

Y'ALL must be Born [again.]

The you in this ultimatum is plural. Good Appalachian dialect would translate it, "Y'all must be born again." Jesus was not just speaking to this individual named Nicodemus. Nic had identified himself as a representative of several individuals when he began, "...we know..." Jesus made this ultimatum to seekers like Nicodemus, skeptics like the Council and to humanity as a whole. The universal ultimatum must be addressed by all people: white, black, asian, Protestant, Catholic, Jew, Gentile...

We must all choose what to do with this ultimatum. Unlike the God-father, Jesus does not give us an offer we can't refuse. We just don't have any positive alternative to the One Way declaration. It's His way or no way to God, for everyone.

What's Your Verdict?

Jesus concludes his discussion with Nic by saying, "For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because he has not believed in the name of God's one and only Son. This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but men loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that his deeds will be exposed. But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what he has done has been done through God."

The verdict is already in. Our destiny is already assigned. We now only await transfer to where we will serve out our sentence. Those who do not believe (and become Born [again]) will be separated from God forever. This is not God doing something TO us, this is us rejecting what God has done FOR us in Jesus. This is why "You must be born again" really is an ultimatum. If we trust (believe) God to create in us His life, we will continue in it for all eternity.

So what is your verdict? What will you do with Jesus and the Born [again] Ultimatum?

Friday, October 17, 2008

Thank God, I'm an Appalachian Boy!

Tuesday found me in my garage staring at my blackened hands. Turning them around in the angular light I had a flash of my Grandpa's. Bocephus (Hank Williams, Jr.) started singing into my heart, "Country folk can survive..."

My people get dirt under their nails because they exercise self-reliance, ingenuity and determination. We fix our own stuff, rather than call a repair person. We patch and darn and keep things usable. Grandpa Andy could make anything grow, shape steel with his own kiln, bellows and anvil, carve intricate moving objects from a single piece of wood, and cobble shoes. When neighbors died, he constructed coffins and Grandma Andy made the burial outfits. He mined coal or built highways during the day, walked home carrying sacks of supplies for the family and then worked in his garden until after dark.

Grandpa Shinn could dismantle and reassemble engines, transmissions and other vital systems on diesel-powered equipment. He could listen to a car engine run and tell you if it had certain defects. He once lifted an entire 2x6 framed wall section and set it on the foundation 18 inches high. When my brother stepped on a nail, Grandpa pulled it out with a pair of pliers to help relieve his pain!

Both my Grandpas worked hard and came home dirty. Both, though, would wash off the day and you could not find a speck afterwards. They both lived in quiet confidence and a sense of self-worth that defied the judgement of those whose hands were never soiled with manly labor.

So as I crouched in the semi-light of my garage, changing my wife's brake pads, I saw on myself the line of my ancestry. I was not ashamed of the dirt streaking my hands. Instead I swelled with love, appreciation and pride as I thought that I, too, am Appalacian. Maybe I was just a little bit like them. I am carrying forward a rich heritage of tenacity and knowledge that has allowed my people to thrive in this rugged, isolated and rural place for generations.

Thanks, John and Oscar, hope I can pass on your strength to Eli and his sons, too.

Thursday, October 09, 2008

The Born [again] Supremacy

The second stop in The Born [again] trilogy is the Supremacy. Here we will look at how the Born [again] experience is the best way to live. Interestingly, this installment falls on the week of Yom Kippur, ending the Jewish days of awe...

Blow the trumpet in Zion!

"Even now," declares the LORD, "return to me with all your heart, with fasting and weeping and mourning." Rend your heart and not your garments. Return to the LORD your God, for he is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in love, and he relents from sending calamity. Who knows? He may turn and have pity and leave behind a blessing—grain offerings and drink offerings for the LORD your God. Blow the trumpet in Zion, declare a holy fast, call a sacred assembly. Gather the people, consecrate the assembly; bring together the elders, gather the children, those nursing at the breast. Let the bridegroom leave his room and the bride her chamber. Let the priests, who minister before the LORD, weep between the temple porch and the altar. Let them say, "Spare your people, O LORD. Do not make your inheritance an object of scorn, a byword among the nations. Why should they say among the peoples, 'Where is their God?' " -- Joel 2.12-17

Rosh Hashanah begins 10 days of repentance with the blowing of the shofar, a trumpet made of a ram's horn. Yom Kippur is the one day out of the year the High Priest could enter the Sanctum Sanctorum and make atonement for the people. The Hebrew people trace the roots of Yom Kippur to the Exodus. There in the desert, on the way from slavery to freedom, they stopped at Mt. Sinai. God gave Moses the 10 Commandment. When Moses returned from Sinai, he found the people worshiping a golden calf. God stated that He would wipe them out and start a new nation with Moses. Moses plead for their restoration and God granted forgiveness.

Later, in Leviticus 16, God detailed the ritual and events for a national, annual Day of Atonement. This day included the ritual of the Two Goats. One was selected by lot for sacrificial death to bear the consequence (death) for sins and the second, Scapegoat, was driven from the community bearing the guilt of the sins.

The Born [again] Supremacy

...When everything had been arranged like this, the priests entered regularly into the outer room to carry on their ministry. But only the high priest entered the inner room, and that only once a year, and never without blood, which he offered for himself and for the sins the people had committed in ignorance. The Holy Spirit was showing by this that the way into the Most Holy Place had not yet been disclosed as long as the first tabernacle was still standing. This is an illustration for the present time, indicating that the gifts and sacrifices being offered were not able to clear the conscience of the worshiper. They are only a matter of food and drink and various ceremonial washings—external regulations applying until the time of the new order.
When Christ came as high priest of the good things that are already here,
he went through the greater and more perfect tabernacle that is not man-made, that is to say, not a part of this creation. He did not enter by means of the blood of goats and calves; but he entered the Most Holy Place once for all by his own blood, having obtained eternal redemption. The blood of goats and bulls and the ashes of a heifer sprinkled on those who are ceremonially unclean sanctify them so that they are outwardly clean. How much more, then, will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself unblemished to God, cleanse our consciences from acts that lead to death, so that we may serve the living God!
...The law is only a shadow of the good things that are coming—not the realities themselves. For this reason it can never, by the same sacrifices repeated endlessly year after year, make perfect those who draw near to worship. If it could, would they not have stopped being offered? For the worshipers would have been cleansed once for all, and would no longer have felt guilty for their sins. But those sacrifices are an annual reminder of sins, because it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins. Hebrews 9 & 10

The Born [again] Supremacy has a better minister -- through Jesus.

Moses served as a go-between for God and His people. So Moses was a servant of God. But Jesus was the Mediator between God and man, being both. He represented God to humanity far better than Moses could, because he was not representing someone else. He represented Himself.

Before a High Priest could make atonement for the people he represented, he first had to make atonement for his personal sinfulness. He was no more moral or righteous than those for whom he stood. But Jesus was morally pure having NEVER violated the Father's will or law. He is a better minister through whom real atonement is made for us.

The Born [again] Supremacy has a better administration -- of Jesus.

The temple ritual worked on a proxy punishment system. From the Garden of Eden, God has made clear that "in the day you [sin], you will die." This theme is repeated throughout the entire Bible. But in His mercy, God allowed a carefully regulated use of a substitute to bear this incredible price for our rebellion. Folks could bring an animal, lay a hand on its head, confess their sins and "confer" them to the animal, and then kill the animal to pay the penalty.

Jesus did not offer more or even better animal sacrifice. He offered himself as our Perfect, not proxy, Substitute. His perfectly moral life, surrendered for the lives of His rebellious brothers and sisters, satisfied the demands of God's justice (death to sin) and the desires of God's love (life to humanity.) He bought us back from the slavery to sin. His was the BEST offering.

The Born [again] Supremacy has a better ministry -- by Jesus.

Because He is a better minister who administered a better solution for the sinfulness of humanity, Jesus now makes available a better way of living. The writer of Hebrews now shows how the effects of this better way work out in the lives of the Born [again]. First, Jesus gives us a clear conscience. The old way did nothing to remove our guilty feelings. Jesus served as both the scapegoat and the sin sacrifice goat. He removes our guilt.

Second, Jesus breaks the power of cancelled sin. The old system did not empower the worshipper for victorious living, it only served as a yearly reminder of their moral failures. The cycle repeated year after year after year after year... Jesus, a Perfect minister, administered a Perfect sacrifice and the Born [again] have been ransomed. Paul states it very clearly in Romans 8.12-14, "Therefore, brothers, we have an obligation—but it is not to the sinful nature, to live according to it. For if you live according to the sinful nature, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body, you will live, because those who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God." We do NOT have to knowingly sin in word, thought and/or deed every day. There is more for the Born [again] than a cycle of failure and forgiveness without growth in grace.

Lastly, Jesus can perfect the Born [again]. This perfection is not absolute flawlessness. It is growth toward a goal or teleos. We are being perfected, though absolure perfection will not come until the third stage of Grace-glorification. Jesus can make us better and so the Born [again] Supremacy is not a statement just about our Savior or our faith system, it is a comparison of our pre-Christian selves to the whole and holy person Jesus is re-creating.

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

There remains a Sabbath-rest for the people of God

One aspect of our Day of Learning with Dr. Black was a discussion of the nature of the Church. We briefly looked at word-pictures Scripture uses toward this end. Body, Bride, Building were three chief analogies. The classic theological definition of the church is "one, holy, Catholic and apostolic."

Later, in a discussion of the worship of the Church, Dr. Black reminded us of the use of sacred time and space. These two tributaries ran together in my thinking into a stream of possibility.

One view of the nature of the church is that we have been grafted into the blessings of Israel. Paul actually uses this terminology. One thing God asked of His people was to be holy -- set apart from surrounding culture and to Him. Besides the kosher laws, Israel did this through the marking of sacred time. Weekly they sat aside a day for Him -- Sabbath. Monthly they marked the new moon. Annually there were sacred seasons of activity and memorial celebrating and renewing His mighty acts for humanity. While most of this is ritual and is not "binding" on God's people today, one remains.

Sabbath is rooted in the creation of all things. It was the seventh day when God "rested" from His initial creative activity because it was complete. Later, the nation received the Decalogue as the foundational definition of morality. It contains, at Command #4, Sabbath. The recording of the Decalogue in Deuteronomy ties Sabbath to the deliverance from bondage experienced at the Exodus. So Sabbath is a celebration of God's creation and deliverance, both of which allow us to be at rest in His goodness and power.

With the life, death and resurrection of Jesus, those who were not a people (non-Hebrews) were invited, through Jesus, into the life of blessing. While not obligated to observe any law as a way to "qualify" with God, His grace, purchased by Jesus and poured into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, empowers us to live right. We were created in Christ Jesus to do good works (Ephesians 2. 10.)

Of all the Law, the Decalogue seems still to describe morality. As believers in Jesus, then, we can enjoy the rest of Sabbath.

Obviously, Christians have moved the emphasis day from Sabbath to the Lord's Day. Even in the Scriptire we see the early church gathering and worshipping on this first day of the week (1 Corinthians 16.1 - 2, Revelation 1.10.) They still meet on Sabbath, often in synagogues, to share the message of Jesus. The first day celebrates God's new creation and His deliverance begun with the resurrection of Jesus on the same day, Sunday.

The most specific discussion of Sabbath-rest by the first New-Covenant people of God in the Bible is found in Hebrews 3 & 4. Here is an exposition of Psalm 95.7-11. The theme is "Entering into [God's] Rest." It refers to creation's rest, the rest at the conclusion of the Exodus and expressly says, "There remains, then, a Sabbath-rest for the people of God..."

So could our post-modern, much-too-scheduled, hectic society benefit from the blessings associated with setting aside a Lord's Day? Could we have thrown the baby of blessing out with the bathwater of legalistic application of this principle of rest? I am starting to believe the answer is, "YES!"

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Joy Ride

You might not think, at first, that 7 hours in the cab of a truck would be a joy ride. But wait...there was a 4 hour break in between the halves of this trip spent sitting in wooden pews in a church with no AC listening to a college professor lecturing on Ecclesiology! still don't get it, huh?

Well, the cab of that Chevy truck was transformed, by the holy Spirit, into an incubator for deep thought, a confessional for young pastors to vent, and a respite along the way to refresh and renew.

I am always energized, encouraged and edified when I spend time with Pastor Glen from Huntington. We usually car-port together on the long trek to Shenandoah Central from our far-west, Wesleyan outposts. Dr. Bob, our visiting theologian, had lit a fuse of thoughtful insights and questions that exploded in the cab of that Chevy into non-stop, high-energy conversation.

My mind was reeling so from the pace and portent of the trip home that I was still working out some of the thoughts at 03:00. (That's 3 in the MORNING.) I never have problems shutting down the thinker and sleeping. But I was alive with the nuggets of truh panned out in the Chevy and was afraid to close my eyes and close off this flowing of God's illuminating Spirit.

Sunday, October 05, 2008

The Born [again] Identity

I am always trying to find frames to accentuate the Message. A current one in use is the Bourne series of movies. They provide an action-packed storyline for a man who wakes up to discover himself in the middle of a dark ocean...

Taking the tiles of these, I have framed the Born [again] experience described in the New Testament.

The first installment is the Born [again] Identity. Who am I as a "born again" individual? The actuality is that much like Jason Bourne, we awaken to find ourselves adrift and wounded. Someone has attempted to destroy us.

Born [again]...what?
1 Peter 1.1 - 2.3 details what it means to be Born [again.] We are chosen, set apart and infused with "the divine nature." God deposited His seed, the Word, into us and now a new life is growing. We are being made new, the old is gone and the new has come. He has given us the right to become His children (John 1.12.)

How does this happen? We believe [TRUST] Jesus and receive Him. He is infusing us with His life. Imagine a vase filled with water colored with blue dye. Imagine placing a white carnation into that vase. As the carnation draws life from the water, it also takes on its color. As we believe/receive, the life of Jesus not only sustains but stains or marks us with His identity.

Born [again] what?
In the front leaf of a New Testament, I keep a series of Evangelism tools to lead someone the last few steps into a personal relationship with God. One of these tools, entitled The Life, shares this opportunity in a style used on the continent of Africa. 1. God gave man the Life (John 1.3-4) 2. Man lost the Life (Romans 5.12-13) 3. Jesus restored the Life (John 10.10 4) Man can receive the Life, again (John 5.24) 5. The Life is EVIDENT (1 John 2.3, 6; I John 3.10, 14)

Having the Born [again] Identity does indeed make a difference in one's life and living. 1 Peter lists some of the benefits include hope (1.3), heaven (4), power (5), perspective in trouble (6-7), joy (8), buy out from sin (18) and full-fillment (18.)

Born [again] what?
Wesleyans believe that the cross is not the end of the work of God, but the beginning. What was completed in Jesus' death and resurrection is now being "worked out" in the lives of those who believe.

Peter calls those with the Born [again] Identity to prepare for action, be self-controlled, to stop being conformed to evil desires, to be holy, and to love deeply (1 Peter 1.17-22.) He further calls us to rid ourselves of attitudes and actions that destroy us and those around us (1 Peter 2.1.) Lastly, he calls us to grow in our relationship through internalizing the Word.

In a culture of those living life-styles that are contrary to Scripture and yet claiming to "know I'm born-again," we need to bring our Born [again] Identity into conformity with the description in the Bible.

Thursday, September 11, 2008


Today I observed my sixth Patriot Day.

I was in a middle school where most in my 8th grade math classes were very young children when it happened.

I posted 0846, 0902, 0938 and 1006 on the board. They did not recognize these as significant. I solemnly explained that these were the times that each of the 4 hi-jacked planes crashed--3 into buildings symbolizing American greatness and 1 into a field in PA. I went on to highlight the last crash as significant because the Americans on board deliberately crashed it into the ground to prevent further destruction and death.

This is also the first Patriot Day in which I paused to reflect with a Muslim. He is a student who is currently participating in the Ramadan fast. I was very conscious of my words while describing those who carried out these atrosities.

How odd, I thought, the perspective of myself and these kids on this day.

God bless the survivors and families of 9-1-1.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Emphasis needed...

We sing a variety of psalms, hymns and spiritual songs at Faith Community. One that we sing often is Sing to the King. In the second verse there is a line that I always crescendo to triple forte (VERY loud.) "we'll join in singing with all the redeemed, 'CAUSE SATAN IS VANQUISHED AND JESUS IS KING!!!!!"

I sing with that musical emphasis because I need to be reminded that evil will some day cease to be due to the consumation of Christ's rule of the universe. I need to be reminded that evil is contengent not self-existant. Goodness, because it is the nature of God, is eternal.

Last week I sat and cried with a friend who was waiting for his wife to come back from surgery. He had just made a series of medical decisions for her after learning her cancer had come back in a different part of her body. While we waited for this second of three procedures, we just cried together.

I HATE cancer. The physical pain and suffering is enough to loathe. But the emotional stress and pain is immeasurable at times. The financial burden of treatment costs and lost work is huge.

I need to know from time to time that all this evil will end. I need to remind my friends at times that all this evil will end. My heart cries out, "even so, Lord, PLEASE come quickly!"

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Re-Newed Vows

During the summer I was privileged to officiate at a wedding. And as a special treat, Lisa was able to attend with me. I always enjoy weddings in that I am called back to my dedication to Lisa as I lead the soon-to-be-weds through the covenant. It is very much like attending a baptism and renewing my covenant with the God who loves and saves me.

It was a delight to lead the recital of vows with my gal in the corner of my eye. I fell in love with her again. Fourteen years and two children later, she is the love of my life!

Afterwards, I sat with an elder member of our congregation at the reception. He began relating to me the narrative of his wife's last day of life--how they spoke lovingly to each other, how they held each other in love's comforting embrace. The recital of vows had stirred within him the actual "'til death do us part" commitment that it takes for marriage to be blessed and enduring. With tears in our eyes we celebrated marriage -- from beginning to natural end.

I left that day renewed in my determination to be a man of integrity and live with my beloved so that if ever I might sit in my elder brother's seat at a future wedding reception, I too might weep the bitter-sweet tears of a lifelong commitment.

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

The Way We Were

Back when Lis and I were first married, we used to spend time together doing this:

Click to Mix and Solve
[click on the picture to work the puzzle yourself. Go ahead take a trip down Memory Lane.]

Broke and in love, enjoying life's simpler pleasures -- that's the way we were.

Sunday, June 01, 2008

Parting Thoughts

Last week I officiated at two funeral/memorial services for the same family. The first was for a ninety-year-old man and the second for a twenty-eight-year-old woman. Here are some words of comfort from those gatherings.

Gathering One:

The family requested Psalm 121 be read. This makes preaching simpler for me. I have always believed the text will tell you what to say. The greatest challenge is picking the text. Especially in this very emotional time. The initial question and central concern of Psalm 121 is "Where does my help come from?"

My Help Comes from the LORD...
Even when he is not found in the usual places.
Psalm 121 is among the Songs of Ascents. These were sung by pilgrims on their way to worship at the Temple. The Temple sat upon the top of Mount Moriah in Jerusalem. This traveling hymn must have been inspired by the view from the bottom of the Temple Mount. There are times when God might not be found in the usual "old, familiar" places. But He will still come to your aid. Sometimes we need His help just to make it to the place of aide.

My Help Comes from the LORD...
He is bigger than the hill.
The LORD is the Maker of heaven and earth. There is nothing in the created order that can overpower or stymie God. We may be overwhelmed by life and its challenges, but God is more than enough for the challenge. He is the source of our help -- in everything.

My Help Comes from the LORD...
He is committed to His people.
The name for God in these verse is LORD.This is His personal, covenant-name. This is the name He employes when He obligates Himself to someone in promised, personal relationships. God is more than an idea, He is a person who has committed Himself to you and invites you to know Him personally.

My Help Comes from the LORD...
He allows hurts but prevents harm.
Multiple times Psalm 121 promises that God will "keep you from harm." Life is full of hurts, sadness and disappointments. But the LORD shields His people from the full effect of these so that no lasting harm comes. Moments like these need not set a course for self-destruction. God will bind up the broken-hearted and heal the hurts so that life might go on.

My Help Comes from the LORD...
He watches over your coming and going.
The LORD is the Lord of Life. He is at the beginning, loving forming the new life. He is at the end, gently receiving the spirit which He gave. We can find God's help because even here, in the hour and article of death, He is Lord. And he has conquered Death, Hades and the Grave to bring us full and final victory.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Has It Really Been Fourteen Years?!?

On this date in 1994, I began the most significant phase of my life. I entered into the Marriage Covenant with Lisa Renee McCoy. We were both so sure and so young. Could it really have been 14 years-ago?

We had a wonderful day. She did all the planning and decorating. I wrote the service including the sermon. We tried to pay for most things ourselves as we felt we were not kids but 20-somethings who did not want to over burden our parents.

She was radiant. Whenever I hear How Beautiful I still see Lisa walking down that isle. I will always cherish the lighting of the unity candle. We tried repeatedly to light it but it was a used candle that had already burned down 2 inches or so. We both giggled.

My only regret is not looking her fully in the eyes during the vows. I just knew if I did I'd start crying (like I am now thinking about her beauty and the intense commitment we were making.) I still should have.

We have travelled a lot of miles together since that first ride off into the sunset in her dad's Buick. I thank God for every moment and mile with her. The red in my beard has faded to grey, but my love for Lisa has only deepened. I only pray I have helped and enriched her half as much as she has me.

Has it really been fourteen years...

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Happy Birthday Kiddos

Today E turns 3 and J turns 1. Happy birthday!

He is such the little man. He watches, hugs and bosses little sister. He wears bigboy underpants and helps clean house.

She is walking. She sits in a front-facing car seat. She pets my beard for comfort (mine as well as hers.) She prefers food to the bottle and formula is a thing of the past.

My babies are not babies anymore.

Happy birthday, kiddos!

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Who Do You Think You Are?

The text surrounding David's confrontation of Goliath has three separate groups asking David, "Who do you think you are?" It makes for a 3 layered outline.

Who do you think you are? -- his brothers

Who do you think you are? -- his king

Who do you think you are? -- his adversary

David answered all three, "I know who God is."

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Facing Giants

We continue our look into the life of David, a man after God's own heart, with 1 Samuel 17.
Here we find the best known episode of David's life -- the battle with Goliath, the Giant.

It is noteworthy that the tone of the description here is far from mythological. The large man, the sling and all else seem reasonable and realistic. There are men playing professional basketball that are over 7 feet running, jumping and otherwise functioning nibbly. The sling was a weapon of war. It launched fist-sized projectiles at very high velocity. Whole sections of ancient Israeli armies were devoted to this form of deadly artillary. David was just previously described as a young man enrolled in the military/court service of King Saul. He was a National Guard-type, reporting for duty when needed and working at home when not.

Facing Giants...
...does not mean ignoring reality. It means seeing the reality of God.

The other men had seen and heard Goliath's defiant challenge. They could see how big he was, feel how intimidating he was and get a sense of how expert he was in the arts of war. Every morning and every evening. 80 times they cowered at the huge opponent.

David saw the giant. He did not deny his prowess or towering presence. He instead focused his attention on the size of the God who had claimed his country as His special covenant people. God could certainly handle one like Goliath.

Our faith-walk is not blind to the challenges of sickness, financial setback or relationship ills. Our faith sees a God who is able in the face of the giants. The challenge may be, and probably is, too bifg for us, but not for God. The question is not, "How big is your problem?" The question is, "How big is your God?"

Facing giants...
...means conflict avoidance is not conflict resolution.

David addressed the BIG challenge. Everyone else had hidden from it, tried to ignore it, tune it out. But big problems only get bigger when they are not faced. The army seemed content to battle it out, hoping for victory without fighting the Big man. But if they continued in this way, they would still eventually face him. He was part of the army they battled!

We, too, wil either meet challenges on our terms or theirs. Ignoring or avoiding will not resolve the conflict. We must face the challenges in order to move past them.

Facing giants...
...means not all opposition will come from the giants.

When David expressed his trust in a covenant LORD who was bigger than the challenge of Goliath, his brothers became furious. "Who do you think you are?" was their response to his facing the giant. King Saul said, "Who do you think you are?" Goliath said, "Who do you think you are?"

When we determine we will face life's challenges trusting in God's help, we should not be suprised when others respond in kind. Those who choose the hard path of improvement will often be opposed by those who have yet to decide to change.

Facing giants...
...means you must be yourself.

David was given a suit of armor and a sword from King Saul. Perhaps Saul was hoping others would think he was facing the giant when they saw someone in his armor marching to the challenge. Perhaps he genuinely wanted to help David. David tries them on but has never tried them out. He is not a warrior-king, yet. His weapon of choice and experience is the sling. He declines the king's offer.

Isn't it funny how those who are not willing to face the challenge have advice for those who are?
We cannot face challenges like so-and-so does or has. We need to face up in the way our personality, talents and skills will allow us. All we ever have to be is who God made us to be. Any more would be a step out of his plan.

Facing giants...
...means small successes lead to big victories.

David made his choice for weapons based on his past experiences as a shepherd. His responsibilities included protecting the sheep from ravenous preditors. Usually a direct hit from a sling would be enough to injure and drive away a wild beast. But on two ocassions David had to literally fight a lion and a bear. In both cases, God delivered the dangerous creatures into David's hand. David was able to face a giant man because he had grown through these and other past experience.

When we find favor and make progress we are able to build toward future success.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Pages from Ruth's Scrapbook, Part Last

Wow! Did I really turn this into a three-part post?!?!?!

Any way, Ruth is a picture of ordinary people trying to make their way and walk by faith in the God who invites them into a personal, covenant relationship.

Page One

Naomi and her family travel to Moab during a famine to find food. She goes out full, but returns empty. Her husband dies, her sons marry local gals and then 10 years later they die, too. In this time, that means she has no future, no hope. Her daughter-in-law, Ruth, comes back to Israel, too.

Page one has three Memorial Cards and a fold of black cloth.

Page Two

Women are not allowed to own property in this culture. So the ladies are destitute. Ruth goes out to support her aging mother-in-law the only way available--she goes to "glean" from the barley and wheat harvests. The Feast of Weeks regulations included a provision for the underprivileged. Farmers could not cut the grain in the corners of their fields. Those without means of support could then harvest these left-overs. Ruth and Naomi were at the mercy of God who made provision for them and at the mercy of the landowner as well.

Well, it just so happens (no such thing really), that the owner of this particular field was a man who could help with her inability to own property or support herself. And it just so happens that this particular man comes to this particular field on the day Ruth starts gleaning. And it just so happens that upon finding out she is the young woman caring for his widowed relative, he gives her favored treatment and things start looking up for Ruth. It just so happens that Boaz is a bachelor.

Page two has a shaft of barley and a shaft of wheat laying criss-cross.

Page Three

Naomi seizes on this show of kindness from God and Boaz to try and help Ruth find a home and a future. Whe lays out a plan for Ruth to invite Boaz to redeem their property and provide her a home and family. Boaz sees Ruth invitation as an act of kindess to him greater than the act of kindness she had shown to his family in gleaning to support her. He was an older man of limited means and is flattered that she would seek him out as her future.

Page three has a picture of a couple holding hands and an engagement announcement.

Page Four

The final scene of this scrapbook is an older lady bouncing a baby boy on her knee. There is a huge smile upon her face.

Boaz redeems the property and marries Ruth. After dealing with infertility, Ruth is blessed to have a son. He grows up to have a son. His son's youngest son is named David. Yes, THAT David--king of Israel.