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.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Pages from Ruth's Scrapbook, Part 2

Ruth is an unusual book in the Jewish Scriptures.

First, it details a series of events in the life of a WOMAN of faith. A quick survey of the OT shows only two books with women as title or main character. A slightly closer reading reveals the role of women is almost entirely seen as supportive, not determinative. There is a phrase from an ancient morning prayer that says, "Thank you, LORD, that I was not born a Gentile, a dog or a woman."

Second, it details a series of events in the life of a NON-HEBREW woman who comes to embrace God and his covenant people. To be born a outside the covenant people was to be "without God and hope in this world." God had chosen a family/nation to be his special people, to reveal himself and to bring his son, our savior, into the world. Literally, to be a non-Hebrew was "too bad, so sad."

Third, it is about ordinary people. No father Abraham or King David. Everyone involved fits inside the normal section of the bell curve. Not rich, or overly intellegent or prominant or talented. Their connection to God's Grand His Story is only seen in the closing verses.

Lastly, it is very short (just 4 chapters and just a few months time.)

Since it was Mother's Day/Pentecost, these reflections were framed by the analogy of a scrapbook. Each chapter gives a snapshot of the key events surrounding this particular Feast of Weeks/ Pentecost.

Pages from Ruth's Scrapbook, Part 1

May 11, 2008 was a convergence of two key events in the yearly life-cycle of the Church. One was a holiday, one a holy day. The second Sunday of May is always Mother's Day. It is one of the "Big Three" invitations Sundays (Christmas and Easter the other two.) It also is a great day of importance to the ministry of the church in that we support families and mothers.

May 11 was also Pentecost -- the birthday of the Church at the coming of the Holy Spirit. This happened 50 days after the Good Friday/Easter Sunday event at the time of an ancient Jewish holy day. The Bible name for this feast was the Festival of Weeks (7 Weeks after Passover) which celebrated the first reaping of grain during the Spring barley and wheat harvests.

Many preachers and teachers were paralyzed in preparation trying to decide which event to emphasize. There was a lot of philosophical rangling over the priority of marking our time (xpovos) with Christ's time (kaipos) verses impacting people at their point of need, interest or contact. Add to this convergence the Teaching Time series at Faith Community currently focuses on lessons from the life of David. These are some of the internal issues preachers/teachers wrestle with during preparation.

During prayer and preparation time, I found a line connecting these three dots -- the story of Ruth.

First, Ruth is a female ancestor of David. So there is connection one. She was a mother. Connection two. Ruth is read every year by Jews during the Festival of Weeks (Pentecost) because it reveals events surrounding one barley/wheat harvest. Connection three.

A future post will outline the encouragement found in this special May 11 Teaching Time. I just marvel at the interconnectedness of Scripture.

Friday, May 09, 2008

God Looks at the Heart

We have started a series at Faith Community Church exploring the life of David, second King of Israel. He is one of a handful of individuals mentioned repeatedly throughout the Canon. We will delve into the lessons this prominant man presents throughout the summer months.

The Bible says David was a man "after God's own heart." This is such a loaded descripter I will need to dedicate an entire future post to it. Let's just say part of what it involves is an extreme compliment.

The first mention of David is in 1 Samuel 16. God has rejected Saul as king and sends Samuel to anoint a successor. The words of verse 7 form the challenge of this passage, "The LORD does not look at the things man looks at. Man looks at the outward appearance. The LORD looks at the heart."

The LORD does not look at the things man looks at. Man looks at the outward appearance. The LORD looks at the heart.

Pretty is as Pretty Does. 1 Peter 3 was a favorite text in my conservative holiness home church. Preachers loved to pound the prohibitions listed there into the ears, and hopefully the hearts, of young women. No jewelry, no braided hair, etc. Peter's admonition is not so much concerned with these externals as it is a challenge to the internal adornment of persons.

But our view of things and that of the LORD differs. We need to refocus.
So...what would our character "look" like if we spent as much time getting ready internally as we do fixin'up our outsides? What would we do to improve our internal "beauty routine" each day? What would we have to do internally or we would not leave the house?

The LORD does not look at the things man looks at. Man looks at the outward appearance. The LORD looks at the heart.

Prejudice is appearance-based. James 2 forbids favoritism in the community of Christ-followers. He specifically sights giving priority to persons who appear to have wealth and discriminating against those who appear not to have it. How many different ways does prejudice manefest itself in our society? We make decisions about how we will relate to persons based not on who they are or our knowledge of them individually. Rather we act based on stereotypes and with little real knowledge of the person. Like a trauma center of a hospital, triage determines treatment. What would be different in our lives if we saw persons as God does--character, intention and so on? How can we make first impresstions last determinants in our treatment of others?

The LORD does not look at the things man looks at. Man looks at the outward appearance. The LORD looks at the heart.

No only does the shift from looking at outward appearances toward looking at the heart mean Pretty Is as Pretty Does and Prejudice is Appearance-Based, it also means Looks Can Be Deceiving. Saul had been chosen as the first national king of Israel primarily due to his kingly appearance. Literally, he was "head and shoulders" taller than others. He appeared humble when he hid from the crowd among the baggage. But the reality was Saul was vain and weak of character. He was also mentally unstable. In a personality driven culture we need to focus more on the substance of a person and his or her positions rather than their presentation. Repeatedly we are warned about wolves in sheeps clothing, false teachers who appeal to our hubris or comfort zone yet lead us astray from the one true Faith.

The LORD does not look at the things man looks at. Man looks at the outward appearance. The LORD looks at the heart.

The Picture of Dorian Grey illustates the importance of looking inward as well as outward. Dorian, a handsome and hedonistic young man, makes a wish that a painted portrait of him would age rather than he. Finding the wish has come true, he pursues a life of sin and evil. With each act his physical appearance does not change, but the portrait becomes more marred and aged. In the end, while trying to cover up his bad behavior by stabbing another man, he accidentally cuts his portrait. He is found later, a withered old dead man.

We may try to disguise our inner selves. We may try to hid our inner selves. But we must begin to see ourselves as God does, to place more value on the beauty of a Christ-like character, to participate with the Spirit in the transformation of ourselves into persons of integrety.

The LORD does not look at the things man looks at. Man looks at the outward appearance. The LORD looks at the heart.