Thursday, September 18, 2008

Audio Sermon File: Seek Ye First

Click on the title above to hear the sermon "Seek Ye First".

To read the transcript with power point slides click here.

Monday, August 04, 2008

What Would We Look Like?

I have a question for you: If you were to become exactly what God wants you to become—what would be different? How would you look and act? I did a quick “look-through” my Bible and I came across several passages that give us clues. There is the passage in Leviticus 11:44, 45 and again in 19:2; 20:7—Peter quotes it in his first letter. God is speaking and he says: Be holy as I am holy. In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus says something similar when he says: Be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect. The point is not flawless perfection—but more like completeness or wholeness. In the context he is speaking of how you are to love your enemies.

Other passages readily come to mind. In Matthew 10:24 and a similar passage in John 15, Jesus says a student or a disciple is not above his teacher. In fact, the goal is for the student to become just like his teacher. The emphasis of the gospel of Luke and the book of Acts is how Jesus’ disciples become just like him in the way they love and serve others. In Galatians 2:10 Paul speaks of being co-crucified with Christ so that the life he lives is the same kind of life Jesus lives. We see the same sort of thing reflected in Colossians 3:15; 2 Corinthians 3:18; Hebrews 12:2; and 1 Corinthians 11:1.

Paul says it again in Romans 8:29 that it is God’s ultimate will that we be formed into the image of Christ. But what does all of that mean? In Philippians 2 & 3 Paul fleshes it out a little more. Let’s look at a very familiar passage.

Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus:
Who, being in very nature God,
did not consider equality with God

something to be grasped,

but made himself nothing,
taking the very nature
of a servant,
being made in human likeness.
And being found in appearance as a man,
he humbled himself
and became
obedient to death—

even death on a cross!
Therefore God exalted him to the highest place
and gave him the
name that is above every name,

that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father. *

Paul’s challenge to all Christians is to have the mind of Christ—to be dominated by the character and mindset Jesus demonstrated when he came to earth.

And what kind of mind set is that?

Quite simply it can be summed up in the phrase: he emptied himself.

It goes something like this: we are all filled up with our own issues, desires, rights, expectations and demands. Things are supposed to be a certain way. I’m supposed to be treated fairly. I’m supposed to have my basic needs and wants filled. Others should be considerate of what I want. Every one of us have those ideas within us. Jesus had those same rights, didn’t he? He, after all, is God. He deserves to be treated fairly—justly, he deserves deference, honor, glory, and praise. He deserves everything to go his way.

And yet…

He gives it all up. He pours out all of those rights, needs, and wants into a garbage dump and says, “I will become nothing in order to serve those who have nothing—no hope, no help, no meaning in their lives.” And Paul says he gave up everything and became totally obedient to God—to the point of crucifixion. He did not consider his own wants and needs, but considered everyone else as more important than even his own life.

So how does this play out in the life of the every day Christian? Well, we can’t tell what kind of attitude or thoughts a person has directly. The only way it can be gauged is in their behavior, right? So Paul explains what kind of behavior is consistent with the mind of Christ. In 2:1-4 Paul tells the Philippians to consider others better than themselves—in other words: give in to their needs rather than demand your own. Don’t look after your own rights and interests, but look after the interests of others. In verse 14 he says “do everything without complaining or arguing”. In other words, if you gripe and speak negatively—stop it now! In 2:1-3 and chapter 4 he says: be united, overcome your differences—find common ground, approach each other with gentleness and love. Focus on the good, excellent and praiseworthy things found in each other—rather than the things that anger you.

Paul gives three examples of the mind of Christ: Timothy, Epaphroditus, and himself. Timothy is one who takes a genuine interest in the welfare of others; Epaphroditus nearly died—he risked his life and well being for Paul and the Philippians. Paul points out his long credentials as a Jewish rabbinical scholar—and he says, “All of my ego and all of my accomplishments are nothing but manure—the only important thing is Jesus: becoming like him in his suffering and death."

And that is the same thing to which God has called every Christian. If we became exactly what God called us to become—we would look like Jesus. We would take all of our rights, our desires, our wants, demands, credentials, and whatever else there is and dump them on a trash heap in order to serve each other—in order to love on people. We would give up our comforts and life to benefit those without hope and without God in the world. We would quit being a people who argue and fuss—and instead we would be a people who loved and served.

Now Paul says, “I haven’t gotten there, oh no—not yet. But I press onward—I forget my accomplishments and my rights: all the things that are behind me—and I press forward to the goal ahead: that is becoming the very image of Jesus.”

So may you be formed into the image of Christ. May you begin to see within you the life of Jesus swelling up and pouring out of you in all kinds of unselfish behavior towards others. May you learn to live for the cares and needs of others rather than for your own cares and needs. And may you pour yourself out in service so that God might exalt himself through your actions. Amen.

*Philippians 2:5-11

Monday, July 07, 2008

Rivers Grace

We have friends who live in Tennessee. They were our next door neighbors for several years. Their son was born a few months before Brittany. A couple of years later they had another son. We’ve kept in contact with them throughout the years. A couple of years ago, while traveling through the state, we dropped by their house for a visit. Cynthia was thrilled to see us and quickly ushered us into the house.

We noticed a little Chinese baby sitting in a high chair. So Terri said, “Are you babysitting?”

Cynthia smiled.

“Not at all. This is our new daughter!”

Even though both of their children were high school students they decided they had more love to give children. So they traveled to China and adopted this beautiful little doll with a beautiful name: Rivers Grace. A couple of years later, Cynthia’s husband, Mark told her—“You know, it isn’t fair to Rivers to be essentially an only child. We need to adopt a sister for her.” Because they had already adopted a child, there were some more hurdles to go through—an incredibly long waiting time. However, they discovered if they were willing to adopt a handicapped child they could probably adopt very quickly. Soon after they brought home a little girl named Nya Joy.

Mark and Cynthia—and their boys—have joyfully embraced these children as their own family. And, in fact, that is what they are now: family. They have been adopted into a new family and a new life. They have love and hope—something they didn’t have before. And what appropriate names: Nya Joy and Rivers Grace.

A couple of Saturdays ago in our congregational meeting, Mike Armour shared a situation where a Russian teacher asked him why is it that Americans are so eager to adopt children. This person had no understanding of the motivation. She had been a school teacher for nearly 30 years and had never known an adopted child. Orphans and fatherless children are considered trash in many cultures around the world.

In the first century, a preacher by the name of Paul writes to a group of Gentile Christians in the city of Ephesus. They struggled with the fact they were not Jews and did not have the rich Jewish heritage that formed the foundations of Christianity. They didn’t understand all of the ethics and theology that came from Judaism and under-girded the Christian faith. As a result they felt like trash, like second class citizens in God’s kingdom.

So what kind of language would you use to address a concern like this? Paul used the language of adoption. In Ephesians 1:3-14 we have this incredibly long sentence in the original language. It is filled with so many synonyms piled on top of each other and prepositional phrases that it’s sometimes hard to get the point. But if you cut through it all to the simple sentence it reads something like this:

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in Christ. For he chose us to be holy and blameless in his sight. He predestined us to be adopted as sons to the praise of his glorious grace. In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace that he lavished on us. In him we were also chosen in order that we might be for the praise of his glory. Having believed you were marked in him with a seal, the Holy Spirit, who guarantees our inheritance to the praise of his glory.
I’m not suggesting all of the other words or phrases are unimportant, I just want you to get the basic statement down.

Paul is telling these Gentile Christians they may have been considered low-lifes, trash, and second class by some Jewish Christians--they may have even considered themselves as second rate--but nothing could be further from the truth! They have been called to a special calling. They have been adopted as children of God. They have had rivers of grace poured out on them, lavished upon them. They have received forgiveness of all of the junk in their lives. They have been made new and special: they are the chosen of God.

Unfortunately, too often this doesn’t translate into redeemed action and life styles.

There are at least two dangers in how we view ourselves in Christ. If you view yourself as second class, then sometimes you may find yourself acting like second class. God doesn’t expect much of me, so I won’t give much to him. The opposite is true, too: since I’m a recipient of grace then my behavior doesn’t matter. This usually came about from people over-spiritualizing Christianity—a group of Greeks who later came to be called Gnostics so denigrated the physical world that what one did in the body had little importance to the spiritual life. They were so "spiritual" that what they did in the body didn't really matter.

Both attitudes miss the point.

Paul says we have been adopted as children for a particular purpose. Did you notice how often he used the phrase “for the praise of his glory”? We have been adopted as children in order to praise God. We have been chosen to be set apart and blameless. Since we have been adopted into a new family we’ve been brought into different family standards. Why: to avoid hell? No, but because we are no longer orphans. We’re no longer living on the streets. We are no longer trash. We are now children of the king. Now he expects us to live in a way that’s appropriate to the calling.

As we explore the book we'll discover living as God’s children involves things such as: how we treat each other and how we talk to and about others. Living as children adopted by God means we will have a different standard than our culture when it comes to how we behave sexually, the kind of language we use, how we view possessions and even how we relate to our spouses, parents and employers.

In brief, we are to be imitators of Christ. Being a child of the king who is covered by rivers of grace means we are to live like the ultimate child of the King: Jesus himself. What we find in Jesus, we put in our lives. What is not in the life of Jesus we remove from our lives. In so doing, we find ourselves very different from the culture around us. We discover a new identity. We find ourselves being transformed to be holy and blameless in his sight.

Fred Craddock tells one of my favorite stories. This incident happened to him in the 1950s. He had been preaching in Oklahoma and he and his wife had taken a much needed vacation in East Tennessee around Gatlinburg. They found themselves in a little town called Cosby eating in a small cafĂ©. An old gentleman approached them. Fred was a bit apprehensive. He was having a wonderful vacation and he didn’t want to visit with anyone. But the man was heading directly toward their table.

“You folks on vacation?”

“Yes,” Fred answered curtly, hoping the man would get the hint.

“Where are you from?” he asked.

“Oklahoma.” Fred was doing his best to keep his answers short and simple so as not to encourage visiting.

“Oh. And what do you do?”

“I’m a preacher.” Fred was getting irritated now. He was hoping the man would go away.

Instead, he smiled broadly and pulled up a chair. “A preacher? I’ve got a story for you.”

"Great" thought Fred.

The old man began, "I grew up in this area with a burden on me no child should ever have. I was born illegitimate. You can imagine how difficult it was to grow up in a small rural area not knowing who your dad was.

"I was the topic of discussion and speculation of all the adults in our community. Kids were merciless. Life was hard.

"Every Sunday, though, I'd walk to this one church. The preacher there both fascinated and frightened me. He was a big, burly man with a large beard, piercing eyes, and a deep booming voice. I was captivated by him. Every Sunday I'd sneak in, sit in the back and quickly exit just before they finished. I was afraid someone would see me and ask 'What's a boy like
you doing in church?'

"One Sunday I was caught. The church let out abruptly and people filled the aisle, blocking my exit. Suddenly I felt a big hand resting on my shoulder. 'Oh no,' I thought. Here it comes.

"It was the preacher.

"'Boy,' he said, 'Why boy, I believe I know who you are...'

"I cringed just knowing he was going to embarrass me. I would break down and cry, run out of the building and never come back.

"Boy, I believe I know who you're the child of...God. I do believe I see the family resemblance.' Then he swatted me on my back side and said, 'Now go on out of here and claim your inheritance.' That day made such a difference in my life. In fact, I think that was the day my life began.'

Fred was so moved by the story he asked, "Sir, what is your name?"

"Ben. Ben Hooper."

And Fred remembered how his daddy used to tell him when he was a boy how the people of Tennessee twice elected as governor a man born illegitimate by the name of Ben Hooper.

I wish you could meet Nya Joy and Rivers Grace. You would be impressed, I think. They are beautiful, bright, joyful, and hopeful. They now have loving parents where before they had none. They now have a home where before they had an orphanage and an uncertain future. They have been adopted and they are experiencing love and grace from people who didn’t have to take them in, from people who could have just lived their own lives for themselves. They didn’t deserve the gift, they didn’t—they couldn’t earn their adoption. They merely received it. But now they are learning what it means to be raised in Mark’s and Cynthia’s family. As they grow they learn how their new family behaves and lives. They will look at their older brothers and see how they react to their parents, and they will serve as an example for them to follow.

Rivers Grace: what a name—what an appropriate name for someone who is daily experiencing the rivers of grace, the rivers of love wash all over her.

May you experience God’s rivers of grace washing you clean. May you come to understand that you are God’s child who has been chosen and called to be holy and blameless—who has been called to live to the praise of God’s glory. May you find yourself growing more and more into the image of your older brother Jesus. And may others begin to notice in your life the family resemblance! Now let's go out and claim our inheritance!

Thursday, June 26, 2008

The Jerk

I don’t even remember his name—and if I did, I wouldn’t reveal it. But he had “Jerk” written all over him. And it wasn’t what he looked like, either; it was how he handled himself. He was tall, good looking, athletic—and arrogant. He worked in a different section of the same department store where I worked while in college. He was always hitting on the girls—you know the kind: thinking he was God’s gift to women. He would hang around me—although I certainly didn’t encourage it. He constantly bombarded me with cutting jibes about my size or some imagined imperfection. Truth is, I give people permission to joke about my size—but I didn’t give him permission. In retrospect, I don’t think he was being vicious about it. I think he was just trying to joke around—trying to make a friend, but not really knowing how.

He finally got his comeuppance at work one day. I saw the immediate aftermath—but I took not the least bit of pleasure in it. One of our little cashiers—a 16-year-old who came in to work following school—had been running late. She was speeding to get to work. She topped a hill and just on the other side was an eighteen-wheeler stopped at a traffic light. She ran up under it. She didn’t survive. We had just gotten the word at work; but the jerk didn’t. He came in a little late and went to the office to sign in. Several of the sales girls were there just soaking in the news—in shock. One particular girl had red-rimmed eyes where she had been crying. He saw her and bee-lined to her. “Hey good-looking! You look rough, what you need is for me to take you out for a good time.” She leveled a body slicing gaze into his face. “You are sick! Don’t you know what happened?”

I was walking into the room when he came bursting out with a wild look on his face. In tears, he ran out of the store. Later on that day we ran into each other and he just looked pitiful. “I didn’t know, I didn’t know…” he kept repeating. That was the time when I realized that the jerk had feelings and could actually feel remorse and pain. Rather than gloating at his downfall, I felt bad for him.

You would think my attitude toward his kind of personality would have softened. It didn’t. I did not become more tolerant. Ever since, in fact, I noticed there were certain people who just rubbed me the wrong way. For me it’s the guy or gal who seems too perfect, too put together, too good to be true. This is the person who always knows better, has the better idea, and acts as if he is God’s gift to whatever. Most often, I react to the person who seems just a tad too bit direct and self-reliant.

My intolerance for this personality type showed its ugliness in a group encounter at a seminar. This too-good-to-be-true minister was talking about a situation he faced—which seemed a bit far-fetched—when the young lady beside me said, “I'm sorry. But I don’t believe you. There is something about what your saying that makes me want to ask: ‘Are you telling the truth?’” I then chimed in with my own two-cents echoing the same sentiment. The guy looked stunned and hurt. I found out later he had been telling the truth. I apologized in front of the group to him—but the damage was done. I had become the jerk.

In Ephesians 4:2, Paul tells us to be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. In the book of Colossians 3:12-14 Paul says something similar to a small town church:

Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion. Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all of these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity (New International Version).

For some reason I like how the old versions render the words “patience” and “bearing with one another.” The old versions use two words: forebear and longsuffering. The word “forebear” means to hold up or to endure. Another word translated forebear means to protect by covering or to conceal. The idea is to endure with the insults or the failings of others, to protect the person by covering over her fault. Now this doesn’t mean you totally ignore evil behavior. That’s never appropriate. If someone is doing something which destroys others or themselves, you have to confront. But in the confrontation you still demonstrate forbearance, gentleness, and kindness.

Longsuffering is the word the modern versions translate as patience. And patience is a good word—but longsuffering almost acts like a definition, doesn’t it? To be patient is to suffer for a long time with someone’s irritating behavior. You confront and try to educate, but you don’t give up on the person. You suffer long for them.

We see this with Jesus and the twelve, don’t we? I used to think Simon Peter was just impetuous. But I don’t think that any more. Simon was a jerk. He thought he was God’s gift to revolutionaries. If you wanted a first class freedom fighter, who better to pick than Simon? You want 5,000 men in a pinch ready to take on Rome? There you go Jesus! But then Jesus throws a monkey wrench in it by sending the crowds away. "You want me to cut some guy’s head off? I’ll do it! Here am I! Send me!" (Of course, he missed and only got his ear.)

Simon was focused on the task at hand—even to the point where he would jump on Jesus and tell him to quit demoralizing the troops by talking about dying. Mark says he rebuked Jesus—and Jesus has to rebuke him. Get behind me, Satan, you’re just thinking about your own agenda, not God’s!

I can almost picture Simon Peter looking like my co-worker, running out of the room with a wild look on his face, in tears.

And yet, Jesus never lets go of Peter. He confronts him, he is direct with him, he tells him what he needs to hear; but he doesn’t give up on him.

And then there was Simon’s parallel in the Sanhedrin.

I think he was just like Peter: Saul of Tarsus. Although they seemed worlds apart: Simon a rough fisherman while Saul was trained as a Rabbi—both were so sure of themselves, so brash, so arrogant. And when Saul is confronted, he runs out the room with tears streaming out of his sightless eyes. God wasn’t ready to give up on him.

All of this gets me to thinking: if Jesus was willing to forebear to suffer long with jerks like these (and with a jerk like me) why am I so intolerant? As a follower of Christ I am called to forebear and to be patient. This is a spiritual discipline we are all called to. For you, it might not be the jerk—the arrogant—who pushes your button. Perhaps it is the crude, or the silly, or the perfectionist, or the slob, or the control freak. For every person there is a type of human being made for the express purpose of rubbing him or her the wrong way! For each of us there is someone specifically designed to irritate us! Will we be Jesus to this person? Will we exhibit the character of Christ who could be patient and bear with—who could cover over, or overlook the fault and continue to love on this person? We must.

This is not an option.

It is a command.

So may you learn the disciplines of forbearance and longsuffering. May you develop the character and mind of Jesus so you will be Jesus to those who exasperate you. May you embrace the jerk, the arrogant, the crude, the silly or whoever most irritates you; and in so doing may you discover you have embraced a Simon or a Saul and loved them into becoming a Peter and a Paul.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Why Did My Savior Come To Earth?

This is one of my favorite songs:

Why did my Savior come to Earth
and to the humble go?
Why did he choose a lowly birth?
Because, he loved me so!

I would like to suggest to you that this does not explain why Jesus died on the cross or what God was doing through the cross. There is no simple explanation for the cross of Christ. We tend to prefer a simple, easy-to-understand explanation to everything—but the cross is anything but simple. We quote John 3:16, “God so love the world he gave his one and only son…” and we say “that’s why Jesus died on the cross!” But that doesn’t explain the purpose. It only gives the motivation. Why a cross? Why suffering? Aren’t there other ways to show love than being tortured to death? When Jesus healed lepers he was showing love. That didn’t require torture! Why death?

There is no way I will be able to unpack all of this in one lesson. In fact, I can only hope to make you curious enough to dig and study. I fear we as Christians have become spiritually lazy. Gone it seems are the days when everyday Christians would stay up late a couple of nights a week to study their Bible and to take on challenging questions for themselves. Instead we read light devotional materials or we subscribe to some Christian magazine or we go to church services to hear a Bible class teacher or preacher tell us what we’ve always heard or believed. The words of the Hebrew writer haunt us (or, at least, they should):

“it is hard to explain because you are slow to learn. In fact, though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you the elementary truths of God’s word all over again …Therefore let us leave the elementary teachings about Christ and go on to maturity, not laying again the foundation of repentance from acts that lead to death, and of faith in God, instruction about baptisms, or the laying on of hands, the resurrection of the dead, and eternal judgment…”

The way we agonize over these topics you’d think they were the deep things of God! But the Hebrew writer says these things are elementary teachings: milk for babies—not solid food!

So I’m going to tease you and hope you will take this and begin your own personal odyssey to delve into the things of God[1]: to give up your favorite TV show, or to turn off the internet, or to get up early or go to bed later and spend time with your Bible (not with devotional literature, a commentary or even a study Bible) and dig into the crucifixion of Jesus.

Ask yourself, why did he have to die?

Three pictures are etched into the story of Jesus’ final journey to Jerusalem: a tree, a temple, and a table. These three pictures give us an inkling into the reasons behind Jesus’ death on a cross. In Mark 11 we read the story of Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem. He enters the Temple, looks around, and then goes outside of town to spend the night in Bethany. The next day he enters Jerusalem and sees a fig tree from a distance. It is in leaf, giving indication it is an early bloomer. Even though it isn’t the season for figs, it gives every indication it has figs. Jesus is hungry so he goes to pick some figs. It has no figs on it, so Jesus curses the tree and says “May no one ever eat fruit from you again.” He then enters into the Temple and sees how it has become a place of commerce and greed—especially in the court of the Gentiles, the only place where the Gentiles can enter to worship God. He then does something no one except the Messiah is allowed to do: he cleans out the Temple condemning all that is happening—and in so doing, condemning those who are in charge of the Temple, the Priests and the Sanhedrin: the rulers of Israel. When they leave the temple the disciples notice the tree Jesus cursed is withered from the roots. Israel has been represented in the prophets as either a grape vine or a fig tree. So what is going on here? Jesus, as God’s representative has judged the rulers of Israel and has judged the Temple itself. As the fig tree is withered from the roots so Israel is destined for destruction. Israel has failed in its mission to be a light for the nations.

Israel is judged as guilty of idolatry. Her leaders have colluded with the pagan power of Rome. The priests, the Herodian dynasty, and even the Pharisees have made a truce with Rome. They keep their authority, power, prestige and commerce by compromising with Rome. But this doesn’t mean Jesus approves of the Galilean Jewish Freedom fighters known as the Zealots or the Sicarii [2]. They, too, are guilty of idolatry, although they would be horrified with the accusation. They have colluded with Rome in a more primal way. Rome has created peace by violence. The Zealots are adopting Rome’s methods to achieve freedom. They are trusting in horses and chariots, swords, clubs, guns and knives—they seek to advance the kingdom of God by force, with violence. Not realizing they are employing the very tactics of paganism.

But even though Israel is judged guilty and condemned by Jesus as God's representative, Jesus as the Messiah—the representative and embodiment of Israel, takes Israel’s punishment on himself. The temple will be destroyed by the Roman armies in 70 A.D., but the temple of Jesus’ body will first be destroyed by a Roman cross. He identifies with the Temple. He will also identify with the revolutionaries by dying the death of a revolutionary. And whose place does he take? A revolutionary named Barabbas. Is it just a coincidence that the name Bar-abba means “son of father”? Jesus becomes the suffering servant who delivers his people by dying for them. Jerusalem, the Temple, and the Sicarii will be destroyed, yet a resurrected Messiah, Jesus will become the ultimate embodiment of the Temple and of God's people.

In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus explains God’s people, Kingdom people, are to eschew violence: turn the other cheek, offer forgiveness, go an extra mile bearing the oppressor’s burden, and to be the light on the hill for everyone to see and thereby glorify God. That was what Israel was supposed to do. But she didn’t. So Jesus did by being silent before his accusers, refusing to strike back, bearing the oppressor’s burden in the shape of a Roman cross, offering forgiveness instead of curses, and being lifted up on a hill for all the nations to see and give glory to God. In fact, isn’t that just what happens when a Roman centurion praises God and says, “this was the son of God”?

Although he is Israel’s representative—he is also the descendant of Abraham who blesses the Gentiles—the nations. If Israel is guilty of worshipping political power, commerce, and violence then what of all of the other nations? They, too are guilty. So Jesus not only stands in Israel’s place, he stands in the place of all nations.

For God so loved the world…

The Temple and the Tree speak of Jesus’ suffering for Israel’s sin and for the sins of the world. But more than that—through embracing the evil behind Rome’s power politics and violence, he turns evil upon itself. By refusing to curse, by refusing to strike back—he allows evil to do its worse and thus evil is totally exhausted and defeated on the very symbol of Rome’s violent power: a cross. It’s here, on a cross, where Paul says the power of God was demonstrated. It is here, on a cross, where the spiritual forces of darkness in the heavenly realms are defeated.[3] Evil burns itself out on Jesus. While evil still exists—it has already been defeated. It’s companions, death and Hades will one day be eternally cast aside as we experience resurrection and the world is made new again—Eden returns.

The third image is that of a table. Following the cursing of the tree and the cleansing of the temple, Jesus sits with his followers at a table for one final meal. But the meal he chooses is the freedom meal—the memorial meal. This meal reminds us again that God suffers for his people. That he comes down among his people who are in captivity and knows their suffering. He experiences it himself. But at the table he creates community. At this table, this final meal, he shows the way for a new community. As Jesus’ body will be resurrected, so Israel will be resurrected and restored—but not in a way previously imagined. After Jesus is raised, the disciples ask him, “Is it now when you are going to restore the kingdom to Israel?” He doesn’t rebuke them. What he does is tell them to wait. Because you see, Israel is going to be renewed and restored. By his wounds we are healed. There will be a resurrected Israel, a new Israel: a community of God. But instead of a kingdom made up of only Jews, it becomes a kingdom uniting both Jew and Gentile—tearing down a wall of hatred that so divided the nations. Now, because of the death of Jesus, we can all sit together at the table and enjoy the Messianic banquet as one people.

Jesus died to restore and redefine the community of God. It is not a community of violence and war, but a community of love and peace. It is a community where there is forgiveness, reconciliation, and joy. Jesus restores Israel. Israel failed to be a light to the nations—but now the redefined community of God serves as that light. By imitating the life of the Messiah, by embracing suffering and unselfish service to each other and to the world—we become the city set on the hill.

And now: so what? How do we respond to what God has done through the cross? There are several lessons we can make of this but I only want to focus on one: we are to become a cross-shaped people. We are to embody that community of the cross. We are to be what Jesus is, what Jesus taught in the Sermon on the Mount: a people who, in the face of opposition turn the other cheek, who offer forgiveness, who bear the burdens of others the extra mile, who become a city set on a hill and through our acts of mercy and kindness become a light to the world.

How is this accomplished? It starts here, but must intentionally spread out to our community. I refer you to another teacher of Israel, a man named Saul of Tarsus, or Paul, the apostle. When he wrote to a community in crisis—who had forgotten about the temple, the tree, and the table he boils all of their problems down into one answer: love.

Read 1 Corinthians 13 below—this is the essence of Jesus. This is what he means when he says, “Love one another.” This is a brief synopsis of what it means to be the community of God. It is the Sermon on the Mount in poetry. Read and ask yourself: does this describe how I treat, how I have treated, or how I plan on treating people in my church? Does this describe the way I interact with people every day?
If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and surrender my body to the flames, but have not love, I gain nothing. Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails.
Why did he drink the bitter cup / of sorrow, pain, and woe? / Why on the cross be lifted up? / Because he loved me so! And, for the sake of his love, he calls us to be the fruitful tree, the faithful temple [4] , and the people who share the same table, by being a cross-shaped people—a people defined by love.

[1] I'll let you decide if these are the deep things of God or not.

[2] For a detailed explanation of who were the Zealots and the Sicarii read Flavius Josephus, Wars of the Jews

[3]Colossians 2

[4] 1 Corinthians 3

Monday, June 16, 2008

A Chip Off The Old Block

One of the saddest songs which came out in the 70s was Harry Chapin’s Cat’s In The Cradle. It was a critique of fathers who were too busy for their own children. The sad justice of the song was a father who was always too busy to spend time with his son discovered his son as an adult became too busy to spend time with him.

Now the typical Fathers’ Day sermon would focus exclusively on failure of dads to spend time on their children. But that’s not the point I want you to notice. The point is in the constant refrain of the song: I’m gonna be like you dad, you know I’m gonna be like you. The last line in the song was and as I hung up the phone it occurred to me: he grown up just like me, my boy was just like me!

Whether we like it or not, we often become just like the people who raise us. Ladies, you know what I’m talking about, don’t you? You swear up and down—“I’ll never act like mom! I’m not going to treat my children the way mom treated me!” Then you have kids and in a critical moment when you’ve come to your wits' end with your kids a scream, or phrase or tone of voice comes through your lips—or you catch a look you give your kids in the mirror. And what do you say? In horror you say—“Was that mom I just heard?!"

The truth is you often grow up to look and act like your parents. Of course as the father of two daughters that used to fill me with dread—especially when I realized how similar my children’s pictures looked like pictures of me as a child. All I could imagine were teenage girls running around with moustaches!

But that’s the nature of things. When you spend most of your life in the presence of certain people, you become like them. The biblical writers understood this. To describe someone as “the son” of someone was to imply that this person was a chip off the old block. If you were nick-named “the son of encouragement” it meant you were someone whose main characteristic was encouragement. If you were “sons of thunder” it might mean you were hot headed, violent, or rather impetuous.

We see this in the Sermon on the Mount and in a few other places in the Bible when Jesus talks of being sons of God or children of our father. The point is: if we are children of God—if God is our father, then it would be natural for us to become just like our father: a chip off the old block. The more we hang around God, the more we begin to develop his character and value systems within.

So what would we become if we were like our Father? If we were a “chip off the old block?”

According to Matthew 5:9 the peace makers will be identified as “sons of God.” Quite simply God is a god of reconciliation. Paul writes the Corinthians saying that God
reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting men’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation.
In other words, if bringing people together is of high value to God—then it should be of high value to us! It is his nature to seek to bring people together both to him and to each other. As children of God we cannot be satisfied to allow ourselves to be at odds with our brothers and sisters and with our neighbors. Jesus restates it in Matthew 5:43-48:
You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? And if you greet only your brothers, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.
What’s it mean to be a chip off the old block—to be like your Heavenly Father? It means you will be a person who places a high value on seeking reconciliation. You will place a high value on being merciful, treating people with love, kindness, and respect—regardless of how they treat you.

But there’s more to being like the Father than seeking reconciliation with others. The more I read the Bible, the clearer it becomes that God is a god who cares for the outcast, the helpless, the victim, the widow and the fatherless. Two passages stand out in my mind: Psalm 10:14, 17-18 and Psalm 68:5—but there are dozens more. Listen to these two passages:

But you, O God, do see trouble and grief; you consider it to take it in hand. The victim commits himself to you; you are the helper of the fatherless…You hear, O LORD, the desire of the afflicted; you encourage them, and you listen to their cry, defending the fatherless and the oppressed, in order that man, who is of the earth, may terrify no more (Psalm 10)...

A father to the fatherless, a defender of widows, is God in his holy dwelling. (Psalm 68)

In the incredibly humorous and beautiful movie Martian Child John Cusak explains to his sister why he, a single man, wants to adopt a very difficult child. She tells him it’s tough being a parent, and sometimes kids suck the life right out of you. He responds,
I get all of the arguments against it. I even get the one that says ‘I don’t want to bring another kid into this world.’ But how do you argue with the logic of loving one that’s already here?
Sounds like something out of the very heart of God.

In the early 50s the Churches of Christ got embroiled in a silly argument about how should churches take care of orphans. Churches actually divided over the issue. The sad thing is both groups had it right and both groups had it wrong. One group said, “Don’t create institutions—we should be taking care of kids ourselves.” The other group said, “But we’re not bringing kids into our homes, we need to set up good Christian based institutions.” And eventually the problem emerged: one group did nothing to care for the fatherless while another group sent money to an institution thinking this was the only solution to the problem.

And then we forgot the hundreds of thousands of kids who are fatherless in America for whom these institutions are useless. They live in single parent households and very few are stepping into the gap to be a father-figure for them. Somehow, I think our Father in Heaven weeps when he sees our lack of response. Or when he hears Christians complain when the church begins to spend money and reach out to those kids over there.

That kind of attitude does not come from the God who is father to the fatherless. And the person who withholds his love to the fatherless and outcast demonstrates a different parentage.

That’s pretty strong, isn’t it Darryl? You tell me. What does James call pure and undefiled religion? Taking care of the fatherless and the widow in their distress. What does God say to the children of Israel in Deuteronomy 27:19? Cursed is the man who withholds justice from the alien, the fatherless or the widow. If we are to be like our father in heaven, then we are to become fathers and defenders of those who are missing parents—whether it be kids in single parent families or actual orphans.

Today’s Fathers’ Day! So fathers I encourage you to model your life after your father in heaven. To all Christians I say the same. Be like your father in heaven. So when your life’s song is sung God will sing over you: He grown up just like me—my child is just like me! I can’t think of a better legacy than that.

So may you be like the Father. May you be a peace maker who lives a life of mercy: loving and forgiving even your enemies. May you be a person who loves on the helpless—who pleads their cause, who takes the fatherless under your wing. May you show the very heart of God. May you be a chip off of his block!

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Seek First His Kingdom

The Chronicles of Narnia are getting a lot of screen play. Now that the second movie Prince Caspian is out in theaters people are beginning to take notice of C. S. Lewis’ classic stories. The exciting thing to me is how the Christian message is being advanced “under the radar” as it were. In the first story, The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe three children stumble into the magic land of Narnia. But all is not well. The true king is Aslan, the Lion—which is clearly a figure depicting Christ. Yet, something is wrong in Narnia. Instead of the land being ruled by Aslan—it is under the control of the White Witch. She has so cursed the land that it is nothing but bitter winter. As the inhabitants say, “Always winter, never Christmas.”

But something amazing begins to happen. Father Christmas appears in Narnia giving gifts! Christmas has arrived. Then slowly but surely plants begin to break through the ice and flowers appear. Father Christmas explains to the wondering inhabitants: "Aslan is on the move! The Witch’s magic is weakening!” It is a picture of the kingdom of God breaking into our world: eternity intersecting time! It was what Jesus preached in Mark 1, the good news of the Kingdom of God! The time is now! The Kingdom is here!

After mankind fell from God’s presence the world was filled with pain and misery. The dominant theme was alienation. We were separated from God, from creation, and from each other. We hurt each other we wound each other we treat each other terribly. But Jesus comes with good news: the kingdom of God is here!

The kingdom of God is not a location or even a group of people. The kingdom of God is anywhere the King’s will is being accomplished. Anywhere his justice lives and is accomplished. It is a picture of the age to come. It is all about wholeness—about reconciliation between man and God, man and creation, and reconciliation between people.

Jesus’ message was all about good news. As Father Christmas tells the children in Narnia, “Aslan is on the move! The witch’s magic is fading!” So we have a similar message: Jesus has come—he is on the move! Satan’s power is overcome! Suddenly God’s kingdom has broken through. The age to come isn’t here just yet, but it’s beginning to crop up. We begin to see evidence of it. The old age hasn’t been completely done away with—but the age to come has broken through. Eternity has intersected time.

So the question that comes to my mind is this: If the kingdom has broken into time, then what is my response supposed to be? Jesus tells us in Matthew 6:33: “Seek first his kingdom and his justice…” This is the response we are to have toward the kingdom of God. Another way to say it is: look intently to find it, strive for it! But what does that mean? How do we strive for the kingdom?

Matthew 5-7 is commonly called the Sermon on the Mount. It is Jesus’ description of the kind of people we are supposed to be if we are citizens of this kingdom of God. It is a description of how we are to strive for his kingdom. In that sermon there are four elements, four actions if you will about how we are to search intently for God’s kingdom.

This is not in sequential order—but one thing we must do is give our total allegiance to Jesus as our Lord. That sounds all well and good—and oh so religious. Think through this. In the first century the common slogan of the Roman world was: Caesar is Lord! He provided peace and economic well being. In such a world it is easy to fall into the trap of worshipping government and economic security. But Jesus points out in Matthew 6:24 that no one can serve two Lords, two masters. You can’t serve God and your economic prosperity. This is so hard for us—but it is truly Christ against culture. And culture is more than just bad movies, nasty songs, pornography, and violence. Culture involves greed, selfishness, comfort, and putting our own wants ahead of the needs of others. Such is the American way—and Jesus stands against it. If we are going to seek first the kingdom and his justice we must give our total allegiance to Jesus.

Secondly it involves living an integrated life. What do I mean by that? To integrate means to bring all the separate parts of our lives together. Too often we’ve divided our lives into pie wedges. We see God and the community as merely a piece of pie—one item in a list of priorities.

But in reality, the kingdom and God is not a wedge out of a pie, but the pie crust, the pie shell that pulls all of these slices together into a meaningful whole. This means everything we do and everything we are is to be wrapped up in God’s kingdom. There is no compartmentalization between “religious” and “secular.” And I don’t mean that occasionally during the week you have a devotional, or you have a Tuesday night Bible study, or that you’ll occasionally share your faith with a friend. It means everything you do is done for the express purpose of glorifying God. Everything you do is worship to God. If you are a welder, you weld for God. The work you produce is to be done as an act of worship specifically for him. If you teach, you teach with your greatest skill for the express purpose of worshipping God—your teaching is an act of worship. When you farm, you treat the earth as if it belongs to God and you use all of your skills to produce beautiful crops that glorify him. If you are a salesman, then you work to serve your clients the way Jesus would serve them. If you are an actor, an artist, or musician every creative work you do is to be done as an act of worship to God. Isn’t this what Paul meant when he said, “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men…It is the Lord Christ you are serving” [Colossians 3:23, 24].

Seeking or striving for the kingdom of God means we will work with all of our energy to maintain our community in Jesus. The old age was marked by alienation. But the kingdom of God is marked by community, reconciliation, and the power of God. In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus calls citizens of the kingdom to love their enemies. When he says
Anyone who is angry with his brother will subject to judgement. Again, anyone who says to his brother ‘Raca’ is answerable to the Sanhedrin. But anyone who says ‘You fool!’ will be in danger of the fire of Hell
what he means is—if you treat people in contemptible ways—if you treat them as completely worthless—then you've made yourself worthless--you’re destined for the trash heap outside of Jerusalem! He then says if you are in the middle of worship and you realize there is a problem between you and your brother—then leave the worship service: quit worshipping and go be reconciled to your brother! It’s that important! Later on in the same sermon he says, don’t always be looking for the faults of others, but be willing to examine your own faults first. Forgive others because if you don’t forgive, you won’t be forgiven either!

I cannot stress enough how important this is to God’s kingdom! If it doesn’t work here—then it doesn’t work. Jesus died to bring people together. The kingdom is here and the dominant theme of kingdom is reconciliation and community. If there is no reconciliation, if people aren’t getting along— then kingdom hasn’t come here. God’s will in heaven is not being done on earth.

Finally, striving for the kingdom involves living out the mission of the kingdom. Jesus says strive for the kingdom and God’s justice (or righteousness). Our mission—and we know our mission, you can’t miss it if you read the Bible at all—is to bring peace and justice to the world, to heal people of their suffering both physical and emotional, to care for the creation, and to love people into God’s kingdom. It involves especially reaching out to the disenfranchised: those nobody wants. It involves putting aside our own comfort and wishes to care for those for whom no one cares. This is the call to make all people groups into followers of Jesus. Love them to Jesus.

Isn’t it time we gave up our own agendas and became kingdom people? The hope of Narnia is that Aslan is on the move, the winter is disappearing, spring is coming—the White Witch’s power if fading. The hope of the world is Jesus is on the move. He has come preaching the good news of the Kingdom of God. His message still rings for us today: The time is now! The Kingdom of God is here! Repent and trust in the good news!

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Life After...What?

[Opening with a video excerpt from the HBO Film Wit starring Emma Thompson and Christopher Lloyd.]

I almost didn’t show this clip. The truth is, it strikes too close to home for me and Terri. It seems recently we’ve been hit with death and scenarios like cancer. The morning after we found about the death of Terri’s brother, a dear friend of ours discovered he had lung cancer.

It seems the older we grow, the more aware we become of death. You look at your class year book and begin to count how many have passed away. Sometimes it’s quicker counting the survivors. You find yourself reading obituaries to see if you’ve lost any friends and you notice the ages in the obits are younger and younger.

It is not as if I experienced less death when I was younger. My parents made certain I went to every funeral they attended—which were quite a few. When I was a sixth grader I remember one of my classmates was electrocuted helping his dad set up a television antennae on his house. As a teenager, one of my classmates was killed in a bar fight. As a Freshman in college, a dear friend was killed in a head-on collision with a drunk driver. Death is a familiar figure—even when I was young.

Even so, death becomes more and more real to us. Maybe we just realize we are living on borrowed time. We know we won’t live forever and we feel the pressure of time rushing past us with ever increasing speed. Death becomes more real and more difficult, I think.

Have you ever wondered about the paradoxes presented at funerals? Preachers who say, “This body really isn’t Joe…” Well, then, if it isn’t Joe, then who is it? We hear phrases like “death has been defeated.” Death has been defeated? I’m looking at a body and thinking, “It looks like death won!” Then we hear funeral messages that seem to indicate victory over death is merely the spirit living with God in Heaven. But if death means the spirit is separated from the body, isn’t this just redefining death? How is this victory over death? Your spirit may be alive, but your body still died.

I think our confusion results from an unhealthy dose of Greek thought that has influenced Christianity for over 500 years. The ancients had a very limited view of death. The early Greeks thought when you died, you were dead. Perhaps a breath escaped and lived in Hades. But the breath wasn’t really you. You weren’t conscious, you had no memories. Heroes might be granted a special life after death but they were the exceptions. Later on, Plato came up with the idea of an eternal soul seeking to be freed from the body. Buying into this idea were several Greek-inspired religions, most notably Gnosticism. The body and the material world were evil while the spirit world was good. It was the ideal to be freed from the body and all things material.

When Paul preaches in Athens he is laughed at not because he taught the soul survived after the body died, but because he taught the resurrection of the dead. Most Greeks during that time believed the soul survived the body; they believed in life after death. The idea of resurrection was radically different from life after death.

However, the late Judaism of the first century, along with Jesus and Paul believed in resurrection. Jesus’ view of resurrection, while appearing to be similar to the Pharisees’ had a unique wrinkle. The Jews of Jesus day believed there would be only one resurrection—all of the righteous would be raised at the end of time and Israel would be restored and the entire world would live in peace with Israel being in the center ruled by the Messiah. They did not conceive that a representative, a first fruit would be raised in the middle of time. Of course this is exactly what happened with the resurrection of Jesus. He was raised from the dead in the middle of time demonstrating something incredible was happening: the in-breaking of the Kingdom of God. Its ultimate fulfillment is still to come, but the power and presence of God has now intersected our present world.

What happened with Jesus changed everything. According to Paul in 1 Corinthians 15:20, Jesus is the first fruit of the resurrection. Quite simply first fruit is an agricultural term referring to the first cutting that points to future harvest. Now, if you have the first fruit of wheat, what kind of crop do you think the second fruit is going to be? Is it going to be rice or beans or corn? No! The second fruit is also going to be wheat! The nature of the second fruit is the same nature as the first fruit. It is the same way with Jesus’ resurrected body and our resurrected bodies (cf. 1 John 3:1ff).

So, what was Jesus’ resurrected body like? While there are some major differences between the body that went into the tomb and the body that came out—it was still the same body. Jesus didn’t slough off a body and leave it in the tomb. Nor is there any indication in scripture that he sloughed off his body when he ascended to the presence of God. What was in the tomb came out of the tomb—changed in incredible ways.

While we have no clear picture, here are a few ways he was changed: he could keep himself from being recognized, he could appear and disappear at will, yet he describes himself as having flesh and bone, he could be touched and felt—that is, he had a physicality about him, he could even eat fish—and all of these descriptions are just found in Luke 24! Furthermore, he never decays or dies.

Perhaps the most detailed explanation of resurrection is found in 1 Corinthians 15. Paul is dealing with a doctrinal problem in this chapter. Some in Corinth are denying the general resurrection of the dead. Paul is emphatic about this issue. In 1 Corinthians 15:12, 13 Paul says:

Now if Christ is preached, that he raised from the dead, how do some among you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? If there is no resurrection of the dead, not even Christ has been raised…
In vv. 20-26 he continues,

But now Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who are asleep. For since by man came death, by a man also come the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ all will be made alive. But each in his own order: Christ the first fruits, after that those who are Christ’s at his coming, then comes the end, when he hands over the kingdom to the God and Father, when he has abolished all rule and all authority and power. For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. The last enemy that will be abolished is death.
Now think this through with me for a moment: if resurrection is merely life after death, that is the survival of the soul in Heaven, then why is death the lat enemy to be defeated? Wouldn’t he already be defeated? Furthermore, what is raised on the last day? Evidently something other than one’s soul is going to be raised when Christ returns! Remember, the Corinthians, coming out of a first century pagan background have no problem in accepting life after death. That isn’t the issue! They have a hard time believing that dead bodies are going to rise again!

But this is precisely Paul’s point! We are not going to be disembodied spirits when Jesus comes back! We will have renewed bodies! They will be our own bodies.

Behold I tell you a mystery; we will not all sleep, but we will all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet; for the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will all be changed. For this perishable must put on the imperishable, and this mortal must put on immortality. But when this perishable will have put on the imperishable, and this mortal will have put on immortality, then will come about the saying that is written, “Death is swallowed up in victory. O death, where is your victory? O death where is your sting?”
So what difference does all of this make? Does it make any difference at all? Actually, it makes quite a bit of difference in how we view the world in which we live and especially how we treat our bodies. Let’s look briefly at some ramifications of the resurrection.

First, belief in the resurrection affects our ethics and morals. In the middle of the resurrection chapter Paul says:

“If the dead are not raised, let us eat and drink for tomorrow we die. Do not be deceived, bad company corrupts good morals.”
He has brought up the resurrection in chapter 6 of the same book when he denounced sex outside of marriage as inconsistent with the resurrection. The truth is, if our bodies are going to be raised—if they are destined to immortality, then shouldn’t we treat them as if they are going to be raised? Shouldn’t we be more concerned about caring for the gift God has given us? Because of the resurrection what we do in the present with our bodies matters a great deal.

Secondly, Paul correlates the redemption of the creation with our resurrection in Romans 8. Creation longs to be redeemed and renewed right along with the redemption of our bodies! So belief in the resurrection also affects how we view the world itself. We live as stewards of the world, taking care of it and maintaining it. When God created the world and when he created our bodies, he created them as “very good.” That pronouncement means they are holy and to be treated with respect. They are not husks and shells containing the soul and meant to be discarded and destroyed. No, they will be renewed and redeemed and should be treated in such a way.

Thirdly, it means our work in the kingdom is not empty! Everything we do, every act of mercy shown, every cup of cold water given, every work of beauty, every word of grace given, and every attempt made at showing God to the world is significant and powerful. Paul ends his discussion of the resurrection with these words: Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your labor in the Lord is not in vain. In other words what we do now has consequences that reach beyond the end of time. What is done “in the Lord” now will continue into God’s future! I love the way theologian N. T. Wright explains it: we are like stone cutters for the great ancient cathedrals in Europe. You may be required to cut out a huge square block; you might be required to carve a gargoyle; you an angel; you a capstone. You don’t know what it’s going to look like—you may even die before the cathedral is constructed (many took over 100 years to complete), but in the end when the architect has it all assembled together, the result is something so magnificent it defies description.

Finally, it means hope and comfort for those who face death. Paul makes this very clear in 1 Thessalonians. The resurrection of the body is a teaching which gives us hope and comfort. One day we will be resurrected along with all of God’s people. The curse of death will actually be reversed. We will know and be known! Death will be defeated and we will live with each other forever.

The movie and play Wit is about a professor of Literature who specializes in the holy sonnets of John Donne.* The one sonnet central to the play goes like this:

DEATH be not proud, though some have called thee
Mighty and dreadful, for, thou art not so,
For, those, whom thou think'st, thou dost overthrow,
Die not, poor death, nor yet canst thou kill me.
From rest and sleep, which but thy pictures be,
Much pleasure, then from thee, much more must flow,
And soonest our best men with thee do go,
Rest of their bones, and souls delivery.
Thou art slave to Fate, Chance, kings, and desperate men,
And dost with poison, war, and sickness dwell,
And poppy, or charms can make us sleep as well,

And better than thy stroke; why swell'st thou then;
One short sleep past, we wake eternally,
And death shall be no more, death thou shalt die.

So, may you live your life aware of the bright hope placed before you. Death is a defeated foe! We do not have to stare into a deep, dark hole. Jesus has been raised from the dead and his resurrection guarantees ours! May you be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your labor in the Lord is not in vain!
*The movie version of Wit gets this one thing wrong: the idea of life after death is presented subtly as merely the soul's survival after death. But Donne was the lead clergyman (the dean) of St. Paul's Cathedral. He held a Doctorate of Divinity and he believed orthodox Christian belief regarding the resurrection. So in his sonnets his depiction of death as "one short sleep" is not just the initial act of dying, but he period between death and the final resurrection at the end of time. (See N. T. Wright, Surprised by Hope p. 15)

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Return from Sabbatical

That almost sounds like the title of a B-grade Western!

Well, it is good to be back after six weeks of sabbatical. A big "thank you" to my elders and the congregation for giving me the time off.

It will be a little while before I start downloading transcripts from my sermons! I've got to get back in the groove from my sabbatical.

Next Sunday's sermon will not be downloaded. It is a presentation that relies heavily upon material by James Choung's presentation of the gospel narrative. I recommend you go to and check out his book True Story and the brief video clip which goes along with it.

Choung's gospel presentation serves as a wonderful alternative to the old "cross bridge" many people used to share their faith. It presents a fuller view of God's story of redemption and takes the emphasis off of individualism, giving a more biblical picture.