Tuesday, November 25, 2008
Michael Vick--He spent enough time in jail to learn his lesson. Let him get back to his life and to the football field.
Willie Nelson and Burt Reynolds--for any tax evasion fees that are still left. Willie should not have to crank out 2-3 poorly done albums a year just to pay bills.
Leonard Peltier--falsely accused of insurrection and murder at Wounded Knee uprising in 1973
Any you think should be pardoned still?
Monday, November 24, 2008
In particular, her discussion about worshipping with the Clinton's at Foundry Methodist was interesting, well-writen, and at times moving:
And before Clinton haters work themselves into a frothing state of outrage, they should know this: I started attending Foundry after the Lewinsky scandal, when I was incredibly disappointed in Clinton and furious with him for putting his staff and other Democratic politicians in the position of lying for him. I joined the church despite, not because of, the fact that the Clintons went there as well.
Yet the experience of attending church with the president led me to eventually see him not as a corrupt or immoral leader, but as a fellow child of God, a sinner like the rest of us. On the Sunday that I joined the church, I was seated in the pew just in front of Bill and Chelsea Clinton. I spent the service listening to the president sing too loudly and slightly off-key (just like my own dad) with his daughter elbowing him (just like me). I turned around at the sound of scribbling during the sermon to see him jotting notes in his Bible. And when it came time for communion, I was powerfully affected. All of us--president, senator, student, welfare mom--drank from the same cup, shared the same sacrament. "His blood, shed for you," was the sentiment offered to each of us. Shed for me, shed for the president, shed for any who would come forward. For the first time, I understood the humanizing (in every sense) and equalizing aspects of the act of communion.
Friday, November 21, 2008
God of Second Chances…and third…and fourth
A Baptist preacher and his wife decided to get a new dog. Ever mindful of the congregation, they knew the dog must also be a Baptist. They visited kennel after kennel and explained their needs. Finally, they found a kennel whose owner assured them he had just the dog they wanted.
The owner brought the dog to meet the pastor and his wife. 'Fetch the Bible,' he commanded. The dog bounded to the bookshelf, scrutinized the books, located the Bible, and brought it to the owner.
'Now find Psalm 23,' he commanded. The dog dropped the Bible to the floor, and showing marvelous dexterity with his paws, leafed through, and finding the correct passage, pointed to it with his paw.
The pastor and his wife were very impressed and purchased the dog.That evening, a group of church members came to visit. The pastor and his wife began to show off the dog, havinghim locate several Bible verses. The visitors were very impressed.One man asked, 'Can he do regular dog tricks, too?'
'I haven't tried yet,' the pastor replied.He pointed his finger at the dog..'HEEL!' the pastor commanded. The dog immediately jumped on a chair, placed one paw on the pastor's forehead and began to howl.
The pastor looked at his wife in shock and said, 'Good Heaven's, he's Pentecostal!
Isn't it a blessing that we can gather here as Baptist and Catholic, Methodist and Christian Church, Assmblies and Lutheran, as a united church of Jesus celebrating a common trust in our Lord Jesus Christ this evening. Praise the Lord. What a blessing tonight is
Read Luke 4: 14-30
The year 1991 was a good year. It was the year I graduated from high school. It was also the year a movie called City Slickers
came out. City Slickers was a movie about Mitch, a man who had just turned 40, who was played by Billy Crystal. He and his friends, who were all close to the same age, decide to go from the big city out to the country for this "dude ranch" kind of experience. Each of the men was struggling. They were dealing with typical mid-life issues, and all of them were in some state of personal crisis. Probably the best character in the movie is the head of this ranching operation, a man named Curly played by Jack Palance—a role for which Palance won an Oscar award. At one point in the movie, the assistant ranch hands, in absence of the Curly, get in a drunken, violent confrontation with these tourists. This confrontation sends one of the toursists, Phil, into a place of emotional distress. Phil begins to feel overwhelmed with his struggling marriage, his feelings of powerlessness in dealing with the men they were confronting, and deep-seated issues from way back in his childhood.
Billy Crystal's character, Mitch, and the rest of his friends, are sitting in the tent with Phil while he in a state of emotional collapse. Phil starts talking about how he is nearing 40 and his life is a waste. Mitch reminds him about when they would play games as a child. And sometimes they would be playing ball and the ball would get stuck in the tree. And then everyone would declare that the whole play in the game was a "do over". Mitch explains to Phil that he can have a do-over with his life if he chooses to do that. Phil is not sure that the do-over is practical, but he mulls it over.
The Bible has a lot to say about do-overs. It has a lot to say about do-overs because our God is a God of second chances.
In the Old Testament, in the law of God, in the book of Leviticus, there are a number of festivals that are mentioned. None is as radical as the year of Jubilee. The year of Jubilee happened about every 50 years. Or at least it was supposed to happen every fifty years. And in that year, people would be forgiven their debts. And if they sold their family land, the family would be given the land back. In that time people would sell themselves into slavery to pay their bills. God commanded that in addition to debt relief these bondservants would be set free. God tells Moses, that in this nation that was being formed to follow him and reflect his name, that his people would know that God was merciful and God was just. Even more than that, they would know that God was one who loved to see his people repent, and to offer them new starts. Do-overs. Because, you see, our God is a God of second chances. He offered second chances then. He offers second chances now. Our God is a God of second chances.
Well, there is not a lot of proof that the Hebrew people ever practiced what God commanded them to do. And we cannot be too hard on them, because I think we would have a hard time doing this as well. As a matter of fact, as we keep studying through our Bible, we see that the people of God had a hard time following God's commands in all sorts of ways. The people would turn away. God would not bless them. They would suffer. They would repent. God would deliver them. Over and over again God would deliver them. For centuries this happened. God would deliver them because our God is a God of second chances..and third chances…and fourth chances….
It got to a point in the Hebrew nation when they came under the thumb of these massive empires. There was opportunity for God's people to be delivered from these oppressors, who sought to overrun them. God sent prophets to warn them. The people did not listen. It is from the past that Isaiah prophecies hope to the people of Israel after they are taken captive by the Babylonians and Assyrians. And Isaiah speaks the prophecy that was read earlier. Even though you are in captivity, God has a plan to set you free. God has a plan to return you to your land that the Lord promised to your forefathers way back in times of Moses. He has a plan to heal your broken heart. Isaiah 61:2 says that they want to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor.
The year of the Lord's favor is the year of Jubilee. Even though God's people were unfaithful, God is faithful still. And when he tells them about how he is going to take them back from exile to the Promised Land, he says he is going to make it a Jubilee Year. A year where captives go free. Where people can go back and live in the land that they lost the generation before. God says, even though you have sinned as my people, even though you have betrayed me as a people, I am going to give you a second chance. God does this because our God is a God of second chances.
When we come to Luke 4. Jesus goes to his hometown synagogue. He stands up to read the Scripture. He reads the passage from Isaiah 61:1-2. He rolls up the scroll. He sits down to teach. All eyes were on him. All ears are listening. And what are the first words that come out of his mouth. "Today, this Scripture is fulfilled in your hearing".
Well Jesus goes on. We only get highlights of the rest of the sermon. But the people get angry enough that they almost throw him off of a cliff. Literally.
Why? Because this promise of returning from exile in Isaiah was also understood as a prophecy about the coming of the Messiah. The Son of Man. The Son of God.
Jesus, when he grabs the scroll, and says that "Today this Scripture is fulfilled in your hearing", what Jesus is saying is that he, in his own person, is the embodiment of this promise. He is the one who binds up the broken hearted. He is the one who sets the captive free. He is the one who brings good news to the poor. He is the Messiah. He is the one who comes to offer the world a second chance. Our God in the flesh, our baby Jesus that we will celebrate next month, comes to offer the world a second chance.
Furthermore, Jesus comes and he says, at the same time, through what he says in this sermon of his, that this is his mission statement. People try to make Jesus about a lot of different agendas. A lot of different political agendas. A lot of different social agendas. A lot of different personal agendas. At times these agendas are in tune with Biblical truth. At times the agendas are in tune with the Spirit's leading. At times they are not. But more than anything. Jesus comes to offer us, each and every one of us, a second chance. A chance to be new Creation. A Chance to be born again. A chance to have a new life. A new hope. A new future. We are given this through choosing to accept the invitation to have Jesus as our Lord and Savior. We are given a second chance by following Jesus instead of following the ways of the World. We are given hope by our God who has always been, and who will always be a God of second chances.
As we come to Thanksgiving, we remember a group of people coming to America seeking freedom to practice their Christian faith as they felt led to live it by God's Holy Spirit. They came to America for a new start. They had a difficult go of things the first year. They were not sure they were going to survive. But God provided. God provided a new hope and a new life for them in a new place. On Thanksgiving we celebrate more than anything, that these people were able to come to America and have a new start. A new start. More than anything to be thankful for when we celebrate Thanksgiving we need to celebrate the opportunity to have a second chance…and a third chance…and a fourth chance. More than anything on Thanksgiving, we need to remember our God is a God of second chances.
Not all of our relatives came over on the Mayflower. But most of us have a heritage that brought us here from somewhere else, as people seeking a new start, a new hope, and a second chance. And that is why we celebrate Thanksgiving with joy and hope. As Americans we have family that not only came to America from England, but we have parts of our population that came to America from all over Europe, Latin America, Asia and Africa. Some people from many of these different groups are represented here tonight. My relatives, on my mother's side, came to America from Germany. And not under good circumstances. They were poor. And they were hungry. And so they went on the land owned by the king, and poached the elk on his land. This made the Kaiser very mad. And so they ran. They moved. They ran across Germany, somehow found a boat, and came across with thousands of other immigrants in the early to mid 1800s to America for a new start. Soon after, they discovered new faith by all becoming Methodists as they headed west—homesteading in the Oregon Territory. They were criminals probably headed for prison. They became farmers and faithful Christians in a land full of hope and promise. A place where God offered them a second chance—both with their day to day living, and with their hope for eternity. Why. Because in all of our lives, our God is a God of second chances.
As a ministerial alliance, we celebrate our God as a God of second chances. We put together food banks and thanksgiving baskets together. We do this to offer hope and love to be people who have been dealt a little rougher hand than the rest of us. Why? Because if we are about following Jesus we are about offering compassion to the brokenhearted. We are about giving people a little bit of a hand that might otherwise be forgotten. We are about communicating that Jesus offers us love and hope. We are about serving a God who is a God of second chances.
We also gather in worship on special occasions, especially occasions like Thanksgiving , Missouri Day, and Good Friday. And we celebrate in worship the God who offers us new hope and new life. We do this in worship together because we are united in believing that our God is a God of second chances.
We are so united in this attitude, as a matter of fact, that as a ministerial alliance, we have put together a new statement of faith and mission statement this year. We did this to be clear to the world that we are all about God-honoring, Bible-believing, faithful Christianity. We also did this because we want to continue to extend an open hand and open arms to other churches in this community who have chosen not to be a part of our ministerial alliance. We want to make it clear that the things that may have divided us in the past do not have to divide us now. That we believe that God offers second chances, even in our fellowship with one another. Because our God is a God of second chances.
And you know what, God does not just offer second chances to people far off, he does not just offer do-overs to people in movies, he does not just offer new starts to people in generations gone by, or through ministerial alliances and food banks. God offers new starts and new hope to people like you and I each and every day.
When Jennifer and I would have a Sunday off from church when we were serving in Colorado Springs, we liked to attend this little Covenant church plant on the north side of town. The motto of the church was, "a good place to start….or start over."
I don't know about you, but there are several days where I feel like I have messed everything up. I got offended with someone. I was short with my wife. I yelled at the dog. I had the opportunity to really show God's love to someone, and I missed it. Or sometimes, I have a confrontation with someone. Or feel like I am pathetic and hopeless. And, I wonder….I wonder….how to keep going. And I go to sleep at night. And I wake up in the morning. And I know that today is a new day, and in this new day God has given me a new start…a do over… a second chance.
God offers you a second chance this Thanksgiving as well. A second chance as you sit with your family to be a better father, a better mother, a more loyal child, a more loving, selfless grandparent. God offers you a second chance this thanksgiving to choose to be the person he has MADE you to be. Our God is a God of second chances.
I am here because God gave me a second chance. I wasn't in the church cradle roll. I did not grow up with an extended family that attended worship just because…My parents split when I was in kindergarten. We grew up with very little income at times, and we barely got by. My mother had an off again on again relationship with the church. My father left church in late grade school, when he was an altar boy and saw this the priest he served under be a belligerent drunk to the people he served. But God's people found us somehow, and in spite of the fact that the church was not perfect, it was a church that offered us love and hope. It pointed me to Jesus, and reminded me weekly that Jesus always offers a second chance
And, as an evangelical Christian pastor, I don't believe that being a member of a church makes you a Christian any more than being in a garage makes you a car. I believe that there is someone here—at least one—who has been a member of a church all your life, but has never been born again. Has never accepted that second chance that Jesus offers. A chance to accept Christ and follow him. Today, I tell you…it is not too late. It is not to late to surrender your life to Jesus. Because being a member of a church is not going to save your soul. Choosing to have a personal relationship with Jesus where he is your Master and Savior will. Will you accept Jesus today. Will you let down your mask, and choose to accept Jesus into your heart today. Will you become a new creation. Will you come to Jesus, and say I have tried to do everything right on my own power, but I need Jesus. I need the second chance he offers. Come to your pastor after the service and accept Jesus today. Trust that even for you, that God comes and offers a second chance. Because our God is a God of second chances.
No where does that God of second chances show his self more than he does through Jesus on the cross. Who suffered and died a brutal death to take the sins of the world upon himself. Who, as we beat him and mocked him and spat upon him cried out "Forgive them father, for they don't know what they are doing." Even as he suffered, Christ is begging the father to give us a second chance. And his prayer is granted, as we can see through the resurrection. The power of death good not hold him. He had to rise again. To show us new hope. To give us a second chance.
And that truth….that hope…that good news. O, my friends, that is something to be thankful for.
Ted Stevens was recently convicted on not telling the truth about failing to communicate in the past. His conviction may well be overturned. I think Bush will pardon him in January. He may well deserve to be voted out of office. But, he also deserves honor for all he has done for his state and country. Ted has served in the senate for 40 years, all but 10 years of Alaska's statehood. He also served one term in the House of Representatives. He has been a senator for 1/6 of our nations existence. Yes, he had some friends do pro-bono work on his home. But he spent years in the Senate working hard for Alaskans. People criticize him for getting a little too good at bringing home earmarks and funding for projects, but most of those people come from states that had most of their infrastructure built in the 1930s and 1950s. Alaska missed out on that. They still are trying to build infrastructure in Alaska. When I moved to Alaska in the 1980s, many of the main thoroughfares in Soldotna were just getting paved (Binkley Street for instance, and there is still a lot of infrastructure to be built. People should share their appreciation for a man who gave his life serving his country. The criticisms of Senators clapping for Stevens as he retired from the Senate is woefully ignorant, and nothing but vitriol of bitter partisans.
As for Palin, lets just leave the gal alone. Today, people were complaining because she gave an interview while turkeys were being slaughtered in the background. They thought that her down to earth interview was tacky and inhumane. C'mon folks. Grow up. If you want polished political stuff with staged backgrounds, do not go to Alaska. If you want someone who is polished and refined for national office, do not pick a Vice Presidential candidate from the last frontier. I was not a big fan of Palin's readiness to lead, but I continue to be irritated by the self-righteous, condescending way the media treats the poor gal. And, I think that media treatment will in the end make Palin more likeable and sypathetic to people, not less.
Wednesday, November 19, 2008
This last week, I reread (well listened) to Blue Like Jazz while in the car. I had a trip into Rocky Ford, another one into La Junta, and a trip back and forth to Denver. It is a good book. Better than I thought in fact.
The first time I read the book I read it reluctantly. I had heard a few good things about it, but I had read his book called "Jesus and the Art of Volkswagon Maintenence". I read the Volkswagon book all the way through, in part because Mr. Miller was a popular speaker at George Fox, where I had some students from my youth group going to school at the time. I was not impressed with that first book. As a matter of fact, when I finished I said outloud, "If that is what it takes to get published, I can write at least that well."
Anyway, I read the second book when I had some time off transitioning from the church in Belgrade to the church in Colorado Springs. I was surprised that Blue Like Jazz was a HUGE improvement from the first draft of that first book, and enjoyed it immensely. I had no idea Blue Like Jazz was going to become the phenomenon in continues to be when I read it in 2003. When I read through the book the first time, I was especially impressed with the confession chapter. I was also pleased with the transition of the tone of the author. The writing in Volkswagon is something staged, and written for conservative evangelical young adults who want to go on a road trip. Blue Like Jazz is raw, wide-open honest book written for a much more progressive, emergent kind of audience. I really enjoyed Blue Like Jazz. Enough so that when Becca told me she thought that Miller sounded familiar, and then realized that she thought Miller's tone was similar to my own, I was was mildly complimented. (Since then Miller's writing has contined to improve, where my writing might have gotten worse)
As I reread (listened) to Blue Like Jazz this time around, I disovered Miller's book was even better upon a second reading. I was able to hear the theological threads kind of running through it. In particular, I came to understand that the book is in many ways a narrative theology of sin. It is also a spiritual autobiography. What Miller does is explain what sin is, the importance of confronting and dealing with our sins, not as a preacher but as a confessor. Over and over again in each chapter he comes back to this theme. He does this in an amazingly humble way, laying his soul bare. He commends the Christian faith as a sinner, and not a saint. A likeable sinner, but a sinner nontheless. He commends faith not through his strength, but often through his failures, weaknesses and foibles. In the process, he teaches the truth of God's grace through humility instead of arrogance. With lots of laughs and smiles as you go along.
I have read other books of his since. My favorite is still "To Own a Dragon", which moves me even upon several readings. I am not sure I have the courage to be as open and honest as Donald Miller is in his writings.
His writing has improved immensely, and continues to improve with each book. Now I consider Becca's compliment one of the greatest compliments I have ever recieved. As a matter of fact, I went to the store yesterday and picked up the Volkswagon book all over again. He has totally reworked it, and it now has the title "Through Painted Deserts".
Monday, November 17, 2008
The question is, should I send my books back? I hate going through all the customer service, spending lots of time repackaging and mailing the books back. Downloading mailing labels. Going to the post office.
Do I have a moral obligation to return the books, especially since I recieved them due to poor customer service? Or should I quietly reap the benefit of duplicate books?
What do you think?
Sunday, November 16, 2008
Uncle Paul's Two-Step
Ok, folks. I have decided to do something a little unorthodox this morning. I am actually going to read this passage through twice. I am going to read this once through in the New King James Version, which is your pew Bible. Then I am going to read this passage again in the Message, a more contemporary translation. I will be referring to both ways of wording what God's word says here—so take time and listen to God's word from Colossians 3:1-17.
First, the New King James Version
1 If then you were raised with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ is, sitting at the right hand of God. 2 Set your mind on things above, not on things on the earth. 3 For you died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. 4 When Christ who is our life appears, then you also will appear with Him in glory.
5 Therefore put to death your members which are on the earth: fornication, uncleanness, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry. 6 Because of these things the wrath of God is coming upon the sons of disobedience, 7 in which you yourselves once walked when you lived in them.
8 But now you yourselves are to put off all these: anger, wrath, malice, blasphemy, filthy language out of your mouth. 9 Do not lie to one another, since you have put off the old man with his deeds, 10 and have put on the new man who is renewed in knowledge according to the image of Him who created him, 11 where there is neither Greek nor Jew, circumcised nor uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave nor free, but Christ is all and in all.
12 Therefore, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, put on tender mercies, kindness, humility, meekness, longsuffering; 13 bearing with one another, and forgiving one another, if anyone has a complaint against another; even as Christ forgave you, so you also must do. 14 But above all these things put on love, which is the bond of perfection. 15 And let the peace of God rule in your hearts, to which also you were called in one body; and be thankful. 16 Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom, teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord. 17 And whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him.
And now the Message
1-2 So if you're serious about living this new resurrection life with Christ, act like it. Pursue the things over which Christ presides. Don't shuffle along, eyes to the ground, absorbed with the things right in front of you. Look up, and be alert to what is going on around Christ—that's where the action is. See things from his perspective.
3-4Your old life is dead. Your new life, which is your real life—even though invisible to spectators—is with Christ in God. He is your life. When Christ (your real life, remember) shows up again on this earth, you'll show up, too—the real you, the glorious you. Meanwhile, be content with obscurity, like Christ.
5-8And that means killing off everything connected with that way of death: sexual promiscuity, impurity, lust, doing whatever you feel like whenever you feel like it, and grabbing whatever attracts your fancy. That's a life shaped by things and feelings instead of by God. It's because of this kind of thing that God is about to explode in anger. It wasn't long ago that you were doing all that stuff and not knowing any better. But you know better now, so make sure it's all gone for good: bad temper, irritability, meanness, profanity, dirty talk.
9-11Don't lie to one another. You're done with that old life. It's like a filthy set of ill-fitting clothes you've stripped off and put in the fire. Now you're dressed in a new wardrobe. Every item of your new way of life is custom-made by the Creator, with his label on it. All the old fashions are now obsolete. Words like Jewish and non-Jewish, religious and irreligious, insider and outsider, uncivilized and uncouth, slave and free, mean nothing. From now on everyone is defined by Christ, everyone is included in Christ.
12-14So, chosen by God for this new life of love, dress in the wardrobe God picked out for you: compassion, kindness, humility, quiet strength, discipline. Be even-tempered, content with second place, quick to forgive an offense. Forgive as quickly and completely as the Master forgave you. And regardless of what else you put on, wear love. It's your basic, all-purpose garment. Never be without it.
15-17Let the peace of Christ keep you in tune with each other, in step with each other. None of this going off and doing your own thing. And cultivate thankfulness. Let the Word of Christ—the Message—have the run of the house. Give it plenty of room in your lives. Instruct and direct one another using good common sense. And sing, sing your hearts out to God! Let every detail in your lives—words, actions, whatever—be done in the name of the Master, Jesus, thanking God the Father every step of the way.
Following Jesus is not always as easy as it sounds. At least it isn't for me. God, by his grace does not let me think it is easy anyway. Oh, there are times when I think that I am really doing well. I am saying the right things, I am thinking the right thoughts, I am doing the right things at the right times. I think to myself…"Clint, you are a pretty good guy. I am impressed with all that you do. You chose to be kind to that person who you can't stand. You are being patient. You are working hard. You talked on the phone with your mother and did not smart off…" I tell myself these kinds of things inside my head for a little bit. Then reality comes along and smacks me upside the head. I find myself marching around, mumbling under my breathe, angry about something that is very small in the eternal scheme of things. I let it get a couple of hours or even a couple of days of my time. And I realize that there is a lot of my life, a lot of my heart, and a lot of my attitude that still needs to be turned over to God.
For the last two chapters of the book of Colossians, we have listened as God has pointed us to Jesus through his Word. God's Word has told us about the power of Jesus, the importance of what Christ has done, about how Jesus is our foundation and our hope. As we listen, many of us can believe that. We can agree. We can shout Amen. We can study it. We can know God's Word inside and out. And yet, we can fail to live what we know.
The Apostle Paul points out a few different ways that we can miss the mark in following Jesus in Colossians Chapters 2 and 3. I want to take a look at these, as well as the proper direction to take as we follow Christ.There is so much here in Chapter 3, I could preach this same passage several times. I might do that. But, I won't try to do that this morning.
What I want to talk with you about is what I call "Uncle Paul's Two-Step". In several of his letters, but especially in Galatians 5-6 and here, the Apostle Paul works very hard to keep people from drifting to one extreme or the other in their attempt to follow God, and thus miss the mark of being in a powerful, living relationship with him. In this part of Scripture it is like God is saying through the Apostle Paul—not like this—or like that---but like this.
As you will remember last week we talked a little bit about legalism. At the end of Colossians Chapter 2 the Apostle Paul counsels very strongly against legalism. He reminds us that when we accept Christ we are free from the law. Why does he do this?
Because when we choose to follow Jesus, one of the easy pitfalls to fall into in understanding what Christianity is all about is too think it is about a bunch of rules. With the Colossians they were being pressured into possibly having adult males circumcised (which by the way, would probably not be the best church growth strategy)and going back to obeying all sorts of ceremonial rules.
For me legalism came easy in other ways, especially in my teenage years. Part of this was due to the church I went to. I attended a church where any music that was in any way contemporary in style was evil. Non-Christian or Christian. And if I listened to them, I was somehow stumbling as Christian. I vividly remember the shame I felt when I was listening to an Amy Grant album in the mid 80's thinking I was doing a worshipful Christian thing, only to be shamed for doing it by the youth leaders of our church. No shorts were ever allowed at any church activity, no matter how informal the activity was, and how hot the weather was outside. Girls and boys had to swim separately, and the pool was a hike away from the camp so that the girls and guys would not be provoked to lust over one another by actually seeing one another's legs. The King James Version was the only version I was allowed to read, devotionally or in church. Dances were wrong. Only Christian music was allowed. There were proof texts for this I was told. I remember one young man, who had come to church nearly every week, being yelled at from the pulpit by the preacher for 5 minutes because he had an earring in his ear. I could go on and on about this, and I am sure that some of the disciplines that the church of my childhood instilled in me you would agree with as even helpful and healthy, and some you would disagree with as excessively stringent and legalistic. In the middle of this, I had a mother that clearly was ministered to by the church, but did not buy into all the "rules" of the church, for better or for worse. She told us that the rules against shorts was silly, and that the pastor didn't even have his kids follow it all the time. She did not give up on Linda Ronstadt or Elvis. She still had wine and beer with her friends, though I never saw her drink more than one or two drinks. This created all sorts of internal conflict for me. My mom, I decided, was less godly than I. But someone I still had to obey to follow the rules. This attitude created lots of arguments between us, and she will say were some of the more difficult years in raising me.
The point is, as a teenager, especially in my early teen years, Christianity was less about having a relationship and more about following a set of rules. I did not listen to any music on the radio that was not Christian. I threw away all my early 80s music, including that Weird Al Yankovich album I loved. And, I was not shy about telling other people how wrong they were if they listened to "secular" music. In addition to youth group, church and Sunday School, I also attended the Wednesday Night Adult Bible Study and helped the pastor and the music director set up the church for an hour on Sunday morning. I told other people they should do the same. And gave fellow church members guilt trips whenever they were not living up to my standards—in the name of Jesus of course. Pretty soon, I began to see myself as the rule enforcer for everyone. Telling them that if they went to a different church, they probably did not believe in Jesus. Especially if it was affiliated with any sort of denomination. If they did not read the King James, they were going to used by the Antichrist to form his one world government that would signal the end of the world. I was faithful to the rules, but I was not very loving.
The problem was, as you might guess, that not only was I lonely kid at that point, but I had a warped view of God. I knew that I had been saved at that point, in spite of the fact that I sinned. But I viewed God as a God who was looking down from heaven, waiting to catch me doing something wrong. And when anything went wrong, it was because God was punishing me for being a bad person. So I kept having to work harder and harder, following more and more rules, to get God to love me. He was like I perceived my earthly father at that age, distant, hard to read, and hard to please.
I tell you all this so that you can see the problem with legalism. Legalism teaches that you are saved by grace, but you should still live by the Law. It gives God control of your eternity, but when you are legalistic your whole Christian life now is all about you working hard enough to be good enough. You don't depend on God. You try to live in your own power.
That is why Colossians 3:1 says, "1
If then you were raised with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ is, sitting at the right hand of God. 2 Set your mind on things above, not on things on the earth.
OR as the Message puts it so well
So if you're serious about living this new resurrection life with Christ, act like it. Pursue the things over which Christ presides. Don't shuffle along, eyes to the ground, absorbed with the things right in front of you. Look up, and be alert to what is going on around Christ—that's where the action is. See things from his perspective.
So….then what happens when a person rejects legalism? I started moving away from my legalistic heritage in my college experiences. And, even more so by the time I got in ministerial school. When you move away from legalism, it is easy to overcorrect. Like when you skid on the road because of ice, one of the biggest mistakes is to oversteer in the other direction. The results can put you in a tailspin. This is what Paul was concerned about with some of the Colossians. It is also something that we need to guard against. When we move away from a legalistic spirituality, it can be easy to fall into an attitude of "Christ has set me free, so I am free to do whatever I want". Which also runs counter to the good news of Jesus.
You know what it is like. The kind of relationship where we do what we want and then ask forgiveness later. As Protestants, we talk about how Catholics can do this with confession quite a bit. That Catholics can do whatever they please, and then they just go to confession. But often, Baptists are guilty of the same things. We do what we want to do, and then ask forgiveness afterward, only to do that same wrong thing over and over again. When we ask forgiveness, we have no intention of changing our ways. We just want to do what we want to do, no matter if it is wrong or not, and then ask God for forgiveness and freedom from the consequences after we have done exactly the opposite of what his Word teaches us.
We want God to save our souls for eternity, but we want to do what we want to do in the mean time. This is the opposite of the resurrection life that God has for us as well. It is a life that takes Jesus' cross for granted. It is the kind of way of living that makes no difference in the world, offers no hope to those lost in lives without the truth of Christ.
You will notice as you read through these, that two particular families of sin are identified. One family that are mentioned are sexual sins. Paul lists of several different kinds of sins that deal with our sex lives. He also mentions several kinds of sins that have to do with how we use our words. He mentions a few other sins. All of the sins he mentions that are the opposite of the Way of Jesus are sins that are about a loss of self-control and discipline.
When we choose to live with no boundaries, we treat God as our codependent instead of our Master. We do whatever we feel like, not caring about anyone but ourselves, and then expect God to bail us out for whatever we do—whether it is his will or not. We take God for granted.
So if we are not supposed to be legalistic, trying to discover and follow all sorts of rules and traditions, and we are not supposed to be people who accept Christ and just do whatever feels right, what are we supposed to do?
Well, we are supposed to be led by the Spirit. We are supposed to above all "put on love". Not a sappy sentimental kind of love. But the kind of love that passionately loves the Word of God and bases their lives on it, that loves the Lord so much we are constantly seeking to do his will. And a kind of love that spills out in how we treat one another. Eager to do right, but also eager to forgive. The kind of love that hopes for the best for people, but the kind of love that is patient with people when they disappoint us. The kind of love that sees people in need, and reaches out to help them. The kind of love that when it sees someone being treated unfairly, choses to help make that thing right for them.
What kind of people are we called to be. We are called to be the kind of person that chooses to be not living under our own rules and power, or controlled by our desires and passions, but driven and controlled by the love of Christ.
How does that happen? Well…we are going to need a couple more weeks to figure all that out, but for right now, I want you to be aware of the imagery the Bible text gives us. The Bible says to "put on" this, and "take off" that when it talks about how we are going to live here. And the Message gets it right. It is talking about taking off and putting on clothes. Specifically, it is talking about a baptism ritual. But it also points to something for us in our living.
We need to take time to make a daily commitment to live in love. Like we put on our clothes and get ready for each day, we need to make a conscious commitment to be guided and led by the Spirit in loving God and loving others every day. Each day, we need to remind ourselves not to miss being in relationship with Christ by making our lives about a bunch of rules for ourselves and judgments of other people. Each day, we need to remember not to take Christ and his death on the cross for granted by doing whatever we please whenever we choose to do it. Each day, we need to remember v1.
Seek Christ. Seek where he is at. Seek to join him in what he is doing . Seek to love him and please him. Seek to know Jesus more. Don't ignore Him. Don't try and do life without him.
Today and each day he offers you new hope and new life. Don't walk around, getting caught up in what is going on around you. Look to what Jesus is about. Look to what Jesus is doing. And join him in it. With Hope. With Joy. With Love. In Faith.
Trust him enough to let go. Trust him enough to let him lead you. Trust him now. Trust Jesus today. Trust him. Trust him.
Wednesday, November 12, 2008
As I was walking the dog, I was thinking about how I have had to utilize different teaching techniques with my congregation.
With youth, having a variety of teaching techniques is both easy to carry out and necessary. I tended to always fall back on a small group discussion model with peer groups of about the same size and if big enough, also gender. But I also felt it important to have a variety of different learning experiences. They included devotional talks, debates, working on projects, multimedia presentations, and imaginative prayer exercises, to name a few.
With our young adult small groups, we kind of had this free form inductive bible study. I did most of the inductive study on my own, and wrote discussions that helped the young adults bring their lives alongside the work of God and lives of his people in Scripture. The goal was to see their story as a part of the story of God, and to get to know the Bible in a way where it really connected with what was going on in their lives. It was not so much steps to better living as it was trusting the Spirit speak through the group with me as the expert and tour guide.
I started out with the plan to do this same kind of dynamic bible discovery with the adults here in Fowler. Things have not worked that way.
Our Sunday School curriculum, in my opinion, is dreadful. It is a quarterly written by David C. Cook. It is primarily reading a very narrow and didactic text that is a simple commentary on a part of Scripture. Its approach is to ask a few content questions, and then write a page or two of text. Repeat. But our ladies are attached to it. I try and spice it up and make it interesting--but I struggle with both the style and content of the curriculum.
On Wednesday night, I started with my usual kind of discussion. What I found was, our Bible Study people found discussions difficult. They wanted more content and lecture. Or something like our Sunday School curriculum. I knew I needed to adapt.
So lately, we have been doing a combination of teaching Inductive Bible Study tools, the pastor sharing insights from study, and the ladies being able to ask questions. It works well for what I want because the folks in class are invested in being studiers and not just consumers. And they are having to bring some things into this discussion. It also allows me the flexibility to read the people and situation, and adjust my teaching to it. This flexibility is very important to me, and has been for years. They get their telling kinds of stuff as I share some extra points that I have learned from my study. And, they are not having to deal with so many discussion questions. We still need to work on the application piece of the Bible study a little bit, but so far so good.
Monday, November 10, 2008
For our evening program at church last Sunday we had a comedy night, where we watched videos of Christian stand up comics. It was new for us, and fun. I was afraid some of the humor would be too contemporary, but I noticed several people laughing over and over again. I also thought a lot of it was good, clean comedy that made me laugh and was not overly crude or negative. You should check it out.
Wednesday, November 05, 2008
I have been thinking about this speech as I heard Obama quote a small part of it tonight. This, in my opinion, given over 150 years ago, is still one of the best speeches in US History
AT this second appearing to take the oath of the Presidential office there is less occasion for an extended address than there was at the first. Then a statement somewhat in detail of a course to be pursued seemed fitting and proper. Now, at the expiration of four years, during which public declarations have been constantly called forth on every point and phase of the great contest which still absorbs the attention and engrosses the energies of the nation, little that is new could be presented. The progress of our arms, upon which all else chiefly depends, is as well known to the public as to myself, and it is, I trust, reasonably satisfactory and encouraging to all. With high hope for the future, no prediction in regard to it is ventured. 1
On the occasion corresponding to this four years ago all thoughts were anxiously directed to an impending civil war. All dreaded it, all sought to avert it. While the inaugural address was being delivered from this place, devoted altogether to saving the Union without war, urgent agents were in the city seeking to destroy it without war—seeking to dissolve the Union and divide effects by negotiation. Both parties deprecated war, but one of them would make war rather than let the nation survive, and the other would accept war rather than let it perish, and the war came. 2
One-eighth of the whole population were colored slaves, not distributed generally over the Union, but localized in the southern part of it. These slaves constituted a peculiar and powerful interest. All knew that this interest was somehow the cause of the war. To strengthen, perpetuate, and extend this interest was the object for which the insurgents would rend the Union even by war, while the Government claimed no right to do more than to restrict the territorial enlargement of it. Neither party expected for the war the magnitude or the duration which it has already attained. Neither anticipated that the cause of the conflict might cease with or even before the conflict itself should cease. Each looked for an easier triumph, and a result less fundamental and astounding. Both read the same Bible and pray to the same God, and each invokes His aid against the other. It may seem strange that any men should dare to ask a just God's assistance in wringing their bread from the sweat of other men's faces, but let us judge not, that we be not judged. The prayers of both could not be answered. That of neither has been answered fully. The Almighty has His own purposes. "Woe unto the world because of offenses; for it must needs be that offenses come, but woe to that man by whom the offense cometh." If we shall suppose that American slavery is one of those offenses which, in the providence of God, must needs come, but which, having continued through His appointed time, He now wills to remove, and that He gives to both North and South this terrible war as the woe due to those by whom the offense came, shall we discern therein any departure from those divine attributes which the believers in a living God always ascribe to Him? Fondly do we hope, fervently do we pray, that this mighty scourge of war may speedily pass away. Yet, if God wills that it continue until all the wealth piled by the bondsman's two hundred and fifty years of unrequited toil shall be sunk, and until every drop of blood drawn with the lash shall be paid by another drawn with the sword, as was said three thousand years ago, so still it must be said "the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether." 3
With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation's wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan, to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations.
Tuesday, November 04, 2008
We use Him.
We use Him
in the courtyard
for silver coin
Saturday, November 01, 2008
Today I went to the Obama rally. You will see and read more of it down below. But it was a great opportunity to be less than 50 yards away from someone who may be the next president of the United States. Even if my feet hurt, my back hurt, I was hot, and closterphobic after being stuffed in a crowd standing for 5 hours on blacktop.
This image struck me as I took it. A young black girl in a princess outfit. I am assuming she dressed up in it last night, but it seemed fitting today as well. There she was, in her princess outfit, watching a African-American man becoming president, with flags flying all around her. And as she sees him, she knows nothing is impossible for her.
She had been to rallies with Bill Clinton. She knew what she was getting into. I went to a Reagan rally in 1984, and I also went to a press event as a local representative of my school newspaper when Joan Mondale came to town, and even asked a question that she addressed. Those were a long time ago and quite different.
It required us to be on our feet for about 5 hours. In the 80+ degree sun (in November). Jen's best friend came, and we all had a good time. The politics was the same fare as you sould see on TV. The adventure for me was the crowd and being there. Especially as someone who has always been registered as a Republican.
Here are some of the pictures. The first set of pictures were all of t-shirts, which I thought was fun!