Monday, August 31, 2009
I was sitting in my hotel room with my roommate for my conference, and we begin to discuss music. John Polite (J.P.) was a Christian rapper at one point, a fact which he is now less than excited about. Now, when he gets to do musical stuff, he tends to do praise and worship stuff with a guitar. We visited about what kinds of music he likes. He shared that he enjoyed just about everything but country. I tried to change his mind. It was no use. He brought up that there were very few African-Americans that were country musicians. I thought about giving a brief history of how country music became a part of my musical background, but it was getting late and the moment was lost.
Today I was remembering this experience, and thinking about how we all have "soundtracks" of our lives. So in the next few days, I will be talking about different eras of my life, and the music that was important to me in each of them. In the process, I hope to think about how those musical memories are either reflective of my life, or influential in my life. I would love to hear your input.
2. Ted Kennedy Jr. could very easily also become a politician after this weekend, if he so desired. From what I heard, I don't think he does.
3. As a Protestant, a westerner, and without a definitive ethnic identity other than Caucasian American, I found it fascinating to watch an New England Irish Catholic funeral. Many ways the same. Many ways so much different. Having a wake, a funeral, and a graveside seems like a lot. Both my grandmother and great-grandmother passed away a few years back. Neither really desired a funeral. Both were cremated. Great-grandma had a memorial a year after her death. Also interesting is how clear the Irish, Catholic, and northeastern connection is in the media. I felt like in many ways I was a voyer to a different culture. So interesting.
4. I thought it was interesting that at Senator's death, many news shows did not shy away from spiritual issues, but seem to be more open, honest, and transparent about them.
Sunday, August 30, 2009
THE STILL SMALL VOICE
I Kings 19
1 And Ahab told Jezebel all that Elijah had done, also how he had executed all the prophets with the sword. 2 Then Jezebel sent a messenger to Elijah, saying, "So let the gods do to me, and more also, if I do not make your life as the life of one of them by tomorrow about this time." 3 And when he saw that, he arose and ran for his life, and went to Beersheba, which belongs to Judah, and left his servant there.
4 But he himself went a day's journey into the wilderness, and came and sat down under a broom tree. And he prayed that he might die, and said, "It is enough! Now, LORD, take my life, for I am no better than my fathers!"
5 Then as he lay and slept under a broom tree, suddenly an angel[a] touched him, and said to him, "Arise and eat." 6 Then he looked, and there by his head was a cake baked on coals, and a jar of water. So he ate and drank, and lay down again. 7 And the angel[b] of the LORD came back the second time, and touched him, and said, "Arise and eat, because the journey is too great for you." 8 So he arose, and ate and drank; and he went in the strength of that food forty days and forty nights as far as Horeb, the mountain of God.
9 And there he went into a cave, and spent the night in that place; and behold, the word of the LORD came to him, and He said to him, "What are you doing here, Elijah?"
10 So he said, "I have been very zealous for the LORD God of hosts; for the children of Israel have forsaken Your covenant, torn down Your altars, and killed Your prophets with the sword. I alone am left; and they seek to take my life."
11 Then He said, "Go out, and stand on the mountain before the LORD." And behold, the LORD passed by, and a great and strong wind tore into the mountains and broke the rocks in pieces before the LORD, but the LORD was not in the wind; and after the wind an earthquake, but the LORD was not in the earthquake; 12 and after the earthquake a fire, but the LORD was not in the fire; and after the fire a still small voice.
13 So it was, when Elijah heard it, that he wrapped his face in his mantle and went out and stood in the entrance of the cave. Suddenly a voice came to him, and said, "What are you doing here, Elijah?"
14 And he said, "I have been very zealous for the LORD God of hosts; because the children of Israel have forsaken Your covenant, torn down Your altars, and killed Your prophets with the sword. I alone am left; and they seek to take my life."
15 Then the LORD said to him: "Go, return on your way to the Wilderness of Damascus; and when you arrive, anoint Hazael as king over Syria. 16 Also you shall anoint Jehu the son of Nimshi as king over Israel. And Elisha the son of Shaphat of Abel Meholah you shall anoint as prophet in your place. 17 It shall be that whoever escapes the sword of Hazael, Jehu will kill; and whoever escapes the sword of Jehu, Elisha will kill. 18 Yet I have reserved seven thousand in Israel, all whose knees have not bowed to Baal, and every mouth that has not kissed him."
It is interesting isn't it? Sometimes after our greatest triumphs, our greatest victories, that is when we are most discouraged. When we feel most defeated.
Certainly this was true of Elijah. Elijah had just been a part of a contest on Mount Carmel. There on Mount Carmel, in front of the whole nation, he had challenged the prophets of Baal to show who could call down fire from heaven. The Baal prophets were in the hundreds. Elijah was just one. The Baal prophets had went through incantation after incantation. They had cut themselves to appease the gods they believed they served. They were not successful.
Elijah drown his wood pile with water in front of the people. He knelt in prayer. Fire reigned down from heaven. Nearly every prophet of Baal in the land was executed. God had triumphed.
I think at this point, Elijah believed everything would be different. That the people, the nation, the king and queen would see that God was the only God, and that he was God's prophet and mouthpiece. I imagine Elijah slept well the night after Mount Carmel.
Then came the morning after that Mount Carmel incident. Ahab ran home and told Jezebel all Elijah had done. Jezebel took charge. She sent out a decree to have him killed as soon as possible.
Elijah decides to flee the country. He gets as far as the Southern Border and he gives the assistant his pink slip. He lays down in solitude and cries that he wants to die. And this is where we start recognizing a hint of self-centeredness in his holy work. He complains about not being any better than his fathers. Selfish. Elijah says that HE is doing everything alone. He is the only one faithful. He has defeated the prophets. He has stood against Israel. ME. ME. ME. God was patient with Elijah's pride and self-centeredness as he is with us.
Notice when God got Elijah's attention. It was when Elijah was away from the crowd. It was when Elijah was away from the commotion. When he was away from the news reports and the football games, the dinner parties and the state fair crowds full of people. When Elijah had wandered up into the barren land full of cactus and the mountains full of rocks and cliffs and caves, it is as that time when God spoke to Elijah.
The Lord speaks to Elijah. And the Lord tells him to go to mount Horeb, also known as mount Sinai. God tells Elijah to go there and wait for Him there. So Elijah eats this wonder bread from the desert and heads up to the mountain in the desert. He waits for forty days to hear God's voice again.
God invites Elijah to come to entrance of the cave he was staying at in the Mountain of God. That mountain where Moses received the Ten Commandments. Mount Sinai. Elijah goes there. And stands at the entrance of a cave. And listens for God to speak.
A loud, violent wind comes through that cracks rocks and breaks tree limbs. But God was not in the wind. Then there was an earthquake. But God was not in the earthquake. Then there was a fire. God was not in the fire. Then their was a "still small voice" or other translators even translate it, "the sound of sheer silence". God was not in the fire. God was not in the wind. God was not in the quake. God was in the still small voice. The hushed whisper. Elijah had performed miracles. He had called down fire from heaven. He had boldly preached for God, and loudly stood for God when few others would. He was zealous, brash, and even violent for the cause of Christ. In the process, he mistook the power of God in his ministry for the presence of God in his life. And he was lost, lonely, and suicidal.
How often do we think God delights in our great sacrifices and feats of faith? Our accomplishments as family member, a leader in the community, a well-loved person at school, a good provider, a financial provider for those we love, a nurturer of children.
This is what Elijah needed to learn. God used his strength and boldness, his courage and tenacity. But God wanted Elijah to know him in the still small voice. God used Elijah's zeal and passion and blessed it. Elijah thought God was interested in what he did. The truth is God was interested in who Elijah chose to be. Elijah thought God was interested in accomplishment. He found God was interested in relationship. God spoke to Elijah in the still small voice. When he took the time to get alone with God, and when he was quiet enough to hear it.
The truth is, God is always speaking to His people in solitude and silence. God spoke to Moses as he was alone in the wilderness watching sheep. And when Moses received the Ten Commandments, he did not bring a crowd. God spoke to Samuel while everyone else was asleep and he was tending the flame in the temple. God spoke to David while he was out in the field. Perhaps that is why so many Psalms say things like "Be still before the Lord and wait patiently for Him"(Psalm 37). "Be still and know that I am God" (Psalm 46). The Bible teaches that Jesus withdrew to places where he could be alone. After his baptism, he went to be alone in the desert. Before he called the disciples he went off to quiet place. After he fed the multitudes, he wanted to be in a quiet, lonely place to be alone with God. Silence and solitude are essential to a healthy spiritual life. Perhaps that is why God often did and does speak to people during their dreams. It is when they were silent and he could have their full attention.
Throughout Christian history, believers have believed that silence and solitude are important for our spiritual health. Soon after Christianity became the official religion of the Roman government, people who wanted to experience more of God decided to retreat to the African desert, and build little shacks they called "cells". They would say, "Go to your cell, and it will teach you everything". Thomas a Kempis, in his classic devotional book The Imitation of Christ had a whole chapter on silence and solitude. Pascal said, "All unhappiness of men arises from one single fact, that they cannot stay silently in their own room". Mother Teresa, great social activist of our time also spoke of the importance of silence when she said, "Silence leads to prayer. Prayer leads to faith. Faith leads to service. Service leads to peace".
Silence is hard for us though. So is solitude. Oh many of us are seniors and single and may spend time alone, but we turn on the television to keep us company. We play music to keep us occupied. We fiddle around on a thousand little projects to keep us from being silent and alone. We grab books and read them. We look for a thousand different little amusements to take up every waking moment of silence and solitude. If we are younger we have a thousand clubs and commitments to keep us occupied. We gets our kids to be certified members of the rat race by the time they are 12. And thus many of our kids learn to fear solitude and silence. It is a punishment when they get "time out", or when they get the silent treatment. Yet silence and solitude is where we start if we want to hear God. If we want to sense his leading. If we want to hear his voice, we need to get away to silent and solitary places. We need to carve out places where we can meet God, just us and him.
There are a few reasons why we need silence and solitude:
- Silence and solitude allow us to quiet all of the other voices and noise that competes for our worship, and allows us to worship God alone.
- Silence teaches us how powerless we are, and how much we need and depend on God. (Hilary of Tours described or penchant for business and noise as the blasphemous anxiety to do God's work for Him)
- Silence and solitude allow us to hear God's call and voice, so that we can act with right action
- Prayer in silence and solitude prepares us to have the right words for others when they need them. (Bonhoeffer said, let him who cannot be alone beware of community, let him who is not in community beware of being alone)
- Silence teaches us God values us based on who we are in relationship with Him, not based on what we do or what skills we have.
Then the question becomes, how do I find a way to do times of silence or solitude in a prayerful way? Here are some pointers:
- Find a place for silence and solitude. For some of you it can be on your front porch early in the morning. If you are like me, it might be somewhere in the house late at night. It may mean being like Scott and going off to a place where you can be alone with God for a while. For Scott Pittullo that is in dry, open spaces. For others of you it might be the city park, or the lake at the city park in La Junta. For some of you men that might be your garage even. If you are a busy parent, it might take more planning. Or to be really crass and yet really practical, it may mean hiding in the restroom for a short time. Or walking the dog when nobody else is out.
- Find a time for silence and solitude. Try starting in small chunks at first. Five minutes of silence in the car on the way to work. Ten minutes in the morning where you can be alone before anyone gets up. Fifteen minutes at night after everyone goes to bed.
- Be prepared to be uncomfortable. You have been programmed with noise and sound trying to sell you something for days and weeks and years. Allow God to speak into that discomfort.
- Come to God with a specific question or concern. Then silence yourself before Him and ask him to speak to you through that silence
- Integrate interruptions into your silent time. We are going to be silent for a few minutes soon. You will hear children crying. You will hear oxygen tanks clicking. You will hear cars driving by. Either ignore them, or let God to speak to you through the noise in your silence. Don't let the interruptions and clicks and clatters keep you from being silent.
So we are going to spend a few moments singing. Then we are going to take some time to sit silently before the Lord after some brief instructions. Then we are going to take a few moments to share.
Let us sing. And let our song be our prayer.
Wednesday, August 26, 2009
Sunday, August 23, 2009
Servant Sayings #1—Who is the Greatest?
20 Then the mother of Zebedee's sons came to Him with her sons, kneeling down and asking something from Him.
21 And He said to her, "What do you wish?"
She said to Him, "Grant that these two sons of mine may sit, one on Your right hand and the other on the left, in Your kingdom."
22 But Jesus answered and said, "You do not know what you ask. Are you able to drink the cup that I am about to drink, and be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with?"[a]
They said to Him, "We are able."
23 So He said to them, "You will indeed drink My cup, and be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with;[b] but to sit on My right hand and on My left is not Mine to give, but it is for those for whom it is prepared by My Father."
24 And when the ten heard it, they were greatly displeased with the two brothers. 25 But Jesus called them to Himself and said, "You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and those who are great exercise authority over them. 26 Yet it shall not be so among you; but whoever desires to become great among you, let him be your servant. 27 And whoever desires to be first among you, let him be your slave— 28 just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many."
Every time I read this passage, John and James lose a little respect in my eyes. They have a question. An important question. A question they have been waiting to ask for quite a while. But they are not man enough to ask it for themselves. So they send in their mommy do ask their hard questions for them. If I was Jesus, when I saw that the disciples had sent their mommy in to ask if they could be on his right or on his left, I would have said, "Not if you are not man enough to ask for what you want yourself. Which proves one very good point; it is a good thing that Jesus does not have ornery old me as his personal consultant.
Jesus has just finished sharing about his role as judge in the kingdom. Then he predicted his death, which the disciples are continually forgetting that he keeps mentioning. They want to be on Jesus' right and left hand when he comes into his kingdom. When he comes in power. When Jesus rules the world, James and John want to be the #1 and #2 assistants. They want to be Vice-President and Secretary of State in Jesus rule of the world. They want to have power. They want to have control. They want to have fame. They want to be seen and admired by the crowd, and they might even want to make a few others jealous, including the disciples.
The truth is this. They missed the point! They missed the point of what Jesus was trying to do, the kind of followers he was seeking, the kind of world he was trying to create. Sounds like the rest of the disciples did as well. Because as soon as they heard about the request of the mother of James and John they got irate. The New King James says "greatly displeased". The NIV says that they were "indignant".
Turns out Jesus had to mediate the conflict. So he used it as a teaching opportunity. He shared with them more about his kingdom. He said that the power of God was not like the power of the world, or more specifically here of the "Gentiles". The Gentiles try and claim power. They try and fight for it. They try and get authority, and then force people under them to do what they want them to do. Jesus said he had come for another reason.
Jesus came to create a community of servants. He told the disciples that the greatest among them must be the servant of all. Whoever wants to be the greatest in the kingdom of God must put himself in the position of a slave, or a bondservant.
Jesus says that his life should be an example of this. He came not to be served, but to serve. And to give his life as a ransom for many.
The truth is, not only do the disciples miss the point. Often we miss the point as well. If we are called to follow Jesus, if we have chosen to live our lives as his disciples, or apprentices, we must become servants. We must serve one another. Just as important, we must serve those in the world around us.
Often the contemporary church misses the point in this regard. They think the church is about having a perfect little worship band with a pending recording contract. They believe that they should a pastor that everyone can be proud of and look up to. They believe that a good church has a building that can be seen and admired for its beauty. That a church should be full of respected members with deep pockets. Thank God we here at First Baptist are not a contemporary church in that way. We are church of substance, not of image over substance.
Jesus says that the way of greatness in the kingdom is through being servants. As we look forward to next month, I want to commend you for choosing to be a church that serves it community through the Backyard Mission Project. There is no greater witness to the world, I believe, than being a church that serves with grace, and without a sense of self-righteousness and judgment.
Friends, I know you have servant hearts. Even the most ornery of you has told me of your compassion for a friend and neighbor, and how you long to help them.These acts of service, this heart of service, is something beautiful. It is a beautiful witness of Christ's love to the world, YES. It is a beautiful stand against the greediness and selfishness in the world around us, YES. Because it will make us great in the kingdom? That too.
First and foremost though, choosing to be a servant and a servant-church in our community is important because it is an act of worship, a way of being like Jesus and praising Him, of honoring the one who loved the world enough to come to earth and die for it, and make his life a ransom for many.
Servant Sayings #2—THE GOOD NEIGHBOR
25 And behold, a certain lawyer stood up and tested Him, saying, "Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?"
26 He said to him, "What is written in the law? What is your reading of it?"
27 So he answered and said, " 'You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength, and with all your mind,'[h] and 'your neighbor as yourself.'"[i]
28 And He said to him, "You have answered rightly; do this and you will live."
29 But he, wanting to justify himself, said to Jesus, "And who is my neighbor?"
30 Then Jesus answered and said: "A certain man went down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell among thieves, who stripped him of his clothing, wounded him, and departed, leaving him half dead. 31 Now by chance a certain priest came down that road. And when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. 32 Likewise a Levite, when he arrived at the place, came and looked, and passed by on the other side. 33 But a certain Samaritan, as he journeyed, came where he was. And when he saw him, he had compassion. 34 So he went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine; and he set him on his own animal, brought him to an inn, and took care of him. 35 On the next day, when he departed,[j] he took out two denarii, gave them to the innkeeper, and said to him, 'Take care of him; and whatever more you spend, when I come again, I will repay you.' 36 So which of these three do you think was neighbor to him who fell among the thieves?"
37 And he said, "He who showed mercy on him."
Then Jesus said to him, "Go and do likewise."
It is not as easy to know your neighbors as well as you would like to. Even in a place like Fowler. You tend to run in the same streams of people day after day. You tend to get into a routine, and forget to get to know the person across the street, down the road, or that new person that you should introduce yourself to that moved into town. Even in a small town like this.
On the other hand, you tend to run into neighbors in the strangest places. The other day we were celebrating my birthday a little late by going out to eat and taking the little boat ride along the riverwalk in pueblo. I was meandering back to my car with mom walking across Union Avenue. All of the sudden a police offer whipped around and turned on his lights. He started talking to us about jaywalking across the street. I thought the voice sounded a little familiar. Then I knew who it was. Jason Smith in his police car swung around to say hello, harass me, and give me a hard time. You always see your neighbors when you least expect them.
When I would come back and forth from college over Christmas or the summer, I would always see someone in the airport from the high school I went to or someone I competed against in sports in either Minneapolis or in Seattle. Sometimes I would even see someone I went to church with in high school.
I don't blame this guy who asked Jesus who his neighbor is. I am amazed at Jesus' response.
The man asks Jesus what the greatest commandment is. Jesus, after fussing a little, says that answer is of course to love the Lord with all your heart, soul, strength and mind. And then to love your neighbor as yourself. The scribe further quizzes Jesus. "Who then," he asks, "Is my neighbor?".
When we are supposed to love our neighbor, does that mean the guy down the street? Does that mean the folks in and around Fowler? The Arkansas Valley? United States? North America? Where is the beginning and the end to loving this neighbor that Jesus is talking about?
He talks about this Samaritan. People from Samaria were people who were not liked by Jewish folks. They were, in fact, hated by other Jews. Samaritans were the groups of Hebrews who chose to intermarry with Gentiles, and compromise instead of being dragged off into slavery. They tried to set up this hybrid version of Christianity. Created their own temples and rituals. They were people who sold out their people and their faith in a faithful Jew's mind, and the more religious you were, the more you hated Samaritans.
So this average guy got beat up and left for dead in a ditch. And the preacher came by, and saw him in the ditch, and got to the other side of the road and got away as soon as possible. Then the chair of the deacon board came by, saw the man, and got as far away from him as possible. Who knew what danger lurked near? Who knew who could hurt the poor guy? Then this Samaritan came by. And he put his bloody body in the back seat of his car. And he got him to the Emergency Room. Then he made arrangements to pay the poor guys ER and rehab bills as he recovered from his life-threatening assault. Jesus asked which of the men was a neighbor to the injured man. Of course the Samaritan was.
Our neighbor, then, is not the people we like to hang out with. It is not just the person across the street. It is the person who we run into who needs our kindness, love, and support. A good neighbor is the kind of person who helps the people they run into with things that needs help with. It is the kind of person who makes sacrifices to assist the people they run into, and the people they have the opportunity to serve. Whether they like them or not. Whether or not they deserve the help. A good neighbor helps those who need their support and assistance. They do that because Jesus commanded it. At the core of what Jesus asks us to do is to be good neighbors.
Our backyard mission project should have been named the good neighbor project. I feel we are a church full of good neighbors that help one another, even at person cost. Even when we have been angry at one another a day or a week or a month before.
In our last thought, we remembered that we pursue greatness when we take the place of service. We serve because we want to be like Jesus.
We also serve because we want to love our neighbor as ourselves. And the best way to love our neighbors in by getting in a habit of serving them in visible and practical ways.
Part of what I am hoping comes out of our backyard mission project, is that we develop a group of men that are willing to gather at least once a month, have a little bit of breakfast, maybe a short devotion, and then go out and continue with what we are starting this September. Continue serving in our community with little small needs the way we started this year. We won't be able to do large scale stuff as much, but we could get several guys to do something. Something to follow the call of being good neighbors TOGETHER as a church in our community.
SERVANT SAYINGS #3—EXPERIENCING JESUS
31 "When the Son of Man comes in His glory, and all the holy[c] angels with Him, then He will sit on the throne of His glory. 32 All the nations will be gathered before Him, and He will separate them one from another, as a shepherd divides his sheep from the goats. 33 And He will set the sheep on His right hand, but the goats on the left. 34 Then the King will say to those on His right hand, 'Come, you blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world: 35 for I was hungry and you gave Me food; I was thirsty and you gave Me drink; I was a stranger and you took Me in; 36 I was naked and you clothed Me; I was sick and you visited Me; I was in prison and you came to Me.'
37 "Then the righteous will answer Him, saying, 'Lord, when did we see You hungry and feed You, or thirsty and give You drink? 38 When did we see You a stranger and take You in, or naked and clothe You? 39 Or when did we see You sick, or in prison, and come to You?' 40 And the King will answer and say to them, 'Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these My brethren, you did it to Me.'
41 "Then He will also say to those on the left hand, 'Depart from Me, you cursed, into the everlasting fire prepared for the devil and his angels: 42 for I was hungry and you gave Me no food; I was thirsty and you gave Me no drink; 43 I was a stranger and you did not take Me in, naked and you did not clothe Me, sick and in prison and you did not visit Me.'
44 "Then they also will answer Him,[d] saying, 'Lord, when did we see You hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to You?' 45 Then He will answer them, saying, 'Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to Me.' 46 And these will go away into everlasting punishment, but the righteous into eternal life."
Many of us are familiar with this story. This parable that Jesus taught. It is the end of time. Christ comes as judge. And when he comes as judge he separates the sheep from the goats. The sheep go to the right, and the goats to his left. He starts by telling the sheep that they will inherit the kingdom because they fed Jesus when he was hungry, gave him a drink when he was cold, gave him a place to stay when he was a stranger, gave him clothes when he was naked, visited him when he was sick, and came to Him when he was in prison. When did we do this, they asked. Jesus said when they did it for the least of these they did it for Him.
In other words, when you help those in need, when you reach out to those that are vulnerable, when you choose to love those most ignored, it may appear you are loving others, but you are in truth demonstrating your love for Christ and his kingdom.
The opposite fate awaits the goats. They ignored those in need. They didn't pay attention to the opportunities to serve others. And Jesus told these people that they missed HIM. They ignored HIM. They failed to serve HIM, because they missed their opportunities to love their neighbor.
If you don't think serving our neighbors is serious business, you need to pay attention to what is going on here! Reaching outside the four walls of the church and choosing to serve our neighbors with their physical needs is central to what it means to trust Jesus. You can see that it is so central to what it means to trust Jesus, that our ability to live this truth is mentioned in the context of God's judgment. That is something to think about.
But I want you to pay attention to something else here. When we reach out and serve, when we reach out in compassion to those who are in need, when we are good neighbors to those in our community, well, that is when Jesus shows up. You want to experience Christ, start reaching out and serving. You wonder if God's presence in a living and active witness in your life? Well, get out and help somebody who is having a hard time or who needs your help. You wonder why God seems distant? Maybe it is because you sit around and feel sorry for yourself, think about what you want or what you need and don't have, and then wonder why God seems far away. Get out and choose to serve. You will feel the presence of God. You will hear his voice. You will experience his presence.
That is what this passage promises isn't it? When we roll up our sleeves and serve our neighbors in the name of Jesus, we will at that moment be serving Jesus and loving Jesus, even as we love other people.
So we are going to be a church that serves. We are going to serve each other, because that is what brothers and sisters do in the body of Christ. But we are going to also serve those in our community, because we want to do what Jesus commands. We know we are more like Jesus when we reach out and serve in Jesus name. We know that we the kind of neighbor Jesus calls us to be when we serve others in Jesus name. And we know that we experience Jesus' presence when we reach out and give of ourselves as the hands and feet of Jesus.
Some churches witness with their words. Some churches witness in their worship. Starting in September we give you the opportunity to witness through serving your neighbor. To proclaim God's good news through simple acts of kindness. And to be part of a church-wide effort that is doing so.
Like good soldiers in reserve, you are being called into service. Our cause is right. Our plan is good. Our master is leading us to charge forward. I pray that we will march TOGETHER, standing TOGETHER and working together to carry out the MISSION we have agreed to carry out in front of us. EVERYONE has a part to play, a way to give to the cause. LET US SERVE TOGETHER. LET US SERVE TOGETHER IN JESUS NAME. AMEN.
Saturday, August 08, 2009
I keep thinking of the movie "A River Runs Through It" when the boys come into their father's study with their writing assignment in hand. And their father places several red marks through their writing. Good. Now half as long. And then they were off to write some more.
A lot of times, preaching feels like this. Just thinking....
Tuesday, August 04, 2009
Interesting Note: I prepared this with another version, and then discovered that the pew Bible translated the passage differently. This made me have to ad lib a little bit.
Jonah Preaches at Nineveh
1 Now the word of the LORD came to Jonah the second time, saying, 2 "Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and preach to it the message that I tell you." 3 So Jonah arose and went to Nineveh, according to the word of the LORD. Now Nineveh was an exceedingly great city, a three-day journey[a]in extent.
4 And Jonah began to enter the city on the first day's walk. Then he cried out and said, "Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown!"
The People of Nineveh Believe
5 So the people of Nineveh believed God, proclaimed a fast, and put on sackcloth, from the greatest to the least of them. 6 Then word came to the king of Nineveh; and he arose from his throne and laid aside his robe, covered himself with sackcloth and sat in ashes. 7 And he caused it to be proclaimed and published throughout Nineveh by the decree of the king and his nobles, saying,
Let neither man nor beast, herd nor flock, taste anything; do not let them eat, or drink water. 8 But let man and beast be covered with sackcloth, and cry mightily to God; yes, let every one turn from his evil way and from the violence that is in his hands. 9 Who can tell if God will turn and relent, and turn away from His fierce anger, so that we may not perish?
10 Then God saw their works, that they turned from their evil way; and God relented from the disaster that He had said He would bring upon them, and He did not do it.
He Had Compassion
Jonah must have been a heck of a preacher. That is all I have to say. He preached for three days, walking the highways and the byways of Nineveh, and in those three days he prompted a city-wide revival. Perhaps we might even say a nationwide revival. Yep. Jonah must have been quite a preacher.
The Bible says the call to go and preach to the Ninevites came to Jonah a second time, and this time Jonah obeyed what the Lord had told him to do. He marched north to the great city of Nineveh. And he walked through the city prophecying about the coming judgment of God.
Now Nineveh was a big city. In fact it was one of the biggest cities in the ancient world. Just to walk through the whole thing, to visit all the neighborhoods and to bring the news of the impending judgment of God to them. Jonah must have been a hellfire and brimstone kind of preacher I think.
It must have took a little bit of gumption to preach this sermon in Nineveh. If you don't think so, think about it this way. Go to Tehran right now. Take a flight. Land on the tarmac. Purchase a truck. Hook up a sound system in the back. Go to the most fundamentalist neighborhoods in Tehran, Iran. And start preaching to the people in Tehran, Iran that if they don't repent and accept Jesus that God will destroy their whole nation in 30 days. Or if that is a little too distant, go into Juarez, Mexico right now, make your way to the most violent, gang-infested neighborhoods and start preaching against, gangs, drugs, and then preach against how evil specific gang warlords are doing the work of the devil.
But God told Jonah to do it, so he did it. He said "In forty days, God will overthrow you!" Strange thing. All of the people started to repent. They started to put on their sackcloths, cry, and wail. They whined and they cried. They begged God for forgiveness.
This call for repentance spread faster than any of us or Jonah could have imagined. It spread faster than an internet rumor or a viral video, the warning of God's judgment spread faster than the Macarena dance craze did a few years back, or as fast as a really juicy rumor makes it through the phone lines of Fowler.
Before long the news had gotten to the King. And, though a king usually pronounces decrees to be followed by his subjects, this news came up from the people to the King. And the King did a strange thing. He repented to. He stripped off his kingly clothes, dressed in sackcloth, and sat in ashes. In other words, he too began to grieve all the ways his nation and his people betrayed the way of God.
He repented of their violence and mercilessness. Their unwillingness to listen to God. Their unwillingness to do what they knew was right. He also extended the fast. No feeding the livestock. No watering the livestock. No food or drink for the people either. Maybe if God sees how sorry we are, the king thought, he might see that we have made a change, that we have repented, and spare us the judgment that he has promised.
So nobody ate or drank. For one day. Then another. And when God saw this, he saw that they were serious about their regret and repentance of their sinful behavior. And God forgave them.
Actually the Scripture says, "He had compassion upon them". At least this is what many versions have. This version talks about God relenting and forgiving, but in many versions the passage correctly translates the phrase: He had compassion.
Compassion is an interesting word. It is a word that when it is used of human beings, speaks of having a visceral response that causes you to move in loving action. The New Testament word for compassion—the root of which is the cognate spachna—with refers to kind of love that has a physical effect on your being. Specifically, with the New Testament word it refers to shaky guts and jittery bowels. This may sound strange to us, until we think about it. In Jewish thought, the bowels were the seat of emotions. When we are stressed we talk about our stomach churning. When we are nervous we talk about having butterflies in our stomach. When we are emotionally upset, sometimes we say we feel nautious. When the ancients wanted to talk about compassion, they spoke of the kind of compassion that gave you indigestion, that made your guts shake a little bit. The kind of love and mercy that when you saw someone hurting that it you felt it in your body…right here…in your gut. And you had to do something for those people you felt so much for.
That physical from the gut kind of love that spurs you to action…that is the kind of love and compassion God has for these people. Eating nothing. Drinking nothing. Putting sackcloth and ashes on their dogs and cows, their kids and their cats, and hoping and praying that somehow that God would have mercy on them for their violence and selfishness, their conquest and greed, their lack of mercy and compassion. It must have been quite a sight. It moved God to compassion. It moved him. He felt for them. Deep down in his gut, he felt for them. So he pulled back the wrath he was going to pour out.
Popular images of God in heaven make us think of God up in heaven with a lightning bolt in one hand and a eye on punishing us and putting us in our place. Here we see God quick to forgiveness and compassion. God is quick to be moved by us when we move toward Him.
The word describing God's judgment is translated "overturn" or "overthrow". This is an interesting word to describe God's judgment on the Ninevites. On one hand, it does speak of God's ability to disturb and destroy. To crush and destroy the Ninevites. But it can also mean at the same time an openness to repentance. I have thought about how to communicate this. God judgment can overthrow the greatest governments, the wealth and comfort and security that we trust in, the evil that we do, and the power that we have. God's judgment can come as painful and bloody, and burning hot with flame. Like a war without end when we refuse to surrender. At least that is the way the Bible describes it.
But this overthrow can also have the picture of a burning of a field, an overthrow of the soil to make it fertile for new crops to grow in. And that is more of God's goal in the overturning. This preparing the soil of our hearts to understand his call, to receive his grace, to accept his love.
When Jonah pronounces this judgment, in the middle of this pronouncement of destruction for these warlords and destroyers is this message of the possibility of grace and forgiveness. This sliver of possibility that if they repent the possibility of new life is open to them. They do repent. They do cry out for mercy. And God loves them. He is moved with love for them. God forgives those Ninevites.
The God who loves the Ninevites in the Old Testament is the one that Jesus speaks about in the New Testament in John 3 when Jesus says that "God so loved THE WHOLE WORLD that he sent his one and only son, that whosoever believes in him should not PERISH but have everlasting life." The God who has compassion on the Ninevites is the one who throws a party in heaven when one sinner repents. The God who has compassion on the Ninevites is the one whom we cry out to for mercy and forgiveness, the one we count on for grace and love.
You see, when we are religious it is easy to think of the world made up of people like "us" that God likes, and people like "them" who God disapproves of and who we should not associate with. It is easy to see ourselves as the good guys, and others as the bad guys. And when we think that way, it is possible to gather into little holy huddles and insulate ourselves from the world around us. To outsource missions to missionaries across the world and pastors in our community, and to try and carve out this safe little space.
God did not let Jonah do that. He does not want us to do that either.
Jonah was a country boy. He sent him to the city. Jonah was a Jew. God sent him to Assyrians. Jonah was a preacher. God sent him to warriors. Jonah worked in the temple. God sent Jonah to the streets.
We have this thing called the backyard mission project coming up. I am very excited about it. I am also very nervous. As we progress through this project I am learning a few things.
When we started putting this together, I thought of it as "us" going out to "them" who might need our help, helping "them" for a little bit, and searching for projects that were "worthy" of our effort. Projects that would be a good investment in deserving people who just needed a little help because they were down on their luck. I sought out projects. I got ZERO responses. Nobody else seemed to get any others. Nobody wanted to admit they needed help. Nobody wanted to be a project. Deep down I know better, but this becomes an easy way of communicating what we are trying to do.
Now, especially in the last week, as I have went around I have talked about this as our opportunity to serve. I stress that there are no income qualifications. We are just trying to be good neighbors and friends. We are just looking for opportunities to be friends and servants of our community as a church.
We have gotten 7 new projects in the last week. It is because instead of offering to do something for them, we have asked how we can work together to be good friends and neighbors. And in the process to express the love of Jesus to them in a simple way.
In the process, we as a church can be instruments of kindness and compassion with friends and neighbors. We can share God's love as friends and peers instead of approaching people with an approach that might be read as us-them. As we do this, we express God's compassionate love instead of self-righteous judgment.
As we come to this table. We remember that God has compassion for us. We remember Christ's blood shed for each person, that we may accept God's good news and know Jesus. As we come to this table, we remember God has had compassion on us. He showed that to us through his broken for us.
As we take the bread and the cup, we remember that we are told we do this "to proclaim Jesus until he comes. To proclaim that no matter what we have done, Christ is calling us to repent. To proclaim that God is waiting to show not only me and you his compassion and his love, but everyone his compassion and love. Our friends and our enemies. Our family and our friends. Strangers and neighbors. Mexicans, Indians, Blacks, and Whites. He loves us all the same. He wants to have compassion on us no matter who are parents are, what our background is, no matter how we have failed or succeeded. His grace is offered. His compassion is waiting.
We are not only told to believe this. We are told to proclaim it. Through committing to this truth through the cup and bread. And through taking this truth out in the world through our words and especially our actions as we go.
We serve a compassionate God. God had compassion on me. God has compassion with me. He has compassion on you. And he calls us to be a people who are moved to action to take that compassion and love with us into the world.