Monday, July 27, 2009
Sarah, Sarah, Sarah....how far you have fallen. You have disappointed me. I had such hope for you and your mavericky ways at one point. Even after the Couric interview I rooted for you in your Vice Presidential debate against Biden. I believe that McCain would not have had a chance without you. Yet, I believe now that America dodged a bullet by not electing you. Your resignation proved it.
When I thought about who I was going to vote for last year, one thing I remember saying is that I needed a president I could tolerate listening to for the next four years. Although I think your rival President Obama is a camera hound, I can still listen to him. I find the sound of your voice whiney and grating. And the day you find a new career will be a great day both for me, and for our country.
Birth Certicate Nonsense
Nobody else is being staight about it. I will. The drama about Barack Obama being born in the US is nothing more than racism.
President Obama has a passport. He has a certificate of live birth made available for the media. He has a social security card. There are newspaper clippings from the day of his birth in the local paper. Yet, there are many who claim that these are not valid. That is because they cannot accept that a black man, and the son of an immigrant can be president. He won the election fair and square. In case one forgets, President Bush's election was a lot more questionable in 2000. (I say this, even though I did vote for him). President Obama won with a greater percentage of the electorate than Bush or Clinton did for either of their terms.
I watched a town hall meeting in Deleware recently. The woman started screaming I want my country back. What was she really saying. She was saying she was unsure she could accept being a part of a country with a black man as president that doesn't feel beholden to do what she wants him to do. So sad.
Ok. I think it is obvious that something new needs to be done with health care. It is also obvious that we cannot keep spending ourselves into oblivion as President Obama and Speaker Pelosi would want us to. Also, although I believe insurace companies need to make a profit and continue to exist privately, limits need to be set on how far they can go to make a profit. Their activities need to be regulated somehow.
So, what needs to happen is that the government needs to offer some subsidized health care plan, but they need to offer it in such a way that only the most desperate of people will want it.
I am not completely sure how this will work, but here is a suggestion. A government subsidized catastrophic health care plan for the lower middle class. This will cover 80 percent of the costs of health care up to say 75000, and then 100 percent after that, with a $5000 deductable. If you choose not to redeem your health care plan in this way, you may choose to have this plan as a supplimental plan in some way to your insurance plan.
Why do this? If you are working at 7-11, you are probably not going to have very good health care options. The government plan will at least make it where you can put yourself on some sort of payment plan and have some hope of paying the medical debt back with payments. Otherwise, we will continue to have working people just starting to get ahead until their kid gets in an accident and they don't have insurance. Yet, at the same time, people will want more than the government plan, which they should if we don't want people wanting completely socialized medicine.
Sunday, July 26, 2009
THE TOMB BECOMES A WOMB
Then Jonah prayed to the LORD his God from the fish's belly. 2 And he said:
" I cried out to the LORD because of my affliction,
And He answered me.
" Out of the belly of Sheol I cried,
And You heard my voice.
3 For You cast me into the deep,
Into the heart of the seas,
And the floods surrounded me;
All Your billows and Your waves passed over me.
4 Then I said, 'I have been cast out of Your sight;
Yet I will look again toward Your holy temple.'
5 The waters surrounded me, even to my soul;
The deep closed around me;
Weeds were wrapped around my head.
6 I went down to the moorings of the mountains;
The earth with its bars closed behind me forever;
Yet You have brought up my life from the pit,
O LORD, my God.
7 " When my soul fainted within me,
I remembered the LORD;
And my prayer went up to You,
Into Your holy temple.
8 " Those who regard worthless idols
Forsake their own Mercy.
9 But I will sacrifice to You
With the voice of thanksgiving;
I will pay what I have vowed.
Salvation is of the LORD."
10 So the LORD spoke to the fish, and it vomited Jonah onto dry land.
Jonah chapter 2 challenges me. It challenges me for a number of reasons. It challenges me because in many ways, at this time, in this passage, I do not like Jonah. And I do not think he is worthy of God's special favor. I think he is spoiled, snarky, and self-righteous. Even in the belly of the fish as he prays this prayer, as he sings this psalm, I find him not completely turned around. Not completely where he should be. But perhaps what bothers me is the way Jonah 2 is plopped into the middle of the book. The rest of the book is historical narrative. A strange, yet fairly straight forward story. Yet this section here, we have a song.
Ok I admit it. I struggle with Jonah chapter 2 because it comes across as….well….a musical. I have always hated musicals. I have straight up refused to watch the Sound of Music. Partly because it is a musical, and partly because it interrupted a football game while I was watching it one time. You won't see me renting the movie Oklahoma. I watched the musical RENT once because I wanted to spend time with friends, and because we watched the movie in a well-known Christian ministries headquarters after hours in their mini-theatre. But usually, if I am watching a movie, and at some point the character breaks into song and people start dancing behind them, I am pressing eject on the DVD, walking out of the theatre, or switching the channel.
Yet, here in Jonah, we have a musical of sorts. Jonah has been swallowed by a great fish. That fish is swimming around, and we don't know quite where the fish is going yet. And just as he is in the belly of the whale, he starts to sing a song. To pray a prayer. The way it is written --it is this song/prayer that Jonah sings. And then immediately following the song, the whale vomits him up right where he came from.
Until this point Jonah has not spoken to God. God has spoken to Jonah, and Jonah has responded through his actions. But note this. In Jonah's running away he didn't argue with God, he did not try and talk with God. Instead of talking or arguing or doing anything that would keep him in relationship with the Lord, he chose to run away from God. To try and escape his presence. To try and avoid his call. To try and ignore his power. And God chased after Jonah. Jonah tried to run away from God, but God would not let Him go. He pursued Him, and he used any means necessary to bring Jonah back into a relationship with Him. And strange means at that, putting Jonah in the belly of a fish.
So what is the reason for the song? What is the point of this musical of sorts? Here is the point. Most of the rest of the book of Jonah, we here about what happened to Jonah. And what happened was not a pretty. But here, in Jonah 2 what we get is a testimony. A testimony of about God's saving work, his mighty hand, his rescuing love. What we get is a testimony from Jonah.
Now, I am not sure how many of you have had a pastor stand up in a pulpit one morning and say that he was led not so much to preach a sermon, but to allow for a time of testimonies. As a child I always thought this was a fun change of pace. Today, as a experienced churchman and clergyman, I have looked back on such events and wondered if the preacher did not have his sermon done that morning and was trying to cover for it by thinking on his feet. Anyway….there are always people who get the idea of sharing down the way they should. They share long enough for you to understand, but not so long that you find yourself wishing the person would shut up. You sense God working in their life. Then there are those people that figure is Amatuer Night at the preacher's mic, and preach everything they ever wanted to. But there is also that person, usually a guy, that stands up to testify to what God has done, and you discover about half way through they are talking more about themselves than God's grace. You hear lots of "me"s and lots of "I"s. You can tell God has done a great work in their lives, and they acknowledge that full-well. But they also seem to try and lift themselves up as they share their testimony. And somewhere in the middle of those testimonies you want to scream, "It is not all about you!" This is what happens when you read Jonah's song closely. You see the great things God has done for Jonah, and you thank God for it, but you also hear Jonah's pride in receiving such great graces and benefits. And you hear Jonah's pride, and you realize that he hasn't quite got the point the completely yet.
Maybe Jonah is not that different from you and I. Maybe we are all a little bit like that. And our point here is not so much to judge Jonah as it is to listen to his testimony, and learn what God is like. Like I told you last week, we need to look at Jonah and see ourselves. And we need to see who God is in relationship to us.
Another review from what we learned last week is that we have this theme of Jonah going down to get as far away as he can from God who is "up there". He goes down from the temple to the gates of Jerusalem, he goes down from the city of Jerusalem on a mountain to the city of Joppa which is at sea level. He goes down from the city to the dock. He goes down from the dock to the boat. Then he goes into the bottom of the boat when it sets sail. Then when the boat is at sea, and the sailors cannot think of anything else to do they throw Jonah into the Mediterreanean Sea.
When we join Jonah's testimony he sinks down into the water. His psalm passionately describes how he was in freefall. The waves went over Jonah. He sunk further down. The tides pulled him down further. He hit the ocean floor. The sand bars became like prison bars. The seaweed wrapped itself around his head. And he honestly believed he was heading to the underworld. The place of the dead. Sheol. He believed he had been dropped from that boat straight to hell no less. And he prayed a prayer. And God answered his prayer. God, who Jonah thought was "up there" rescued Jonah from the "moorings of the mountains" He reached down to Jonah, who was about as far down as he could get. He reached down through the great fish that swallowed Jonah. And Jonah was in that fish for three days and three nights.
Jesus, in the New Testament compares himself to Jonah. Strange comparison. The crowds start gathering around Jesus. They start asking Jesus for a sign. A big magic trick that will prove to them and all the crowds around them that Jesus is really God incarnate, that he really is the Messiah. If you are the one sent from God, they challenge Jesus, then prove it. Give us a miraculous sign. Jesus says that they are a wicked and perverse generation. And no sign will be given them except the sign of Jonah.
Now the most obvious understanding of what Jesus says is the most literal. Jesus died on the cross. There is no doubt he was dead. Yet on the third day he rose again. Jesus said Jonah was in the fish for three days. I will be dead for three days and then rise again. That is what Jesus was saying. Just like Jonah was released from the whale, Jesus will be released from the power of death. And that is a good sign from Jesus, and good news. It is in fact, the ultimate sign that his word is true. It is in fact, what we are here this morning to remember and proclaim
But as we dig into the passage here, and we look at Jonah's experience in the light of Jesus' death and resurrection, we see that a literal death and resurrection is not the only thing to learn from Jonah. Not the only thing we can learn from this sign that Jesus proclaims about the similarities of the experience of Jonah's life, and the message he is trying to send.
What I discovered as I studied is that there is both womb and tomb language in this short little chapter. We have discussed the tomb language. Jonah was going to Sheol, the place of the dead. Jonah was going to the pit. He was dying. He was leaving this world. He was entering the prison of the dead.
But sneakily buried in the story is also the language of birth. He cries out from the "belly" of Sheol. The word "belly" here is not the word for stomach. It is a word for the midsection in general yes, but it is also a term that refers to a womb. And if you look at the language for the word fish, you get a similar vibe. In the last verses of chapter 1 and chapter 2, when the Bible talks about the fish is uses a general male form. In most other languages besides English nouns have gender. A boat may have a feminine article in French for instance, while a fish may have a masculine article to describe it. Hebrew is the same way. But when it gets to Jonah 2:1, right before the description of the womb of Sheol, the word for the fish is distinctively female. This female fish carries Jonah, and lets Jonah's faith gestate in her belly. At the end of three days, he is delivered to the shore a new man. Again, leading us to believe that this time in the belly of the whale is both a womb and a tomb. Jonah in verse 2 cries out "in his distress". This Hebrew word is a word distress, or travail, that is used most often for woman in the pangs of child birth.
Jesus dies on a cross. He spends three days in a tomb. And we think it is over. We think all hope is gone. But then, when the situation looks bleak, a new day dawns. And on Easter morning new hope is born. That cross, that seemed like an instrument of death, has become an instrument of new life. That tomb, which seemed to be a symbol of lost hope, has become a symbol of our resurrection joy. Those places of death have now become places of deliverance.
The same is true of Jonah. What seemed to him a place of death and hopelessness has become a place of deliverance and new life. Just when he thought there was no hope, Jonah realized there was new hope.
The sign of Jonah is that there is always hope. The sign of Jonah is that God is ready and eager to deliver us. Oh we may run. We may have sink to depths of our sin and its consequences. But right when we think we are experiences a life where it seems we are headed to the tomb. Where our life reeks of sin and death and vomit, it is then that God may be creating new life in us. If we cry out to Him like Jonah did.
This is the truth that many of you heard when I preached the Thanksgiving Service last year. The message of Jonah is that our God is a God of Second Chances. That is also the Message of the Gospel. It is the message that God wants us to hear right here and right now.
You may have run far away from God. You may have tried to hide from him or ignore him. You may have shaken your fist at Him. You may have demanded that you have things your way. And you rebelled. And you made a mess of your life. Perhaps you just ran away. You are realizing that your life is not winding up the way you dreamed that it would. And you feel that you are alone. And you may feel that it is hopeless. And you may feel that it is too late to change. And you may feel that it is too late to start over. But I have good news for you. Our God is a God of Second chances. Let those attitudes that do not honor God die away. Allow God to deliver you from your selfish and self-destructive ways. And accept his love and his grace. Then realize that our God is a God of Second Chances.
You may think that you have ran too far from God. That there is no turning back. Know this: No place in this world, no circumstance in the universe, is too far away from God to reach out and deliver you. To give you new life where there was only death. Because this one thing is true: Our God is a God of Second Chances.
You may have been like Jonah and believed that being a member of a church, or showing up at a worship service, or being the right kind of person could save you. And then God kind of snuck up on you. And you realize that this tradition you had is not honest real faith at all. And you wonder if the kingdom has room for a fake and a hypocrite like you. I have news for you. Our God is a God of Second Chances.
And because our God is a God of Second Chances that is the truth that we must proclaim. We are not perfect. Even in our relationship with God, at times our faith and our testimony can become too self-centered and too much about us instead of about God that saved us, even though we did not deserve it. We need to remember our God is a God of Second Chances.
You see, even our sin is testimony to the truth of God's goodness and grace. As sinful a person as I am, God is rescuing me. God has given me a Second Chance. And a third chance. And a fourth chance too. So when you see me failing, realize that I am just a sinner like you. And it is God who is still striving to rescue me and use me as stubborn as I am.
This must continue to be our mission. Before we are FIRST BAPTIST CHURCH, we should be the FIRST CHURCH OF THE SECOND CHANCE. I have said it before and I will say it again. If I had my druthers I would place a sign, a big sign, along our wall on Main Street. And it would be about 20 feet long. And in bold letters streaming across that banner it would say this.."NO PERFECT PEOPLE ALLOWED". And in smaller letters underneath it a message would be written: ALL OTHERS WELCOME". I would put this up because I believe our God is a God of Second Chances. And third chances. And fourth chances too.
So this morning, this altar is open.
Perhaps you want to join this rag-tag crew of followers of Jesus. We are not perfect, but we strive to listen to God and be faithful to his call. If that is your wish today, come during our invitation.
Perhaps you want to accept Christ. Come and do that this morning. Accept that Second Chance God offers. Cry out to him. He will save you and deliver you.
Maybe you have just made a mess of your life. You have trusted Christ at one point, but have run far from Him. Come forward today. Recommit your life to Christ. Trust that God has a second chance for you too.
Cry out to the Lord. He will hear you. He will make the suffering that feels like preparation for the tomb a womb for new life, new hope, and God's Amazing Grace.
Come to Jesus today. Come.
Thursday, July 23, 2009
Today I was in Colorado Springs meeting with my ministerial support group. The book that we were studying was a book called 11. It is about 11 basic relationships that everyone needs in their lives. As a ministerial group we picked a theological book to discuss, and we also picked a book that challenged us in our relationship skills. The book 11 was the relationship book.
The section that resonated with most of us was the chapter entitled "You need a Jerusalem". Basically it is a belief that the author has that each us needs a place that is home to us. A land that is home. A place that we feel connected with, that we belong to. A place that also belongs to us.
Above is a picture of Eric Lundy. Eric is from Fowler, CO. Right now he is living in Omaha, Nebraska. Before that, he and his wife lived in Pueblo. Yet, as far as I can tell with all of my conversations with him, he is a Fowler man. His home is Fowler, and wherever he goes or moves, I don't see that changing. Then I get home, look on Facebook, and here is Eric with this Fowler golf shirt in the middle of Kansas City. Very cool. Fowler is Eric's Jerusalem according to the 11 book.
The thing is, I am not sure I have a "Jerusalem". I am not sure I have this one place that I go to and call that "home". Oh sure, I could name a general geographic region of the country. I am from the Northwest, and every day I am not there I miss it. But is Homer, AK my Jerusalem?? That is where I went to high school. Is Roseburg, Oregon my Jerusalem? That is where I spent the first 10 years of my life. Belgrade, Montana sure felt very homey.
Should I choose a place and just call it my home, or does that place choose me? I have always felt a little homeless. Since I was 10 I have not really lived in one place for more than 5 years. My homes have included Ashland, Oregon; Soldotna, Alaska; Homer, Alaska; Deerfield, IL,; Sterling, KS; Kansas City, KS; Belgrade, MT; Colorado Springs, CO; and Fowler, CO. I also spent summers in Stony River, AK; Powers Lake, ND; and Canton, IL.
I think people who are "grounded" in a particular place are more and more rare. But you still do see them. My friend Amy is a Kansas girl through and through. As is my friend Alvin, even though he lives in the Eastern Colorado plains right now. My mom would always consider Roseburg, Or home.
Many of my family, who had followed jobs around to different places in the West, had an episode where they decided to head back "home" to Oregon. Some of them found a place to land back there. Others went there and discovered that the Oregon they knew and grew up in and passed them by. You can't always go back home.
Where is home to you? is it where you were born, or some place you discovered? Do you feel like you are grounded in a certain place? Why or why not?
Wednesday, July 22, 2009
A few months ago I was visiting with another pastor in our area. The pastor is a big fan of the book of Romans. He preached through it in his first couple of years here, and now several years later he is preaching through it again. He used to be among many other things, a computer programmer. When we talked about why he like Romans, he talked about how it breaks down spiritual truth into something resembling binary logic.
I had a hard time agreeing with my friend. I had a hard time because I am not sure the book of Romans is really about a binary approach to faith. More importantly, I am not sure the spiritual realm follows the rules of mathmatics and scientific method.
It is interesting. The first five books of the Old Testament are called "The Law". Yet, a good portion of that "law" is written not in the form of legal code, but rather in the form of a story.
When we reduce the spiritual realm to scientific method or binary logic we reduce it into something we can quantify, understand, control, and manipulate for our own benefit. Yet, in fact, spriritual life is less about an equastion as it is about a relationship. Relationships are dynamic, not very easy controlled, and often completely unpredictable. Yet, at the same time relationships are emotionally renewing, beautiful, powerful, and things we cannot live without.
The spiritual life, I believe, is as much of an art as it is a science. As much a relationship as it is a to do list. As much a matter of the heart as it is of the mind. What do you think?
This week in Bible study we were looking at the concept of listening through what God says through James. Specifically we were discussing listening to God.
One thing that stuck out to all of us was the sense in which this section of Scripture reminds us to slow down in order to listen to God. The passage reminds us to be "slow" to speak. It challenges us to be "slow" to get angry. Then when it talks about recieving wisdom from God is contrasts someone who looks into the mirror, but then moves so quickly they forget what they look like, while someone who does what is right focuses on the truth of God intently and remembers it.
It seems, if we want to have God speaking his truth into our lives, we have to be little slower. For me this is easier said than done
Tuesday, July 21, 2009
1 Now the word of the LORD came to Jonah the son of Amittai, saying, 2 "Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and cry out against it; for their wickedness has come up before Me." 3 But Jonah arose to flee to Tarshish from the presence of the LORD. He went down to Joppa, and found a ship going to Tarshish; so he paid the fare, and went down into it, to go with them to Tarshish from the presence of the LORD.
4 But the LORD sent out a great wind on the sea, and there was a mighty tempest on the sea, so that the ship was about to be broken up.
5 Then the mariners were afraid; and every man cried out to his god, and threw the cargo that was in the ship into the sea, to lighten the load.[a] But Jonah had gone down into the lowest parts of the ship, had lain down, and was fast asleep.
6 So the captain came to him, and said to him, "What do you mean, sleeper? Arise, call on your God; perhaps your God will consider us, so that we may not perish."
7 And they said to one another, "Come, let us cast lots, that we may know for whose cause this trouble has come upon us." So they cast lots, and the lot fell on Jonah. 8 Then they said to him, "Please tell us! For whose cause is this trouble upon us? What is your occupation? And where do you come from? What is your country? And of what people are you?"
9 So he said to them, "I am a Hebrew; and I fear the LORD, the God of heaven, who made the sea and the dry land."
10 Then the men were exceedingly afraid, and said to him, "Why have you done this?" For the men knew that he fled from the presence of the LORD, because he had told them. 11 Then they said to him, "What shall we do to you that the sea may be calm for us?"—for the sea was growing more tempestuous.
12 And he said to them, "Pick me up and throw me into the sea; then the sea will become calm for you. For I know that this great tempest is because of me."
13 Nevertheless the men rowed hard to return to land, but they could not, for the sea continued to grow more tempestuous against them. 14 Therefore they cried out to the LORD and said, "We pray, O LORD, please do not let us perish for this man's life, and do not charge us with innocent blood; for You, O LORD, have done as it pleased You." 15 So they picked up Jonah and threw him into the sea, and the sea ceased from its raging. 16 Then the men feared the LORD exceedingly, and offered a sacrifice to the LORD and took vows.
17 Now the LORD had prepared a great fish to swallow Jonah. And Jonah was in the belly of the fish three days and three nights.
I love to preach Old Testament Stories. I love to preach them for several reasons. First of all, many of us hear of and read the stories we heard as Sunday School, and we keep them in our minds as "Sunday School stories". As children's stories. Yet, I have found, as I read these passages as an adult, the story sounds different to me. That is not because God's word has changed. God's word is unchanging. It is because as I reread this story as an adult I am different, and so I hear it different, and different things speak to me.
The book of Jonah is very much this way. When I was young I was very entertained that a man could live three years in the belly of a great fish. I was amazed at how powerful God was in the middle of the seas and how he orchestrated everything just so, so that Jonah would be able to survive three days and three nights in the belly of that fish until it barfed him up on the seashore three days later. As a young boy, I always like Bible stories that has gross bodily functions like vomit in them.
As an adult, I am less interested in the biological matters this passage communicates that the spiritual truths it explores.
The book of Jonah is 48 verses long. Four brief chapters. The first chapter tells us the most famous part of the passage. The second chapter is a song Jonah sings. The third chapter tells us about what God did in Nineveh. The fourth chapter talks about Jonah's response to his success as a missionary.
Although there is a supporting cast, this drama is really about Jonah and God. It begins and ends with the word of God coming to Jonah. The supporting cast is touched and changed—yes. But God is speaking to Jonah here. We are seeing and hearing this through his experience.
I believe as we read this, we should read this as a parable. What I mean by that is this. I think we are meant to put ourselves in the middle of this story, and experience what is happening to Jonah as if it is happening to us. We are meant to see ourselves in Jonah, and through seeing ourselves in Jonah to respond to God accordingly.
This may be hard for some of us, but it is also ok to notice the wry and dark humor and irony of the book. Everything Jonah doesn't want he gets foisted upon him. God asks him to go one way, and he not only doesn't go, he finds the furthest place in the other direction to head toward. He doesn't want to be a missionary to non-Jews, he doesn't like them, but they keep responding to his message through worship and repentance anyway.
First and foremost though, this book is about God. In forty eight verses the name of God is mentioned thirty nine times. Most often the name of God as YAHWEH is used, which is meant to direct us that this whole story is about a covenant relationship, and about what it means to be in relationship with God. It is about who God loves, how God loves, and how God's love defies all expectations. Much as Jesus reflects back on Jonah as a type about his death and resurrection, Jonah points forward to a Jesus that came to earth because he loved us all, and would not let us go.
Anyway…the book of Jonah begins with the voice of the Lord calling out to Jonah.
God says to Jonah "Jonah, I want you to get UP and go UP to Nineveh and preach my word to them".
Jonah says nothing. He walks out of the temple high on God's holy hill. He heads down the stairs of that holy temple of God. He descends to the city gate. He heads out of town, out of the mountains, and downhill to the port city of Joppa. Once he hits the port city of Joppa he goes to the port, and the scripture says he goes DOWN into a boat. Eventually he goes down into the bottom of the boat once he is on the boat.
Jonah buys his fare to Tarshish, which is the opposite direction from Nineveh. Jonah is asked to go to Syria, he heads to Spain, on the other side of the Mediterreanean Sea.
God is up. Jonah tries to head as far down as he can get. God calls him from Israel, he tries to get as far away from Israel as he can get. God said, "Go to Nineveh, or better, go to Baghdad Iraq. Jonah heads in the direction of the French Riviera.
Specifically, the Bible says that Jonah fled. He did not stop, he did not collect $200. He ran away from God as best as he could, as fast as he could, as far as he could. The word for flee here speaks not of fear in the face of an enemy, but of fleeing relationship. Fleeing community. He wanted nothing to do with this God who wanted Him to go to Nineveh.
Nineveh, according to the prophet Nahum, was a wicked place. It was violent. It ran through and conquered everyone and everything in its path. Including Israel. It conquered Israel's cities. It killed Israel's people. It had killed and conquered half the known world. And then, after they conquered places, the Ninevites would tax the countries that they had taken over with extremely high taxes.
Israelites hated Ninevites. Israelites were scared of Ninevites. And now Jonah was supposed to go and preach to these people that he hated and was scared of. That is what God told him. And he ran. He ran away as best he could.
Have you ever tried to run away? Have you ever tried to run away from God? Have you ever felt like God wanted you to do one thing, and you wanted to do something totally different?
Maybe you were angry with God. A loved one died. A friend betrayed you. An opportunity was lost. A prayer wasn't answered. And you became angry with God. And so you ran from Him. You would not go to church. You would not pray. You would not read your Bible.
Maybe you felt like God was asking you to do something. Be a pastor. Be a deacon. Go on a mission trip. And you chose to not listen. To do something else. To go the other way.
Perhaps it is just moments in your life where you have ran from God. You see a person in need and you feel led to help, but you try and get as far away from the person as you can. You feel led to give more, but you make a hundred excuses why you shouldn't. You have been asked to help somebody with something, and you make up an excuse so you don't have to help, even though you know you should. And some point, or in some way, we have all ran. Jonah just makes this running from God to an art form.
I remember when I started to run. I had just finished a hard year of ministry. I was starting to think maybe I might want to do something different than serve the Lord in ministry. I took off and spend a couple of weeks with my mother toward the end of the summer. She had some friends, and I was lined up to do this mental health work with at risk kids through the school district. The job paid better. I could live at home and pay off bills. It sounded good. I was going to be able to run away from all of the difficulties of ministry, make good money, be near family. I could just run away from all the stress of the church and where I lived.
Then I remembered the story of Jonah. And I remembered that I was running. I remembered that running did not get Jonah very far. And it would not get me very far either. And I went back to the church. And I continued to serve and press on in ministry.
So Jonah ran to that boat headed for Tarshish. And he got on it. And soon as they were out to sea the winds began to blow. And the seas began to get rough. And the storm threatened to break up the ship and everyone on board became scared they were going to die. They all started praying to their own gods. They started throwing the cargo overboard. They were afraid for their lives.
Jonah was sleeping at the bottom of the boat. They woke him up. He said he was the cause of the storm. They cast lots. The lots said he was the cause of the storm. He told them to throw Him overboard. That this was God coming after Him. They were afraid to throw him overboard. He convinced Him to do it. They threw him in the ocean. The seas died down. These soldiers started worshipping the God of the Bible.
You see, this man running from God, running from ministry, is still being used by God. As a matter of fact, he, through his disobedience, evangelizes the whole boat without really trying. He tried to run from God, but he could not really do it.
When he was thrown into the water, the Lord rescued Jonah through a whale. That whale swam back to Israel, and vomited him back up on the seashore. Probably the same seashore that he left.
The Lord told him to go to Nineveh. He ran away. The Lord pursued Him. The Lord would not let Jonah go. Jonah could try and run away. But he could never really truly run away from God.
Neither can we.
We may think we can run away from God, but God does not give up on us that quickly. We try and ignore God, but he keeps coming after us. We try and hide from God, but he knows right where we are. We can try and give up on God, but he never gives up on us.
The old poem called the Hound of Heaven talks about how we try and run and flee from God. From what God wants us to do. From the kind of men and women God wants us to be. We flee. We run. We hide. But God, the poem goes, is a like a hound that picks up our scent. He keeps pursuing. He keeps coming after us. Deliberately. Directly. He keeps pursuing. God loves us so much he will not let us go. He will not let us hide. He will sniff us out. He will hunt us down. And he will ask us to trust him. To come with him. To follow him. To accept him. To do his will.
And if you are running from God, don't think he will not do whatever he needs to do to turn you around. To bring your back. To get your attention. He will rock your boat. He will make your life feel like a sinking ship. You may think you can take control, but nothing in this world will feel like it is in your control. Because He, the Lord has a plan for you and he will not let you go. Even if He has to make you brokenhearted, miserable, helpless, and hopeless to bring you back to Himself. He will keep chasing you. He will keep seeking you out. So you better obey Him. You better make a commitment to follow Him. You better do his will.
So often, we think that we are in charge. We think that when God asks us to do something, tells us in his word about what his will is, that our obedience, that our participation in His plan is somehow open to negotiation. We say God, I will do this, but I will not do that. Or I won't do this, but I will do that instead. The truth is it is futile to try follow God on our terms and in our way. Following Jesus is about surrendering to Him. Submitting to his will. So stop bargaining, stop negotiating, and start obeying and let God use you the way he wants to use you.
We also can run by simply sitting still. By refusing to go out into the world and be a witness and an influence in the world around us. But God will keep prodding us and pushing us to go where he wants us to go, and do what he wants us to do. He will make us frustrated and miserable if he has to in order to get us to carry out His work and His mission.
We are a good church. We are a faithful church. But we will continue to take the small steps and make the small changes we need to make as a church to go into our mission field, this community, and continue to reach out to it. It will be hard at times. We will feel like we are failing. We will be uncomfortable, but we will not run away. We will not hide. We will go where God asks us to go. We will do what God asks us to do. And we will say what God asks us to say. And we will DEPEND on Him to bless us, our ministry, our witness. Knowing that the power of God goes with us when we obey Him. That he uses obedient hearts to transform others lives and to transform us.
Sisters and brothers, we can not hide from God. He loves us. He will not let us go. So let us stop running, and choose to accept his love, accept his call, accept his mission, and change the world in our little place….in our little corner. Amen.
Tuesday, July 14, 2009
Sunday, July 12, 2009
Doctor of Ministry
Ashland Theological Seminary
George Fox Theological Seminary
Bethel Seminar--especially the Strengths-Based Leadership
University of Pennsylvania
Saint Louis Univeristy
Friday, July 10, 2009
Thursday, July 09, 2009
2. I continue to buy new books even when I have not read the old ones.
3. I shop for books alone.
4. I put together a budget with expenses each month. I do not include book buying
expenses because I am ashamed.
5. When I think of winning the lottery, one of the first things I would do is buy
book on my wish list.
6. I don't just like to read books. When I am in the store I touch them, smell them,
caress them. Ocassionally I make noises. My wife gets jealous.
Wednesday, July 08, 2009
The last couple of days, both on sports and entertainment television and in the news, we have seen people struggling to come to terms with the death of two people prominent in entertainment, and one person who has all but killed her career with an impulsive decision to quit her governorship before her term was over.
There is an old proverb that says, "All is well that ends well". In many ways this is true. But what about when you don't end well? What happens when you end horribly? Should it color everything that has come before? Or should we dismiss the poor ending?
When I was little, I was always reminded by people at church that I did not want to be ashamed when Jesus came back. If I were to tempted to steal something, I was to remind myself about what it would be like if Jesus came back and raptured the church at that very moment. The same is true when I was tempted into sexual sin, or maybe even to do drugs. In all those moments I was to consider how I would feel if I was to be raptured in the middle of illicit sin. This concept is something I remember today, and even something I think about when I tempted occasionally.
Several hundred years ago there was a man who did a lot of good things. He was a leader for his nation. He stood against tyranny alone. He stood upon the Word of God when it hurt. He said he could "do no other".
However, despite his stand for grace and for the choice of the individual to accept or reject Jesus, Luther's story does not end well. Although Luther was charitable toward Jews in his early ministry, he was increasingly anti-semetic as he got older. Since he was a "modern apostle" for Germany, much of his anti-semetic writings were then used by Hitler and Nazi Germany to get the church to support the persecution of Jews. Luther did not end well. Do I dismiss all the good he did? No. Does the end of his ministry color how I see his other accomplishments. Unfortunately it does.
Last week Sarah Palin quit as governor of Alaska after a little less than three years of service. She gave a long rambling speech that did not make sense. Many of my more liberal blogger friends were not big fans of Sarah. My wife is not a fan. I always rooted for Ms. Palin. I thought she was the champion of the common person. I liked her style when she started on the campaign trail. I thought she was wise to confront David Letterman. Yet, when I think of her now, I will view her political career in light of her resignation. Barring a come back, I will see her as someone who liked the limelight but did not have a lot of substance. I will view her political career in light of its ending, and conclude that we were extremely wise not to choose her. I will think in the 2008 election we dodged one of the biggest bullets in our nation's history. I will see the election of Barack Obama as divine providence if I did not already. All of this is true in light of how Sarah Palin ended her political career.
Recently we saw Steve McNair die at the hands of his mistress. I admired Steve McNair as a football player and media figure. He was a class act as an athlete. I admired his outreach to his community. I loved his toughness on the football field, and how his teammates adored him. But is how I percieve him influenced by how he died? Yes it is. I may not look at him and say I am better than him. That would be judgmental. But I am also realistic. He was sleeping with a 19 year old girl. I know 19 year old girls. I have worked with them for years. Committing adultery with a 19 year old when you are a 40 year old man is CRAZY. It is, to a certain extent, a death wish. There is a reason that Proverbs says that the adulterous woman leads you to death. Because things like what happened to Steve McNair happen to you. And, unfortunately, when most of us think of Steve McNair we will think of how he died and how he lived his last weeks. We will think of that more than how he lived. Even if we try and convince ourselves to do otherwise, we will not be able to help it.
We have also observed Michael Jackson die of a drug overdose. Michael was a skilled musician. He was very wealthy. But as I watch his funeral, I believe there is a lot of revisionist history in the media memorials of him as well as the eulogizing his life. He had a couple of good songs 25 years ago. He also took strange boys into his bed (by his own admission), gave underage children alcohol, and had sexually inappropriate relationships with children (he was not convicted, but his accusers are more credible than he was). He hung his children off of balconies. He had more plastic surgery than anyone I have seen. He felt so bad about himself he completely marred his appearance. Was he generous? Yes. Did he sing some songs that touched peoples hearts? Yes. Did he die a drug addict who seemed obscessed with showering his affection on pre-pubecent boys? Yes. Yet, there are many political figures who would strive to make us feel guilty to think of him as anything less than a crusader for racial equality and justice (he was not this). And a trubador of sorts. Yet, try as we must, what we will remember him for is a person who thought himself so priviledged that the rules that applied to others did not apply to him. And it is this approach to life that killed him. And we should not forget it, even if we remember any other good things as well.
Like it or not, we are often remembered for the last thing we did. I just hope that by God's grace my last thing is more beautiful and true than theirs.
17 Now in giving these instructions I do not praise you, since you come together not for the better but for the worse. 18 For first of all, when you come together as a church, I hear that there are divisions among you, and in part I believe it. 19 For there must also be factions among you, that those who are approved may be recognized among you. 20 Therefore when you come together in one place, it is not to eat the Lord's Supper. 21 For in eating, each one takes his own supper ahead of others; and one is hungry and another is drunk. 22 What! Do you not have houses to eat and drink in? Or do you despise the church of God and shame those who have nothing? What shall I say to you? Shall I praise you in this? I do not praise you.
23 For I received from the Lord that which I also delivered to you: that the Lord Jesus on the same night in which He was betrayed took bread; 24 and when He had given thanks, He broke it and said, "Take, eat;[a] this is My body which is broken[b] for you; do this in remembrance of Me." 25 In the same manner He also took the cup after supper, saying, "This cup is the new covenant in My blood. This do, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of Me."
26 For as often as you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord's death till He comes.
27 Therefore whoever eats this bread or drinks this cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of the body and blood[c] of the Lord. 28 But let a man examine himself, and so let him eat of the bread and drink of the cup. 29 For he who eats and drinks in an unworthy manner[d] eats and drinks judgment to himself, not discerning the Lord's[e] body. 30 For this reason many are weak and sick among you, and many sleep. 31 For if we would judge ourselves, we would not be judged. 32 But when we are judged, we are chastened by the Lord, that we may not be condemned with the world.
33 Therefore, my brethren, when you come together to eat, wait for one another. 34 But if anyone is hungry, let him eat at home, lest you come together for judgment. And the rest I will set in order when I come.
The Corinthian church is an interesting church. You have to look no further than the Corinthians to know that the early church had just as many struggles, just as many problems, and just as many difficulties to face as the world does today.
The Corinthian church has arguments over how to worship, about which former pastor was the best pastor they should like the best, about how to deal with the church leader that was sleeping with his father's wife, they were suing each other right and left, they were soliciting prostitutes openly. The church was in fact, a mess. And Paul, in his letter, was trying to teach the Corinthian people how to get their church on the right track.
This Sunday, we are going to start a short series of First Sunday sermons that will focus on the Lord's Supper, and we will go into depth about what it means. We will continue this sermons series during First Sundays in September, October, and November. We are starting this sermon series with the I Corinthians passage. Many scholars believe that First Corinthians was the first written account of the Lord's Supper that we have, because most scholars believe the epistle of I Corinthians predates the writing of the gospels.
So, we are looking in on the Corinthian church, and as I said earlier, things do not look so pretty. Even in their worship services. Even in the way that they conduct the Lord's supper. The apostle Paul reports division (v.18), grandstanding (v. 19). They are having what they might call a "love feast" and what we might call a "potluck" as a part of their communion service. One person is "getting drunk". Another person is not even getting a bite to eat. (v. 19-20). In other words, the well-liked and popular people in the church are getting preferential treatment. The poor and the rejected in the world are being treated the same way in the church. Not good. This situation is NOT GOOD.
The apostle Paul scolds the people. He is sarcastic in verse 19. He comes right out and says "I will not praise you" in verse 22. In verses 27-34 he reminds them that they need to come to communion correctly as a church or they are going to be judged by God accordingly, both in this life and in the life to come. And in verse 23-26, he re-teaches the Corinthians on how communion should be done, and re-focuses them on what communion is all about.
You see the problem with Corinthian church is that they thought that the church should look just a like a newly religious version of the world. And they were wrong. Oh so wrong. And their approach to communion shows this as much as anything.
To understand what is going on with the Corinthian church we need to know a little bit about their culture, as well as the way that their church was organized.
First of all, it is important to know that on many worship occasions, the church in Corinth did not meet in church buildings. At least not very often. Most of the time the churches met in homes of patrons, or members that had the wealth and thus the property to host such meetings. Sometimes they would get access to larger meeting areas as well, but there was no such thing as a church building in the early church. You just had to work with whatever resources you could use. Often this meant that most church activities took place in homes. These homes would have larger social areas and courtyards in them. Then they would have these dining rooms where at most 15 people could fit in them. The built this way because this construction helped facilitate the non-religious and sometimes idolatrous association meetings of their culture and time.
These association meetings evolved through a process, but the time of Paul and the Corinthian church they looked a little like this. There would be this meeting men who were in some sort of trade. Say a plumbers union. And the big wigs of the unions would be in the room that was closest to the host. In fact, seating in the dining room would be organized so that the 15 or so people with the most status would be in the smaller formal dining room. They would have the best food and wine. But in order to show their generosity and love for community they would invite others, maybe low wage workers for them or even slaves that were associated with their work. And they would be out in the courtyard. The people that were wealthy politicians and businessmen, well respected leaders would get the good food, and the other people that came would get the leftovers.
Then at the end of the meal, the common people would have a brief encounter with the host, and then be dismissed. The "inner circle" would retire to a continuing "after party" that often included all the guys going to somewhere else in the house or the property, participating in some activity together for their mutual enjoyment. For the brainy guys this might mean having some special philosopher as a guest to speak to them. For the average crowd, in might mean 10-15 guys going to the basement and playing pool after everyone else left. For the average crowd, in might mean 10-15 guys going to the basement and playing pool after everyone else left. For the rowdy guys, this could mean some illicit entertainment from local women of poor reputation while they got drunk.
Furthermore, the unequal treatment of the guests at these parties became legendary. The well-regarded people would get the best treatment. The guest out in the courtyard would get poorer treatment. Nasty food. And sometimes they would go away feeling snubbed.
A writer around the time of Paul writes this about what these association meals were like…listen…this is pretty funny….at least I find it amusing
Since I am asked to dinner…why is not the same dinner served to me as you? You take oysters fattened in the Lucrine lake, I suck a muscle through a hole in the shell; you get mushrooms, I take hog funguses; you tackle turbot, but I brill. Golden with fat, a turtledove gorges you with its bloated rump; there is before me a magpie that has died in its cage. Why do I dine without you although, Ponticus, I am dining with you? Let us eat the same fare.
The Lord's Supper service was a special worship service for the Corinthians. Everything centered around a meal, like a potluck or a wedding reception, and then at the end of the meal, after enjoying one another's company, they would have the communion service.
To outsiders, that may want to persecute them, this Lord's Supper service would have looked just like an association meeting. On the surface this was a good thing. At times in the early church, people wanted to persecute or kill Christians. This way they did not draw attention to themselves.
But the love feast and communion service was to be different, because it was to reflect the message of Jesus, and the kind of world God was trying to use followers of Jesus to make. It was supposed to reflect a community of love. Like the self-sacrificial love that Jesus offered through his death on the cross. It was supposed to reflect a family of equals. Where the slave and the free man, the woman and the man, the Greek and the Jew, the rich and the poor, persons of every race and family background, where they all had equal status and equal footing because they were all children of God.
Unfortunately, the Corinthians were abusing the Lord's Supper by using it to carry on the same unfairness, the same inequality, the same bad habits as the worldly association meetings.
The wealthy and powerful people were getting the nicest seats and the best food. And they were eating before everyone else. And then the average and low-status and low-income members of the church were left standing out in the courtyard and getting the leftovers. Then they would pass out the communion elements, but the "in crowd" would have the communion wine and bread first, and then the rest of us would get the leftovers.
Then as the service came to an end, the most well connected members of the church would go to after party, and some of them would even get drunk. And some of those in the back row of the crowd outside in the courtyard would go away hungry and thirsty.
This makes Paul angry. Because their celebration of the body and blood of Christ betrays the kind of life Jesus lived, the death Jesus died, and the mission of the church he birthed through his death and resurrection. Jesus died so that we, the Corinthians, Christians around the world, Christians of yesterday and today, and believers here in Fowler Colorado and at Fowler First Baptist would live in way where we would create a community that would reflect the new way of living and loving one another than the world. Where we were brothers and sisters in Christ, and equals and partners in kingdom work, no matter what other roles we had in our everyday lives. The Corinthian's behavior was not reflecting this truth of the gospel.
So Paul sets out to remind them what the Lord's Supper was all about, and how to do it properly.
First of all, Paul focuses us clearly on Christ's work on the cross. His body was broken for me and for you. His blood was shed for me and for you. He died for each of us so that we may all live for Him. We don't come to Christ with one of us more in need of a savior than the other. No. We all come to Christ as sinners. We all come to Christ in need of a Savior.
We don't come to church to find social connections. We don't come to church to raise our standing in the community. No. We join the followers of Christ because EACH of US has sinned, EACH of us has fallen equally short, AND EACH of us is in need of a SAVIOR. And EACH person who partakes of the Lord's Supper proclaims not that they are a somebody in the world, but that they were heading the WRONG WAY until they accepted Christ and became children of God. Children of the king. Our focus should be first and foremost on Him.
But it should also give consideration for the kind of church family, the kind of community he came to create. A church family where each of us has a role to play, and none of us stands above one another as better than the rest of us. A church family where each person is valued. Not where one person is treated like a king, and another person is treated like a nuisance.
This is the reason we do the Lord's Supper the way we do. We pass the elements to one another, and in that way each of us serves one another as brothers and sisters in Christ. Each of us eats together, just as Paul commanded, so that we reflect our mutual commitment to follow Jesus together as a body of believers.
We come to this table, and we say that it is open to anyone who has chosen to follow Christ. If you are a believer in Jesus, you can share communion with us as a brother or sister in Christ.
Five times the apostle Paul tells the Corinthians to come together in these 18 verses. He tells us that when we take communion together we proclaim the Lord's death until he comes.
Of course this means that we continue to remind one another of Christ's great sacrifice on the cross. He died for us, so that we can spend eternity with Him. We must never forget this.
But what we often miss is that we are proclaiming this truth together. We are proclaiming to live together following the way Jesus went to the cross. Giving up our rights. Giving up our power. Giving up our desire to take from others and put ourselves above others. And we proclaim that we believe that Christ showed us a way of equality and justice, of service, of compassion, of grace. In a world where everyone tries to impress others, to gain status and wealth, we stand together worshipping a God who endured the shame of the cross, who gave his all for us, so that we could live for Him.
We come not as pastor, or deacon, as a member for 80 years or one year. We do not come as poor or rich. We come to the table as brothers and sisters. As equals in God's eyes. Standing together. Serving together. Loving each other through thick and thin. Not because of the kind of people that we are. Oh no. We would make it all about us. But because of the kind of people Jesus is making each of us, and the kind of people he is knitting us together to be as a church.
Thursday, July 02, 2009
I just finished the book A Community Called Atonement by Scot McKnight. It was a good book. It brought out a lot of good concepts. However, it was a little too textbook-like for me. We chose to read this book in our Together in Ministry group (American Baptist Minister's Small Group). We found it interesting at points, but a little bit tedious in others.
The title is brilliant. It is a double-entendre. On one hand, it a community centered view of the doctrine of the atonement. However, the title also works because it approaches the doctrine of the atonement from many different angles, and shows how each of the major schools of atonement theology tell a part of the story of what the cross accomplished, without telling all of it.
I felt that the book for me was redundant. I think this is for several reasons. First, I went to a mainline seminary as an evangelical. This forced me to examine the truth in what I was taught without abandoning my evangelical convictions. In many ways this is what Mcknight tries to do for his "evangelically emergent" crowd. Secondly, I read "The Story We Find Ourselves In" by Brian McLaren. McLaren does a readers digest version of this book when explaining the doctrine in narrative form.
I love McKnight's blog. He is a decent writer. But when I read this book, I felt like I had read all of this before.
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