Friday, January 28, 2005

Reflections On Purpose and Pain.

Having a theological mind can be a pain at times.

See, I have this issue where I can hardly ever sit back and just enjoy things; my mind is constantly in a mode of theological reflection. Watching movies, listening to music, flipping hamburgers, it doesn't matter; I am always reflecting on things in light of Scripture.

The problem with that is that I have a hard time enjoying things for what they are. Rarely am I able to simply enjoy an experience for its own sake. It seems that there always needs to be meaning and purpose.

As you might imagine, when things happen wherein there is no discernible purpose or meaning, I get cranky. When I can't sense purpose, I have a hard time feeling hope, at least a God-based hope. I can of course make one up, but that isn't worth much.

Oddly enough, it isn't big events that cause me this problem. 9/11, Tsunamis, I can sense that God has a purpose behind those things. Its actually little things, well relatively little things, like heartbreak, that I struggle with. What purpose to having one's heart broken? I cannot fathom that. Maybe its because really big disasters seem somehow abstract and unreal. Not experiencing them first hand makes them easier to handle than the heartaches which are so personal and so haunting. Maybe its just easier to believe that a cosmic God would bother with a purpose for great global tragedies. Beside that, why should God bother with my bruised ego or crushed feelings?

But I know God does bother. He is intimately acquainted with all my griefs. He loves me that much. To find purpose in pain is really a matter of letting love break through the misery. But that means letting yourself be vulnerable to God. And isn't vulnerability what starts you on the path to heartbreak?

Thank you Lord that you will never break my heart.

Thursday, January 27, 2005

Midway to Midlife Crisis

The longer I live, I find, the more I crave security. Maybe that makes sense, but I have to admit I really grieve the reality that implies.

I used to be a pretty adventurous guy. I mean, I was not one to do wildly illegal stuff; I never really even smoked. But I was willng to go anywhere, try anything. Pick up and leave everything? No problem. Start over? Sure.

Part of the reason for that I suppose is thatfor a time back then I had not that much to leave behind. I had no wife, no kids, no reputation, no family that I cared about. Later, after I became a Christian, I had a spiritual family, but I also had a spiritual zeal, a courage, that allowed me to belie I could go anywhere God asked. And I did too. I lived 1000 miles from my hometown, I moved to a fairly remote village, all in the name of Christ. I moved frequently. That took courage, going to new places all the time, knowing no one.

Nowadays though I find it takes more courage to stay put. I am now scared to stay in one place too long. I got so used to moving and making short term relationshps that my security was found in finitude. I now have a family I love, a reputation to be concerned about. That's a big change for me.

The reality now is that I am afraid to have deep relationships. Moving around meant having to make good, sometimes very good, friends in a short time, knowing that they were temporary. The propsect of a life-long friendship is now more real, and that frightens me. It is hard for a life-long nomad to settle down in one spot.

Who would have thought that setting down roots would give me a crisis of security?

I believe that I am but a stranger in this world. This world is not my home. Neverthless I now realise that I am here making relationships with brothers and sisters in Christ that will last for eternity. I had better get around to enjoying them now.

Monday, January 24, 2005

About Making Life Easy For Leaders

Obey your spiritual leaders and do what they say. Their work is to watch over your souls, and they know they are accountable to God. Give them reason to do this joyfully and not with sorrow. That would certainly not be for your benefit. (Heb. 13:17, NLT)

I have always been uncomfortable with the whole authority thing in pastoral leadership. I don't want to be a tyrant or anything, and I don't like to see people be dominated or over-awed. To a point, I guess I don't want to stick out or be "special" in that way. But I am realizing, slowly, that being a pastor means I am different. Not better, but different, and I need to get comfortable wit being different.

Sometimes I will get all "aw shucks" and I think its because I want to be a "regular guy". I am that by personality, but I think sometimes I over do it, over-compensate for my calling. I end up making myself look frivolous, and that doesn't give glory to God.

I do still have some work with getting comfortable with my calling, who I am.

thankfully, I am in a wonderful church which truly supports me, and wants me to grow. Not change who I am, but to grow into who I am. Big difference. I thank God for my church. The people give me reason to be joyful in my service every day.

Friday, January 21, 2005

Hard To Believe

The question has come up a lot lately: How do I believe?

I really don't know how to answer that. Part of me wants to get all Nike and say "just do it." But I know that isn't enough. Not that it isn't true; believing is a decision you make, and no one and nothing can force you into it. If you believe when there is no reason, that's your choice. If you don't believe when there is every reason to, that is also your choice. Faith is, in that sense, very much a decision. You just have to do it.

But why isn't it enough to tell a person to just make the decision to believe? I think its because you have to also convince them the decision is worth making. People don't want to be wrong, and they certainly don't want to be wrong over something as important as heaven. If they are going to believe it is because they are convinced that it is right to do so, and they are not afraid to stake their eternal lives on it.

So: certainty and courage. I am tempted to say it is just conviction. We often speak of conviction in Christian circles as that which the Holy Spirit does in a person. The Holy Spirit brings a person to a place where he or she is certain of being in the wrong in the great argument with God. But knowing you're in the wrong and having the courage to go to the other party to be pardoned are not the same thing.

So where does the courage come from? I think the same Holy Spirit that gives the certainty of being in the wrong through conviction also gives the courage to go and ask for forgiveness. I believe in what is called the Effectual Call of God. It refers to God's calling a person to make the decision for faith, a call that is always answered with faith. I believe that the Call itself is something that inspires such assurance of pardon that the courage is evoked in a person to believe. When that Call comes, you can say "just do it" and the person called in fact will.

A Scripture worth thinking about:

Peter replied, "Each of you must turn from your sins and turn to God, and be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. Then you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. This promise is to you and to your children, and even to the Gentiles[a]--all who have been called by the Lord our God." Acts 2:38,39 (NLT)

Tuesday, January 18, 2005

A Tribute

Faith Snively was a wonderful Christian who went to be with her Lord this week. I was truly privileged to be her pastor.

She was not a young woman, but her spirit never seemed old, and that is amazing since her life was one that would have withered many a hardy soul.

She was a woman of great desire to learn of God, and that despite what she called a failing memory. It didn't seem to matter. Her Spirit groomed wisdom was always apparent.

Her reliance upon God was always obvious. She was steadfast in prayer, seeking strength and guidance from God for even the littlest things. She showed God's love in many tremendous ways. She was patient with others foibles. She always cared for the salvation of her family. She always wanted the best for them, and that always meant Jesus.

Visiting her was always a trial in the best possible way. I would always resolve before entering the house that THIS TIME I would minister to her. I would always fail as she unerringly sought to be a loving support to her pastor. I always left feeling better than when I arrived. It isn't that she wouldn't let me minister to her. She was always just more concerned with what she could do for me than what I could do for her. I guess we were very good for each other that way.

I feel honored to have been called by her the best bible teacher she had ever personally sat under. I doubt I am worthy of the compliment. I receive it though knowing that in that, as in many other things, she probably knows better than I do. I am reminded of something she said to me once. In a very loving way, she told me "you just say thank you when an old woman gives you a compliment."

Well Faith, you who lived up to your name in more ways than I can express, thank you. For more than I can ever say.

Monday, January 17, 2005

Sacred Romanticism

I see your face in a dew drop,
I hear your voice in the mist.
Your presence is prevailing,
A force I cannot resist.

There is nowhere I can hide,
No sanctuary from your beauty.
My heart will not let me hide
or shirk my responsive duty.

Love compels an unreasoned reaction
from a heart touched by grace.
I can neither stop nor stay,
To rapid expression I must race.

If I could touch the face I seek,
be held by the arms everlasting,
I would praise your pre-eminence,
against you all else be contrasting.

To be in that place of intimacy divine
Will be a privilge too perfect for me
But mine it will be on that Day
When You face to face I see.

Saturday, January 15, 2005

Can I Get Here From There??

Sometimes reflection is a worthwhile thing.

From me, that is something of a concession, since I am very much a person who detests people gazing in fascination at their navels while the solution to their problems is at eye level. I know that most people know me to be a person of almost perpetual reflection, but that is a learned behavior. By nature I am somewhat impatient with reflection, at least reflection that has to do with myself.

There is a biblical passage that speaks to this: "Don't long for "the good old days," for you don't know whether they were any better than today." (Eccl. 7:10, NLT)Too much fascination with the past can lead you astray about where you are in the present, and can get you off course for your future.

But I think there are times when I need to reflect on the past just so I can have a proper perspective on it. I sometimes look at who and what I was in the past, before Jesus, and I am tempted to simply wash over the whole thing as a sorry example of sin and evil. I sometimes think that who I am now bears no resemblance to who I was.

To a point that is true. I do almost none of he bad things I used to, so there are a lot of ways in which my current life is discontiguous from my life before Christ. But there are a lot of positive things I do now that, people tell me, I have always done.

I suppose what I am saying is that it is easier for me to see that God has redeemed some of my worst traits, and replaced others wit positive traits, than it is for me to see how God has used what was already good in me.

See, I am a believer in Total Depravity. I believe that there is nothing about people that has not been touched and tainted by sin. Apart from Jesus, nothing we do is done for Godly reasons. Not even good things.

But that does not mean that everything we do is evil, or that everything about us is evil, certainly not ultimately so.

I believe that, I do. But its easier to believe that about other people than it is to believe it about myself. I guess I am still in the process of accepting God's forgiveness, and the righteous standing that goes with it.

I doubt I am alone among those here in having that issue. I know for a fact that I stand in good company on this bad problem. Paul the apostle called himself the worst of sinners. But I think I do need to have an adjustment in how I understand that perhaps. Read what Paul says for yourself, and you'll see what I mean I hope:

This is a true saying, and everyone should believe it: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners--and I was the worst of them all. But that is why God had mercy on me, so that Christ Jesus could use me as a prime example of his great patience with even the worst sinners. Then others will realize that they, too, can believe in him and receive eternal life. (1Tim. 1:15,16, NLT)

Wednesday, January 12, 2005

A Tale of Two Tensions

Lately the issue of tensions has been coming up in my life. Specifically, the way to balance biblical tensions with theological ones.

Biblical tensions are tensions between passages of Scripture. For instance some passages speak of the role of works in salvation, while others say that salvation is not by works. Another popular example, and, I think, related, is that of God's sovereignty and human responsibility in salvation. In both of these cases there is not necessarily a contradiction involved, but apparent conflict is, and the means of harmonizing the two is not immediately obvious.

Now for some people, like myself, a biblical tension is not much of a problem. I accept easily that Scripture is God's way of telling us Who He is, and as such it carries His authority. Now if God is God, then I expect that not everything about Him will be easy for me to understand, and I also expect that there will be different facets of His nature and character that I will have a hard time holding together in my own understanding. I don't expect God to be easily synthesized into a neat system that my mind can wrap itself around. Tensions actually are to be predicted, almost accepted as inevitable, when trying to fathom so great and awesome a Being as God.

In a nutshell, I accept tensions simply because they are given to us by God. Some people have phrased the idea differently. I understand C.H. Spurgeon called God's sovereignty and human responsibility friends, not needing reconciliation.

The consequence of biblical tensions though is another kind of tension; theological tension. Unless you reconcile biblical passages that stand in a tension, it is impossible to take the Bible and create a seamless system of doctrine from it. Now, obviously, since I don't mind the biblical tension, I don't mind the theological tension. Not everyone agrees on that though. Some folks really cannot stand theological tension. For them it seems to be more important that Scripture speak with a unified voice.

I am not opposed to the idea that Scripture should so speak, but I am opposed to the method that is often used to eliminate the biblical tensions. Basically what happens is an interpreter forces a passage to conform to their particular theology. Now that isn't to say that the interpreter abuses Scripture or disregards the context or anything like that. It does mean though that the interpreter accepts an interpretation as true more because it conforms to his or her theological system and less because it is the best understanding of the passage in its context. This interpretation is always contextually less plausible than the one that creates the tension.

That kind of "harmonizing" actually creates a lot of tension within me. My first commitment is to the Word of God, not a particular theological system. I am distinctly uncomfortable with the idea of causing those teachings to conform to a theological system, however much I might agree with that system.

For some people scripture has to sound like a studio recording of music, with all the sour notes exorcised. Personally I love live music; the missed notes and botched chords give the music a quality of "in the moment" that a studio recording lacks. To me that is more what Scripture is. Scripture just doesn't read like a professional, polished, post-production piece of literature. It reads more like live.

And isn't that how it was written?

Sunday, January 09, 2005

I See Dead People

Yes I do see dead people. All around me. Every day. So do you for that matter. With apologies to those who wrote The Sixth Sense (and those who love that film) being able to see dead people is not such a big deal. Because of what happened with Adam and Eve, this world is full of spiritually dead people.

The funny thing though is that, like Bruce Willis' character in that film, these spiritually dead people don't seem to be aware of their condition. They go through their days as though they were actually alive, and there is nothing wrong.

What can be done to make them aware that not all, perhaps nothing at all, is in fact right with their existence? Well, like Bruce Willis' character, what is needed is someone with the sensitivity, the ability to see grasp the fullness of reality, to grant them the insight. They need someone who can tell them that while they are very nice people, they are still not all right.

If you reading this are a Christian then you have been blessed with that insight, that ability. Share what you know, and help these spiritually dead people have a chance to have real life. Tell them about Jesus who gives us a new birth into a new life, one where there are people who are, in the truest sense of the word, alive.

Yes, doing that may make you seem a bit weird. After all, in a world where most everyone is spiritually dead, you'll be saying: "I See Truly Living People."

Wednesday, January 05, 2005

Taking Account of Accountability

I have begun this week to take on more responsibility in my church as the senior pastor is away on sabbatical for a few months.

I have been taking stock today of how I have prepared myself for the extra work.

I have no idea what most folks would do to get ready for such an event. I imagine that some would plan. Me, I can't say I planned that much. There are some plans, but they would have been made regardless of sabbatical.

Nevertheless I feel prepared. The reason is that I have made an effort to surround myself with people who will hold me accountable. I have of course my elders board that I report my activities to; they are there mostly to make sure I don't over work myself. The moderator of the church is another I am meeting with regularly. His main strength is in being able to deal with specific issues methodically. Any issues that come up will be dealt with, and dealt with biblically and thoroughly, every time. He also does nothing hastily. Whimsical he is not. But that's a good thing; he will keep me from going off chasing rabbits.

I also have meetings with a friend who asks about my spiritual and family life. That's good to have as it is one of those areas pretty well no one will ask about but affects my ministry in a big way.

Then there are three ladies in the church I speak with. They will give me a perspective that none of the others can, what with them being guys and all.

With all of these people talking to me, counseling me, listening to me, and praying for me, I feel prepared for the next four months. I have solid accountability structures. It feels like I have boundaries to work within, and that's actually comforting. It keeps me focused and I feel safe. It also helps me feel confident; I am not alone and these folks won't let me screw up.

I feel I'll come out of the next four month a better pastor than I would otherwise.

Accountability is definitely key in that.

Odds and Ends

From the "Out Of The Mouths of Babes" File:

My youngest (he of the tone deaf ears) said, in a mealtime prayer, "help daddy be less of a grouch." Now I, of course, was wounded to the quick by this remark, having been pretty pleasnt ( so others have told me, thank you very much!) the last coupe of weeks. I asked my progeny when I have been a grouch. His response: "Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday..."

He had the most disgustingly impish grin on his face as he recited each and every day of the week. Clearly hew was savouring the opportunity to stick it to me. Frankly, I think that's a pretty complex and clever dig for the little guy to make. Methinks I am in a lot of trouble when he reaches puberty.

From the "Out of the Mouths of Colour Analysts" file:

Pierre McGuire of TSN commented on the Russian hockey team playing Canada thusly: "They should be called for diving! They're going down faster and easier than free beer at a frat party!"

Incidentally, Canada destroyed the Russians 6-1 to take gold at the World Juniour Hockey Championships.

From the "I should have seen it coming" file:

I posted office hours of 9-11 most mornings. My phone stayed absolutely quiet until 10:55 am.

Finally, from the "Out of the mOuth of God" File:

Ephesians 2:10 (The Message) "No, we neither make nor save ourselves. God does both the making and saving. He creates each of us by Christ Jesus to join him in the work he does, the good work he has gotten ready for us to do, work we had better be doing."

Monday, January 03, 2005

Sunday Sermon for Jan 2/05

I warned you that I was going top be rpeaching out of Hebrews in the new year. Well, here is the first installment.

Jesus: God’s Final Answer (From Hebrews 1:1-4)

In these verses the author of Hebrews is at pains to tell us what “the Word” (John 1:1), Jesus, is God’s final, definitive word, or answer, to humanity. God made many promises to humanity over the years, but, as Paul says: “To the many promises God has made Christ can say `Yes'. He can make them all come true.” (2Co. 1:18, WwE) At the end of the day, we see that in Christ God’s answer to us is an amazing yes; God is for us and not against us.

The opening verses of Hebrews tell us a lot about Jesus, God’s final answer.

1) Jesus Reveals to us our Roots (1:1)
That Jesus is the last in a sequence that includes the OT prophets of Israel tell us that Christians have Judaism for at its roots. “But some of these branches from Abraham's tree, some of the Jews, have been broken off. And you Gentiles, who were branches from a wild olive tree, were grafted in. So now you also receive the blessing God has promised Abraham and his children, sharing in God's rich nourishment of his special olive tree.” (Ro. 11:17, NLT)

2) Jesus Reveals us to be Fruit (1:2)
Some people might be inclined to think Christians are just nuts. But in fact we’re just fruit. We are the full fruit of Judaism, the fulfillment of Judaism. That’s why Messianic Jews, Jews who believe that Jesus s the Messiah, call themselves “completed Jews.” “If the primary root of the tree is holy, there's bound to be some holy fruit.” (Ro. 11:16, Msg) “The Message bears fruit and gets larger and stronger, just as it has in you.” (Col. 1:6, Msg)

3) Jesus is the Messenger as well as the Message. (1:2)
Jesus both bears a message from God to us, called the Gospel, while also being the heart of the Gospel itself. Jesus came to bring us the Good News. “But he said, “I must preach the good news of the kingdom of God to the other towns also, because that is why I was sent.”” (Lk. 4:43, NIV) Jesus also IS the Good News. “Day after day, in the temple courts and from house to house, they never stopped teaching and proclaiming the good news that Jesus is the Christ.” (Acts 5:42, NIV)
This Good News means that these are the Last Days. When people use that phrase, they mean that the end of the world is coming at any moment. What the author of Hebrews is saying is that the death of Jesus Christ has ushered in the beginning of the end of history. The pivotal person of history, Jesus, has taken part in the pivotal event of history, the crucifixion, and now the countdown towards the end is on.
4) Jesus is the Heir of all things (1:2)
The author of Hebrews quotes Psalm 2:7 as being a prophetic reference to Jesus. The very next verse, Psalm 2:8, is no doubt what the author is referring to in calling Jesus the heir of all things. All things belong to God, and as God’s Son, all things are Jesus’ rightful inheritance. “Only ask, and I will give you the nations as your inheritance, the ends of the earth as your possession. (Psalm 2:8, NLT)

5) Jesus is the Cause of Creation (1:2)
The author of Hebrews is calling us back to Genesis 1 where we read of how God spoke, and creation came into existence. The Apostle John, in John 1, also referring us back to Genesis 1, that the Word is the means by which God accomplished creation. “Christ is the one through whom God created everything in heaven and earth. He made the things we can see and the things we can't see--kings, kingdoms, rulers, and authorities. Everything has been created through him and for him. (Col. 1:16, NLT)

6) Jesus is God (1:3)

a) The Radiance of God’s Glory.
Jesus is the true expression of God the Father just as sunlight is the true expression of the sun. “Satan, the god of this evil world, has blinded the minds of those who don't believe, so they are unable to see the glorious light of the Good News that is shining upon them. They don't understand the message we preach about the glory of Christ, who is the exact likeness of God… God, who said, "Let there be light in the darkness," has made us understand that this light is the brightness of the glory of God that is seen in the face of Jesus Christ.” 2Co. 4:4,6, NLT)

b) The Exact Representation of God’s Being.
Just as the mark in the wax is the true representation of the seal, so too Jesus is the exact representation of God the Father. “Christ is the visible image of the invisible God. (Col. 1:15, NLT)

7) Jesus Sustains Everything. (1:3)
Jesus didn’t just create everything, He is also the One who keeps everything going. “He existed before everything else began, and he holds all creation together.” (Col. 1:17, NLT)

8) Jesus provided Purification for Sins. (1:3)
Earlier I called the crucifixion of Jesus the pivotal even t of history. Now I am telling you why it is the pivotal event of history. The basic problem that all human beings face is that we are all sinners. We are stained, tainted with sin so deeply in our being that we can never get that stain out. We don’t have what it takes to make ourselves clean. Gods does, and that’s why He came to earth and died; to make us clean. “Since we've compiled this long and sorry record as sinners (both us and them) and proved that we are utterly incapable of living the glorious lives God wills for us, God did it for us. Out of sheer generosity he put us in right standing with himself. A pure gift. He got us out of the mess we're in and restored us to where he always wanted us to be. And he did it by means of Jesus Christ.
God sacrificed Jesus on the altar of the world to clear that world of sin. Having faith in him sets us in the clear. God decided on this course of action in full view of the public--to set the world in the clear with himself through the sacrifice of Jesus, finally taking care of the sins he had so patiently endured. This is not only clear, but it's now--this is current history! God sets things right. He also makes it possible for us to live in his rightness.” (Ro. 3:23-26, Msg)
“It wasn't so long ago that we ourselves were stupid and stubborn, dupes of sin, ordered every which way by our glands, going around with a chip on our shoulder, hated and hating back. But when God, our kind and loving Savior God, stepped in, he saved us from all that. It was all his doing; we had nothing to do with it. He gave us a good bath, and we came out of it new people, washed inside and out by the Holy Spirit. Our Savior Jesus poured out new life so generously. God's gift has restored our relationship with him and given us back our lives. And there's more life to come--an eternity of life! 8You can count on this.” (Titus 3:3-5, Msg)

9) Jesus’ provision is perfect. (1:3)
We might be tempted to wonder whether what Jesus did is really enough, or if we need to add something to it. Let me tell you that Jesus most certainly is sufficient. The provision of Jesus Christ for your sin is absolutely flawless and perfect. There is nothing wrong with it, and nothing needs to be added to it. That is what it means when the Bible tells us that Jesus sat down. You only sit down when the work is finished. “As a priest, Christ made a single sacrifice for sins, and that was it! Then he sat down right beside God and waited for his enemies to cave in. It was a perfect sacrifice by a perfect person to perfect some very imperfect people. By that single offering, he did everything that needed to be done for everyone who takes part in the purifying process.” (Heb. 10:12-14, Msg)