Monday, December 27, 2010

Wall Street

  On Saturday evening we sat down to watch a movie.  For the first time in the three years we've had Directv, we finally ordered a movie over the pay-per-view.  We chose Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps, the remake (sequel?) of the 1987  movie with the same name.  I hadn't heard much about it, but it looked interesting.

  Interesting it was.  I was fascinated by this movie, especially because we were watching it on Christmas, a day when we remember the gift of Christ and think about how often we put money and greed first, focusing on materialism rather than faithfulness to a Gospel that calls us to give love.  This movie focuses on greed and its corrupting power.

  What makes this movie so interesting is that it hits so close to home with the recent financial crisis.  Had this movie been made five years ago, I'm not sure I would have been so amazed by it.  But the reality of what is portrayed is scary--in summary, Wall Street is on the verge of collapse because many of the investment banks have become so corrupted by greed that they fail to have any fiscally responsible policies and are simply betting billions (trillions?) against bad loans they're making.

  I think what sums up the prevailing attitude best is when Shia Lebeouf asks the head of a firm what his number is, the amount it would take to get him to walk away from it all.  The answer?

  More.

  Sends a shudder up my spine just to type it.  It's easy to vilify investment bankers, especially those whose failures ended up causing a global economic meltdown.

  But where does greed reign in my life?

  What do I constantly want more of?

  What am I unwilling to give up for the sake of Christ?

  Greed is so corrupting.  The main conflict in the movie is how Shia Lebeouf's greed corrupts him and his relationship with his fiancee, Michael Douglas' daughter.  (It's just fun to watch Michael Douglas act--he is so talented)  How much is one willing to sacrifice to be financially successful?  How much money do we truly need?  What are we willing to do, who are we willing to hurt to get it?

  Money is the root of all evil, 1 Timothy tells us.  Money itself isn't evil--but the desire for more and more of it will corrupt our very soul.  This movie is a great warning about what that looks like on the small scale, and it helps me examine my own thoughts and feelings about money, a subject Christ talked about very often, and yet one we in the church manage to avoid with frightening success.

Monday Morning

Holy God,

  Thank you for Christmas.  You came on Christmas as a child, Immanuel, God with us, to show us how great your love is.  You came in flesh and bone so that we could trust you, so that you would be like us.  You came to show us the way.

  I think about your love, but I cannot grasp the size and breadth and depth of it.  It is such great love that I am humbled--I have failed to live filled with gratitude, yet you love me anyway.

  Thank you, Lord.  May I live a life that proclaims the eternal truth of your great love.

Amen

Friday, December 24, 2010

Merry Christmas

Linus and the Christmas story

Did you know that more people have heard the Christmas story from Linus, the character in Peanuts, than from anybody else? And as you watch Linus share the greatest story of all, notice that he puts aside his ever-present security blanket… the only time in the comic strip he ever does so.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

12/23 E-Newsletter

Announcements
Christmas EveThis Friday, 7:00, we’ll have a candlelight service of Lessons & Carols.  Don’t miss it!

Have a Merry Christmas!!!!
Potluck—January 9, not the 2nd!  McCallie handbells will be here that day.

Food Drive—Bring your canned goods for East Brainerd Elementary on January 2nd!

Pray for…
Those in need and stuck out in the cold


New Hope News
Bill Bryant is home

Links


Two documentaries about the world water crisis—Flow and Thirst


If you want to know where to find the Nativity set we have in the yard—click here





Text for this Week

Matthew 2:13-23

The Escape to Egypt

13 Now after they had left, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, ‘Get up, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you; for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him.’ 14Then Joseph* got up, took the child and his mother by night, and went to Egypt, 15and remained there until the death of Herod. This was to fulfil what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet, ‘Out of Egypt I have called my son.’

The Massacre of the Infants

16 When Herod saw that he had been tricked by the wise men,* he was infuriated, and he sent and killed all the children in and around Bethlehem who were two years old or under, according to the time that he had learned from the wise men.* 17Then was fulfilled what had been spoken through the prophet Jeremiah:
18 ‘A voice was heard in Ramah,
   wailing and loud lamentation,
Rachel weeping for her children;
   she refused to be consoled, because they are no more.’

The Return from Egypt

19 When Herod died, an angel of the Lord suddenly appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt and said, 20‘Get up, take the child and his mother, and go to the land of Israel, for those who were seeking the child’s life are dead.’ 21Then Joseph* got up, took the child and his mother, and went to the land of Israel. 22But when he heard that Archelaus was ruling over Judea in place of his father Herod, he was afraid to go there. And after being warned in a dream, he went away to the district of Galilee. 23There he made his home in a town called Nazareth, so that what had been spoken through the prophets might be fulfilled, ‘He will be called a Nazorean.’

 

 



_____
New Hope on
Facebook
New Hope on iTunes





Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Bears attack



Apparently they collected over 23,000 bears for charity. That's a lot of bears.

Sometimes at Christmas we get it right--we remember what it's really about--the love of Christ, and that our lives are meant to show that love to others. Most of the time... well, thank God for grace!

Noah & Us

 From David Livingstone--Noah's preaching was a failure.

  Never before had that thought crossed my mind.  I know the story of Noah like the back of my hand, yet not once have I thought of him as an evangelist.  Yet Noah had a story to tell before the flood, but no one would listen.  When the rains came, only Noah's family was convinced, and perhaps only out of duty to their father.

  I wonder if Noah lay awake deep into the night, as the boat creaked and the wakes gently rocked the animals to sleep, wondering if there was more he could have done.  Perhaps he wondered if he had preached more, if he had just asked one more time, if more people might have been saved.  Maybe he thought about all those friends that had perished, and wondered what he might have done to prevent it.  Maybe he saw himself as a failure, rather than a faithful follower.

  Obviously, this is all conjecture, but I find it fascinating.  David Livingstone was referring to Noah in the context of his own failures to win throngs to Christ--he saw it as laying the groundwork for those who would come later, just as the story of Noah, though perhaps viewed as a failure at the time, has grown into one of the most well-known and loved stories of our time.  But in the midst of the storm, it's hard to look at life through God's perspective.

  What does this mean for us?  Mostly, it means that salvation does not depend upon us.  It means that God is working out the redemption of all of creation, and none of it depends on how well we preach, live, teach and pray.  It all depends on God, and God is always faithful.

  This doesn't let us off the hook, allowing us to live a carefree existence with little stress or concern for our fellow travelers in life.  It just changes our angle--we do not live, work, preach and teach in order to save souls--we do it because God has already done a mighty work, and out of gratitude we go forth to spread the Good News.  God will use our actions, our lives, as a small part in the grand story of redemption.  But let us not believe that if we fail, all is lost.  God uses our failures and our grand triumphs, each moment of our lives, to do a mighty work.  May we set down our burdens of self-dependence and self-sustenance and join in the grand praise song that all of creation is singing, recognizing that because God is faithful, all is never lost.

Wed. Morning

Dear Lord,

Thank you.

For the rocks and the trees and the birds and the rain and the new day and your covenant promises and your faithfulness and your love and your mercy and your gifts and your Son, Jesus Christ. 

Thank you for everything.  Without you, this world, my life, would not be.  With you, all has been created good. 

Thank you.

Amen

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

One Day's Wages


The Movement of One Day's Wages from One Day's Wages on Vimeo.

We know that all is not right with the world.  We see it all around us, from the material and spiritual poverty lining the streets of Chattanooga, of East Brainerd, to the abject poverty of those who make their homes in garbage dumps in India.  If we are honest, we often prefer to change the channel, to turn down the volume, to ignore what is going on outside of our comfort zone.  But sometimes we can no longer do that--we have heard the cries of those in need of justice, and we know that Christ loves the least of these.  We have to follow in his footsteps, as difficult as that may be.  This is the story of one family who chose to do so, and I hope you'll visit the website to learn more about it.  What in your life is causing you to take notice?  Where is the Spirit leading you?  And how might you put your faith into action to reach out to those in need?

http://www.onedayswages.org/

Monday, December 20, 2010

Chapter XXII: The Right Administration of the Sacraments

The Right Administration of the Sacraments  (Only two chapters left!)


Two things are necessary for the right administration of the sacraments. The first is that they should be ministered by lawful ministers, and we declare that these are men appointed to preach the Word, unto whom God has given the power to preach the gospel, and who are lawfully called by some Kirk. The second is that they should be ministered in the elements and manner which God has appointed. Otherwise they cease to be the sacraments of Christ Jesus.

This is why we abandon the teaching of the Roman Church and withdraw from its sacraments; firstly, because their ministers are not true ministers of Christ Jesus (indeed they even allow women, whom the Holy Ghost will not permit to preach in the congregation to baptize) and, secondly, because they have so adulterated both the sacraments with their own additions that no part of Christ’s original act remains in its original simplicity. The addition of oil, salt, spittle, and such like in baptism, are merely human additions. To adore or venerate the sacrament, to carry it through streets and towns in procession, or to reserve it in a special case, is not the proper use of Christ’s sacrament but an abuse of it.

Christ Jesus said, “Take ye, eat ye,” and “Do this in remembrance of Me.” By these words and commands he sanctified bread and wine to be the sacrament of his holy body and blood, so that the one should be eaten and that all should drink of the other, and not that they should be reserved for worship or honored as God, as the Romanists do.

Further, in withdrawing one part of the sacrament—the blessed cup—from the people, they have committed sacrilege. Moreover, if the sacraments are to be rightly used it is essential that the end and purpose of their institution should be understood, not only by the minister but by the recipients. For if the recipient does not understand what is being done, the sacrament is not being rightly used, as is seen in the case of the Old Testament sacrifices.

Similarly, if the teacher teaches false doctrine which is hateful to God, even though the sacraments are his own ordinance, they are not rightly used, since wicked men have used them for another end than what God commanded. We affirm this has been done to the sacraments in the Roman Church, for there the whole action of the Lord Jesus is adulterated in form, purpose, and meaning. What Christ Jesus did, and commanded to be done, is evident from the Gospels and from St. Paul; what the priest does at the altar we do not need to tell.

The end and purpose of Christ’s institution, for which it should be used, is set forth in the words, “Do this in remembrance of Me,” and “For as often as ye eat this bread and drink this cup ye do show”—that is, extol, preach, magnify, and praise—“the Lord’s death, till He come.” But let the words of the mass, and their own doctors and teachings witness, what is the purpose and meaning of the mass; it is that, as mediators between Christ and his Kirk, they should offer to God the Father, a sacrifice in propitiation for the sins of the living and of the dead. This doctrine is blasphemous to Christ Jesus and would deprive his unique sacrifice, once offered on the cross for the cleansing of all who are to be sanctified, of its sufficiency; so we detest and renounce it.
*******

Well, at least you don't have to worry about not knowing how they feel!  It's interesting to read this--on one hand, I strongly disagree with their statement against women, but I love the criticism of the church for not teaching the meaning of the sacrament.  If we can't communicate the truth of the sacrament, then we are failing in our duties.  We, as ministers, are called to educate, to equip, and to empower the people of God--not merely entertain and amuse.  I think that the church today is often just as guilty of this as the church then was--we are so worried about how things look, about how smoothly they flow, that we can be afraid to stop and ensure that everyone knows exactly what we're doing.  May we take this responsibility seriously, that the sacraments are so important that we educate those receiving them, that we may not try and stand in the way of the Holy Spirit and God's transforming power.

Temple Grandin

I was prepared to dislike Temple Grandin.  Slow, emotional movies based on people overcoming difficulties aren't usually what I like to watch to relax.  (I freely admit that I fast-forwarded through the scenes of Frodo and Sam in Lord of the Rings, and one of my favorite movie scenes ever is the cat getting electrocuted under the chair in Christmas Vacation.  Does that make me emotionally shallow?  Perhaps.)  Fifteen minutes into the movie, I was ready to turn it off--not because it was bad, but simply because it had a slow beginning.

By the end of the movie, I felt like I had been taken on a grand journey, and at the destination I realized how differently people see the world, and how often we mistake the gifts of others for oddities which need to be locked away, never to disturb the world of the comfortable and expected.  I was grateful for those who struggled through difficulty, for those who were and are willing to encounter differences and engage them in order to make this world a more beautiful place.

Temple Grandin was born with autism, and at the age of four a doctor encouraged her to be institutionalized.  Her mother refused to accept this, and was determined to give Temple a fulfilling life.  She was not alone, and through the help and love of others Temple found her niche and worked hard to be successful at whatever she tried.  The movie did an excellent job of highlighting the obstacles that were put in her way, of how the world refused to accept her differences and mocked her pecularities.  There were countless opportunities for Temple and those who loved her to give up, but through perseverance and love doors were opened and she had the courage to walk through them.

It's simply a great movie.  The first few minutes are slow as the characters in the movie are developed and the director seeks to establish Temple's gifts.  Temple is different, and I was ready to give up on what was different, rather than struggle forward and try to understand.  Claire Danes does an excellent job capturing Temple in all her triumphs and struggles, and the two hours you'll spend watching this movie will help you realize that those who see the world differently aren't always wrong, and are worth more of our time and patience.

The movie’s director, Mick Jackson, said of Dr. Grandin, "She was an inspiration to all … and a hero to everyone in the autism world."   Claire Danes, who portrayed Temple in the movie, said, “It was an honor to portray the life of this brilliant woman."  

Learn more about Temple Grandin at her website:  templegrandin.com


Monday Morning

Holy Lord,

  The frost covers the ground, and it reminds me that you are Lord.  You are Lord of all, and just as nothing can escape the cold, nothing can escape your love, your abiding presence.  I often flee from you, not willingly, but as a result of my sin, I am led astray down dark paths, yet still the light shines.  Christmas draws near, and while I shirt from the light that exposes my sins, I welcome its truth and its warmth.  Remind me that while you come as judge, you come as Savior.  Remind me of your path, of your love, that I might walk again on the narrow way that leads to life.

Amen

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

12/15 E-News

Announcements
Wednesday Night--We're still planning on having Bible Study & Dinner, but please stay home if you're worried about your safety.

ChoirThis Sunday the choir will bless us with Christmas by Candlelight, the Christmas Cantata!  Don't miss it!

Christmas EveIt's almost here!  The service of lessons and carols will be at 7:00.  (Don't forget to show up on Sunday morning, too!)

Pray for…
Bess’ family as they struggle
Bill Bryant is in Erlanger, room 3016 (778-3016), with pneumonia
Lloyd’s father, Harry Hoover

New Hope News
Ralph Hauze has moved to Florida—his new address is: 
Ralph C. Hauze, Sr.
7626 Heyward Circle
Bradenton, FL 34201 

Links
Run for God has a new website


Qatar in 2022.  What could go wrong?

The Fiery Gizzard project (What a great name)

Yes, the answer to our problems is more Bon Jovi.  (I love Bon Jovi)  




Text for this Week

The Christmas Cantata, Christmas by Candlelight, will be proclaimed by the choir this week!

 



_____
New Hope on Facebook
New Hope on iTunes



Psalm 23

Psalm 23

On a recent trek I went to visit an old friend’s garden, one who had toiled for many years under the sun and was the caretaker of an exquisite treasure as a result. On my wanderings through a nearby meadow I heard voices singing sweetly and could not resist their siren’s call. My feet led me through knee-high grass, with flowers clinging gently to my legs. At this point my ears were leading more than my eyes, for I could see little more than grass beyond my current path, but I could hear someone speaking in angelic tones.

Suddenly the field rose and fell away, revealing a brook that sang more than it babbled. It was no more than ankle deep, so I quickly removed my shoes and socks and stepped boldly into the water. Its clarity and purity were so evident from the shore that I knew it would welcome my presence. Upon sinking my left foot into the waters the shock of cold shot up my leg and into my whole being; I was temporarily unable to think, a sensation that doubled when my other foot, dragged along by the rest of my body, soon joined its companion. Both shivered in their places, their protests drowned out by the voice of the brook.

As I adapted to the water’s temperature I looked around and realized how blessed I was to be in such a place. The banks of the river rose, causing my blindness to its presence. I looked up and downstream, seeing nothing to indicate the river’s source or destination. There existed some foreign type of flower, dainty in appearance yet brilliant in its color, that dotted every possible clearing near the bank. Grass grew thick and deep in other places, and I prayed that so many others might have the same sensation I now held in my soul: stillness.

For so many years and in so many places my soul cried out in agony or eagerness. So often I have more thoughts in my mind than the forest has trees, each one competing for the precious sunlight of attention. Even those lost on the forest floor seize whatever moment they can, grappling with countless others to ensure no light goes wasted. My days are packed with their presence, and I cry out for peace, yet do little to find it. Here, though, the voice of the river seems to somehow drown out the competing voices, leaving me with stillness, with peace.

It is here I look back on the time in the meadow, the paths I have trod, and take comfort in their leading me to this moment. I realize that even in the depth of night, the eye of the storm, the shadow of the forest, that I was not alone. I was being led forwards, marching in step even when I felt like an idle fool. I was never alone, never lost to the depths, never abandoned to myself. I was a treasured child, rebelling and spiteful, but treasured nonetheless.

I recognize the abundance that surrounds me, the beauty here that resembles the beauty in my garden, the immaculate landscape of my friend’s soul. Surely such blessings as these can never be earned, never be deserved, but should elicit such gratitude in the soul that one is compelled to give every ounce of energy to saying the only possible response: I love you. Thank you. Amen.

Wednesday Morning

God of earth and sea,

  You alone are worthy to be praised.  Your beloved children fall in line to worship at the throne, dancing with joy and serving with gratitude.  You delight in the wonders of the newborn day, reveling in the joy of the sunrise and the abundance of the songbird.  You watch as your children fall down before you, unworthy of your grace and yet radiant with your love.  Angels dance around the throne of grace as we adore you, and all of creation sings your name.

  Teach us, Lord, to show our delight in all that we do.  Take our hands and our feet as tools in this world, that they might be used to show your glory.  May all of life be offered to you in thanksgiving, with gratitude and love.

Amen

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Tuesday Morning

Lord,

  You are all-knowing, all-powerful, victorious and merciful.  We have spent thousands of years trying to describe your glory.  Words have fallen short, and our actions cannot approach the magnificence of your throne.  I pray that you might fill my heart, that I might become a window to your grace and love, because nothing I can ever do will adequately describe what an awesome God you are.

Amen

Monday, December 13, 2010

Monday Morning 12/13/10

Holy Lord,
  On this bitterly cold morning, may I remember and celebrate the warmth of your love and compassion.  So often I don't understand your presence here with me--I forget that you are the God of every moment of my life.  I try to live as though I am independent.  Be near, today, that I might know your hands support and surround me, and direct my feet along the path you would have me walk.
  I love you, Lord.

Amen

Thursday, December 9, 2010

E-News

Announcements
Handbell ChoirThis Sunday the handbell choir will lead us in worship!  Be here on time!
Calling all Young AdultsThere will be a young adult Christmas Party @ The Terminal downtown on December 13 @ 6:30.  Come and enjoy fellowship and great food—we have reserved the 3rd floor for this occasion.  Childcare will be provided—let me know if you’re interested!

Pray for…
Bess and her family as they struggle
New Hope News
Bess Jones went into Memorial on Wednesday afternoon with serious pneumonia in both lungs.  Her breathing is very shallow, and they are doing all they can to keep her comfortable.
Links
Yes, these are the world’s most comfortable shirts and yes, they are for a great cause.


Bicycle City, USA.  (Unfortunately it’s not Chattanooga)




Text for this Week

Luke 11:14-28

Jesus and Beelzebul

14 Now he was casting out a demon that was mute; when the demon had gone out, the one who had been mute spoke, and the crowds were amazed. 15But some of them said, ‘He casts out demons by Beelzebul, the ruler of the demons.’ 16Others, to test him, kept demanding from him a sign from heaven. 17But he knew what they were thinking and said to them, ‘Every kingdom divided against itself becomes a desert, and house falls on house. 18If Satan also is divided against himself, how will his kingdom stand? —for you say that I cast out the demons by Beelzebul. 19Now if I cast out the demons by Beelzebul, by whom do your exorcists* cast them out? Therefore they will be your judges. 20But if it is by the finger of God that I cast out the demons, then the kingdom of God has come to you. 21When a strong man, fully armed, guards his castle, his property is safe. 22But when one stronger than he attacks him and overpowers him, he takes away his armour in which he trusted and divides his plunder. 23Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters.

The Return of the Unclean Spirit

24 ‘When the unclean spirit has gone out of a person, it wanders through waterless regions looking for a resting-place, but not finding any, it says, “I will return to my house from which I came.” 25When it comes, it finds it swept and put in order. 26Then it goes and brings seven other spirits more evil than itself, and they enter and live there; and the last state of that person is worse than the first.’

True Blessedness

27 While he was saying this, a woman in the crowd raised her voice and said to him, ‘Blessed is the womb that bore you and the breasts that nursed you!’ 28But he said, ‘Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and obey it!’

 



_____
New Hope on Facebook
New Hope on iTunes





Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Merry Christmas from World Vision!



I hope you take a second and peruse the World Vision Christmas catalog--it is a great way to give gifts to those people you know who have everything they ever need (and often more), or those people who are just very difficult to buy for. We usually don't need more things--let's give the gift of love!

Wednesday Morning

Dear God--
  I look at the cross and my eyes are not wide enough to understand all that you have done.  My imagination does not run nearly wild enough to begin to dream of what happened at the Place of the Skull--I see death, but my mind is so filled with Easter visions that I cannot, even for a moment, think of the devastation of the disciples at such a scene.  To me, the crucified Lord has always been the risen Lord. 

  But for a time, the Lord was simply crucified.  The tomb was filled, the stone had not yet been rolled away.  You knew, Lord, and I know not, but in the darkest hour of their lives, they had no idea what you had in store for them, despite all of your previous warnings.

  Open my mind and my heart, Lord, that I might imagine anew the future you are calling me into.  Help me to dream, Lord, of the new world into which I go.  I am sure you have left hints around me, showing me what awaits, and I am sure I have ignored these.  Forgive my obtuseness.  Clear my mind, that I might focus on you, and enable me to serve, that I might know what awaits, know how to serve, know how to love.

Amen.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

  Last month we had the chance to stand above the tomb of nearly 1,200 sailors whose lives were snatched too soon in the brutal attack on Pearl Harbor.  On a sleepy Sunday morning, the Japanese came in from the north, catching the Pacific fleet unprepared and devastating it.  During the second wave, one bomber happened to place a bomb in the magazine of the USS Arizona, and she still lies on the bottom, a tomb for those who perished and a reminder of the cost of war.

  It was humbling to stand on the white platform, that elegant, simple monument, and think about what was beneath my feet.  It sits perpendicular to the ship's remains, so one can look down the bow and stern and imagine this mighty ship as a proud and tall icon of naval power.  Here and there, parts of the ship poke up through the calm waters, and the flag pole is attached where the Arizona's flag would have stood.

  I tried to understand, to contemplate what it meant to stand there.  I could not shake the feeling of loss--of how tragic it was that over 1,000 people died in this place.  I am extremely grateful to those who served then and serve today, who put themselves in places where things like this can and too often do happen.  I am saddened by the fact that, for centuries, for millennia, war seems to be the answer to conflict.

  When will we learn?  It is my hope and solemn prayer that we might learn to live together in peace, that we will cease to rattle our sabers every time we feel intimidated, and instead will be known by the size of our love.  Paul talks about the power of Christ in 1 Corinthians 1, pointing out how much greater God's wisdom is than our own--may we be willing and courageous enough to follow God's wisdom, rather than our own.

Tuesday Morning

Dear God--
  May this day be rooted in the cross.  May I begin by kneeling before the torture device that you turned into a symbol of your power--may the blood of Christ remind me of the price you paid that I might be set free, and may my gratitude for that you are drive me into the world with joy and love, hoping beyond hope to serve the world for your sake, in your name.  In love you came to save, in love to came to proclaim the good news of your coming kingdom--may this kingdom reign in my heart today.

Amen

Monday, December 6, 2010

10 years

Ten years ago today, my world stopped spinning.  I was awakened by a knocking on our dorm room door, and when my roommate opened it, a friend burst in with the incomprehensible news that Mikhil, one of the best friends any of us had ever had, had gone to bed and not woken up.  Disbelief mixed with shock, and in the moment I had no idea what was happening in that space.

Ten years later, I'm still not sure what happened that morning, and the days that followed went like a blur, a combination of events that progressed as an outsider might have predicted, but as one caught inside the vortex of emotions and disillusion, I was simply along for the ride.  Memorial services left me numb, with the singular exception of the viewing of his body in a funeral home that left me paralyzed with grief.  I will never forget the feelings those tears caused in my soul. 

I still have so many questions surrounding that event.  Most of them begin with why, and perhaps I'm coming to grips that I will never find those answers this side of heaven.  The official cause of death was an enlarged heart, a condition that had no symptoms yet fatal consequences.  The words haunt me to this day, and have brought no closure, no peace, no resolution.  I still long for peace.

My questions remain unanswered, and my heart still mourns for him and his family.  Last night I was staring in the mirror, wondering what I'd done with my ten years that he didn't get.  Have I made good use of them?  Have I lived with passion and purpose?  Or have I wandered aimlessly, not using the time I have, that he didn't, for good?

I don't know why I get ten years, and hopefully many more, and he doesn't.  But it is my ongoing prayer that I use my time for good, to join in with what God is doing on this earth, that I might glorify God in whatever time I have left.

Where's the Line to see Jesus?



Here’s the story behind the song:

About the Song

While at the mall a couple of years ago, my then four year old nephew, Spencer, saw kids lined up to see Santa Claus. Having been taught as a toddler that Christmas is the holiday that Christians celebrate the birth of Jesus, he asked his mom, "where's the line to see Jesus"? My sister mentioned this to my dad, who immediately became inspired and jotted words down to a song in just a few minutes. After putting music to the words, and doing a quick recording at home, he received a great response from friends. He sent the song off to Nashville without much response, except for a Christian song writer who suggested adding a bridge at the end of the first chorus.

My dad then asked if I wanted to record the song to see what we could do with it. I listened to the song, made a few changes to the words to make it flow better, and we headed to Shock City Studios. It was at the studio where Chris, owner and producer, rewrote the 2nd verse and part of the chorus... with goosebumps and emotions high, we were all hopeful and felt like we had something special. The demo was recorded in just under 2 hours and sent off again to Nashville... still no response. Then 2 weeks before Christmas last year, my cousins Greg and Robbie decided to do a video to see what we could accomplish on YouTube.

The first day we had 3000 hits and it soared from there. We received e-mails, phone calls, Facebook messages from people all over asking for the music, CD's, iTunes, anything... we had nothin'. After a couple of meetings with Chris following the amazing response, we got serious. We headed back into the studio this past spring... this time with guitars, drums, bass, pianos, choirs... the real deal.... and here we are today. Getting iTunes set up, a website put together, and loving that thousands upon thousands of Christians have come together... remembering the true meaning of Christmas.

Out of the mouths of babes come profound truths that many adults can not understand. Hopefully Spencer's observation will cause people all over to reflect on the love of Jesus, and that one day we will all stand in line to see Him. We are most thankful to our Heavenly Father to have this chance to share our music with you. Merry Christmas everyone.

Monday Morning 12/6/11

Dear God--

  Your majesty sweeps across the land, from horizon to horizon, and further still.  It carries on, and the angels sing of your glory throughout this land.  Tune my ears, that I might hear their song, and thus be reminded that your glory resounds in all of creation.  How often I am guilty of taking it for granted, of forgetting that everything good around me points to your eternal love.  I get so wrapped up in this world--remind me of the coming kingdom!  You are Lord, and I pray that this life will serve you.

Amen

Thursday, December 2, 2010

E-Newsletter for 12/2

Announcements
Potluck—This Sunday we’ll have a potluck lunch following worship. Bring a dish to share! Also, because it’s a communion Sunday, please bring two canned goods for East Brainerd Elementary. Whenever we come to the table to be fed, let’s be sure to go forth and feed others!

Caroling—At 1:00 this Sunday, after the potluck, a group of us will head down the street to the Lantern to do some caroling!

Men’s Breakfast/Workday—This Saturday will be leaf day at the church @ 9:00. Men are welcome to show up at 8 for breakfast!

Calling all Young Adults—There will be a young adult Christmas Party @ The Terminal downtown on December 13 @ 6:30. Come and enjoy fellowship and great food—we have reserved the 3rd floor for this occasion. Childcare will be provided—let me know if you’re interested!

Pray for…
Those who carry their grief silently during the holiday season

New Hope News
Pray for Bill Bryant

Links
If you read nothing else in this section, read this piece on Advent.

What are your thoughts on gratitude, ‘the parent of all virtues’?

If you haven’t seen Despicable Me, it’s a great movie. (Some brief thoughts from yours truly)

Three questions to ask your spouse.

Meditation Moment

But because few labor to die entirely to self, or tend completely away from self, therefore they remain entangled in self, and cannot be lifted in spirit above themselves. But he who desires to walk freely with Me must mortify all his low and inordinate affections, and must not cling with selfish love or desire to any creature. (Thomas a Kempis)

Text for this Week

The Youth will be leading our proclamation this Sunday

Psalm 22

Psalm 22

I will never forget some of the long nights of my life. I look back on the shadowy evenings that led into inky blackness of night deep within the chaos of the forest. I mentioned the many paths leading away from the garden of my soul; so many times I trod upon these paths, leading away from this demanding garden to the easy ways of the forest, where little work is needed, only a place to lay one’s head at night. So many wicked things occur in the forest, under the cover of the thick canopy, that I cannot describe them here, but the seeds sown in such a place bring no man closer to God.

On occasion I would wake deep within the forest, far from any shining light, wondering what I was doing in such a place. Memory failed to recall the steps taken to arrive at my current place, so I would simply try and orient myself to a foreign location deep within the heart of the forest. Well, such forests don’t truly have a heart, merely arteries carrying us farther from our true homes with window dressing to disguise the journey.
At such times I would cry out to God in despair, in distress, for my enemies would surround me, threatening to steal me away forever. Only then would I remember my garden and the delight you have in planting it. Only then would I look back on this place with fond memories, hoping for a current to carry me back. I would, on rare occasion, struggle upstream in the direction of my true home, in the hopes that my Savior would come and rescue me from my predicament. It would never fail, however, that I would be distracted, turning from truth toward the lie, revealing my weakness of character and chasing after whatever lure was offered by the forest. Sinful man that I am, I would turn my back on the only truth in my life and chase the lie, leaving only footprints that would indicate my feeble efforts to tend my garden.

Once again I would wake, crying out to the Lord for salvation from my situation. Where was my answer in the midst of the night? Where was the sun in such a shadowy reality? Was the world a truly wicked place that would prevent my ever returning to the garden? Was I to suffer a terrible fate in this place? Or would my Savior rescue me?

I do not know how I ever escaped the fate that must have awaited me. Destruction surely lurked in every corner, behind every tree, waiting to consume me. Somehow my God rescued me, sent some flare to guide the way back home, to the garden of my soul. Never has such joy flowed from me, flowed through me, as it did when I caught my first glimpse of this overgrown, dilapidated place. I wanted to vomit, so sick was I at the state of it, but all I could do was weep hysterically at the joy I discovered upon sight of the place. All was made new because my God rescued me from my own chaos. I do not know why, but I rejoice at the chance to tear tender weeds out by their roots, for I have not been destroyed, rather I have found my salvation in Christ alone. I have been delivered!

Thank God it's Thursday!

Holy God,

  You are majestic beyond wonder, loving beyond compare, powerful beyond imagination.  Your voice speaks in the beginning, and it holds creative power within it.  The earth trembles at the sound, and life springs forth because you called it into being.  You are truth and love, beauty and grace, and every living thing shall bow before your throne.

  You speak, Lord, and worlds begin.  May my life be an offering of gratitude to you.  May my heart beat only for you and your grace.  May my days be filled with songs of praise to you.  You are the King of Kings, the Lord of Lords, and I am blessed to know you as Savior.  May my words and deeds proclaim my gratitude and love to you.

Amen

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Psalm 21

Psalm 21

Buds. There are countless buds, tiny magnificent points of wonder that carpet my beautiful rosebush. Perhaps it is the rain that has summoned them forth, or perhaps merely it is the time for them to appear and bless this garden with their presence. They are far from prepared to show their colors to the world, and yet I stand ready, willing them to grow and flourish in this garden, begging them to immerse me in their beauty. I am humbled by their presence, for it is no work of my hands that has brought them about; rather the work of my Lord signifies that I am truly blessed in this garden. I have been weeding and working far from these roses, and yet here they bud, a witness to God’s abundant beauty and grace.

When they bloom, they will cover the bush with a unified display of glory. Until that point I can only dream, waiting for God to reveal the wonder held within each bush. Slowly they will begin to wink, one bud at a time, until each one has reached its potential. At that point I will rejoice; now I stand in nervous waiting, hoping not to disturb their presence until they are ready to burst forth. I tremble at the thought of destroying their peaceful growth, of upsetting the soil or pruning too boldly. I wonder if the rains will destroy their innocent youth, and then I remember that God has designed these bushes to bloom here.

God knows their enemies, just as God knows mine, and in due time he will destroy them. In the meantime, only God will sustain my existence, just as God will sustain these buds. They are resilient in their delicacy, steadfast in their progress, working towards their full potential, just as I toil away to aid this garden in its growth. While I can do much to create a healthy environment, only God can turn the garden into a place of wonder and beauty. Only God can convert my humble efforts into something remarkable.

Until that day comes, when enemies are destroyed, when hope and light have defeated fear and darkness, when beauty carpets the world, I will toil in song. I will keep my eye on these buds, knowing that they are signs of what is to come, pointers towards a glory more wonderful than I can imagine. I will keep my mind upon the Lord who makes heaven and earth and paints with a brush filled with beauty. I will praise my God who turns buds into blooms.

Despicable Me

  Well, it was bound to happen at some point.  For the first time in years, I finally saw a decent movie on a plane.  For years, every time I opened the in-flight magazine, I would be disappointed to find another chick flick, or something similarly absurd (No, I'd never heard of The Tooth Fairy, and having seen the Rock in a tutu, I can safely say I was ok with that).  It would happen that a flight I desperately need sleep on would be the one with the movie I'd wanted to see for a long time (in case, for some odd reason, you're intrigued to read my reflections on the red-eye before this flight, click here), but I was grateful to finally see Despicable Me.

  Despicable Me is the story of Gru, an aging villain with grand plans and a few triumphs to show (He has the Times Square Jumbotron, the Statue of Liberty (from Las Vegas) and the Eiffel Tower (also from Vegas).  Having been upstaged by a new, young rival, who stole the Great Pyramid from Giza, he's hatched a new plan--to shrink and steal the moon!

  His new, young rival, Vector, foils his plan and steals the shrink-ray first, and Gru is unable to steal it back until a diabolical plot is hatched--Gru adopts three young cookie-selling girls in the hopes that through their cookies he will be granted access to Vector's home and thus, the shrink ray.

  Two quick points:  Gru's minions are hilarious, and there is a good chance you, too, will want a big, furry unicorn after the movie.

  I have to use a word I'm not particularly fond of to describe this movie--it's really very cute.  Heartwarming, too.  It's the story of how these three girls change Gru, despite the fact that Gru's intentions are nothing but selfish from the onset.  This movie reminds me of how often God takes me selfishness and pride and still manages to wrangle something good out of them.

  We read that 'all things work together for good for those who love God' (Romans 8:28).  This often happens despite our amazing abilities to mess things up--God does a work in us and through us, and God's love shines through.  Martin Luther said the only thing we add to salvation is sin and resistance--this movie illustrates how God works to soften our hearts, to change us, even when we don't cooperate.

  To no one's surprise, the airplane cabin seemed to get a bit dusty at the end of the movie, and somehow it got into my eyes...  stories of redemption do that to me, not only out of joy at the redemption, but because it gives me to cause to remember my own redemption, and the hope I have in Christ.


Wednesday Morning

Dear Lord,

  This morning I popped the first bubble on my bubble-wrap Advent calendar.  I have begun the countdown to Christmas, to the birth of the Christ child, to the greatest renewal in all of time.  It is as though the first hints of dawn are slowly amassing at the horizon, and I can just begin to make out the rays of light you will pour forth with power and majesty.

  Teach me what it means to prepare.  Be at work in my heart, in my life, that I might know how to renew my mind and my life and offer it all to you.  In Christ your love became flesh, took on form and walked among us.  Show me those footsteps, that my own stride may stretch to follow. 

  In the manger I see all things being made new.  I see grace and peace and love and mercy--but I'm not there yet.  Keep me from rushing ahead, that here, in this moment, I might cherish the chance to prepare, to wait, to wonder at what lies ahead, and rejoice in the simply pleasure of knowing that you are faithful to your promises and will keep us all safely guarded in your hand.

Amen

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Psalm 20

Psalm 20

On this beautiful morning, watching as the rainbow fades, I see a bright figure bouncing along one of the many paths tracing their way across the meadow. I have trod them well, and know the heartbreak that is at the end of many of them, but I have never met this particular individual that I spy on her way toward my garden. I would have thought it a chance happening, but the way she barreled directly toward my garden told me this was no mere chance: she was heading for my garden, both eyes firmly locked upon me. Even from a distance I could hear her humming something cheerful to match a perfect morning. My spirit was lifted by her mere presence near my garden. I moved toward the gate to welcome her.

“Good morning!” She didn’t so much speak as sing her words, a voice as beautiful as I have ever imagined.
I opened my mouth to reply, but she did not hesitate to hear my words and instead carried on.

“I have no garden of my own; it is my destiny, it was explained to me, that I traverse this swath of God’s creation and notice how the gardens here are tended. I expect you do not recognize me; neither do I recognize you, but I know this garden well. Perhaps I should say that I know this place well; the garden I do not know well. I have passed many times by this meadow, always pausing to drink in the rich beauty that God has planted here. It is magnificent. Unfortunately, I never found you tending to the beauty planted here, and I merely assumed you were traipsing around the chaos that lurks everywhere. I cannot say how delighted I am to see your gloves stained with earth, how wondrous it is to see a pile of weeds beyond the boundary of your garden, how it makes my heart leap with joy to notice upset soil along the fenceline.”

I again moved to interrupt her to explain my journey, but was once again reminded that my part in this conversation was not a speaking one.

“Seeing you here, I will say this to you: May the God of our fathers bless this place with more sunshine than it could hope for. May the God of our mothers send gentle rains to nourish the beauty within this fence. May your days in this place be fulfilling and tiring. May you explore with wonder the depth and breadth of the love of God. May you learn the path to your faithful neighbors’ gardens well, and may they trod upon the ground to find and support you. May your hours of labor in this place be well-spent, leaving you breathless, exhausted, and thrilled with the chance to garden in the presence of such beauty. May the sun upon your back warm your soul, and the bench beneath your back grant you rest. May the Lord hold the forest at bay as he has promised, sending blooms to the wildflowers in the meadow to remind you that his love is abundant, and there is more grace than you can use. May the weeds come up easily, and may the roses here bloom with such wild abundance that you never forget there is a God who loves you freely, fiercely, wildly. May you know that each whispered prayer is heard by the ears of God, and may this sanctuary be your dwelling place forever, wrapped in the arms of God.”

Had I wanted to respond, only my heart could have begun to speak in response to such wondrous words. Instead I merely listened to her words, time and time again as they played within my mind. I felt them reverberate from every part of my being as she retreated by another way. My heart burned within as I thanked God for this tremendous blessing. May all my days remind me of such grace and wonder.

Jet Lag


Rachel and I recently returned from a trip that involved a 5 hour red-eye flight. On said flight, I slept a grand total of about ten minutes. When we finally arrived at home on Sunday evening, I made it for about another hour before collapsing into bed and sleeping for ten hours. Even now, days later, I still feel the effects of jet lag.

In my weariness-induced state, I got to thinking about how the church needs to develop some church-lag. Wouldn't it be great if the effects of worship stayed with us, like the effects of an overnight flight on which one didn't sleep? Wouldn't it be awesome if we woke up on Wednesday morning, still buzzing from a worship service days ago?

We believe that we are the church in the world--throughout the week, we are God's hands and feet in our homes, our jobs, our schools. Being a Christian is not something we only do part of the time, but we are 'Resident Aliens', as William Willimon and Stanley Hauerwas put it so well in the book of the same name--our true home is in God's kingdom, even while we live in this one.

So how do we, as the church, worship in a way that stays with people throughout the week?  How do we live together, connected, as reminders to one another that our hearts should be focused on Christ alone?  How do we live as the baptized children of God each and every moment of our lives?