Monday, April 30, 2012

The Mission of God

  I just finished one of the best books about Christianity I've ever read.  It took me six months to get through it, but it was worth the investment of time.  (In my defense, these have been the busiest six months of my life.  Having a child will do that.  I've been amazed at how little time I've had to sit down and read over the last six months.  I miss that.)

  Christopher Wright's The Mission of God: Unlocking the Bible's Grand Narrative weighs about the same as a small cat, but it's as thorough an exploration of the Bible's witness as I've found.  It was sent to me by a friend whose heart is immersed in discovering (and preaching) God's love for the world, and I'm grateful he shared this treasure with me.  What Wright sets out to do, and achieves, in my opinion, is to explore the Biblical witness to God's primary purpose: reaching out to the whole world, so that all of creation might glorify him.  It's a task of titanic proportions, but what a grand book.  Wright sees the Israelites and the early church as part of God's singular task--reaching out to the world.  God loves creation and loves each child in it, and the hope is that each of us will find our true voice and glorify God.  Nothing short of that is the goal, and our role within it is to let God speak in us and through us, that our life may be joined in with what God is doing in the world.

  I thought about trying to summarize Wright's point, but I think he does so pretty well in the video below.  God's mission involves the whole world--and the whole Bible is a witness to that.  One point that he makes that I think is worth highlighting is this:  If God's people abandon their ethical distinctiveness by forgetfulness, idolatry or disobedience, then no only do they jeopardize their own well being, they also frustrate the broader purposes of the God who brought them into existence by his electing love and brought them out of bondage by his redeeming power.  In other words, our sin prevents the mission of God from taking full root in our lives.  When we sin, we opt out of God's mission and let other purposes work in and through us.  By choosing to live as a Christian and turning from sin, our lives can then be clear channels of God's grace and peace, so that they can flow through us to others.

  The consequences of each of our lives takes on grand importance when viewed through Wright's lens.  Each of us has a role to play in God's mission--we join in with God's work and participate in God's mission to the world.  Each of our lives is an opportunity to witness to God's mission, to let God work through us, to let Christ's light shine.  God blessed Abraham so that Abraham would be a blessing to the nations, so that other nations would come to know & glorify God.  You and I are blessed for the same singular purpose--so that the world may know Jesus Christ as Lord of all.

 

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Earth Day Sermon


Genesis 1:26-31

26Then God said, “Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness; and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the wild animals of the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth.” 27So God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them. 28God blessed them, and God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it; and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air and over every living thing that moves upon the earth.”
29God said, “See, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is upon the face of all the earth, and every tree with seed in its fruit; you shall have them for food. 30And to every beast of the earth, and to every bird of the air, and to everything that creeps on the earth, everything that has the breath of life, I have given every green plant for food.” And it was so.
31God saw everything that he had made, and indeed, it was very good. And there was evening and there was morning, the sixth day.



As an exercise, I want you to think about a political leader who you think is or was particularly good or bad.  I’m only going to offer one stipulation—it can’t be President Obama or George W. Bush. 
Who comes to mind and why?
Thinking about political leaders can help lead us into a discussion about the environment because what we’re talking about is dominion, or rule.  The domain is the area over which one rules.  We all have a domain—in our house, the kitchen is my domain, because I do most of the cooking.  I have responsibility for and power over most of the decisions about how the kitchen is laid out and where things are. 
The political leaders we discussed were ones who had great power and the opportunity to use that power well.  They didn’t all use that power well—and we could spend the entire day lifting up examples of individuals who, throughout human history, have failed to use their power well.  Some have simply failed to make the right decisions, while others have made momentously terrible decisions.  Others have been corrupt while still others actively sought out to destroy other people or countries.  They used their power to abuse and exploit those over whom they had power.
On the other end of the spectrum, those who we consider good leaders were wise individuals who used their power over countries or people to seek the most responsible decisions.  They were respected because they sought the best possible reign, and they made decisions that were in the best interests of the most people.  It doesn’t mean that they were perfect—but we respect them because they sought to use their power for good.  They wanted to change society for the better, and they were probably respected, even by their opponents, because they were willing to be passionate while still making their opponents feel valued. 
When we talk about the environment, we begin with God, as we always should.  In the beginning of time, when God created the earth, God gave humanity dominion over the earth.  For a long time, we interpreted this to mean we could do whatever we want with creation, exploiting it just as bad political leaders exploit people for their own gain.  Only recently have we started to see the flip side of dominion—that our power over God’s creation is also a responsibility for God’s creation.  We don’t just rule over the land, but we have a responsibility for it, and we’re called to be good stewards of the environment, so that our decisions are not only what is best for us, but also what is best for the environment.  We consider all sides of the equation, and only then do we decide how to act.
As Christians, we need to talk about what it means for us to have dominion over creation.  How do we understand that term, and what does it mean for us to be stewards of creation?  These are both incredibly important terms. 
Where do we begin?
With God, of course. The same place that every conversation should begin, just like every time we read the Bible, we are reading a story that begins in Genesis 1 and continues into Revelation. We can't isolate our conversations about anything from the rest of the Bible, and we can't isolate our conversation about earth day and conservation into a few specific texts. What we can do, gloriously, is to open up the Bible and see how God has acted throughout history. That can teach us about how to act in relation to this specific issue.
When we read Scripture, we see a God who loves the creation he has made. If there wasn't a deep and abiding love for creation, God wouldn't have done it in the first place, and he wouldn't have stuck around after the Fall. So God loves creation, and God longs for creation to flourish. We see this in the way that God provides for creation, and we see this in the way that God provides for Israel. God doesn't want Israel merely to exist—God wants them to flourish. We see this in the way that God continues to lead them to the land of milk and honey, in the gift of the law, which is intended to help them live a glorious life, in the commands of Christ, who calls us to abundant life and teaches us that living a life faithful to God is the path to an abundant and flourishing life. We can just survive, God teaches us, or we can flourish by following him. We also see a God that redeems creation—after the Fall, after countless acts of human sin, God redeems creation. It's extraordinary when we think about it—God chooses to redeem us, to bring good out of bad, to bring life where there was only death. There are countless examples of this in the Bible, but the preeminent one is the resurrection of Christ—God defeats sin and death so that all of humanity might be redeemed through Christ. God never gives up on us, never abandons us, never turns his back—it's astounding how many times God offers humanity new life when we choose death. Even today, the offer of new life in Christ stands for all who will believe, regardless of what sins lie in the past.
So what can we learn from this in relation to the environment?
We can begin with thinking about what it means to love creation. Now, it's easy to love a place like Cloudland Canyon or Fall Creek Falls. It's not as hard to love the weeds that grow in your garden, or the mosquitoes that torment you all summer. I love kittens, but I've yet to meet someone that loves poisonous spiders. We selectively love most of creation.
When we talk about loving creation, we have to think about what it means to love. God's love was a selfless love, a love that was willing to sacrifice. Are we willing to sacrifice so that creation might flourish? Are we willing to drive a little less, to give up our plastic bags, so that the environment might be healthier? Do we love creation enough to do so?
And if so, what does it mean for creation to flourish? We talked in the beginning of the sermon about how good political leaders make wise decisions for both sides of the aisle. We need to think about how we might do the same. God has dominion over us, and God allows us to undergo suffering and allows evil to remain in the world because there is a greater purpose that God is working toward. In the same way, we have dominion over creation—so how do we make wise decisions that will help all of creation flourish? Are we to never cut down another tree, and in so doing we won't be able to build houses? Or do we cut down trees responsibly, replanting them as we go, so that the next generation won't live in fear of shortages of natural resources because we abused them for our own gain, not thinking about anyone but ourselves. True love demands sacrifice, and it means that we may have to give up some things that we like in order to preserve the future.
Also, we need to think like restorers. God redeems creation, bringing life out of death. How do we search out the parts of the environment in need of restoration and go to work?
Think about Chattanooga—the city that once had some of the dirtiest air in the country, a city where a white shirt didn't stay white for long. Now? It's being celebrated as a green city, as a place where restoration is taking place in the environment and people are hard at work preserving the natural treasures here.
There is still work to do here—so how do we seek out the places where death and pollution reign, so that we might go to work, co-creating new life with God? How do we restore hope to places that are covered in despair, choked off by pollution and smog. It's here and all over the world—we have a role to play as co-creators, as restorers.
So let us be inspired by God, that we might join in with the work he has done in creation, that we might work to restore hope, to love creation, to be good stewards of that over which we have dominion. May we exercise wise dominion, and in so doing spread the love of God to every corner of the world.
Let us pray

Friday, April 27, 2012

Guest Blogger

Hey folks--
  Having come back from my spiritual 'mountaintop experience' last weekend to a vomiting baby (that's the world's way of saying "welcome back from the mountain.  This is what real life is like, just in case you forgot.  Feel like cleaning up some vomit?  No?  Tough."), I haven't had many creative things to say.  Caleb is still cute, in case you were concerned.  In fact, he's trying to branch out--he was telling me this morning that he's tired of just being seen as another cute baby.  I think he feels somewhat pigeon-holed.  So I told him I'd let him take the reins once more and post a guest blog.  I will say that I'm not responsible for what he has to say.  There is a devious side to him--I see a spark in his eyes every time the cats pass by.  His little hands reach out without even thinking, and the cats keep a wary distance.  More to come later on this recent development.  Without further ado, here's Caleb.

Waaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa.  Ahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh.  Goooooooooooooooooooooooo.  EEEEEEEEEEEEeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee.


Sorry for that, everyone.  I just wanted to get that out at the beginning.  That's all mom and dad hear.  Let me tell you what that really means:  Can I have a hamburger?

The real reason for wanting to blog is to give a progress report on this figure commonly referred to as 'Dad'.  You all see the preacher side of him, with the big, fancy words and the people all listening to him.  Let me give you a bit of a behind-the-scenes look.  I'm going to group this into easy areas.


Milk Feeding:  B+.  Earlier, this would have been an F.  I'm not kidding--this guy was terrible at it.  I'd wake up in the morning, and all I wanted was some breakfast.  Preferrably bacon and eggs, but milk seems to be the only thing in the fridge around here, and they only let me go to Waffle House from daycare.  Dad never takes me.  Is one trip to IHOP going to kill me?  Probably not.  (Dad's note:  Maybe.)  Anyway, he gave me these cold bottles after I've been in a cold crib in my cold room all night, and then he kept jamming the thing down my mouth.  I told him fifty times to warm the bottle up, but he never listened, until mom finally got his attention.  Where would this clown be without her?  So the feedings have vastly improved.  Still no bacon, but a warm bottle is almost as good.  Now if only he'd stop slamming me in the back every time I ate--when I get older I'm going to try that to him every time he has a glass of wine, see how he likes it.


Rice Cereal Feeding:  F-.  Mom does most of this, but I'd just like to point out that Dad seems to be encouraging it.  Have you ever tasted the stuff, dad?  Rice cereal?  You support giving this stuff to me?  Wait until you're in the nursing home and I'm giving you plain Jell-O as revenge.  Then we'll see how much you like flavorless food.  Oh, and as for making me sit and watch you enjoy Tuna steaks and hamburgers--not cool, dad.  Not cool.


Mornings:  C.  Just a pointer here, Dad.  When I make noise in the morning, that means I'm awake.  It doesn't mean that I'm just talking to myself in my sleep, chattering about my dreams.  It means I'm awake and ready to get out of this crib, and I'm hungry.  I don't care that you're in the shower, and whatever you're doing is less important than feeding me.  Especially if it's sleeping.  So why don't you just get up at four and be ready when I wake up.  Otherwise, I'm going to start exploring outside catering options.  And you're paying.


Daycare drop-off:  A-.  Yes, I notice all the potholes you hit when you're driving.  And yes, I'm well-aware of what we just passed.  Because I'm always facing backwards!  Other than that, this part goes pretty well--Dad's pretty efficient at dropping me off with the nice ladies and my cool friends.  Although he could stand to show me off a little less to everyone around.  I know I'm good looking, dad.  


Daycare pickup:  D.  Every darn time I fall asleep, there's day, waking me up, throwing me in the dark seat and chucking me in the car.  He's got this big goofy grin on his face, apparently not at all disturbed by the fact that I just fell asleep.  Care to wait a minute, big guy?  I've got important things to do--like sleep during the day so I have energy to keep you and mom awake at night.  These things aren't easy, dad.  A 5 minute nap just won't cut it.


Hugs:  B.  I get it.  You love me.  You think I'm the greatest thing ever.  But seriously, dad, we're out in public--can't you just play it cool?  You're hurting my image with the ladies with all this love stuff.


Diapers:  B-.  Know what's not cool?  My own poop.  Know what I can't do?  Anything about it.  So stop acting so disgusted by it and just do your job.  The only way it's going anywhere is if you fix it, dad.  And just so you know, maybe if you found me some waffles I'd hold one in until mom got home.


Sports Team Affiliations:  B.  So I've been talking with some of the guys at daycare... and it turns out that some of the sports teams you have chosen for my life are, what's the word, lousy.  I know, I know, you'll spout this stuff about recent playoff appearances and long-term contracts.  I have two words for you:  Mike Brown.  As for the Reds, I have to say I'm pleased with some recent developments, but I want to see them in a World Series in the next five years, or I'm seriously considering becoming a Braves fan.  This Jason Heyward kid can hit.  Joey Votto seems to be a good player--so that helps your standing here a lot, dad.  As for that glorious University of Kentucky championship, that was pretty cool.  I'd have to say that this particular affiliation greatly helps your standing in this category.  Bumps it up at least one letter grade.  It won't help during football season, but everyone knows that UK football is merely a distraction until basketball season starts.  Mom gets a lot of the credit here.


Exercise:  C.  So let me ask the readers this:  What purpose does it serve to go to a big room and pick up heavy things and set them down repeatedly?  Oh, and did I mention that dad pays for this?  And is probably going to want me to 'work out' in a similar manner?  What fun, dad.  Can we go mow the lawn later for kicks?  Oh, and soccer--glad to know you're planning on signing me up for this.  Because your bum right knee is a great testament to how wonderful that sport is.  So that leaves baseball--because what kid isn't excited about having a ball thrown at them?  I've already heard I'm not allowed to play football.  Laughter will probably be banned, too.  


Folks, I'm going to wrap this up before Tolstoy feels threatened.  Hope this gives some insight into dad, better known as 'Not-Mom'.  He seems to think that he knows what he is doing.  He's wrong.  Please remind him of this and tell him the proper way to raise a baby.  I'd be forever grateful.  Thanks.



Dad's note:  He's right.  I have no idea what I'm doing.  But how about those Wildcats?

Thursday, April 26, 2012

4/26 E-News


Announcements

Sunday Evening Prayer ServiceCome check out a prayer service this Sundy evening @ 6:00 in the McMillan Building. This week will be an evening prayer service from the Book of Common Worship Daily Prayer edition.

After School programIf you have any interest at all in being involved with some sort of after-school program here at New Hope, please call or email Mandy. (If you don't have her contact info, reply to me and I'll put you in touch with her.)


New Hope News

Lookouts Game—On Saturday, April 28 we're going to head down to the Lookouts game. We'll leave from the church around 6(ish), so let me know if you want to carpool. Also, if you want to get together and eat beforehand, that would be great!

Sunday School—We'll explore 2 Samuel this Sunday—what a story it is!

Magazine Offer—I don't know how many of you are big magazine people, but if you're looking for a good one filled with thoughtful articles on Christianity, I'd highly recommend Christian Century. They have a special offer going right now.


Pray for:

David Smith

Madeline Sims—give her a call if you get the chance

Eleanor Hall

Links






Book Recommendation

Jonathan Kirsch's The Grand Inquisitor's Manual is a fascinating look into the inquisition.

Random Thoughts

I wanted to share something I read over the weekend at Cursillo. I'm getting close to the end of The Mission of God, and I was reading a section on the ethics of Israel. In summary, what Christopher Wright was proposing is that Israel wasn't given the Law in order to earn their salvation—it was so that God's mission to the world might be fulfilled. The same is true with us today—we don't lead ethically and morally upright lives so that God will justify and redeem us. God does that freely. We live that way because God's mission works more effectively through us when we are faithful to our calling as Christians. It's not about us increasing our standing with God. It's about us making God's mission more visible to the world through us.

Think about a water pipe—in a new and clean water pipe, water flows straight through it. How often do you think about water pipes? Not very often, I bet. But I imagine you're pretty grateful for the water that runs through them. In the same way, when we are leading upright lives that focus on God, others can then experience God's grace flowing through us—it's not about us, though.

When we put kinks in the pipes, though, it makes it more difficult for water to flow through the pipe and reach the destination. I remember my dad telling me that every 90 degree elbow in a pipe decreased the water pressure, and so the idea was to have your pipes as straight as possible. In the same way, the sin and brokenness in our lives makes it more difficult for God's grace to flow through us to others. Our fundamental status hasn't changed, and we're still beloved by God, and when we straighten ourselves out we aren't 'better pipes'--we're just better able to let God's love flow through us to others.

Text for Sunday, April 29

Genesis 1:26-31

26Then God said, “Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness; and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the wild animals of the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth.” 27So God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them. 28God blessed them, and God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it; and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air and over every living thing that moves upon the earth.”

29God said, “See, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is upon the face of all the earth, and every tree with seed in its fruit; you shall have them for food. 30And to every beast of the earth, and to every bird of the air, and to everything that creeps on the earth, everything that has the breath of life, I have given every green plant for food.” And it was so.
31God saw everything that he had made, and indeed, it was very good. And there was evening and there was morning, the sixth day.



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Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Business Ideas

  Did I ever mention the time I thought about opening a store that would sell replicas of Biblical characters?

  I had it all planned out--I was going to sell miniature models of Bible characters for people to put on their desks or in their cars to help remind them of the Biblical stories.  I'd have David with his sling and stones as a reminder to people that God could hep them conquer any obstacle.  I'd have Adam with the apple in his hand as a way to help people resist temptation.  I'd have Ruth following Naomi as a picture of faithfulness.

  It was all ready to go, but the only problem was I couldn't convince the bank to give me a loan because...

  I didn't know how I'd ever make a prophet.


Monday, April 23, 2012

Cursillo

  I went to the mountaintop.  Only it was next to a lake, so there wasn't much mountain involved.

  This past weekend, I attended Cursillo, (Spanish for 'short course') in Scottsboro, AL.  I left Thursday afternoon and came home Sunday evening, and for that entire time every need I had was tended to in order that I might be able to sit back, relax, and enjoy the love and grace of God.  The staff at Cursillo went out of their way to make sure that I wasn't trying to fill any role other than child of God, and it was a gift.  That's the best word to describe Cursillo--a gift.  A gift of time and love and prayer that allowed me to dwell in the depths of God's love.  The entire time I was there I was prayed for, and ever since I've been home I've been amazed at the number of people who took their time to lift up my name before Almighty God.  They didn't have to do that--most of them had never even met me--but they did so freely, out of love.  The same kind of love that God pours out upon me, even though I am often too busy to notice.

  I don't know exactly what the lasting impact of this weekend will be for me.  I know that I will be encouraging others to attend the Cursillo gathering in October.  (Application can be found here)  Cursillo is a bit like the Transfiguration in Mark's Gospel--immediately after coming down from his mountaintop, spiritual experience, Jesus is confronted by a boy with a demon.  Real life intrudes quickly into our spiritual experiences.  I came home last night not to a boy with a demon, but rather a baby with an upset stomach at midnight.  Real life intrudes, and it often ends up depriving one of sleep!  But just as the disciples always carried the Transfiguration with them, I'll take Cursillo with me, and it is my solemn prayer that this experience will help me see God's love and grace at work in the world around me.  I am hoping that it will change the way I see the world, and that I will be better able to experience and accept God's love, so that I might go forth and lead a life that helps others experience the same transforming love of God.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

4/19 E-News


Announcements

Michael Pollanhe's speaking at the Tivoli tonight. If you are interested in food issues (where your food comes from, what local eating and healthy eating look like in this present day, or corn sex [yes, there is a whole chapter about it in one of his books]), the speech is free to attend. If you haven't read his books, they're very good. The Omnivore's Dilemma and In Defense of Food are both worth reading.

Sunday Evening Prayer ServiceCome check out a prayer service this Sundy evening @ 6:00 in the McMillan Building. It will be a service of healing and wholeness lasting approx. 30 minutes.

After School programIf you have any interest at all in being involved with some sort of after-school program here at New Hope, please call or email Mandy. (If you don't have her contact info, reply to me and I'll put you in touch with her.)


New Hope News

Lookouts Game—On Saturday, April 28 we're going to head down to the Lookouts game. We'll leave from the church around 6(ish), so let me know if you want to carpool. Also, if you want to get together and eat beforehand, that would be great!

Sunday School—We'll continue to explore 1 Samuel this Sunday—what a story it is!

Saturday, May 19thInterfaith Hospitality is holding a 5k fundraiser. Anyone interested in running in it?

Pray for:

David Smith

Madeline Sims—give her a call if you get the chance

Eleanor Hall

Links






Book Recommendation

Radical, by David Platt, is one of the most challenging books I've read in years. It takes the American Dream head-on and forces you to examine exactly how you live out your faith.

Text for Sunday, April 22

Luke 24:36b-48

36While they were talking about this, Jesus himself stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.” 37They were startled and terrified, and thought that they were seeing a ghost. 38He said to them, “Why are you frightened, and why do doubts arise in your hearts?39Look at my hands and my feet; see that it is I myself. Touch me and see; for a ghost does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have.”40And when he had said this, he showed them his hands and his feet.

41While in their joy they were disbelieving and still wondering, he said to them, “Have you anything here to eat?” 42They gave him a piece of broiled fish, 43and he took it and ate in their presence. 44Then he said to them, “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you—that everything written about me in the law of Moses, the prophets, and the psalms must be fulfilled.” 45Then he opened their minds to understand the scriptures, 46and he said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Messiah is to suffer and to rise from the dead on the third day, 47and that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. 48You are witnesses of these things.







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Monday, April 16, 2012

Radical

  David Platt's Radical: Taking Back Your Faith from the American Dream had been in the pile on the bedroom floor for a while.  That's the "I want to read this more than the other books I have that I haven't read yet" pile.  I have another pile in my office of books I have that I don't want to read as badly but still hope I get around to soon.  The pile on the bedroom floor is pushing twenty books, so I feel a bit of pressure to read some of those before Rachel figures out that piles of books only get bigger, not smaller, and threatens to kick out me or the books.  Radical had an advantage because it was thinner than the others.

  I'd be careful reading Radical--don't read it if you're looking for a comfort read, if you're looking for something that won't loom over every thought for the time you're reading it, if you're looking for something to read and then put away.  Radical is hard to read, and it challenges much of what I have grown up thinking--Platt challenges our idolatry of the American dream, and he challenges the American church for coddling Christians and not raising up disciples.  He points us back to the Gospels, then points us out into the world, just as Christ did.  It's a pretty simple book.

  But it's a tough, tough read.  If you want your faith and view to be challenged, then read this book.  If you want to question whether you're living as a disciple or not, read this book.  If you're ready to do some serious soul-searching, read this book.  But only read it if you're going to take Platt seriously.  This book isn't perfect, but it's a great challenge to the comfort zone in which the typical American Christian church spends much of its time.  I'm trying to figure out how to put a book group together with this book--I think it's one that the church would benefit from having read widely.  There are plenty of places to engage with this book, and I think there is a real opportunity here for renewal, for examination, for a recognition of our shortcomings.

  But it's a difficult journey.  But discipleship is difficult, and we need to be willing to be humble and honest with ourselves if we want to grow in faith.

 

Sunday, April 15, 2012

April 15 Sermon on Peace


Isaiah 11:1-9

11A shoot shall come out from the stump of Jesse, and a branch shall grow out of his roots. 2The spirit of the Lord shall rest on him, the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and might, the spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord3His delight shall be in the fear of the Lord. He shall not judge by what his eyes see, or decide by what his ears hear; 4but with righteousness he shall judge the poor, and decide with equity for the meek of the earth; he shall strike the earth with the rod of his mouth, and with the breath of his lips he shall kill the wicked. 5Righteousness shall be the belt around his waist, and faithfulness the belt around his loins. 6The wolf shall live with the lamb, the leopard shall lie down with the kid, the calf and the lion and the fatling together, and a little child shall lead them. 7The cow and the bear shall graze, their young shall lie down together; and the lion shall eat straw like the ox. 8The nursing child shall play over the hole of the asp, and the weaned child shall put its hand on the adder’s den. 9They will not hurt or destroy on all my holy mountain; for the earth will be full of the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea.


In the master bathroom in our house, there is a clock that makes a rather audible ticking noise. Now, I never noticed this until shortly after we put it up and Rachel insisted that I close the door to the bathroom before she could sleep. She said the sound drove her crazy and she couldn't sleep with it. I hadn't noticed it at all. We're all wired a little differently.
What's the one sound that disturbs you the most? What's the one sound that, if you had the power, you would rid the world of forever?

Ok—so let's imagine a world without those sounds. Let's put you in a room where there is quiet—there isn't a single annoying sound to get on your nerves. Would you be happy with the way the world sounded? There wouldn't be any noise.

What would you miss?

At first, we might revel in the silence. But then we'd probably notice that there were no birds chirping, and there were no children laughing. We wouldn't hear the choir sing their beautiful songs and the wind wouldn't rustle the leaves in the trees. We wouldn't have any annoying sounds—but that wouldn't be quite enough. We want the sounds that make us glad, that make the world a more beautiful place.

We're going to talk about peace today, and we're going to do it in the same way—peace isn't just about the cessation of hostilities. When Robert E. Lee and Ulysses S. Grant sat down to draw up a peace treaty to end the Civil War, they didn't just agree to stop fighting—they had to figure out what happened next, how to fill the void of fighting with something good so that the country would have a chance of sewing up the wounds that had been torn open. The kind of peace we're going to talk about today is incomplete if we only talk about avoiding evil—the kind of peace that we will discuss is a peace that can only be complete if there is a sense of fullness to it. Imagine a grocery bag that not only doesn't have unhealthy, terrible things in it, but also is bursting at the seams with abundant goodness, with a wealth of treats for the body and the taste buds. This is shalom, God's peace. This is the kind of peace for which the world is destined, and this is the kind of peace we are each seeking today.

Getting away from the idea of peace as the simple notion of people not fighting, I'm going to read the beginning of the 11th chapter of Isaiah. As we read, I want you to notice that it's more than a simple quiet. Peace isn't indicated by the lack of violence, but by a community that is working on all cylinders, a community that is in love with one another. It's not enough that the wolf doesn't eat the lamb—here, they actually lie down together, at peace, at rest.

<read 11th chapter of Isaiah>

When we talk about shalom, about God's peace, there is a sense of all of creation living just as God had intended it to live. It's a fullness—defined not simply by the absence of conflict, but by each created thing living up to its fullest potential, to the height of how God created it to be. What we had in the Garden of Eden was how it should be—but in our sin, we turned from God's peace, believing in arrogance that we could somehow manage to secure a better future for ourselves. We shortened our vision to the here and the now, and we have been suffering ever sense because of our shortsightedness, because of our sin. We established our own gods and believed that we could buy security, but in reality it has only purchased more anxiety, more struggles. We could easily say that it is worse now than it has ever been, but the reality is that, ever since the fall, we have been captured in the net of sin and, in struggling to get free, have wounded ourselves with the weapons we created in the hopes of securing for ourselves a better life. We are indifferent to the abundant life that God has offered us, the shalom, the peace of God that passes all understanding, because we have tried to grasp it and control it, rather than merely accept it as gift.
Perhaps, every now and again, you have had a sense that things are not the way they should be. We spoke on Monday about how some people grew up in households where you never locked the doors, where you left the keys in the car. You were comfortable and trusted your neighbors. You might have even trusted strangers. Now, however, you don't do that—now maybe you have an alarm system and a gate and a dog that tells the world to keep out. But inside, there's a gnawing sense that this isn't the way it should be. That it doesn't feel right. That's a longing for shalom—that's the awareness that there is a different way we were created to be, and it's the soul crying out for the peace of God.
How do we get that peace, you may wonder?

For starters, we don't get it. We can't obtain it. We can't earn it. You can't save enough box tops or brownie points to trade in for it. It's a gift, and it comes from one man, one man who died on a cross because that was the only way to secure peace for the world. It sounds funny to say that a violent death on a cross was the only way to secure peace, but I assure you that it was—Jesus Christ had to die for our sins for us to have access to God's peace.
Had Christ not died for our sins, we would be forever at odds with God. We could not be united with God after death, because Christ would not have defeated death, and because God couldn't be united with sin—it's against his nature. But Christ wipes out death and sin, and makes a path to peace for us. In Christ, we are cleansed from our sin, and the part of us that is at war with God, that is opposed to true peace, is forever altered. We stop looking to ourselves and look to God. We stop trying to provide for ourselves and trust in God to provide for us. We stop worshiping ourselves and this world and worship only God.

Now, this peace of God has two aspects to it. In much of the Protestant church in the last hundred years, we have focused only on one aspect, the inner, spiritual peace. This is the deep, heartfelt relationship with Jesus Christ. Personal salvation is the focus of this kind of peace. And there isn't anything wrong with this—but it's incomplete when we stop after this. When we read Scripture, we notice that one's relationship with God is always leading the individual out into the community. One's relationship with God isn't lived in isolation.

So how do we achieve peace? We begin by accepting that we'll only truly be at peace when Christ returns and defeats sin with finality. Until then, we work on our inner life, and that leads us out into the community. One without the other is incomplete. Both are the work of a lifetime, not a day or a week or a month or a year.

To work on the inner life, it's about replacing our fears with trust. We have all sorts of fear—we hear not having enough as we age, we fear not being respected in the world, we fear scarcity and strangers and uncertainty. We fear aging itself, and death and disease and infirmity. We fear that we aren't good enough. For each of these fears, we erect some sort of belief that we can control our fears, or we construct a defense against the fears, rather than turn and trust in God. There are a thousand companies trying to sell you a product to prevent aging, and there are another thousand that will try and sell you the lie that you can protect yourself from the outside world. We tell ourselves lies that we can earn God's love and we consume more products to make us feel superior over our neighbors.
None of these products, none of our lies, leads us to the truth—that God alone can provide for our future, and that all the world's products and lies will fall away and fail us. For true inner peace, we have to trust completely in God, to not worry about tomorrow, to not build up idols that cannot protect us. It doesn't mean we live irresponsibly, it means rather that we don't invest our time and energy into worrying about the future. We make our plans, and we trust that God will provide for us. We don't fear anything—we trust in God. We trust in God in every moment of life and in the face of death, because God has promised to provide for us, to watch over us, to bring us through death into true life. Inner peace means we have to die to ourselves daily, to recognize the places in our lives where we rely on ourselves, and to slowly hand those over to God, that we might be healed. It's about taking the locks off the doors to the chambers of our lives that we have kept from God and handing those over.

This should lead us out into the world, for God's peace, a complete peace for all of creation, cannot very well provide peace and joy for some and not for others. A sense of peace means that we then begin to look out for our neighbor, for we want them to have the same kind of peace we do. We then work for them, regardless of their race or social class. Our idea of our neighbor is radically expanded—shouldn't we want peace for all of God's children? Shouldn't the abundant life that Christ provides be offered to everyone? God's peace is bigger than just us—and so our inner peace should lead us out into the world to see justice and equality for everyone. If we have no fears or anxieties, we are then freed to pass on God's reconciliation to all, to be content with what we have and share it with the world. We can't just have inner peace and relax—our relationship with God, the peace that dwells within us, should compel us to share with others.

God's peace is two sided—and it's not enough to have one without the other. It changes us forever, and it gives us something to look forward to in eternity.

Let us pray.


Friday, April 13, 2012

Habitat

Why? Because Jet Li told you so.


 


Don't know who Jet Li is?


 

Mom!

Caleb & Mom on Easter Sunday!
  Yes, he's a cute baby.

  But I'm not here to talk about Caleb.  I want to talk about Rachel and her (relatively) new identity as 'mom'.

  I was thinking the other day about how, when I grew up, my dad always referred to mom as 'mom', rather than by her name.  It never struck me as odd until we had a child and I started thinking about our own family and what title I would use when I told Caleb to go find his mother when I inevitably cut my finger off with my miter saw.  I realized I wouldn't tell him to go find Rachel--I'd tell him to get mom.  (I'll be honest and say Rachel spends a good deal of time taking care of me, too.)  It's not because I don't love Rachel for the wonderful and independent woman that she is--but she has become a mother, and the role has beautifully transformed her.

  It's hard to put it into words, but having a child has changed Rachel in an amazing way.  (It's changed me, too, but she handles change with far more grace than I do.)  She's completely focused on the role of being a mother, of caring for Caleb and expressing her love for him in so many different ways.  When she comes home from work, she instantly sheds the role of accountant and takes up Caleb into her arms and something incredible happens before my very eyes--the woman I love grabs hold of the chance to raise a child, to love him and care for him and help him grow.  Her focus is so intent on Caleb--she worries about him, cares for him, watches every little motion, all while encouraging him.

  It's not that she's forgotten about me.  She does all this while still being a great wife and offering me encouragement and love.  It's that she's added this new role, and she loves it in a way that neither of us could have expected.  When she was pregnant, we knew we were excited to have this new little man to focus upon, but I don't think we realized how incredible parenting was.  It's been such a blessing to have him in our lives, and we see our lives differently now--it's not about us.

  I'm probably not expressing this very well, but it's fun to watch Rachel and Caleb.  She loves being a mom, and she handles the difficult and exhausting parts of it so well because she sees the bigger picture.  It's changed her in ways I can't describe, and it's been a treat to be a part of it all, to see Caleb change our lives and to watch him grow into the man God has called him to be.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

4/12 E-News


Announcements

Sunday Evening Prayer ServiceCome check out a prayer service this Sundy evening @ 6:00 in the McMillan Building. It will be a taize-style service lasting approx. 30 minutes.

Young Adults
—We'll meet this coming Tuesday (4/17) at the Terminal from 6:30-8:30. Childcare is available if needed.

New Hope News

Lookouts Game—On Saturday, April 28 we're going to head down to the Lookouts game. We'll leave from the church around 6(ish), so let me know if you want to carpool. Also, if you want to get together and eat beforehand, that would be great!

Sunday School—We'll explore 1 Samuel this Sunday—what a story it is!

Saturday, May 19thInterfaith Hospitality is holding a 5k fundraiser. Anyone interested in running in it?

Pray for:

David Smith

Eleanor Hall

Links







Book Recommendation
Parenting in the Pew: Guiding Your Children into the Joy of Worship is meant to be a guide for parents of toddlers through teenagers to help children enter into worship.

Text for Sunday, April 15

Isaiah 11:1-9

A shoot shall come out from the stump of Jesse, and a branch shall grow out of his roots. 2The spirit of the Lord shall rest on him, the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and might, the spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord3His delight shall be in the fear of the Lord

He shall not judge by what his eyes see, or decide by what his ears hear; 4but with righteousness he shall judge the poor, and decide with equity for the meek of the earth; he shall strike the earth with the rod of his mouth, and with the breath of his lips he shall kill the wicked. 5Righteousness shall be the belt around his waist, and faithfulness the belt around his loins. 

6The wolf shall live with the lamb, the leopard shall lie down with the kid, the calf and the lion and the fatling together, and a little child shall lead them. 7The cow and the bear shall graze, their young shall lie down together; and the lion shall eat straw like the ox. 8The nursing child shall play over the hole of the asp, and the weaned child shall put its hand on the adder’s den. 9They will not hurt or destroy on all my holy mountain; for the earth will be full of the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea.







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Sports

  I love sports.  I'm going to admit that up front.  I've loved them as long as I can remember.  I've played them ever since I was old enough to hold a bat or stand in a tight-knit circle of young kids and kick at a soccer ball in the middle.  I've enjoyed going to major league baseball games for decades, and I've been to NFL games, to professional soccer games, hockey games, etc.  I've spent countless hours watching sports on television, although I watch far less now than I used to watch.  I love sports.

  Yet I struggle with the economics of sports.

  From stltoday.com: With pitchers Sean Marshall and Johnny Cueto and budding All-Star outfielder Jay Bruce also signed long-term, the Reds have more than $400 million committed to what Jocketty and others called their "core."


  Obviously, they're not writing checks for that sum today--it's spread out over a number of years, but that number jars me.  Over the next 10-12 years, the Reds will probably pay $1 billion just in salary.  (The Yankees probably reach that number in 4 years, but this isn't about comparing payrolls.  It's more about principle.)

  Where I come from, that's a lot of money.

  And I can't help but wonder if sports is the best way to invest that kind of money.  The numbers are getting so big that it seems outlandish to pay someone $10 million a year to play sports.  What does it say about our society's values that we pay people who play games for a living (even though they do it well) far more than those who are engaged in other vocations?  Joey Votto will struggle to spend $225 million over a hundred years, let alone ten, even if he buys everyone on the team a new Lamborghini.  (I hear his is black.  Yes, I am jealous.)

  Now, I don't believe that what these athletes do isn't a vocation.  They are using the gifts God has given them and they are doing what most other people in the world do--negotiating for the highest salary possible. Many give very generously to charity and are pillars in their communities.  It's not about the people.

  It's about the statement we as a society make--how societies spend their money makes a statement about what we value.  And we are stating that we value those who entertain us more than anyone else.

  That bothers me.  It bothers me that we invest billions in athletes and rock singers and movie stars while millions go homeless and unfed.  It bothers me that so much attention is slathered on the rich while so little is invested in the poor.  It bothers me that we have 316 television channels to air sports and another 857 to watch movies while I don't believe we have too many focused on the least of these.

  How do we change?  It begins with individuals reading God's Word and demanding change.  Our Wednesday night Bible studies have been fascinating--reading the words of the minor prophets is certainly a convicting place to begin.  I think we all need to examine our values and examine Scriptural values and see how the two differ.  It's not acceptable for us to shower our money and energy upon athletes and celebrities while the poorest are left to glean in the fields--we need to work to change this.  I don't believe we have to give up baseball and movies and whatever they show on E!--but I do believe that we need to examine ourselves and ask how Christ would have us invest our time, money and energy, so that we might join in with what God is doing in the world, rather than idly let the opportunities to proclaim the Gospel in word and deed pass us by while our eyes are glued to our televisions.

  Can we appreciate the beauty in baseball in healthy relationship to how we appreciate the beauty of a just society, where no one goes hungry?  And if we start doing so, perhaps the economics of our society will begin to be brought back into balance, and cities will only approve millions to build baseball stadiums after they have invested billions in fair housing and free health care clinics.

  Perhaps.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Unfettered Hope

  I've had a few books that I've been reading for months that I'm trying to finish up before I start any new books.  This was one, Christopher Wright's doorstop The Mission of God is another.  I've loved every page of Wright's tome, and it's challenged how I read the Bible, but trying to read long books while you have an infant has proved challenging.

  In Unfettered Hope: A Call to Faithful Living in an Affluent Society, Marva Dawn means to throw a cog in the machines of our lives, stopping everything so that we might take it apart, examine it and recognize how seamlessly we are all humming along without bothering to pay attention to the faith we profess.  She humbly submits that American Christianity is so tied up in hopes that are focused on this world, hopes of riches and power and fame and renown and respect and so many other things, that we have forgotten (or perhaps never truly learned) what it means to hope in God alone. Dawn proposes that are hopes are fettered, shackled by the world, and that faithful living means letting our hopes rest in God, where they are truly free.

  How should we do this?

  Dawn proposes we should die more.  And it's hard to disagree with her.

  The way forward, she writes, is to give up on ourselves, to recognize how badly we fail, to acknowledge our guilt, and then, freed by the unfettered hope of forgiveness and the promise of God's new future (already begun), we rise from that death to ourselves into newness of life, filled with Joy and Hope and thereby equipped for devotion to loving God and the neighbor.


  Dawn is bold enough to believe that being a Christian ought to transform the way we live.  It ought to change us, to have an effect on every single part of our lives, so that we don't get so caught up in the world's struggles and turmoil, but that our eyes are set upon God and the future we have in him.

  The thing I love about this book is that Dawn follows that spiritual focus with an earthy action plan--our eyes focused on God ought then to lead us back into our community, to love those that surround us, to work for justice and peace.  Freed from the pressure to accumulate and succeed based on the world's standards, we are then free to love and serve the world with passionate abandon, loving our neighbor and trusting that we live within God's grace.  There is no need to be concerned about falling short, about running out, about being unworthy.  God has defeated every fear we could have, freeing us to live for His glory.

  We need not fear.  Only hope.