Sunday, June 30, 2013

Sermon for Daniel 3 on June 30, 2013

Click here for a link to Daniel 3

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Growing up, I played tennis. To be honest, I was pretty good at tennis, a fact I neglected to mention to Rachel before we ever played tennis against each other. She refuses to ever play against me again. I played my first two years of high school before giving up, but I really enjoyed tennis.
There's another tennis player who's about my age. He's only about two months older than I am, but his career has lasted a little longer than mine. You may have heard of him. Goes by the name of Roger Federer. He's won 77 career tournaments, including a gold medal at the Olympics, and has a nice sum of $77 million in career prize money, not counting endorsements. Many people would say he's the best tennis player ever. I've never played him, so I can't say that he's definitely better than me, but his record indicates that he would win if we ever played head to head.
Shockingly, Roger Federer lost in the second round of the Wimbledon tournament this week. The chances of this happening were about the same as the chances of me winning Wimbledon.
So here is the question: is Roger Federer still good at tennis?

How about another situation. In 2006, just before I got married, I bought a new car. To this day, Rachel and I disagree over whether it is blue or green, but one thing we do agree on is that it is very, very reliable. In the seven years we have owned it, we've put 115,000 miles on it, including Rachel driving it in Atlanta traffic, where every mile driven should count for 4 miles. Until March, we had never had a single part break on that car. The alternator went out that month, and I had the opportunity to learn how much more expensive alternators have become. It was only $500 more than I had expected. Since then, it has run just fine.
So here is the question: is our car still reliable?

Life is filled with instances that occur outside unexpectedly. These events are often far outside of what is normal, and they cause us to question our understanding of life around us. Plane travel is usually regarded as one of the safest ways to travel, and yet whenever a plane crashes, we instantly wonder: are airplanes safe? We eat at a restaurant we've always loved and enjoyed, when suddenly, we get a terrible meal there. We wonder: is the food still good there? Should I go back? We don't know what to do with these events. We don't have a category for them, and they cause us to question our underlying assumptions. For big events, they cause us to question everything.
For example, we might lose a job, or discover an illness, or go through divorce. In these times, we pray and we pray and we pray, and we also wonder: does God still care about me?
Sometimes, tragedy strikes. We lose a loved one. Terrorists attack. A gunman shoots children in an elementary school. We wonder: Is God still good?

We've all wondered this at times. Life has happened around us, to us, and it doesn't make sense. The world that we once understood seems to lie shattered at our feet, and we can't help but wonder if God is still good. Can God be good and not answer our prayers, even when they are our deepest, most desperate prayers? If it seems that God is silent in the face of death and disease, is God still good?

Here's where we turn to Daniel 3. In this text, three young men, Shadrach, Mesach, & Abednego have been appointed to high positions. They are Jews who worship the most high God, the only God of heaven and of earth, and they have sworn to refuse to worship any other God. This is the first commandment for them, as it is for us. We must worship God alone.
But Nebuchadnezzar, the king of Babylon, isn't a one-God kind of guy. He builds a massive statue, 90 feet tall, and commands that everyone in his kingdom should bow down to worship it. Most of the people don't seem to mind, but these three young men refuse to worship this false god. Think of the peer pressure—every other person in the kingdom bows down, and you refuse.
Also, the decree is issued that anyone refusing to bow down to the false god will be thrown into a fiery furnace to peril in a rather painful manner. So there's that.
Shadrach, Mesach, & Abednego refuse to worship the false god, and their refusal does not go unnoticed. Their refusal to worship the false god is brought to the attention of the king, and he is not pleased with their stubbornness. He gives them one last chance, one final opportunity to accede to his request. The choice is clear—worship the false god and everything will be fine, the king days in verse 15. Otherwise, they will be thrown into the fiery furnace to perish.

Shadrach, Mesach, & Abednego face a difficult decision. They can worship their God, or they can live, but they cannot do both, in the words of the king.

What they tell the king is astounding. Your Majesty, they begin in verse 16, a quite respectful beginning considering this man is threatening their doom. We don't need to defend ourselves. The God we worship can save us from you and your flaming furnace. But even if he doesn't, we still won't worship your gods and the gold statue you have set up.

They refuse, preferring death to idol worship. But what they say amazes me. They tell the King that God can save them, despite what the King had said. The King believed that no god could save them from the fiery furnace. Shadrach, Mesach, & Abednego believe otherwise. But notice what they say at the end: But even if he doesn't, we still won't worship your gods.

Even if he doesn't...

Keep in mind—if God doesn't save them from the furnace, they will die a horrible, painful death. If God doesn't save them from the furnace, it will look like Nebuchadnezzar has won. If God doesn't save them, all is lost, right?

Shadrach, Mesach, & Abednego want Nebuchadnezzar to know that God can save them. Even if he chooses not to, it's important to remind him that he can, because this means that God is sovereign and all-powerful. They do not pretend to know the mind of God, and they do not claim to be able to manipulate it. I'm sure that they would prefer that God did save them, but they want to affirm that even if their prayer goes unanswered, that does not change that God is all-powerful, and they believe that God is worthy of worship and praise, even if they must go to their deaths to proclaim that. They think God is so awesome and majestic that death is preferable to the thought of betraying him.

Let's stop right here for a moment. This is a place worthy of lingering. This is a point not to be missed.

Just because God doesn't answer our prayers doesn't mean that he isn't still all-powerful. Just because God doesn't dramatically intervene doesn't mean he isn't loving and good. We don't understand the ways or the mind of God, but just because it appears as though God is not still abiding, that doesn't mean that he isn't here with us, loving us and at work in our lives. Even when it appears as though God has abandoned us, God is still with us, and God is still good, although we may not be able to grasp this fully.

Shadrach, Mesach, & Abednego were willing to bet their lives on this fact. The sovereignty and goodness of God were not on trial when they were thrown into the furnace. That remained true whether or not they survived this situation.

Are we willing to live like this?

Shadrach, Mesach, & Abednego had no plan B. The only fallback option was to worship the false god of Nebuchadnezzar, and they weren't going for that.
Are we willing to live with the same abandon? Are we willing to commit everything to God, without holding something back just in case God doesn't come through in the way we imagine?

God has demonstrated his willingness to always come through for us. It may not be exactly how we imagine it, but God has promised he will never let anything in this world separate us from his presence. He has promised us a place in eternity beside him, promised that we will triumph over victory and death in Christ—and in this way he assures us of his ultimate goodness, despite our setbacks and trials in this life.

Here, in Daniel 3, he demonstrates his presence in an astounding way. Although Shadrach, Mesach, & Abednego are thrown into the furnace that is heated up 7 times hotter than usual due to Nebuchadnezzar's rage at their answer, they are safe and sound within the flames. Indeed, when Nebuchadnezzar peers into the oven, he sees a fourth figure with the appearance of a god dwelling in the flames with them. He is so astounded that he calls them out of the fire, when it is noticed that they don't even smell like smoke. Anyone who has ever walked by a bonfire and then smelled like smoke for the next week realizes what a miracle this is.

In the midst of the fiery furnace, in a trial so hot it killed those standing nearby, the presence of God near Shadrach, Mesach, & Abednego was revealed to all who witnessed it. What I'd like to propose is that God's nearness is only fully understood when we have committed everything to God. When we give our hearts and minds and lives and money and future to God, we begin to understand just how near he always is. I believe that God was near Shadrach, Mesach, & Abednego throughout this entire story, but it was the presence of the fire, the trial of their lives, that revealed that presence.

So here's the question for us: are we willing to emulate Shadrach, Mesach, & Abednego in their complete devotion to God? Are we willing to proclaim that God is sovereign and good, even though we may not fully understand exactly how God is at work? Are we willing to acknowledge that the circumstances of our lives do not dictate God's goodness, but that God is still good and all-powerful, even though we don't fully grasp this?

A life of total commitment to God stood out easily in Babylon. When everyone else bowed down to a false god, those willing to remain standing and risk being thrown into the furnace were obviously those committed to God.

Today, in a land of cultural Christianity, it's harder to stand out. It's possible to go to church and not let the Gospel have any influence on the rest of your life. It's possible to live like everyone else, to be swayed by popular opinion and pursue riches at any cost and self-glory, and yet profess to be a Christian.

So I'd like to propose a few areas we can examine, three ways we can look at our own lives to see if we live in total commitment to the Gospel.

What does total commitment to the Gospel look like? How about we examine our checkbooks to see how we spend our money? Do we let the Gospel lay claim to our entire checkbook? Or do we just give 10% and pretend that God doesn't care what we do with the other 90%? What's it look like for us to beyond the tithe and give more than 10%? What's it look like for us to examine easy expenditures, the money we spend without thinking? The amount of money we spend in American on ice cream could solve many of the world's hunger problems—but we don't think about that when we're buying ice cream. And there's nothing wrong with buying ice cream. What's wrong is spending money thoughtlessly, without paying attention to where it's going, without thinking that there might be a better use for it. God has given it all to us—let us use it all wisely.

Secondly, let's talk about mediocrity. In our work, it might be easy to pursue mediocrity, to let good enough be our best work, to get by without causing any problems. But God hasn't give you gifts to do 'just enough'. God calls us to do our best, to pursue excellence, whether it is in school or your work. It's easy to skate by, and I'd suggest that many people do just that. But if we want to be great stewards of the gifts God has given us, let's pursue excellence in all of our work. Let's commit ourselves fully to using every ounce of the gifts God has given us, and in so doing may our efforts glorify God.

Finally, let's talk about marriage. Much has been made about the Supreme Court ruling on the Defense of Marriage Act. And while we can debate that all day, we Christians need to take a look at our marriages. What does it mean for us to pursue excellence in our marriage, to demonstrate faithfulness to the world? How do we commit fully to serving our partners, and in so doing model a marriage ethic for the world to see?

In all things, may we be completely committed to Christ, willing to risk anything, because we know that God is good and that God is powerful. We may stand on this side of the furnace, unable to see exactly how God will intervene, but just because we don't fully understand God's goodness doesn't mean that we can't proclaim it with all of our lives.

Let us pray


Thursday, June 27, 2013

June 27 New Hope E-News

Announcements

Building & GroundsThere will be a building & grounds meeting on July 10. Speak with Larrie Mansfield if you'd like to attend.

Wednesday FunA big thank you to Lynne Brock for organizing these!
Community Kitchen Spot
There are a lot of hungry and homeless children of God and the community needs some help feeding them. If you would like to help out, please bring the following items to church this Sunday & put them in the grocery cart.
8 oz. Styrofoam bowls
Dry Milk
Styrofoam Plates
Plastic Forks/Spoons
Pasta


New Hope News

Sunday School—This Sunday, the adult class will study 2 & 3 John.

$.02/meal—Next collection will be July 21. Be sure to save your pennies!

VBSWill be the week of July 15-18. Make your plans accordingly!



Pray For:
Lynn Meyer & Christine Dyer

Russell Mabry

John L. Wright – He is now in Sisken for rehab (he's in room 522 if you'd like to give him a call). Continue to lift he & Peggy up in your prayers.



Links



Church leaders respond to DOMA decision (If you celebrate the ruling, here are some great thoughts from Jim Wallis and another article about how resistance is futile.. If you oppose the ruling, here's a well-written article about how the church should respond. If you're not sure what to make of it all, Christian Century has some analysis of it.)





Keith's Random Thoughts

Last night, Rachel and I took four minutes out of our evening to watch the International Space Station fly across the sky. (Click here to track when it will be visible in your location. For Chattanooga folks, it will be back Friday night.) It was pretty amazing to think that there was someone inside that light as it crossed the sky, and I couldn't help but wonder about how different things looked from way up there.
It's pretty easy to lose a healthy perspective on things. When the car breaks down and the kid is screaming and the roof is leaking, I start to believe that the whole world is ending. I focus exclusively on my problems, and when I can't make sense of them, it's easy to begin to lose hope. It's easy to ask if God really cares, or if chaos reigns supreme.
I have to imagine that things look different from another perspective. I believe that God looks down upon creation and his beloved children and sees our problems differently. I bet God sees my leaky roof and wonders why I don't first give thanks that I have a house. I think God hears my screaming child (well, he may use the mute button on that one) and thinks I should first give thanks for a child healthy enough to scream. I wonder if he looks at my car breaking down and thinks that while it may be stressful, it is a trivial matter in the face of so many bigger problems.
I don't fully grasp the mind of God, but I do believe that he has a big plan for creation, and for each of us. I think he's leading us down the road that leads to abundant, eternal life. When we think about the life that awaits beyond this one, a life of infinite duration (unlike those tires I purchased...), the problems we face are like potholes.
Potholes come in various shapes and sizes. Some are minor, barely noticed as we travel along at whatever the posted speed limit is. Some are sizable, causing a noticeable 'thud' on the journey, often causing you to wonder if something just fell off the car. Others seem like they might swallow the car whole. They have the ability to break tires and crack rims, and sometimes we have to stop a bit for a repair. But we make it back on the road, and we head towards our destination.
From God's perspective, I think he sees a much bigger road and a longer journey. I believe he's focused on our overall growth in discipleship, and the problems in our lives are seen as momentary afflictions. They are serious things that we must deal with, but they will not bring the journey to a halt. We will go over them, around them or through them, but a broken car or screaming child will not be the end. We will endure, and God will lead us deeper into discipleship, farther down the road.
Now if I could only just remember to keep my problems in perspective, trusting the long view, watching in wonder at what God is doing in my life, knowing that I am safe in his hands despite the threats that seem to loom.


Text for this Sunday
Daniel 3 is a pretty long chapter. I'm not going to be reading the entire chapter, just bits and pieces, but the sermon is based on the entire arc of the chapter. If you'd like to read it, http://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Daniel 3&version=CEV

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Saturday, June 22, 2013

Sermon for 6/23/2013--Daniel 2


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This world can be a pretty crazy place.  We wonder and worry about some of the people with whom we share this planet, like the man who tried to rob a bank wearing a clear plastic bag over his head as a disguise.  Needless to say, he’ll have the next two years in jail to rethink his strategy.
Other times, though, it’s just crazy and scary all at the same time.  We read the news and we cringe as we wonder what on earth is going on.  And this isn’t just the global news, where it seems like a new country is enveloped in chaos each and every day.  Locally, at home, it’s just a crazy world.  Every time you leave home, you’re surrounded by people driving large automobiles at high speeds while primarily paying attention to the phone in their hand.  It’s a wonder we ever survive any trip.
When the world gets really crazy, what do you want to do?  You want to run away and hide, right?  Our first instinct is always to get away, to leave this craziness behind and find ourselves a nice, safe place to hide.  They say a man’s home is his castle, and we all want our homes to feel like secure places where we can retreat from everything that’s going on outside. 

It’s easy to justify getting away from all the chaos in the world, but the Bible calls us to a different lifestyle.  Rather than fleeing from the world’s chaos, God calls us to engage in it.

In the second chapter of Daniel, the king of the Babylonian empire, Nebuchadnezzar, has a bad dream that he wants others to interpret for him.  Now, no one has a problem with that idea.  We know that dreams can have all sorts of meanings for us.  We know that God speaks through dreams.  As someone who has some very bizarre dreams, I’d like to know what they mean.  The other night I had a dream that I was carrying Caleb while being chased by a seal that was driving a washing-machine.  I’d love to know what that means.

Nebuchadnezzar, though, wasn’t going about this the way you or I would.  Normal people tell people their dreams and hope they can help interpret them.  Nebuchadnezzar decided that doing so would make the job too easy for the wise men in the kingdom, so he told them that they needed to first tell Nebuchadnezzar what his dream was, and then tell him what it means.  Crazy, right?  It gets better.  Because he also told them that if they didn’t interpret the dream correctly, they’d be torn limb from limb and their homes would be destroyed. 

Sounds completely nutty, right?

This was the guy basically ruling the world, and he was totally off his rocker.  If you were Daniel, or anyone else sane, you’d want to get as far away from possible from this guy, right?  You’d flee and try to save yourself.

But God doesn’t work like this.  When humanity gets crazy, when we envelop ourselves in chaos, God doesn’t throw his hands up and run away from us, leaving us to destroy ourselves.  No, God’s love is such that in the midst of our most tumultuous chaos, that is when God engages with us the most deeply and expresses his love.  God doesn’t abandon us in our chaos, but rather chooses to walk with us through the midst of it, bringing order to our chaos and hope to our despair.  God could have walked away from humanity at any moment, but instead chose to enter into humanity and deliver it from its sin in the person of Jesus Christ.

God calls us, too, to engage with the world’s chaos, showing God’s love in the process, rather than flee to our own little places of serenity. 

God called Daniel to do the same.  Just as the world’s chaos will eventually envelop us, no matter how hard we try to escape it, the craziness of Nebuchadnezzar found Daniel, too.  When the wise men told Nebuchadnezzar how impossible his request was, he went into a rage and ordered every wise person in the entire kingdom to be destroyed.  So the chaos sought out Daniel.

Daniel, rather than try and flee from the oncoming storm like the hero in every zombie movie, decides to engage.  The only way out of the world’s chaos is to entrust ourselves to God to deliver us, and Daniel does just that, investing his time in prayer and inviting others into his prayer life so that they might find an answer from God to this vexing question.  The wise men had told Nebuchadnezzar that no one on earth could answer his request, and Daniel also knew this to be true—the difference is that Daniel knew there was a greater power who was the source of all wisdom, and Daniel turned to him, rather than himself, in a time of chaos.

Sure enough, God reveals the mystery to Daniel, who now has the answer to the King’s question.  What’s the first thing Daniel does?

He sings praise to God.  Daniel prayed, had his prayer answered, and then remembered to thank God for doing so.  May we remember this important lesson.

Next, Daniel has a difficult task ahead of him.  He has to go and tell the most powerful man in the world that his kingdom will be destroyed and replaced by another kingdom, a kingdom that will have no end and will never be replaced.  Daniel has difficult news to deliver to Nebuchadnezzar, but he knows that it is the truth of God that is placed within him, and he refuses to let fear keep him from doing what he knows he must do.

So Daniel goes and interprets the dream to Nebuchadnezzar.  He tells him that all of his kingdom will be torn down and destroyed, like the ones that came before it and the ones that will come after it.  All human kingdoms will fall, Daniel is teaching, until the Kingdom of God is established forever.  For a man as nutty as Nebuchadnezzar, this is dangerous teaching, because Nebuchadnezzar could well have him killed for uttering such truths. 

What does Daniel receive for such daring? 

Nebuchadnezzar praises God in Daniel’s presence, saying your God is God of gods and Lord of kings and a reaveler of mysteries.

Then Daniel was given many great gifts and made ruler over all of Babylon.

Two things are vitally important to this story. 

First, Nebuchadnezzar has been introduced to the power and wisdom of God.  Nebuchadnezzar, who never would have believed in or worshipped the God of Israel, now has seen a glimpse of his power and grace because of Daniel’s willingness to risk his life, stand before a crazy king, and do what he knew was right. 

This is our responsibility as Christians—we are to do what is right, what is faithful, what is true, and in our faithful living, we point others to the majesty and glory of God.  We cannot bring others to faith, but we can introduce them to the God of the ages, to the hope of our salvation.  We can point others to Christ through our acts of love, trusting the Holy Spirit will lead them to faith.  We’ll see in Chapter 4 that Nebuchadnezzar himself comes to faith through the witness of Daniel.  God did the work in Daniel, but God used Daniel’s willingness to serve as a vital cog in bringing Nebuchadnezzar to understand God’s majesty.  May we have the same willingness and integrity.

Secondly, Daniel is richly rewarded for his service.  When we think about it, Daniel didn’t do a whole lot.  He prayed, and then when God revealed the truth to him, he told Nebuchadnezzar.  Now, it took courage to tell Nebuchadnezzar, but God did the hard work here.  Daniel’s efforts didn’t make him worthy of a place at the head of the kingdom of Babylon.

And that’s the amazing thing about Christianity.  When we think about it, it’s God who has done the hard work for us.  It’s God who has solved the problem of sin through his grace and love.  It’s God who paid the price for our sins by hanging on the cross.  It’s God who has defeated death and sin and earned for us the mantle of eternal life.  It’s God who makes it possible for us to have hope and life and joy and peace forever.  Our own sinful efforts haven’t made us worthy of a place at Christ’s banquet table in heaven.  God did that for us and invited us to receive it.

When we follow Christ and worship God, we receive infinitely more than we have earned.  We receive far more than we deserve.  It is given freely.  The honor that belongs to Christ is offered to we who believe in him as Lord and Savior. 

So may we not give up hope in the face of a crazy and chaotic world.  May we engage, trusting in God to give us what we need as the need arises, to steer us faithfully through our lives as we witness to others of the Lordship of Jesus Christ through our words and deeds, and may we receive with joy the rich reward God offers to those who follow him. 

Let us pray

Thursday, June 20, 2013

June 20 New Hope E-News

Announcements

Wednesday FunThe next Wednesday is a chance for your kids to come and play on our playground! They'll be supervised by several church members from 12-2. If you have questions, please speak with Lynne Brock.

Community Kitchen Spot
There are a lot of hungry and homeless children of God and the community needs some help feeding them. If you would like to help out, please bring the following items to church this Sunday & put them in the grocery cart.
8 oz. Styrofoam bowls
Dry Milk
Styrofoam Plates
Plastic Forks/Spoons
Pasta


New Hope News

Sunday School—This Sunday, the adult class will study 1 John.

Session—Meets Wednesday, June 26 @ 6:30

$.02/meal—Next collection will be July 21. Be sure to save your pennies!

VBSWill be the week of July 15-18. Make your plans accordingly!



Pray For:
Lynn Meyer & Christine Dyer

Russell Mabry

John L. Wright



Links










Keith's Random Thoughts

Sometimes, life brings the opportunity to be thankful for things you never thought thought about. For example, Monday evening I was quite grateful I don't park my car over white carpet. Why? Because I also learned that it's a bad idea to put the jar of pasta sauce quite close to the door when you're on the way home from the grocery store. Sometimes, the load shifts while the vehicle is in motion.

So there I was, staring at a mess of tomato sauce and broken glass all over the garage floor. If you've ever broken a glass jar, you know how little shards go everywhere. Your first reaction is frustration, and then you blame the pasta sauce makers for not using a plastic jar. It's always nice to have someone to blame.

I cleaned up the mess, but I knew there would be little pieces of glass everywhere. So I swept the floor. Twice. (I often go without shoes at home.) Then, after pulling the car out of the garage, I swept it again, noticing that I had already run over one piece I had missed. There were still more little pieces. I think I got them all, but I'm not entirely sure.

When I think about sin and the brokenness of humanity, it's not that different. Some of the problems are easy to see—war in Afghanistan, horrific poverty in much of the world, exploitation of the poor, slavery. It's easy to see and label these as brokenness that demands our attention.
But we can keep going. The next level of examples might be a bit harder to spot, but they're present. This might include constructs that are a part of society that promote injustice. It might include the back-breaking debt that many poor nations owe to rich nations. It might not be outright oppression, but perhaps inward attitudes of nations or cultures that look down on others. It might be our consumer mentality that forgets about our connections to our brothers and sisters, either the ones who cannot afford the same goods or the ones who are making these goods in sub-standard factories in distant countries.
We can go deeper still, finding shards of brokenness that escape our notice at first. It might be our own personal sin, even those we hide within our hearts, like envy or lust or greed. It might be the lie that no one notices, or subtle cheating that doesn't get caught. Sin burrows its way into the world, infecting us all, playing our at national and personal levels.

It's easy to get discouraged, to think that there is no hope, that humanity is doomed.

But God pulls our heads up from the darkness to notice the light, to notice his ongoing work of renewal and redemption. God doesn't ignore the sin that infects, but rather promises to banish it and demonstrates his power over it. God doesn't promise to fix everything according to our timetable, but he does promise that there will come a day when sin exists no more, and he invites us to spend our lives participating in his ongoing work of redemption. We can be agents of life and hope, the hands and feet of Jesus Christ, spreading light in a world that can often seem overwhelmed with darkness. We can join the winning side and let hope conquer our fears. One day, all will be made right.

Sin infects us all, but the power of the grace of God is an astounding thing. May we never forget that is is God that wins, and it is God who invites us to be on the winning side.


Text for this Sunday
Daniel 2 is a pretty long chapter. I'm not going to be reading the entire chapter, just bits and pieces, but the sermon is based on the entire arc of the chapter. If you'd like to read it, click the link above, or click here.

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Tuesday, June 18, 2013

The chicken truck

  I was behind the chicken truck the other day on the freeway.  It's a pretty pathetic sight--a tractor-trailer stacked with wire cages, chickens huddled in each one, on the way to the processing plant.  I always feel badly for the chickens... it reminds me of Charge of the Light Brigade.  "Theirs is not to reason why, theirs is but to do and die, into the valley of death rode the 600."  Perhaps I think too much about the chicken truck.

  But I can't help but wonder if I'd be a vegetarian if I had to kill my own chicken to make dinner.  It'd be hard for me to look a chicken in the eye and kill it.  I'm the guy who feels terrible when he runs over a squirrel on the road.  I hit a bird the other day and spent ten minutes convincing myself it was the bird's fault for flying in front of my car.  I have a hard time believing that I could kill a cow just because I was hungry.  I think I'd end up eating rice and beans instead.

  I don't think there's anything wrong with eating meat, or with hunting or killing animals for food, but I wonder how many more of us would be vegetarians if we had to kill our meat personally.  I don't have a problem picking up a packet of chicken breasts at the grocery store, but I'm not just wired to kill and eat.

  The distance from our food source makes it easy to forget that the chicken breast was once a living, breathing chicken.

  In the same way, our distance, emotional and physical, from our brothers and sisters in the world makes it easier to forget about their needs, about their situations.

  As a society, we're very separated from each other, now more than ever.  Technology can bring us together, but it can also keep us apart as we seek an individualized experience.  Football stadiums are now trying to enhance the 'in-stadium' experience because it's often more comfortable to stay home and watch the game on television than to spend three hours with unpredictable strangers.  We are becoming increasingly isolated from our neighbors and co-workers.  The 24 hours news network now brings us constant stories of struggle and strife from around the world, and we become immune to it over time.  Each day seems to bring some new explosion from Afghanistan or Iraq or somewhere else in the world, and it's easy to forget that those are individual lives being torn apart.

  In a world where our interactions can be tightly controlled over Facebook, where we can manage our personal interactions to our own level of comfort, it's easy to forget the humanity of one another.  But we're called to remember that each and every person on this planet is made in the image of God, and that each and every one is precious to him and, because they're precious to him, they should be precious to us.  We each have a life and a story, loves and joys, and they matter.  May we struggle against a world that depersonalizes, that distances us from one another, and may we be willing to enter into the messy-ness of humanity and proclaim a God who took on human flesh so that we might be saved!

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Godly Strength --- Biblical Lives: Daniel (Sermon for June 16, 2013)

Daniel 1 (CEV) 

  1 In the third year that Jehoiakim was king of Judah, King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylonia attacked Jerusalem. 2 The Lord let Nebuchadnezzar capture Jehoiakim and take away some of the things used in God’s temple. And when the king returned to Babylonia, he put these things in the temple of his own god. 3 One day the king ordered Ashpenaz, his highest palace official, to choose some young men from the royal family of Judah and from other leading Jewish families.
  4 The king said, “They must be healthy, handsome, smart, wise, educated, and fit to serve in the royal palace. Teach them how to speak and write our language 5 and give them the same food and wine that I am served. Train them for three years, and then they can become court officials.” 6 Four of the young Jews chosen were Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah, all from the tribe of Judah. 7 But the king’s chief official gave them Babylonian names: Daniel became Belteshazzar, Hananiah became Shadrach, Mishael became Meshach, and Azariah became Abednego.
  8 Daniel made up his mind to eat and drink only what God had approved for his people to eat. And he asked the king’s chief official for permission not to eat the food and wine served in the royal palace. 9 God had made the official friendly and kind to Daniel. 10 But the man still told him, “The king has decided what you must eat and drink. And I am afraid he will kill me, if you eat something else and end up looking worse than the other young men.” 11 The king’s official had put a guard in charge of Daniel and his three friends. So Daniel said to the guard, 12 “For the next ten days, let us have only vegetables and water at mealtime.
  13 When the ten days are up, compare how we look with the other young men, and decide what to do with us.” 14 The guard agreed to do what Daniel had asked. 15 Ten days later, Daniel and his friends looked healthier and better than the young men who had been served food from the royal palace. 16 After this, the guard let them eat vegetables instead of the rich food and wine. 17 God made the four young men smart and wise. They read a lot of books and became well educated. Daniel could also tell the meaning of dreams and visions.
  18 At the end of the three-year period set by King Nebuchadnezzar, his chief palace official brought all the young men to him. 19 The king interviewed them and discovered that none of the others were as outstanding as Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah. So they were given positions in the royal court. 20 From then on, whenever the king asked for advice, he found their wisdom was ten times better than that of any of his other advisors and magicians. 21 Daniel served there until the first year of King Cyrus.

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Our lives are affected by the culture around us.
Want proof?
I grew up in Cincinnati, cheering on my beloved Cincinnati Reds.  One of the principle qualifications for loving the Reds was hating the Braves, at least as I understood it.  I heartily booed them whenever I had the chance, and I was certain that I would continue despising the Atlanta Braves for my entire life.
Then I moved to Atlanta.
Funny how things change.
I’m not a huge Braves fan, but I enjoy watching the Braves, and I don’t mind rooting for them, as long as they’re not playing the Reds.
The same thing is true of my opinion of the Tennessee Volunteers.  Now, I still find that particular shade of orange a bit garish, but I’ll cheer for UT as long as they’re not playing Kentucky.  On those occasions I still hope the Vols lose by 60, but other than that, I’ll cheer them on.  I wouldn’t even mind going to a game in Neyland Stadium sometime, which I wouldn’t have been able to say ten years ago.
Culture changes us, and our lives usually reflect the lives of those around us.  And I’d say this is good, to a certain extent.  We need to fit in with our neighbors and friends, or else we’ll be social outcasts.  For example, when we read the Bible and it talks about the ideal life in the Garden of Eden, we don’t immediately throw all of our clothes away and start running around stark naked in an attempt to live as Adam and Eve did.  If you do that, people will have problems with that.  I’m one of those people.  If you give up your house and start sleeping in other people’s front yards because you don’t want to reflect the culture around you, you’re going to have some problems.  So it’s important that we fit in with our culture on many fronts.
The problem comes when culture starts overwhelming all of life, trying to muscle out any other source of influence.  Our culture can easily become a false god if we’re not careful.
For instance, when we look at American culture today, we don’t exactly have an image painted of the importance of a modest, humble life that is best lived when serving others.  Humility and servant leadership are not exalted.  I’d say the best word that can describe American culture is ‘more’.  More money.  More house.  More car.  More everything—we are targeted and encouraged to consume more and more, because we deserve it, culture would say.  The lessons of Christ run against this grain, and so culture tries to raise the volume to such an extent that to hear anything else is impossible.  Advertising shouts from billboards and commercials, encouraging you to always seek more. 
We all fall prey to this somewhat.  I was digging around my closet yesterday and started realizing just how many pairs of shoes I have.  I quickly came to my own defense, justifying each pair by stating how badly I needed a brown pair of dress shoes as well as a black pair, and exercise shoes and hiking boots and sandals, etc.  Yet, in my heart I know that I’d have a hard time standing before the Lord of Lords and King of Kings and explaining to him how I can’t imagine the humiliation of being caught with my shoes and pants and belt not matching.  Something rings hollow, there.
So we all fall prey to our culture at times.  We all let culture turn our attention away from the teachings of Christ.  We consume more and more, we buy bigger and better, and culture subtly worms its way into our hearts, elbowing out Christ if we’re not careful.
Today’s lesson from Daniel is an illustration of one culture trying to change the hearts and minds of four men, and how they stayed faithful and true, and how God used their faithfulness to influence the culture around them, rather than letting the culture influence them.
Four men had been taken from their homes.  Scripture tells us they were young men without physical defect, handsome and wise, endowed with knowledge and insight.  For three years, they were to be schooled in the Babylonian culture and then presented before the king.  They were to eat of the King’s rations, which meant that they’d be eating the best food in the kingdom—think along the lines of Ruth’s Chris Steak House, not Krystal.  This food would have been offered to the gods, so eating it would be tantamount to worshipping the Babylonian gods, but it would have been great food.  Their names were changed—in short, they were being assimilated into the Babylonian culture, and we can assume that their own identities would have been lost in the change, including their worship of God.
This was how cultures worked back then.  One empire conquered another, and they assimilated everything into their own way of life.  It’s why Greek writing was prevalent everywhere in the 1st century.  It’s why English is so common today.  The culture that wins usually ends up being dominant, and other cultures often get lost in the shuffle.
But Daniel and his friends were determined not to lose their identity.  They resolved to remain faithful to the one true God no matter what price they had to pay.  They would cling to their own identities at risk of their own lives.  They refused to eat the food offered to the gods, no matter how good it was, because they didn’t want to give the hint that they would worship any other god. 
And God rewards their faithfulness.
Daniel 1 is a story about 4 young men who are determined to be faithful.  In response, they are blessed beyond imagination by God.  God uses them to influence the entire Babylonian empire, and God is able to do this because of their faithfulness. 
What Daniel proposes is a test.  He trusts God fully—notice he doesn’t develop a plan B.  He proposes that they would eat nothing but vegetables and drink nothing but water for ten days, and if they looked scrawny at the end of those days, they would give up their experiment.  He was willing to risk his own life in order to remain faithful to God. 
And God comes through in abundance.  God blesses these four men with health that is clearly evident to all.  God gives them wisdom and knowledge to such an extent that they are consulted on every possible matter.  God showers them with gifts, using their faithfulness to influence others.  God works through them when they turn to him and him alone.
Friends, I think we have a similar choice as these men.  We can choose to let culture completely change us if we want.  We can listen to how culture tells us to live, how culture tells us to shop and treat one another.  We can choose to tack Christianity on as a nice asset, a fallback plan.  Plenty of people subscribe to cultural Christianity, nodding assent but not really pledging their lives to Christ.  They refuse to let Christ truly change them.
Or, we can remain faithful in the midst of a culture that tells us that more is better.  We can choose to love God above all.  We can choose to serve others as Christ served.  We can choose to give rather than accumulate.  We can persevere. 
When we opt for this path, I believe that God will use us in powerful ways.  Perhaps we won’t have the wisdom of these four men, but our lives will look different.  Notice that Daniel isn’t overtly preachy.  He doesn’t sit around and tell everyone about why he chooses what he does.  He simply does, and the difference in his life is apparent.  The same can be true of us—if we opt for faithful living, it will be apparent to others, and I think they’ll come to us with questions, with problems, with struggles.  When the world has big questions, notice how often they turn to the church, expecting us to have wisdom for the moment.  When we live faithfully, it is apparent, and God uses that to influence the world.  We have an influence on culture when we live faithfully.  When we choose to serve others rather than ourselves, we influence others.  When we choose not to accumulate but rather to distribute, we influence others.  We set an example.  God works through us.  When we’re opting for a smaller house rather than a larger one, when we choose not to purchase more and instead give away, when we make ethical business decisions that may cost us a deal but be the right thing—in all these ways, our faithfulness is apparent to others, and God works through that.
God can use us in the midst of our sin, but God can do truly amazing things when we turn to him.  We can get blessings that cannot be bought by all the world’s gold, and we can change the world in ways that were never available to us otherwise.
So may we, like Daniel, like these other 3, remain faithful, and may we influence culture through our faith rather than letting culture chip away at our faith and lead us away from God.


Let us pray

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Thursday, June 13, 2013

June 13 New Hope E-News

Announcements

Wednesday FunThe next two Wednesdays are a chance for your kids to come and play on our playground! They'll be supervised by several church members from 12-2. If you have questions, please speak with Lynne Brock.

Community Kitchen Spot
There are a lot of hungry and homeless children of God and the community needs some help feeding them. If you would like to help out, please bring the following items to church this Sunday & put them in the grocery cart.
8 oz. Styrofoam bowls
Dry Milk
Styrofoam Plates
Plastic Forks/Spoons
Pasta


New Hope News

Sunday School—This Sunday, the adult class will study 2 Peter.

$.02/meal—Next collection will be July 21. Be sure to save your pennies!

VBSWill be the week of July 15-18. Make your plans accordingly!



Pray For:
Lynn Meyer & Christine Dyer

Russell Mabry

John L. Wright—he's still in the hospital recovering. He's not feeling up to visitors, but appreciates your prayers.



Links










Keith's Random Thoughts

They're resurfacing Shallowford Road this week. If you live in Chattanooga, you know how much of a mess that can create. If you don't live here, imagine that they've placed a 3 foot wide gate in the middle of the Rose Parade that everyone (and every float) has to pass through, and that's about the size of the mess.

But there was no good way and no good time to do it. However it was done, it was going to be a mess, and whenever it was done, it was going to create a traffic jam. Perhaps they could have done a few minor things differently, like divert traffic or encourage drivers to use alternate routes, but it would still be a mess. They're doing a pretty good job, all things considered, of working quickly. There was never going to be a week when the traffic just disappeared.

When I think about habits in my life that need to be broken, or routines that need to be changed, it's the same way. There's a never a good time to change, and it's always going to be difficult. I get bogged down into routines or habits, and it's tantamount to pulling off a band-aid; it's going to hurt, so just get it done and get back to work.

I've been trying to change my morning routine to make it more fruitful, to start my day well. It's hard for me—I've been doing the same thing for years. (Well, it changed a bit when Caleb came along. Just like everything else in my life!) There is a lot that resists change, and there's not going to be a week when the stars align and everything changes on its own. I just have to grit my teeth and do it, hoping that when I'm finished things will go more smoothly.

In our spiritual lives, we often have to do the same thing. God's presence is always around you. His love surrounds you constantly. But we often have to slow ourselves down and pick up practices that help us notice. These are often referred to as spiritual disciplines, but we often see them as one more thing, one more time-consuming activity that competes with everything else. We fail to realize the supreme importance of intentionally carving out time and practices to make ourselves aware of God's presence around us. We fail to see how this will transform the way we live all of life.

It's easy to wait for our lives to organize themselves to a point where we'll magically have time to offer God. The reality: we just have to bear down and make ourselves change. We have to find time within our busy lives. We have to force ourselves into practices that may not seem rewarding at first, trusting that the routine will bear fruit down the road.

Change is rarely easy. But it's worth the effort.



Text for this Sunday
Daniel 1

In the third year of the reign of King Jehoiakim of Judah, King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon came to Jerusalem and besieged it. The Lord let King Jehoiakim of Judah fall into his power, as well as some of the vessels of the house of God. These he brought to the land of Shinar, and placed the vessels in the treasury of his gods.


Then the king commanded his palace master Ashpenaz to bring some of the Israelites of the royal family and of the nobility, young men without physical defect and handsome, versed in every branch of wisdom, endowed with knowledge and insight, and competent to serve in the king’s palace; they were to be taught the literature and language of the Chaldeans. The king assigned them a daily portion of the royal rations of food and wine. They were to be educated for three years, so that at the end of that time they could be stationed in the king’s court. Among them were Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah, from the tribe of Judah. The palace master gave them other names: Daniel he called Belteshazzar, Hananiah he called Shadrach, Mishael he called Meshach, and Azariah he called Abednego.


But Daniel resolved that he would not defile himself with the royal rations of food and wine; so he asked the palace master to allow him not to defile himself. Now God allowed Daniel to receive favour and compassion from the palace master. The palace master said to Daniel, ‘I am afraid of my lord the king; he has appointed your food and your drink. If he should see you in poorer condition than the other young men of your own age, you would endanger my head with the king.’ Then Daniel asked the guard whom the palace master had appointed over Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah: ‘Please test your servants for ten days. Let us be given vegetables to eat and water to drink. You can then compare our appearance with the appearance of the young men who eat the royal rations, and deal with your servants according to what you observe.’ So he agreed to this proposal and tested them for ten days. At the end of ten days it was observed that they appeared better and fatter than all the young men who had been eating the royal rations. So the guard continued to withdraw their royal rations and the wine they were to drink, and gave them vegetables. To these four young men God gave knowledge and skill in every aspect of literature and wisdom; Daniel also had insight into all visions and dreams.


At the end of the time that the king had set for them to be brought in, the palace master brought them into the presence of Nebuchadnezzar, and the king spoke with them. And among them all, no one was found to compare with Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah; therefore they were stationed in the king’s court. In every matter of wisdom and understanding concerning which the king inquired of them, he found them ten times better than all the magicians and enchanters in his whole kingdom. And Daniel continued there until the first year of King Cyrus.

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Wednesday, June 12, 2013

An omer of manna

"Take a jar, and put an omer of manna in it, and place it before the Lord, to be kept throughout your generations."  (Exodus 16:33)

  When the Israelites grumbled about starving to death in the wilderness, God didn't respond like most fallible humans would.  God didn't look upon the Israelites with scorn in his heart, like a child who had just watched a bully knock an ice cream cone to the ground.  God didn't cry out across the heavens in wonder at their ingratitude, like a parent whose child just asked for more.  When the people that God has rescued from slavery cried out in longing for the comforts of slavery, God demonstrated his boundless mercy and poured down manna from heaven.  Bread from God was at the door to their tents.

  In addition to feeding the people, God gave Moses a commandment.  He was to save some of the manna and put it in a jar for the purpose of reminding the people of what God did for them.  Throughout the generations, people would look upon the jar and remember God's gracious provision for them.  When they were tempted to wonder what God had done for them lately, the jar would remind them that God provides.

  I think we probably could use some jars of our own in this crazy world today.  How many times have you been tempted to ask, God, where have you been lately?  In a world of instant gratification, when things don't live up to our expectations, we need an explanation.  When chaos descends upon us, be it of natural origin or out of sinful hearts, we wonder if God has forgotten about us.

  I don't think there's anything wrong with lifting up our laments to God.  The Psalms give us a rich tradition of people struggling with how to understand suffering while holding on to God's goodness.  Many of the prophets lamented the day of their birth, and yet they continued to live faithfully.  We can still cry out to God.

  When we do so, however, it's vital that we remember how faithful God has been.  It's important to remember that God's grace has watched over us these many years, and that it will not fail us.  Life may not turn out like we want, and we may find ourselves disappointed or despairing, but if we take some time to remember God's faithfulness, we will discover that God's goodness is still at work.

  So count your blessings.  Remember what God has done, for the act of recalling God's previous blessings will sustain us through many dark nights of the soul.

Thursday, June 6, 2013

June 6 (D-Day) New Hope E-News

Announcements

Special GuestThis Sunday, we'll have a special guest with us. Marilyn Borst from the Outreach Committee will be with us. She'll be preaching on Sunday morning about the church's call to look beyond itself and serve others. If you're interested in attending a luncheon to talk more with Marilyn about how New Hope might be involved in God's work beyond the bounds of our church, please email me.

Church Website
It's working again! Yay! Newhopechattanooga.org




Community Kitchen Spot
There are a lot of hungry and homeless children of God and the community needs some help feeding them. If you would like to help out, please bring the following items to church this Sunday & put them in the grocery cart.
8 oz. Styrofoam bowls
Dry Milk
Styrofoam Plates
Plastic Forks/Spoons
Pasta


New Hope News

Sunday School—This Sunday, the adult class will study 1 Peter.

VBSWill be the week of July 15-18. Make your plans accordingly!



Pray For:
Lynn Meyer & Christine Dyer

Russell Mabry

John L. Wright



Links










Keith's Random Thoughts

D-Day was 69 years ago today. Several years ago, I had the opportunity to visit the beaches in Normandy. They are peaceful, serene locations, a far cry from the violent chaos that descended upon them on June 6, 1944. At the top of the cliffs there is a cemetery, a place that breaks your heart as you read the names and dates on the white crosses. You can't help but wonder what might have become of these young men had they not given their lives for their cause.
Standing on the beach, you look up toward the cliffs, and you wonder how in the world they ever ascended those heights. You wonder at the courage that must have coursed through the veins of those who charged forward. You marvel at the fear that must have overtaken many in the moments leading up to the lowering of the doors of their landing crafts. It is an imposing place, and the fact that D-Day led to the defeat of the dug-in German troops is amazing when you consider the obstacles that had to be overcome.

D-Day is not something I could have achieved on my own. It required the sacrifice of many others in order to overcome a powerful enemy. Without it, my life today would be very different. I don't know how, but I am certain this world would be a different place.

So how do I live in reflection of this event?

I think the best way to reflect gratitude is to strive for the same ideals that drove the D-Day invasion. British, American & Canadian forces stormed those beaches in an effort to liberate Europe from an overpowering foe, one intent on destruction and domination. They did not invade in the hopes of conquering Europe, but of setting it free to determine its own future. The best way I can honor their sacrifice, I believe, is to strive for my own life to be useful to others, recognizing the powers at work in the world that seek to dominate and destroy and working to free others from these powers. This entails sponsoring children through World Vision to help set them free from the powers of poverty. It may mean joining in with the fight against trafficking, or striving to feed the hungry or help minorities obtain equal rights. It might mean something different for each of us, but remembering the sacrifice others made should change the way we see our own lives, that we live not for ourselves, but to benefit others. There is a greater good.

As a Christian, the sacrifice of Christ should drive me to examine my own motives. Am I living out of selflessness, or am I motivated to strive for peace and prosperity only in my own little kingdom? Do I build up others, or stride over them when the need arises? Christ loved at cost to himself. Am I willing to let the needs of others infringe upon my life?

These are hard questions, ones that I often avoid. But the more they are asked, the more I must wrestle with them. The more I wrestle, the more I recognize the truth that it is God's Kingdom I am called to serve, rather than my own.



Text for this Sunday
Romans 1:8-12
First, I thank my God through Jesus Christ for all of you, because your faith is proclaimed throughout the world. For God, whom I serve with my spirit by announcing the gospel of his Son, is my witness that without ceasing I remember you always in my prayers, asking that by God’s will I may somehow at last succeed in coming to you. For I am longing to see you so that I may share with you some spiritual gift to strengthen you— or rather so that we may be mutually encouraged by each other’s faith, both yours and mine.

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