Saturday, December 31, 2011

Sermon for 1/1/2012

Luke 22.54-71

Peter Denies Jesus

 Then they seized him and led him away, bringing him into the high priest’s house. But Peter was following at a distance. When they had kindled a fire in the middle of the courtyard and sat down together, Peter sat among them. Then a servant-girl, seeing him in the firelight, stared at him and said, ‘This man also was with him.’ But he denied it, saying, ‘Woman, I do not know him.’ A little later someone else, on seeing him, said, ‘You also are one of them.’ But Peter said, ‘Man, I am not!’ Then about an hour later yet another kept insisting, ‘Surely this man also was with him; for he is a Galilean.’ But Peter said, ‘Man, I do not know what you are talking about!’ At that moment, while he was still speaking, the cock crowed. The Lord turned and looked at Peter. Then Peter remembered the word of the Lord, how he had said to him, ‘Before the cock crows today, you will deny me three times.’ And he went out and wept bitterly.

The Mocking and Beating of Jesus

 Now the men who were holding Jesus began to mock him and beat him; they also blindfolded him and kept asking him, ‘Prophesy! Who is it that struck you?’ They kept heaping many other insults on him.

Jesus before the Council

 When day came, the assembly of the elders of the people, both chief priests and scribes, gathered together, and they brought him to their council. They said, ‘If you are the Messiah, tell us.’ He replied, ‘If I tell you, you will not believe; and if I question you, you will not answer. But from now on the Son of Man will be seated at the right hand of the power of God.’ All of them asked, ‘Are you, then, the Son of God?’ He said to them, ‘You say that I am.’ Then they said, ‘What further testimony do we need? We have heard it ourselves from his own lips!’

This will certainly come as no surprise to any of you, especially those who know me well, but I am imperfect. Pretty darn imperfect, and depending on the day I can be incredibly imperfect. Sometimes it is more obvious than others, and some days I may actually find the wisdom to draw near to the Holy Spirit's design for my life. Even then, though, I have flaws. Lots of them.
In years past, I have resisted the common theme of making new years' resolutions. Perhaps I simply didn't want to do what everyone else was doing, or maybe I simply thought my imperfections weren't obvious enough to need fixing around new years. I often believed that I should take up the work of correcting my mistakes whenever I recognize them, and while I still believe that, I also believe that I used that as an excuse not to set out on the difficult task of examining my life and seeking the Holy Spirit's wisdom to guide my feet on the next leg of the journey. Perhaps I may use fancier words that transcend the common new years' resolutions, but I believe that God is calling me to spend some time in silent reflection upon my habits and imperfections and set out on a journey to allow my heart to be guided by the Holy Spirit over the next year, that the next leg of my life may be spent falling deeper and deeper into love with God.
At the heart of my imperfections, I believe, are the different ways that I deny Jesus' Lordship in my life. At the heart of each of our imperfections is the simple fact that we find different ways to deny his Lordship. We each do things, everyday, that Christ would not have us do. If we truly allowed Christ to be Lord over every aspect of our life, we would live differently than we do. How differently depends on the degree of sin in each of our lives, but we are each imperfect. When we reflect upon our imperfections, the Spirit can guide us into repentance and then into action, that we might allow our lives to be shaped around God's will for our lives, rather than our own.
In today's passage, I'd like to lift up three different ways that characters deny Christ. They are different in word and tone, but at the heart is the refusal to allow Christ to be Lord of the heart.
First, we have Peter's very obvious denial. Peter is, quite possibly, my favorite disciple. Why? Because he is so visibly and obviously broken. He is passionate about following Jesus, and yet his failures are well-detailed in the Gospels. He is imperfect, and Jesus loves him, even when he messes up. Here, just after Jesus has been arrested, after he has cut off a slaves' ear, after he has promised to follow Jesus to death, Peter is denying knowing the very man. He would probably deny laying eyes on Jesus given the chance—he knows that association with Jesus may lead to death, and Peter is in full on save-yourself mode here in the courtyard. Peter, the rock upon which Jesus will build the church, denies Christ openly with his words. Notice, here in Luke, how Peter is reminded of his sin of denial—it's when Jesus looks at him. When Peter is confronted by the Word made flesh, Peter recognizes his sin for what it is.
From here, we go to the story of Jesus being beaten by the ones who hold him. They mock him and his abilities to prophecy. They mock what he stands for and the holiness that drips from him. They mock him and abuse their power, beating him because they know can. They heaped insults upon him, certain that they had power over him. By their actions, they denied the Lordship of the Prince of Peace.
After that long night had passed, Jesus is taken before an assembly of the elders of the people, chief priests and scribes, and they want to know if he is the Son of God. They want him to say something that will allow him to condemn him to death. They're not interested in the truth—they don't want to be confronted with his glory—they simply need a reason to put him to the death they have already planned. They think they know how the story ends, they think they know all the details, they just need Jesus to supply the one missing piece—something by which to convict him to death. If he doesn't, they'll come up with something, but they're hoping Jesus will give them what they so deeply want. They deny the Lordship of Christ by believing in their own wisdom, by believing they know everything and not listening to what Christ has to say. In their unwillingness to trust Jesus, they deny him.
From the text, we turn to our own lives, and I hope that I can present you with some things to think about over the coming minutes and hours and days. I hope that I can offer some meat that you might chew on, that might offer some direction, that you may do some self-examination and perhaps seek the Holy Spirit's guidance on how you might change in the coming year to more closely align your life with God's will for you.
First, I think we would be wise to join with Peter in examining our words. Does the way you talk glorify God? Do your words acknowledge that Jesus is Lord of everything you do, of everything you say—or do you set aside parts of your day and not offer them to God?
We can talk about faith in two different ways. First, we can talk to others about the difference it makes to us that we are a Christian. We can talk about our relationship with Christ to others—we can talk about how it is food for our souls, about how it nourishes us each and every day, about how we struggle when we do not have it.
The other way is to recognize that everything we say reflects upon who we are. What kind of language do you use? Are you kind to others when you talk, or are you rude? Do you use foul language and take the Lord's name in vain? If someone was handed a sheet of paper with everything you said in a day recorded, could you be proud of how you conducted yourself? Or would you be embarrassed? How we talk to others is part of our witness—even if we're not talking about our faith, we're talking in a way that reflects upon our faith, because we are a people who proclaim that everything we do matters to God.
Need a guide? I'd recommend spending some time in the Word, seeing how other people of faith conducted themselves—just as the nearness of Jesus made Peter recognize his sin, the nearness of Scripture helps us see our own sin.
Secondly, I'd like to invite you to reflect upon your actions. Do you conduct yourself in a way that reflects a man or woman seeking God in everything you do? Do the choices you make with your life witness to someone who is pointed towards the Kingdom of heaven, or are you making choices to enlarge your own kingdom? Those charged with watching over Jesus conducted themselves in a way that sought to entertain themselves at the expense of Jesus Christ—are you spending too much time in shallow entertainment and not enough time in deep commitment to a relationship with Christ? Are you choosing to invest yourself and your energy in a life of witness to a greater power? Are you choosing to serve? Our actions are part of our witness—and we can choose to acknowledge or deny Jesus Christ's Lordship in our actions as well as our words.
Finally, we come to the chief-priests and the scribes. They thought they had all the answers. They thought they knew the path they were called to walk, and they were certain that no one else was going to tell them they were wrong. They were so unwilling to trust God's leadership that they didn't listen to Christ calling them into a new way of life. In doing so, they denied Christ. Will you be like these few, or will you be contrite and go to God in humility, seeking guidance? Will you spend some honest time in heartfelt prayer, seeking God's wisdom, rather than your own? Will you admit that you don't have all the answers, but that you worship a God who does? Or will you continue on the same path you've always been on, certain of yourself and how you think things will go?
Friends, we have a choice—in each and everything we do, we can deny or acknowledge Christ's Lordship in our lives. Each of us has areas of our lives in which we need to change. Each of us has a growing edge that God is asking us to offer to Him, so that he might help us grow.
This year, what will you choose? Will you choose the hard road of discipleship?

Let us pray.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Christmas Day Sermon

Luke 2:8-20

The Shepherds and the Angels

 In that region there were shepherds living in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. Then an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified.

  But the angel said to them, ‘Do not be afraid; for see—I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: to you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, who is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.’ 

  And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying,
‘Glory to God in the highest heaven,
   and on earth peace among those whom he favours!’

 When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, ‘Let us go now to Bethlehem and see this thing that has taken place, which the Lord has made known to us.’ So they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the child lying in the manger. When they saw this, they made known what had been told them about this child; and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds told them. But Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart. The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.

I imagine that you've never been jealous of the life of a shepherd.  Imagine yourself outside in a mid-December night, wrapped up against the cold but unable to afford the warmest clothes.  You're standing around, watching the sheep sleep in the middle of the night, wondering what on God's green earth you're doing this for.  It's not a job for the feint of heart, or for the weak, or for the rich—those who have the ability or freedom to do anything else would choose just that.  But the shepherds are there because they don't have anything else—they haven't turned down lives of luxury because they feel called to a ministry to sheep.  They're shepherds because it puts food on the table.  They're shepherds because it pays, even if it doesn't pay much.
It's not a job they would choose, and it's not a job we would choose.  But it's a job, and in this day and age, that still counts for something—even if it doesn't pay as much as we like, it's still pay.  Some people are shepherds because they have to be, just as people today do jobs because they have to do them, because there isn't anything else. 
It's this crowd to whom God sends the heavenly host of angels to announce the birth of a Savior.  God is always doing strange things like this—he's reaching out to the last people in the world we'd expect him to reach out to.  He's inviting people in to the party who don't seem like the first option on the party invite list.  We'd expect God to show up in a church or a synagogue—instead God shows up in a pasture, with the sheep.
God does strange things.  The Incarnation itself is a bit strange—the Savior of the world being born in a manger in poverty.  But they're not strange to God—to God, it's a chance to show a love for the poor and the needy.  To God, it's a chance to reach out to the world, and God reaches out to everyone, even those people we might leave off the list if we were in charge of making it up.  And so, as a result, a heavenly host of angels show up in the middle of a field of sheep to announce to the shepherds the news that a Savior is born.
So, here we are, two thousand years later, still hearing the story that the angels told on that first Christmas, and God is still reaching out to all of humanity, to the rich as well as the poor, to the greatest and least of these in our minds, because to God we are all equal, each one of us a sinner in need of a Savior.
We don't have the first words of Jesus recorded, but we have some of the last words—Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you.  And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.  We, too, are sent to share the message with everyone.  We're called to go to those the world considers the least—the shepherds of today's world, the poor and the homeless, those so quickly forgotten—and share the love of Christ.  We, too, are called to take this message to fields and plains, to the places we might not naturally go, as well as the places we frequent everyday.  We're called to join with the angels and sing the songs of God's amazing love, so that we might tell the whole world about God's gracious and free love.
Let us pray.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Christmas Eve Meditation

John 1:1-5, 14-18

The Word Became Flesh

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.

 And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth. (John testified to him and cried out, ‘This was he of whom I said, “He who comes after me ranks ahead of me because he was before me.” ’) From his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. The law indeed was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. No one has ever seen God. It is God the only Son, who is close to the Father’s heart, who has made him known.

I learned a lot about having a child this year. And by that, I mean that I learned a lot about watching my wife have a child this year. While she was undergoing pregnancy and having a child grow inside of her, I was getting into the best shape of my life and competing in triathlons. So let's not pretend that both sides of this equation are equal.
But still, I was with her every step of the way, even when those steps got a bit shorter and slower as Caleb grew. I was with her in the delivery room, throughout the long labor, and I have been ever since. And the one thing I gained from this experience is the wisdom that having a child is not an everyday occurrence. It's not easy, nor is it safe. Caleb was not in a big hurry to come into this world, and Rachel and I both came to the conclusion that had her pregnancy occurred 100 years ago, neither she nor Caleb would have likely survived the labor. Having a baby is a risky endeavor, and not for the faint of heart.
And so it amazes me all the more this year, as we come to this miraculous Christmas eve, that God chose this dangerous, risky process by which to bring a Savior into the world. Our God, the One who spoke the world into being, could easily have had a little boy materialize somewhere in the wilderness to be adopted by some loving family, perhaps by Mary and Joseph on their way to Bethlehem. Or Jesus could have simply appeared in the wilderness at the age of 30, having skipped all the dangerous years beforehand, and not much would have changed. Mark and John's Gospels would read the same.
But God chose to have Jesus come into this world as a baby because God longs for us to worship Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior, to turn from sin to Him. And in order for us to worship Him, we have to be able to trust Him first. We have to be able to trust that he understands us, that he knows what it is like to be scared, to be sad, to be human. We have to be able to trust that Jesus doesn't save us out of pity, but out of love, because he knows exactly what it is like to be human, and he shows us how to live in our humanity, not trying to avoid it, but embracing it.
In Jesus Christ, God becomes vulnerable. Trust me, there is nothing more vulnerable than a newborn infant. The only things that Caleb can do are cry, eat, dirty his diaper, and flail his limbs without any semblance of control. It's amazing to think that our Lord and Savior was once the same way—he couldn't hold his head up without the help of Mary and Joseph. This is the One who came to save—and does save. He was dependent on humans.
Thousands of years later, the church still depends on humans. God uses us to carry the message of Christ forward. Without the church to be His hands and feet, the message of Christ flails around here in the manger—confronting no one with the awesome message of love. But your hands and your feet have been chosen by God to be the objects to carry the message of love and grace forward. God is depending on us, the feeble and sinful church, to share Christ's love with the world.
God invites us to join in with what he is doing in the world. God uses us, just as God used Mary and Joseph, to move forward the redemption of all of creation.
This Christmas, may you celebrate the reality of a Savior who comes as a man, fully human and fully God, to offer us salvation, and may you rejoice that this Savior invites you to play a role in the redemption of humanity. God uses people, you and I, to work in the world—won't you join in?
Let us pray.

Friday, December 23, 2011

12/23 E-News


Christmas Eve ServiceSaturday, Dec. 24 @ 7.

Christmas Day Service (w/ communion)Sunday, Dec. 25 @ 10:45.

New Hope News
Russ Mabry is home and doing well!

Peter Savard goes to the doctor Tuesday in the hopes that his foot will be healed!

Joseph Townley had surgery yesterday to have tubes put in his ears—it went well, but include them in your prayers.

Janet Phillips' sisters' husband passed away on Monday morning. Please be in prayer for them as they mourn.

Pray for:
Those who are not filled with the hope of a coming Savior--that they might see Christ working in their lives.

Those searching for jobs.

Those who mourn this Christmas season.

Roger & Lynn Meyer


Text for this Sunday

Luke 2:8-20

The Shepherds and the Angels

 In that region there were shepherds living in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. Then an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified.But the angel said to them, ‘Do not be afraid; for see—I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: to you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, who is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.’ And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying,
‘Glory to God in the highest heaven,
   and on earth peace among those whom he favours!’

 When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, ‘Let us go now to Bethlehem and see this thing that has taken place, which the Lord has made known to us.’ So they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the child lying in the manger. When they saw this, they made known what had been told them about this child; and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds told them. But Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart. The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.

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Monday, December 19, 2011


Luke 2:52
And Jesus increased in wisdom and in years, and in divine and human favor.

  Jesus grew, in maturity and wisdom.

  It is so easy to forget this.

  But it is essential to a life of faith.

  See, I often get caught up in the (wrong) idea that Jesus was born as a completely developed font of wisdom, that as a newborn he was busy spouting nuggets of wisdom and pearls of spiritual impact that left Mary and Joseph stunned at the child they had just delivered.  (and yes, it takes two people to deliver a baby.  Did Rachel do the hardest job?  Yup.  But I played a pretty big role, too.  She'll agree with that.)  Jesus wasn't busy  describing the spiritual state of the Pharisees as a newborn--he was busy crying.

  Because that's what babies do.  They cry.  Then, when they're finished crying, they rest so they can cry more. Then they eat, because no one likes to cry on an empty stomach.

  Because Jesus was fully God, I have this image of him in the manger as a completely developed and wise baby.  But I forget that he was fully human--that it took him months before he could hold his head upright, that it took him a year before he could walk, that his first words didn't occur to him at six weeks, but rather years later.  I forget that Jesus wasn't busy composing the Sermon on the Mount at the age of four, but rather was busy trying to figure out how to be a four year old.

  Jesus grew and matured.

  I do, too.  I'm not supposed to have it all figured out.  I'm suppose to be working on some things, focusing on my growing edges (and there are many), so that I might move through this particular growth field and into another, but I'm always going to be growing and maturing.  Faith takes place over a lifetime, and the Holy Spirit builds one layer at a time--he doesn't finish the whole thing and then give me thirty years to sit back and admire it from my bathtub on the edge of the cliff that they always show in those commercials--no, the Holy Spirit works with and in me every single day, and then uses that day to build toward the next, and this process continues throughout my life.  I am growing in faith--and while I hope to be growing in different areas and in new ways many years from now, I don't want to stop growing.

  So I need to give myself some patience, and recognize that I'm not going to get everything right, that I'm not going to have all the answers--but rather that I'm called to be moving in a faithful direction, working as hard as I can while the Holy Spirit works within me, in the hopes that I might see the next faithful direction, the next step in my growth, so that I, too, might increase in wisdom and years.

Friday, December 16, 2011

The end of war

  A war ended yesterday.  Thanks be to God for that.

  It seems like it did so quietly, with a whimper, as the last combat troops left Iraq behind and returned home.  It is my wish that the memories of war would remain trapped in that desert country, but I am aware from what I have read that memories and trauma linger, often painfully, as the country expects the troops to return seamlessly to the lives they left behind, despite all they have been through worlds away.  We expect them to place the chaos of war and the death of friends in some safe box and leave it tucked away, doing no harm, while they continue on with life-as-usual.  From what I read, the chances of that happening are slim to none, with slim catching the last train home.  The pain, the terror, the emotions do not depart as the soldiers did--rather they linger, appearing in the dark of night or at the appearance of harmless sounds like popcorn or fireworks.  The war is gone, but the scars remain.

  Perhaps the war ended so stealthily because it has lingered so long, on the edge of national consciousness.  Perhaps it went so meekly because thousands more troops remain entrenched in Afghanistan, fighting an impossible war against an unknown enemy.  Perhaps it slipped out the back door simply because it could never match the emotion it triggered when it started.  I remember being in England when Iraq was invaded--I remember the protests and the fear, the uncertainty and the passion--could we ever match such passion with our celebrations at the end of the war?

  I wonder how we will look back on this war.  The 4,500 soldiers who were killed, each family that was affected, each community that was shattered by a visit from a soldier informing them of the death of a loved one--those scars will never disappear.  In time, perhaps, they will heal, but I am not a believer that anyone will ever get over the grief.  They will pass through it, as one passes through a long, dark valley and eventually returns to the warmth of the sun, and hopefully find a place of peace, but grief never fully dissipates.  Nor should it, I believe.  We hold onto the memories, onto the life that was lived, and the way it changed us.  We cling to these things, and to the hope of resurrection, of life beyond the shadow of death.  But we don't simply 'get over it'.  We're not made that way.

  War has ended, and I believe that God rejoices in that.  God's peace is greater than the absence of war, though--it includes a wholeness of society, of creation, a wholeness that requires more than simply quiet, but takes people actively working to love one another, to love God.  The first step is certainly the cessation of hostilities--but God always asks more of us, and so God presses us to work together, to love one another, to pray for one another and look beyond what separates us.  I believe that salvation comes through the Son of God, our Savior, Jesus Christ, and yet I also believe that I am called to pray for, and to love, those with whom I share this planet, no matter their religion.  I am to live for their benefit as well as for the benefit of my Christian brothers and sisters.  I am to seek shalom in my own life, as well as the lives of those who surround me.  In all things, I am to proclaim Christ.

  Will we look back on this war as a good thing, as an action of liberation?  Or will historians still debate whether the cost was worth it?  I cannot begin to imagine how Iraqi society has been transformed.  A recent article puts the civilian death toll in Iraq around 120,000.  Everything has changed there...  a ruthless dictator has been tried, convicted and killed for the crimes he committed against his people.  Supposedly, freedom reigns there.  I hope that it lasts.  Is the price of freedom worth the enormous cost of human life, both in Iraqis and Americans?  I don't even know how to begin to answer that question.

  Was it worth it?  Was it the right thing to do?  Was it faithful?  I don't know how much those questions matter now.  Even if the answers are all no, there are still 4,500 families grieving, with thousands more families trying to help rehabilitate injured soldiers.  Countless more are helping veterans recover from the mental trauma of war.  I cannot even being to imagine what their experience is like.  The scars of war remain, some fresher than others, and I believe that the church is called to be a place of healing and peace for those in need of it.  How can we selflessly serve those in need of healing?

  And may we pray for the war in Afghanistan to end, too, that the soldiers may come home and depart no more, that peace may reign on this planet.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

12/15 E-News


Music for WaterThurs., December 15 @ 8:00 will be a recital that you will not want to miss! John Brandon and some other talented singers from the Chattanooga area will be blessing us with a Christmas recital to help raise funds for our Living Waters mission. Admission will be $10, and a freewill offering will be held at the end of the service. Details found here.

CantataThis Sunday! Be there!

Christmas Eve ServeSaturday, Dec. 24 @ 7.

New Hope News
Russ Mabry is home!

Christine Vetne will be celebrating her last Sunday with us on Christmas Day. Please be sure to thank her for her ministry.

Justin Alleyne will also be departing, heading back to the warmth of Florida. This coming Sunday will be his final Sunday. Please wish him well.

Pray for:
Our church, that we might continue to look for opportunities to serve others this Christmas season.

Those searching for jobs.

Those who have a tough time with the Christmas season.

Roger & Lynn Meyer


Text for this Sunday

John 3:30

He must increase, but I must decrease.’

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Sunday, December 11, 2011

December 11 Sermon

Luke 22:47-53

The Betrayal and Arrest of Jesus

 While he was still speaking, suddenly a crowd came, and the one called Judas, one of the twelve, was leading them. He approached Jesus to kiss him; but Jesus said to him, ‘Judas, is it with a kiss that you are betraying the Son of Man?’ When those who were around him saw what was coming, they asked, ‘Lord, should we strike with the sword?’ Then one of them struck the slave of the high priest and cut off his right ear.But Jesus said, ‘No more of this!’ And he touched his ear and healed him. Then Jesus said to the chief priests, the officers of the temple police, and the elders who had come for him, ‘Have you come out with swords and clubs as if I were a bandit? When I was with you day after day in the temple, you did not lay hands on me. But this is your hour, and the power of darkness!’

I want you to take a moment and think about your favorite movie. What comes to mind? Now take a moment and think about the conflict in that movie—who is it between? Every great movie is filled with conflict. Think about some of the greatest movies of all time—they each have a conflict—sometimes it's a conflict rooted in the love between a man and a woman. Sometimes it’s a conflict between two friends or two enemies. Often, it’s far more complicated than that.

But there’s always conflict. Ever since Adam and Eve were shown the way out of the Garden, good and evil have been in conflict. Sometimes, good appears to have the upper hand, such as when the Israelites were marching through the Sea of Reeds with the Egyptians hot on their tail. Other times, evil seems to be winning—I was writing in Caleb’s baby book about the things that were happening around his birth and it was pretty difficult to come up with a lot of newsworthy great events—but there were plenty of bad events. They battle, back and forth, with rays of hope bursting through the darkness.

Here, in the 22nd chapter of Luke’s Gospel, we find them at war once more. Throughout the last few chapters we’ve been awaiting this clash—we had expected it once we started reading about betrayal, and perhaps we read a bit closer to see how and when they would clash. Jesus has gone to the Mount of Olives to pray, and he urges the disciples to join him in prayer, while the forces of evil gather their friends and make their way to the Mount, that they might strike the first blow in the hopes of gaining the upper hand.

We join the action here today. Remember—Jesus is busy praying, and he’s urging the disciples to pray. He’s encouraging his followers to spend time doing the single most important thing that they can be doing, and he’s trying to model the prayer that is more important than any other prayer—not my will, but yours be done. Perhaps he’s finally awakened the disciples to do their Christian duty and pray. Perhaps they’ve finally awoken to the need to pray—I can picture them rousing themselves from sleep and kneeling to pray when Judas bursts onto the scene, his band of no-so-merry men behind him, wielding clubs and swords, disrupting everything. Judas, acting as though nothing is wrong, ambles up to Jesus, who is not shocked by any of this, and goes to kiss him before Jesus stops this horrid scene.

Judas disrupts this time of intimate prayer with his betrayal. Who knows how long he has been plotting this. He’s had ample opportunities to betray Jesus to the chief priests—but he chooses here and now, in this prayer time in the garden. Why? Because Satan loves to disrupt us when we’re finally getting serious about spending time with God. I’m not sure there’s anything the devil loves more than finding a man or woman about to spend time with God in prayer and distracting them with some menial task so thoroughly that they never get back around to prayer. I can imagine the laughter in the bowels of hell as the demons recount ways they have turned individuals from prayer—perhaps they prompted a mundane phone call just before someone sat down to read the Bible, or interrupted a spiritual conversation with the sound of the trash truck and a reminder that the trash can hadn’t made it to the street yet. Friends, if you’re getting serious about developing your spiritual life, expect some serious opposition—and remember to stay strong in the face of it. There will be ample opportunities to drop out—but don’t let Satan turn you from your work.

So Satan comes to betray Jesus with a kiss, using this sign of love as a sign of betrayal, turning a wonderful thing into a terrible thing, and the disciples finally come to their senses, realizing what is happening, and leap up with a question: Lord, should we strike with the sword? Now, perhaps Luke, in his excitement at recording the scene, simply forgot to record Christ’s answer. I think a far more likely scenario, certainly a far more common one, is that the disciples, having asked the question, rushed into action before bothering to listen for an answer.

Not that anyone you know would ever do that.
Not that you would ever do that.
Not that I would ever do that.

Can you imagine the nerve—asking the Lord a question, for guidance on an issue, and then plowing ahead with your own plans without even bothering to give the Lord time to answer your carefully worded question? How often do you spend time in prayer asking for guidance on an issue, but never bother to spend time in silent reflection listening for an answer? Are you guilty of never bothering to ask a trusted friend what they think about a tough question, forgetting that the Lord often speaks through those who know us best? Do you sometimes doubt whether the Lord answers questions and ask them simply out of duty? As Christians, as people called to spend time in prayer and prefer the Lord’s will to our own, we’re called to discern God’s will for our lives. Often that means we need to spend more time in silent waiting than we do speaking. It’s like that old saying that so many of us heard from our mothers—you were given two ears and one mouth in the hope that you might listen twice as much as you speak. The Lord’s answers are rarely clear, I have found, but they are never clear when I don’t listen, when I don’t open the Bible and search for God’s wisdom, when I don’t bother to discuss the question with anyone I trust.

So the disciples leap into action and aim for the kill. They go for the head of one of the slaves of the high priest, removing his ear and probably giving the man more than he had expected. By this point, however, Jesus leaps into action. No more of this, he cries, and he reaches out his hand to heal the man’s ear. Typical Jesus—healing his enemies when the disciples think they are saving him. Let this text be a lesson to those who think God is always on our side when we go up against our enemies—Jesus loves our enemies just as much as he loves us.

I imagine that this text wasn’t referenced often in the midst of the Crusades, when it was believed that God would give them the power to destroy their enemies. The thought of Jesus running around on the battlefield healing the wounded on each side should be enough to give us pause. Jesus shows his perfect love by healing those who have come to arrest him. So I’d invite you to think about that the next time you’re in conflict with someone—as you’re imagining yourself emerging victorious, think about Jesus reaching out and healing them from the mental or emotional wounds you might have caused them. Perhaps it will lead us to be a bit more careful with our words, and perhaps it might help us put selfless love for enemies into action a bit more earnestly. Christ loved those who would come and arrest him—and he calls us to do the same.

Having healed the slave, he turns to the chief priests and the temple police, mocking their selection of weapons, wondering aloud why they didn’t bother arresting him in the temple, highlighting their fear of him. Evil always prefers the dark to act. It’s why crime often goes down in neighborhoods or parks when public lighting is installed—evil creeps back into shadowy places, hoping that its actions won’t be seen. So, too, has evil chosen the dark and seclusion of the Mount of Olives at night in this text, and they come to arrest Jesus, and Jesus, he who will defeat death and sin, allows it to happen.


Probably because he knows it has to happen. Probably because he knows the end of the story. But this is your hour, and the power of darkness, Jesus cries. I can picture him saying it with a sad look on his face, knowing that evil reigns in these men’s hearts, but knowing how much greater the power of love is. Satan will have his power, will do his worst, will try and conquer the light by crucifying the one who has come to save. But good will prevail. The light shall shine in the darkness, even when the darkness does not understand it. Jesus shall be resurrected, raised from the dead. Out of the depths of the darkest night, the Son shall rise. Evil will have its hour, but good wins. God wins.

And God calls us to join in—to shine in the darkness, to be filled with the light of Christ. As you go forth into the world, I’d invite you to consider the Christmas lights—each one shining in the night, each one a tiny speck of light that does something powerful when joined with a whole strand and plugged into the source. Each light is unique, and yet so many lights can transform a house, a community, a world. Will you let the light shine in you, in your own unique way, so that God may change the world anew and use you as the light overwhelms the darkness and transforms all of creation? Will you join in with what God is doing? Will your life be a victory song? Will good triumph in you?

Let us pray

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Garage Doors and Spiritual Happenings

 This morning, I was taping up a light switch in the Narthex to make sure it would stay on--it controls the outlet for a light that shines onto the front of the church, and it's easy to switch off because nothing changes during the day when you flip the switch.

  I couldn't help but be reminded of this commercial:

As I was laughing I started to think about a lot of the reading I've been doing on discipleship lately, and it occurred to me that much of what I do in my spiritual life is the equivalent of flipping the same switch over and over again without bothering to actually move to any place where I might patiently wait and observe what God is doing in my life.

  There is both positive and negative to routine.  The great part is that you know exactly when and where and how you're going to set aside time to be with God.  In the 22nd chapter of Luke, we are told that Christ goes out to the Mount of Olives as was his custom.  This was something he usually did--he regularly set aside time to pray in the same place.  The disciples knew about this custom, and so they would not have been in a hurry to disrupt it.  In the same way, my wife knows it is my custom to write my devotionals first thing in the morning, so she doesn't disrupt me while I'm doing these--the expectation is clear.

  The negative part to a routine is that, well, it becomes routine.  And when something is routine, we stop being mindful while we are acting and our bodies carry us through the activity.  If we pray in the same manner every day, the danger is that we might stop attending to our prayers and simply say the words because that's what we always do.  We stop pouring our hearts into them, and we stop listening for new answers.

  If we don't create silence as part of our life, we are like the man flipping the switch without ever stepping out of the garage to see if we're slamming a door closed on an opportunity in our life.  We need to be aware that the Spirit is moving all around us, and it's our responsibility to stop and listen.  Let us create a routine but be on our guard that our hearts and minds are fully engaged in our time with God, and that we are listening and watching for God to move us into a new phase, a new day, a new opportunity.  God longs for us to grow closer and closer, and while he offers direction, it won't help if we're not on the lookout for it.

Monday, December 5, 2011


  I just finished Mark Steele's Christianish and loved the emphasis on work, on the slowness of a lifetime of discipleship.  Steele is open and honest about his own failings in his life--he never sets himself up above the reader as some sort of super-Christian whom we all need to emulate.  Instead, he honestly and openly expresses his desire to be a passionate disciple of Jesus Christ.  And he invites each of us into the challenge, too.  There are plenty of people who promise that a lifetime of discipleship will be easy, that the right prayer will bring you everything you ever wanted as a sign of God's favor shining upon you.  Steele doesn't buy into that, and I don't either.  The discipleship I read about in the Bible, the discipleship that Christ calls us into, is one of constant challenge and continual slow growth.  Christianish is a fine invitation into a lifetime of discipleship, and I appreciate Steele's efforts to challenge all Christians to raise their commitment and live a life of true and honest commitment, rather than the surface level that is so apparent in society.

The truth is, our Christianish path will only give way to following Christ when we determine that we are each willing to take the slower, more painful, more developmental approach to our daily life.  It comes when we are willing to go through the rough stuff for the purpose of being transformed. (p. 274)

Sunday, December 4, 2011

12/4 Sermon

Luke 22:39-46

Jesus Prays on the Mount of Olives

 He came out and went, as was his custom, to the Mount of Olives; and the disciples followed him. When he reached the place, he said to them, ‘Pray that you may not come into the time of trial.’ Then he withdrew from them about a stone’s throw, knelt down, and prayed,‘Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me; yet, not my will but yours be done.’ [[ Then an angel from heaven appeared to him and gave him strength. In his anguish he prayed more earnestly, and his sweat became like great drops of blood falling down on the ground.]] When he got up from prayer, he came to the disciples and found them sleeping because of grief, and he said to them, ‘Why are you sleeping? Get up and pray that you may not come into the time of trial.’
Following Jesus was not easy for the disciples. They had to make sacrifices to follow Jesus—perhaps these sacrifices were made easier by the miracles that Jesus was performing before their very eyes, but nevertheless, they had to sacrifice to follow Jesus. For three years they followed this incredible man around the region, never certain of what miracle came next, surely always amazed by the words that poured forth from Christ. They left behind family and friends to follow Jesus, and perhaps every now and again they thought they had it rough.
It was about to get a lot rougher. I think, by this point, they're starting to get the picture that everything is not going to turn out well in the end. I think by this point, they're starting to grasp the coming death of Jesus Christ. I have to imagine that they believed that there would still be a way out of it, but it's hard to think that they couldn't see the writing on the wall.
But they're still following Jesus. They're still there, still with him, still at his side, even though threats loom and Pharisees linger, waiting for their chance to bring Jesus down—the disciples are still there.
But Jesus knows it's about to get a whole lot tougher. And so he leads them to the Mount of Olives, where he needs to go and pray. He needs to go and spend some time in conversation with God, for he knows what is about to come and how difficult it will be. Notice, too, how he urges the disciples to be in prayer. “Pray that you may not come into the time of trial.”
Now, we pray this prayer every week. We constantly are praying that the Lord lead us not into temptation. We know that we are weak and struggle with resisting temptation—so we pray for the Lord to keep it at bay.
But we all know that temptation comes, just as surely as we fail to resist it.
So why does the Lord encourage us to pray?
Because prayer shapes us. Prayer shapes the kind of people that we are. Prayer forms us as disciples—the disciples have followed Jesus for years, all the way to the Mount of Olives, and they still need forming, just as surely as you and I do. We need more practice as disciples—and prayer forms us as the kind of people who depend on Jesus Christ for every decision we make. When we are in constant prayer, we are looking to God's wisdom, rather than our own, when temptation does overtake us. Jesus prays the most selfless prayer possible: not my will by yours be done.
When we pray this, over and over again, eventually we begin to believe it, and then we begin to live it. Then, when we are overtaken by temptation, our minds are prepared to follow God's will rather than our own. When we are constantly being formed as disciples, we are more likely to resist temptation.
So live a life rooted in prayer. It's not enough just to come to church, or to mutter a prayer once a day. Let us be in prayer constantly—for in our prayers we are being formed. We are being formed as a people ready to empty ourselves, to set aside our own wants and desires and to pick up God's will for us. In prayer, we are shaped daily, so that when temptation comes, we will be prepared to face it.
Notice how the disciples opted for sleep rather than prayer. When the temptation to flee from Christ comes, they ran. May we be in prayer so that when adversity comes, and as Christians I promise you that it will come, we will be formed as disciples to stand as witnesses to the Lordship of Jesus Christ in every part of our lives.
Let us pray.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

12/1 E-News

PotluckThis Sunday!

Leaf Day/Men's BreakfastThis Saturday morning you are welcome to come and join us in raking leaves at 9:00. The weather should be beautiful! We'll have a men's breakfast at 8:00.

Earthcare CommitteeMeets next Wednesday @ 5:00

Music for WaterThurs., December 15 @ 8:00 will be a recital that you will not want to miss! John Brandon and some other talented singers from the Chattanooga area will be blessing us with a Christmas recital to help raise funds for our Living Waters mission. Admission will be $10, and a freewill offering will be held at the end of the service. Details found here.

New Hope News
Russ Mabry is in Siskin Rehabilitation Center downtown after falling Sunday afternoon. Please keep Donna and Russ in your prayers.

Service of Healing and Wholeness—December 11 @ 6 PM
I know that many in our congregation, in our community, are dealing with pain. Physical pain caused by disease, emotional pain caused by stress and the loss of loved ones. On December 11 you are welcome to join me in a service of worship and prayer for those in need. We will have a time for those who would like hands laid upon them as we pray for healing.

Pray for:
Our church, that we might continue to look for opportunities to serve others this Christmas season

Roger & Lynn Meyer, who are home in Chattanooga.


Text for this Sunday

Luke 22:35-46

Purse, Bag, and Sword

 He said to them, ‘When I sent you out without a purse, bag, or sandals, did you lack anything?’ They said, ‘No, not a thing.’ He said to them, ‘But now, the one who has a purse must take it, and likewise a bag. And the one who has no sword must sell his cloak and buy one. For I tell you, this scripture must be fulfilled in me, “And he was counted among the lawless”; and indeed what is written about me is being fulfilled.’ They said, ‘Lord, look, here are two swords.’ He replied, ‘It is enough.’

Jesus Prays on the Mount of Olives

 He came out and went, as was his custom, to the Mount of Olives; and the disciples followed him. When he reached the place, he said to them, ‘Pray that you may not come into the time of trial.’ Then he withdrew from them about a stone’s throw, knelt down, and prayed,‘Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me; yet, not my will but yours be done.’  Then an angel from heaven appeared to him and gave him strength. In his anguish he prayed more earnestly, and his sweat became like great drops of blood falling down on the ground. When he got up from prayer, he came to the disciples and found them sleeping because of grief, and he said to them, ‘Why are you sleeping? Get up and pray that you may not come into the time of trial.’

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Wednesday, November 30, 2011


  What a bottle...

  I can't believe I ate the whole thing...

  Any more where that came from?

  How the times are changing--I'm now (occasionally) feeding Caleb from a bottle, as he continues to grow.  We are looking ahead to the days of day-care and babysitting and all those other times when Rachel may not be available to feed the little eating machine, and beginning to prepare him for another stage of life.

  Isn't life constantly like that?  Even when we're smack in the middle of something great, God is preparing us for what comes next.  We rarely sit still, but are always barreling into the future, often so quickly we don't bother to stop and enjoy the present.

  I've fed Caleb twice now (we tried a third time, but that didn't go so well...  let's just say that I'm not mom and at midnight, all three of us simply wanted to go to bed rather than deal with eating), and it's a strange experience.  (For both of us, probably!)  I've never fed a baby before, and he's never drank from a bottle before--but now, there we are, each one of us like a fawn on new feet, trying to make this work, knowing that it is good but unsure exactly what the best way forward is.  We manage to make it work, but not with confidence or grace.  (I haven't dropped him, yet.  So I've got that going for me.)

  Caleb continues to grow, and I continue to seek out ways to be there for him, to encourage him and love him, so that he grows secure in the knowledge that he is loved immensely.  Rachel and I rarely know what we're doing, but we trust that God is doing a mighty work through us, and we're simply enjoying each moment, thankful for the grace and blessing of life.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011


  I find this fascinating and haunting at the same time.  Jobs are the keyword of the current election (and by current, I mean the one that isn't happening for another year) and the theme of the lives of so many right now.  Millions are looking for work--work of any sort, for they long ago gave up looking for the specialized work they would prefer to do.  At this point, they'd like anything that would provide a paycheck and keep them in their house.  They are in our churches, our communities and our neighborhoods.

  And what is the church to do about it?  I certainly believe our first and foremost task is to be in earnest prayer for every un-and underemployed person.  May we lift them up, in the hopes that the stress and strain of the search for work will not overwhelm.

  But what else?  How are we called to be Christ's hands and feet in their lives?

  For answers and guidance, I pray...

Monday, November 28, 2011

Sermon on the Mound

  A great title will get a book a long way--and Michael O'Connor's Sermon on the Mound: Finding God at the Heart of the Game certainly has a great title.  For someone who loves baseball as much as I do, it doesn't take much to convince me to read a book that attempts to link baseball and religion.  I have always attempted to ensure that baseball doesn't become my religion, but I also believe that baseball, as with anything in life, is filled with opportunities to see God at work in the world if we look through the proper lens.

  Sermon on the Mound tells O'Connor's story of a deep and abiding love of baseball, and how baseball led to his salvation.  The narrative parts of his life are interesting, and it's fun for any lover of baseball to join with O'Connor as he reflects about different ideas in baseball that can direct our attention to God.  I wouldn't say that anything in this book is earth-shattering or life-changing, but it's a fun read and helps the reader see baseball as a chance to display gifts and talents from God.

  I think O'Connor's best reflection is done later in the book, when thinking about the free and easy love of baseball (and sports) in relation to the difficulties we often have transporting that enthusiasm into our worship.  He writes:

  Why is it, then, I find it so delicious to give myself in wild, spontaneous, rapturous applause to some self-centered, overpaid athlete who just slugged a game-winning homer into the upper deck when it is still difficult to lose myself in the sweetness of a worship service?  Why does gravity tug so at these hands designed by God to be lifted wholeheartedly in praise, when, in moments not nearly so regal, they are generously filled with helium?
  So long as I am able to enjoy the excellence I see down on the field and recognize it as a momentary diversion from life's struggles.  So long as we remember the true struggles are the spiritual battles waged daily in our hearts and minds, and that the outcome of this warfare will ultimately decide to whom we offer our adulation and for whom we have nothing left but a place on the trash heap with the banana peels and the day-old box scores.

  As we near the end of the college football season and the heat rises on the debate about playoffs and champions and rivalries, I wonder how we, too, might reflect on the place of sports in our own lives.  Are sports a helpful diversion, an entertainment option?  Can we enjoy the spectacle of a game well-played without getting so wrapped up in the result that a loss ruins our day?  Or have sports taken over our lives, hijacked our emotions, that the roller coaster ride of a football game tarnishes everything so deeply that we fail to appreciate the inherent beauty the game, so desperate are we for a victory?  Can we respect and appreciate those who play without worshiping them?  Can we be loyal to a program without building it up as an idol?

  Sports are such a massive part of American life--may we have the courage to enjoy them as the artistic forms they are without crossing the line and building them up as idols in our lives.