Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

The Holy Spirit Is Faithful

February 21, 2020

As we approach Transfiguration Sunday, I’ve struggled this week to figure out what to preach.  Of course we can preach straight doctrine about the two natures of Christ, but how is this made relevant to my congregation?  How can I help make what happens on an obscure Galilean hilltop 2000 years ago relevant to men and women in the 21st century dealing with their own issues?

I trust that the Holy Spirit will guide me each week in preparing a sermon.  Some  weeks the ideas flow easily, and others are more of a struggle.  Sometimes I don’t feel sure until Sunday morning.  Sometimes I’m not sure even when I’m in the pulpit, or as I come out of it.  But I trust He will give me words to say, that  He won’t leave his people bereft.

But sometimes his promptings come from unexpected quarters.  As I spent time this morning with a young man I’m mentoring in his recovery from drug addiction, what should he bring up in conversation but the Transfiguration?  What are the odds of that?!

And from that conversation came the basis for my approach for the sermon Sunday.  A little counter-intuitive, perhaps, but no less important than Jesus in his blinding glory.

Thank you, Lord.

Why the Old Testament?

February 17, 2020

Why do we have the Old Testament in Scripture?  Or for that matter, why 2000 years of pre-history, 2000 years of history and narrative and genealogy?  Why didn’t God just send Jesus immediately?  Why is the Old Testament in sweeping grandeur and confusion necessary?

It  might sound like a silly question but it’s hardly intended as such, and it’s hardly a new question.  Since at least the early third century serious Christians like Marcion have suggested we could do without the Old Testament.  Many others have thought the same thing since, despite the Church’s insistence that we should keep those Scriptures firmly in place.

I read an article about this in a theological journal recently (starting on pages 24-25).  The author lists ten reasons why he thinks the Old Testament is crucial to Christians today:

  1. The Old Testament grounds us in the physicality of our existence in creation as creatures
  2. It reaffirms physicality, as opposed to the Greek demeaning of the physical in favor of the spiritual and non-material
  3. The Old Testament provides us with an understanding of who God is
  4. The Old Testament prepares for and fleshes  out the Gospel of Jesus Christ
  5. The Old Testament helps us to understand the Holy Spirit
  6. The Old Testament forces us to face the scandal of particularity – the reality that God does not have to operate by democratic principles but rather is free to work in very particular and specific ways, and through very particular and specific people
  7. The Old Testament helps contextualize us in terms of our role in God’s plan of salvation
  8. The Old Testament provides further evidence of God working in a sacramental  way – through physical means
  9. The Old Testament helps protect us from an understanding of the life of faith that is centered almost exclusively in the here and now, the present
  10. The Old Testament is able to treat certain sub-themes of the life of faith that might otherwise be lost

All good points.

I’ll humbly add my 11th to this list.

The Old Testament stands as solid evidence that Satan lies.  Just as he lied to Adam and Eve he lies to us and teaches us to lie to ourselves.  Specifically, he lies to us in leading us to believe sin really isn’t as big an issue as Scripture thinks it is, and that if we just had a bit of help, we could fix it ourselves.  That we might not actually need a savior.

I mean, really.  If we could just get rid of all the bad apples – start off with the very best of us, the most upstanding, the holiest, the godliest, the most righteous – we could be ok.  We could make a fresh start and everything would be just fine.  Oh wait, that was already tried, with Noah.  It didn’t work out so well after all.  Hmmm.

Well, if we just had God present in our midst.  Palpable.  Tangible.  Visible.  If He would just show himself and prove his reality through his presence, we’d straighten up and fly right, no doubt.  Certainly that would be enough to ensure we lived the way we should, in harmony with one another and in grateful obedience to our Creator.  Then everything would be just fine. Oh, wait, that was already tried, with the Israelites in the wilderness.  It didn’t work out so well after all, and not only that, we tend to try and blame God as being harsh and smite-y.  Hmmm.

Well, if God would just put all his people in one place, all the people who love him and know him, all together in one big place.  A country.  And not just any country, but a country with a government hand-picked by God.  A government based upon God’s Word and rule.  A government dedicated to making sure the people of God could live their lives out in faithfulness and obedience.  Then everything would be just fine.  Oh wait, that was tried with the monarchy and the nation of Israel. It didn’t work out so well.  Hmmmm.

Well, if God would just send Jesus back to us, so we could be with him.  Live with him.  Work with him.  Listen to him preach and teach.  Watch him heal the sick – maybe even have him heal some of our own sicknesses.  Watch him drive out demons and command the wind and the waves.  Well certainly then, that’s all we need.  Then  we would understand and not have to be so confused about everything.  Then everything would be just fine.  Oh wait, that was done also, and his disciples were confused throughout his entire ministry and up to and after his death.

Not until the resurrection of the incarnate Son of God did his disciples begin to understand.  Not until they had already been saved did they really begin to comprehend just how deeply and completely they needed a Savior.  Needed to be saved.  That no amount of right conditions could ever substitute for the God who would die to save his creation.  Who would die for us at our worst so that we could have the promise and hope of being our best.

Scripture – Old and New Testaments – gives us so many things, but one of the things I rarely hear discussed is that gift of experience.  A  reminder that we aren’t as smart as we think we are, let alone as good as we like to imagine.  A reminder that we need nothing less than a Savior, and God has provided nothing less than that in his Son, Jesus.

So keep reading the Old Testament.  There are at least eleven good reasons to do so.  What would you add as number 12?

 

 

Grateful

January 8, 2020

I’m often critical of the pervasiveness of technology in our culture today.  I’ll likely remain critical.  But I would be dishonest and remiss if I weren’t to also say that I’m grateful.

I’ve been tinkering with computers to one degree or another for close to 40  years now, and I can only say I’m so very, very, very,  very, very grateful for how easy it is to get a system setup and running these days compared to way back when.  I just set up a brand new PC in about 20 minutes.  That includes opening the box and unpacking it.  Granted, with this ease comes a lesser degree of control, but frankly, 99% of people using computers don’t need or even want the level of control we used to have to have in terms of installing drivers and this and that and the other.  In 20 minutes my system  is configured (mostly on its own) and connected to the Internet.  I’m already downloading and installing the additional freeware I want to use.

It’s amazing, and I’m grateful.

But still, get off your smartphones people!

 

Church in a Box

October 29, 2019

So you want to start a church?  Easy-peesy!  Just order Church in a Box!

It will cost you anywhere between $20,000 and $100,000, depending on how big a church you’re starting, but they’ll provide you with everything you need (materials-wise, not personnel!) to do so.  Banners.  Audio/video equipment.  Coffee.  You name it, it’s included.

Assuming you have a venue, the people to do all of these things, and someone capable of preaching and teaching, what a cool way of one-stop shopping!

 

 

Schrödinger’s Meth-Head

July 21, 2019

Almost exactly a year ago I created a Schrödinger’s Meth-Head situation that is still ongoing.

Schrödinger is  famous for a thought experiment involving a cat in a sealed steel box with a bit of radioactive material inside along with a hammer and a small glass vial of hydrogen cyanide.  If a single atom of the radioactive material decayed, it would trigger a mechanism that would drop the hammer, shatter the vial, and the cat would die from the poisonous gas.  On the other hand, if no atom decayed, the cat would remain alive.   There was no way to know the status of the cat without opening the steel box.  The cat effectively would remain both dead and alive simultaneously (effectively) until somebody could verify the status.

I have no idea what happened to that young woman.  I still pray and like to think she got on the bus and did the right thing.  Nothing in my experience with recovering addicts in the last year leads me to think this is very likely.  But I can pray it is.  That she’s in recovery, getting the help she needs, moving on with her life.

I’m undecided as to whether I like this status of not knowing.  It is what it is.  And ultimately, regardless of whether she made it home or not, I can pray that her life is better today than it was a year ago when our paths crossed.

So I do.

A Political Day

January 17, 2019

I guess this will be a day for political posts.

First up, the World Health Organization (WHO) has officially classified those who are uncertain about the efficacy or safety of vaccinations as one of the top ten threats to global health in 2019.

They’re not going after anti-vaxxers or those who are hard-core opposed to vaccinations.  Even those who are hesitant are a risk.  Those who are less than certain, or may be concerned only about certain vaccinations while they’re fine with others.  No, there must be no doubt, no misgivings, no reluctance, no hesitancy.  The report officially defines this term to mean the reluctance or refusal to vaccinate despite the availability of vaccines.  That’s a pretty broad classification.  I take it to mean that the person who doesn’t want to get the annual flu shot or is uncertain about a recently released vaccine is treated as the same sort of threat as the person who doesn’t believe the small pox vaccine was effective.

An advisory group to the WHO identified complacency, inconvenience, and uncertainty as some of many reasons why people might resist or oppose vaccinations.  I’m sure those are some of the causes.  But the WHO finds these causes – or any cause – insufficient and uncredible.

Despite all-too-recent examples that sometimes the public is deliberately misinformed about things, putting their health at risk (Tuskogee, anyone?).  Despite the insistence of state laws that make vaccines mandatory and provide no means for the public to give consent to or even be informed about what vaccines are included.  Despite a dearth of long-term studies on many of the vaccines already available and those still in development.  Despite even just a common sense sort of concern about what gets put into your body and why.

Nobody must question the powers that be – doctors, researchers, policy-makers – none  of them are to be questioned and are to be trusted implicitly and without any means or expectation of transparency.  Those who criticize religious people for blind faith ought to be a more critical of the faith being demanded by secular authorities as well!  Religion can’t compel  faith, but the rule of law can and increasingly does compel people to cede authority over their bodies to bureaucrats and scientists, well-meaning or otherwise.

 

 

Into a New Year

January 14, 2019

I’m not sad to see 2018 go.  I have no guarantees that this year – or even today – will be any better or easier, but at least symbolically I’m not sad to see 2018 in the rear view mirror.  Writing has been difficult.  Self-disclosure has felt dangerous and pointless.

But with the passing of the year is the reminder that years are not bottomless.  We only get so many of these spans of time and none of us are certain how many are allotted to us.  I don’t say this in an attitude of despair because I am convinced that new and better things await beyond the handful of years we are given.  It’s simply a reality to live with.

Someone said something I read in the not too distant past and, while the author and the context are lost to me, the gist of it remained.  Here and now, in this handful of years we call our lifetime, we possess one thing that we will not have in the eternity that awaits those who put their faith and trust in God the Father Creator, God the Son Redeemer, and God the Holy Spirit Sanctifier – the ability to live our lives out in faith.

In eternity we will know.  The mystery and uncertainty will be gone.  The Triune God will be an omnipresent reality we cannot ignore even if we are never able to fully comprehend him.  But here and now, in however long we have to live, we live by faith.  Certain of things unseen.  Hopeful in something intangible.  Not without reason, not without evidence, but still in faith.  I have the opportunity not simply to teach or dictate that faith to my children and everyone else in my life, but to demonstrate it.  To show what it looks like in the decisions I make because of my faith.  In the forgiveness I will need to ask for repeatedly because not all of my decisions are good and helpful.  And in the trust and confidence that my repentance is heard, forgiveness is already given, grace is here and now and not simply there and then.

Today, while we may still call it today, we live by faith.  Welcome, 2019.

 

Inevitable?

December 23, 2018

A humorous little imagining regarding how to utilize virtual reality (VR) as an alternative to Christian worship.  Think that this is outrageous?  Don’t.  I have no doubt somebody will try this.  I also don’t presume it will be very popular.  I don’t think people who are not willing to go to church in the first place will be willing to spend time on this instead.  Although perhaps those who prefer watching religious networks rather than going to church might.  Hmmm…

People  have been trying to integrate technology and church for years.  When I was nearly done with seminary, there was a pitch from someone putting together an online Christian community (including worship) so that non-Christians could peer into the lives and experiences of Christians.  Predictably, it wasn’t very successful.  Meaning, not at all successful and short-lived.  Others continue to try and figure out how to do this.  The logic is flawless – meet tech-obsessed and isolated people where they like to hang out – online.  But traditionally, something gets lost in the translation.  While technology can augment our human connections and interactions, it can’t replace them.  Attempts to do so inevitably fail, and people become more isolated, not less.

I don’t fault people for trying, but I don’t predict it will ever be very successful.  Even if it is attractive on many levels.  What would you add or eliminate from your Sunday worship if you could just press a button or wave your hand?  Now, why should you not have the option to do that?

 

Cute Confusion

November 15, 2018

In the rush to normalize transgenderism, this book has come to the surface for assisting very young children (kindergarten) know how to deal with a classmate who is dealing with what traditionally was known as gender identity disorder but has been reclassified as gender dysphoria.

I appreciate the desire to help children understand how to deal with a classmate who is very different from them.  But I’ve been troubled by the approach of trying to make it seem as though it’s really not a big deal.  Troubled that kindergarten is now a time to talk about sex education and gender identity.  Gender dysphoria is a big deal.  A big deal that requires a lot of love and care, to be sure, but also a big deal that can’t be broken down into cute, easy to present sound bites without doing a lot of potential damage along the way, both to those who think they might suffer from it as well as their peers who don’t.

Here is a helpful review of the book from a medical doctor versed in this topic.  He makes a compelling case that what we don’t say can be as important (and damaging) as what we do say.  In fairness to everyone, we need a way to make sure that everything is communicated rather than dangerously oversimplifying things.

Growing Community

November 10, 2017

This past Sunday’s Happy Hour was considerably less volatile than the previous week.  The young woman who walked out the week before did not come.  I hope that there will be a chance to talk about things soon.

My wife has found a growing curiosity in our home school community about our Sunday evening gathering.  One mother and her son have visited several times over the past few months.  This last Sunday she brought her husband with her as well.  She’s also told another family – a Christian family – about our gathering and they intend to come this Sunday.  The quest for community takes on many shapes and forms.

We’ve also now experienced the first additions to the gathering of potential dating partners.  One of the young men has brought a girl twice now that he has been on at least two dates with.  To me, that’s rather amazing.  I’m not sure I would have been brave enough to bring a potential (or actual) girlfriend with me to a gathering of this sort.  The potential fallout if things didn’t work out would have been intimidating to me.  So we’re glad he feels comfortable enough to bring her.  She’s a very nice young woman who teaches here in town.  My wife and I have both had the chance to talk with her somewhat one-on-one.  It will be interesting to see if things work out between the two of them!