Wednesday, December 25, 2013
Scratching the Surface
(A Brief and Incomplete Look at the Difference Between Like/Is)
Albert Einstein was a familiar face at Princeton Theological Seminary. While teaching at the university, he was a frequent guest lecturer at the seminary.
Although one of the most brilliant minds of the 20th century, he was very forgetful.
It wasn’t unusual to spot him strolling across the seminary campus without one of his socks or both of his shoes!
There is one story of how the university switchboard received a call asking for Dr. Einstein’s address. The operator said, “I’m sorry, but Dr. Einstein has made it clear to us that we are not to give out his address to anyone.” “But,” the voice whispered after a short pause, “This is Dr. Einstein.”
It is important to know who you are.
Buuuuuuut it is even more important to know who Jesus is.
That’s why Constantine called the bishops to Nicaea in the first quarter of the 4th century.
Arius had confused people with his Biblically illiterate nonsense about Jesus being kinda like God but not really true God.
There is a difference between like and is.
That’s what the Council of Nicaea was all about. It was called to declare definitively if Jesus was like God or is God.
Relying on Biblical revelation (e.g., John 1, Colossians 1, Hebrews 1), the answer was unmistakable: “We believe…in one Lord Jesus Christ, the only begotten Son of God, begotten of the Father before all worlds, God of God, Light of Light, Very God of Very God, begotten not made, being of one substance with the Father, by whom all things were made.”
Simply, Jesus is not like God. Jesus is God.
Jesus is Emmanuel or God-with-us – the incarnation/enfleshment of God.
Or as one child exclaimed upon finally figuring Him out, “Jesus is God with skin on.”
That’s why the earliest confession of the church was so clear, concise, and conclusive: “Jesus Christ is Lord!”
Jesus is God.
The message of Christmas is God’s incarnation/enfleshment in Jesus with the intent of enabling our confident living and eternal life through faith in Him as Lord and Savior.
Here’s a letter for parents about the real meaning of Christmas:
Dear Mom and Dad,
It’s hard to believe Christmas is just around the corner. Tree lots are springing up and McDonald’s is selling movies again; though I’m not sure what their selections have to do with the season. But in some strange way, all of it gets me pretty excited.
I know you’re wondering what to give the kids this year. It seems nobody remembers what you gave them last year. There aren’t many things that don’t wear out, get thrown out, or become played out. That’s why I’m writing. I’ve got an idea that can change all of that.
Do you remember when your babies were born? Do you remember how you were lost in wonder, love, and praise? Do you remember when they were baptized? You promised to tell them about Jesus. Do you remember those first Christmas Eve services when their faces seemed to glow even more than the candles in their little hands? Do you remember listening to them sing about that “Silent Night, Holy Night” for the first time? I know you remember when they saw the manger scene and exclaimed with such innocent joy, “There’s baby Jesus!”
I know you know what to give them for Christmas.
I’m not one of those Scrooge-like posing “Christians” who make holidays look like a bad case of hemorrhoids. I like popcorn balls, candy canes, cookies with sprinkles, eggnog, mistletoe, and even the funny man in the red suit. They help to make the season bright.
I just want you to remember why we’re always excited; and not just around this time of the year.
It’s all about a baby. Jesus. Emmanuel.
So give Jesus to the kids! He is the only gift that last forever!
Blessings and Love!
Blessings and Love!
Saturday, December 21, 2013
Many of my most treasured memories and friendships revolve around and remain with Clark, New Jersey's Osceola Presbyterian Church on the corner of Raritan Road and the Garden State Parkway.
While I left Osceola sooooooo prematurely to satisfy my ego needs for high steeples along with their fame and fortune only to discover too late that my ladder to ecclesiastical success had been leaning against wrong buildings, they forgave my selfish exit as we continue to savor love that never lets go.
I'll never forget one particular kairos moment that I now know was the genesis of my passion for undershepherding in consonance with the red letters of the New Testament (especially Matthew 23 with a confessionally empathetic nod to Philippians 3:12-21).
We received a major gift to purchase chancel furniture as part of the renovation of the sanctuary.
As the three really, really, really big chairs for behind the communion table were being unpacked with one of 'em sooooooo much bigger than the other two and fit for a king, either Eddie or Frank or Fred remarked for me to hear, "I wonder how Bob will feel sitting in that one!"
I joined them in collective laughter.
Yeeeeeeet it caused me to wonder...think...pray...and...
I never sat in it.
My ego has gotten the best of me in sooooooo many ways on tooooooo many occasions over the years - go back to the second sentence-paragraph for one especially lamentable example - but even mine refused to try to fit into a chair fit for only...the King!
Bikers like to say, "If I have to explain it to you, you'd never understand anyway."
They're paraphrasing Thomas Aquinas even if they don't know it: "To one who has faith, no explanation is necessary. To one without faith, no explanation is possible."
Maybe that's why Jesus told stories: "This is why I speak...in parables, because seeing they do not see, and hearing they do not hear, nor do they understand."
Here's another story about who's/what's fit for only...the King.
After pledging her estate to his ministry, a woman rang the doorbell of a fabulously wealthy televangelist who must have cut out Matthew 19 in a Jeffersonian kinda way.
He opened the door and said, "I've been waiting for you. I'm so thankful that you've recognized this ministry's value and have decided to will your estate to me."
Upon entering the mansion with no pretense of humility, she looked around at the opulent excessiveness fit for a king, and said with a sense of shock and dismay, "I came here today to provide a copy of my will that gives my entire estate to you upon my return home to Jesus; but as I look around at everything in your home that must have cost so much, I find myself asking, 'Where will my money go?'"
"For the cause," he said; then continued, "For the cause. Everything you see in my home is for the cause. Everything you see in my home is to bring glory to His name. Everything you see here is to honor Him. You wouldn't expect him to live in a barn?"
I wonder if he'd ever sang, "Away in a manger, no crib for his bed..."
Now back to the bikers and Aquinas.
Another story from Matthew 15 about who's/what's fit for only...the King.
A woman cried to Jesus, "Have mercy on me, O Lord. My daughter is severely oppressed by a demon."
He did not answer her.
As His disciples urged him to continue ignoring her, He declared, "I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel."
She moved closer to Him, then knelt, and begged, "Lord, help me."
He answered, "It is not right to take the children's bread and throw it to the dogs."
She said, "Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their master's table."
Then He announced, "O woman, great is your faith! Be it done for you as you desire."
Her daughter was healed instantly.
Now back to the bikers and Aquinas.
Pastor Ella Jane Coley of Bixby, Oklahoma comments on the story from Matthew 15 in a way that helps us to get it/Him.
"She had a need," Ella Jane observes, "and went to the Source. Her pleas did not move Him but her worship did!"
Continuing, "Jesus wasn't being unkind, but was pulling out of her the essential ingredient that would get His attention and give her an answer - her worship! She had to worship Him before she could get His response! Her worship activated her faith which activated her miracle!"
Concluding, "There is an essential ingredient in you that God demands, deserves, and desires above everything else - worship! Your worship will get His attention! Your worship will open doors into His very presence! Your worship, especially when circumstances look bleak and it would appear God is silent will cause God to speak a Word to your situation that will change everything! Worship your way through the unknown, the insecurities, the confusion, and the challenges. Your worship will unlock Heaven's resources. Worship Him, not just in the good times, but worship Him when things look bleakest. There, in worship, you will receive your answer!"
Now back to the bikers and Aquinas.
Worship, as Ella Jane explains, turns trickles into rivers.
David said, "God inhabits the praises of His people."
The magi got it/Him: "They fell down and worshipped Him."
Wise men still seek Him.
Who's got the best seat in your house?
Who gets your best?
If everyone who knows anything about God by the book says our sanity, safety, security, and salvation depend more upon worship than anything or anyone else,...
Now go back to the bikers and Aquinas.
If you get it/them, they're just saying every season of life at His best begins, continues, and concludes with King-sized worship.
Blessings and Love!
Tuesday, December 17, 2013
"'Lord, when did we see You in jail and visit You?'...As
you visited them, you visited Me!"
It's a big word for us.
It's about restoring broken relationships.
Eternally, it's about restoring our broken relationship with God through faith in Savior Jesus.
We are forgiven/redeemed through faith.
Existentially, it's about our restored relationship with God through faith in Savior Jesus expressed through prayers and efforts to restore our broken relationships with...everyone/anyone.
We forgive/redeem to express our faith as forgiven/redeemed.
It's a consistent theme of the Bible.
God wants everybody to be forgiven/redeemed.
Everybody who's forgiven/redeemed wants everybody to be forgiven/redeemed.
God provides the way back to Him through Jesus as encouraged/enlightened/enabled by the Holy Spirit.
With gratitude by obedience, the faithfully forgiven/redeemed provide the way back to each other through Jesus as encouraged/enlightened/enabled by the Holy Spirit.
Read the short course on this in Matthew 6:12; and then as emphasized in Matthew 6:14-15.
It means there's always a way back to God and each other.
It's His way which is our way if we believe/belong in/to Him.
It's Christianity by the book.
Frank's been in jail for over six months.
Charged with horrific crimes, he'll probably go to trial within the next six months.
This is not confidential.
It's public knowledge.
Innocence or guilt is ultimately up to Frank and God; existentially, it will be up to a jury.
I visit him on Thursday mornings for two reasons.
First, I want to protect the church from any connection/incrimination to/by the charges.
Second, Jesus commands it; and though I'm just scratching the surface of my relationship with Him by praying and trying to be obedient as personified in Jesus and prescribed in Holy Scripture, I'm scratching/praying/trying.
Anyway, I was really getting tired of it; especially because the increasing revival on the corner of Lincoln and Main in Belvidere, Illinois has placed increasing demands on my time and energies.
I left last Thursday and thought about maybe...
Later that afternoon, Frank called me.
I said, "Frank, I just saw you a few hours ago. What's up?"
I don't think my tone was inviting, welcoming, including, or punctuated by agape.
He said, "I want you to know I really appreciate you coming to see me. Nobody comes to see me. I don't get any letters. I don't get any phone calls. I don't get any visits. Only you come to see me. I can't tell you how much I appreciate you coming to see me."
I wept after the click.
We have four growing adult Sunday School classes in our family of faith.
I attend one with 10-15 other men; and I wouldn't miss it for anything other than worship.
On the Sunday following my Thursday conversation with Frank, we were talking about redemption.
After repeating my conversation with Frank, I was a tad taken aback when brother after brother began to declare determination to write or call or visit or...
Interrupting one of the best teachers/mentors that I've ever had along with the determined declarations of my brothers, I apologized if I had come across as judgmental or trying to make anyone feel guilty for not writing or calling or visiting or...
I explained my two reasons for going to see him.
I confessed the sin of the first one (selfishness) and the desire of the second one (obedient agape).
Truly, I wasn't trying to make anyone feel guilty about...
My only reason for bringing it up was to say even someone charged and jailed or even convicted hasn't been forsaken/rejected/damned by God.
There's only one unforgivable sin.
Redemption is a really, really, really big word/theme for people who want to follow Jesus by the book.
Over and over and over again, the good news is He wants everybody forgiven/redeemed/delivered/saved - existentially felt as eternally graced.
I only wanted to say God has a way back for everyone/anyone no matter who, what, where, when, why, or...
I only wanted to say that if God has a way back for everyone/anyone, then we must have a way back for...
Follow the Leader!
But, truly, again, I wasn't trying to make anyone feel guilty about...Frank.
On second thought...
I think it was Eleanor Roosevelt who said nobody can make you feel inferior without your consent.
Annnnnnnd I don't think anyone can make you or me feel guilty unless we are guilty; or we're really, you know, kinda sick in the...
People who allow anyone other than God to define 'em are really, uh, you know, kinda sick in the...
Only God gets to define us from womb to tomb - here and now and in the end.
Annnnnnnd He'd just die for us to prove His love for us because we're His children; including you, me, them, and...Frank.
Buried in one of those DSB series books of his, William Barclay lamented/lauded only God as being really, really, really forgiving/redeeming.
He said God is much, much, much more forgiving/redeeming than people who say they love God.
The omission of John 13:34 from the practical application of that pretension comes to mind.
Now I'm not trying to make you or me or anyone feel guilty by recalling that; buuuuuuut maybe...
I guess that's why we spend so much time trying to understand redemption.
Blessings and Love!
Sunday, December 15, 2013
Somebody said, "A grapefruit is a lemon that had an opportunity."
Dissimilarly, I've also heard too many people are like lemons; when squeezed, they pour out their sour insides.
This season comes to mind with sooooooo many sour squeezings squeezing out what it's/He's all about.
God knows we've come a long way from how silently, how silently, the wondrous gift is given...
Holly for holy has made this season sooooooo hollow for soooooo many; leaving a sour taste in the spirit.
Too many artificial trees pretending authentic Christmas spirit.
Continuing to mix metaphors, people who get it/Him turn their lemons into lemonade; overcoming all of the distractions and detours from the divine reason for the season.
People get it/Him by exiting Macy's and embracing a manger.
People get it/Him by leaving the sour lemons of this life for the sweet refreshments of intimacy with the Lord; becoming increasingly blessed while less and less stressed.
That real not ornamental manger scene comes to mind.
Unlike latter gem-studded versions in marble, olivewood, and other expensively luminous luxuries, that real manger scene had only one focus: "To us is born a Savior who is Christ the Lord."
While that doesn't seem to be existentially enough for our currently commercialized and tinseled tastes, the real enfleshed God in rag-wearing-cow-trough-lying baby Jesus was eternally enough for shepherds, angels, and magi with no respect to aesthetic traditions or anticipated messianicalisms.
The real-not-traditionally-expected-or-contemporarily-tainted-from-the-original God-in-Son-attested-by-Spirit historical moment brings these sentences from Gregory Boyd's correspondence with an agnostic father to mind (Letters from a Skeptic); as the real Jesus who delivers from the meanness, madness, and miseries of life in the modern world is distinguished from the imagined/reimagined/traditional/made-up version who causes so much distaste/distance from the authentically hungry and thirsty for Someone better: "Only the Gospel dares to proclaim that God enters smack-dab into the middle of the hell we create. Only the Gospel dares to proclaim that God was born a baby in a bloody, crap-filled stable, that He lived a life befriending the prostitutes and lepers no one else would befriend, and that He suffered, firsthand, the hellish depth of all that is nightmarish in human existence. Only the Gospel portrait of God makes sense of the contradictory fact that the world is at once so beautiful and so ugly...And through His participation in our pain, He wants to redeem it. He wants to bring about whatever healing is possible to you, and to me, and to all involved."
Why anyone would trade the real for the imagined/reimagined/traditional/made-up version so untrue to Holy Scripture is mind-numbing/boggling/defying as well as damning.
So back to Kung to "discover what...[was]...originally meant, before it was covered with the dust and debris of two thousand years...not another gospel, but the same ancient gospel rediscovered for today!"
That's where an angel's birth announcement came/comes in to a 13-16 year old cleaning girl/virgin: "Nothing is impossible with God."
That's where Mary's acceptance of the divine incarnational intention came/comes in: "I am God's servant; so let it be to me as He has willed."
That's where shepherds' awe and angelic chorus confirm the down to earth birth of divinity enabling eternal elevation with no respect to color, class, or culture: "A Savior, Christ the Lord, has come to us...Glory! Glory! Hallelujah!"
That's where Simeon exclaims everyone's greatest fear was/is exorcised by the Mighty God in a manger predestined to liberate to ultimate paradise as crucified to risen to ever-reigning Christ: "I'm no longer afraid to die! I have a Savior! I've got Jesus! Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord!"
That's where Magi demonstrate the only appropriate response to such gospel: "They fell down and worshipped Him."
The real Christmas.
We can have a merry Christmas.
Just leave the lemons for the sourpusses.
Blessings and Love!
Friday, December 13, 2013
Scratching the Surface of Philemon
Christian behavior is supposed to be different from worldly ways; or as Paul wrote in Colossians, "Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth."
Christians are counter-culture when culture is antithetical to Kingdom.
Christians pray and labor for society as well as Church to be "on earth as it is in heaven."
If Christians fit in too well to their culture at the expense of their citizenship in the Kingdom, it's time for Christians to recognize, as James emphasizes, creeds and deeds are inseparable; deeds confirming creeds.
We can say we believe in Jesus as our Lord and Savior; yet it is our behavior that gives credibility to our belief.
While we cannot work our way into heaven (works righteousness), righteous works (aka obedience) indicate we're going to heaven.
That's what Paul's letter to Philemon is all about.
Though it is the apostle's shortest letter, it is also his most personal and most precisely passionate when it comes to distinguishing Christian behavior from worldly ways.
It's about two Christians named Philemon and Onesimus who were probably evangelized by Paul (i.e., introduced to Jesus) and most definitely discipled by him (i.e., educated about what it means to follow Jesus).
Philemon was a wealthy member of the Colossian church.
Onesimus was his slave.
Quickly, it's important to provide the historical context of slavery in the 1st century.
While occasionally practiced in Israel, slavery was never widespread and regulated carefully by the Torah.
Conversely, the Roman Empire was built on the backs of slaves. Whenever the Romans conquered somebody, their supply of slaves was replenished; and I remember reading somewhere that there were more slaves than citizens in the Roman Empire.
While the Torah demanded humane treatment of slaves, Roman law was harsh. Slaves were considered property not people. Slave owners could mistreat slaves and even kill them. Roman law allowed slave owners to execute runaway slaves.
Contextually, because Onesimus the slave apparently had run away from Philemon his owner, Philemon had the legal right to execute Onesimus.
Paul wrote to Philemon on behalf of Onesimus because all three of 'em believed in Jesus as Lord and Savior and this letter would emphasize that believing in Jesus requires behavior proving belief in Jesus as Lord and Savior.
And don't miss this very, very, very big point!
Christians don't care about cultural legalities when they conflict with the Word of God: "We must obey God not man!"
That's why, as we read this letter, we can see how it/Christianity contributed to the historical Christian crusade against slavery because, again, Christian behavior must be different from worldly ways when they contradict Christianity as enfleshed by Jesus and explained in Holy Scripture.
Paul writes he is sending the slave back to the owner to be accepted as a brother through Jesus rather than for severe punishment as allowed to provide a contrast of Christian behavior from worldly ways.
The letter begins with the apostle's typical way of softening 'em up by commendation so he can slip in the knife of truth/commandment and twist/demand it: "I always thank my God when I mention you in my prayers, because I hear of your love and faith...I have great joy and encouragement from your love..."
"For this reason," he elaborates, "although I have great boldness in Jesus to command you to do what is right, I am appealing to you."
If he were going to confirm his Christianity, Philemon was told he must act like a Christian.
Paul's expectations were absolute: "I am sending him back to you...so that you might get him back permanently, no longer as a slave, but more than a slave - as a dearly loved brother...So if you accept me as a partner, accept him as you would me...I am confident of your obedience...knowing you will do even more than I say."
As a Christian to a Christian about a Christian, Paul expected Philemon to practice what he preached by forgiving Onesimus and treating him like a brother not a possession.
While laying the groundwork for the Christian crusade against slavery, it is a radiant illustration of how Christianity contradicts culture when culture contradicts Christianity.
Identity in, through, and for Jesus governs the creeds and deeds of people who claim identity in, through, and for Jesus.
Christians are Christians first, foremost, and always no matter who, where, what, when, or why.
Or as Jesus said, "No one can serve two masters."
Slaves to Jesus are slaves to no one else.
...to be continued...
Blessings and Love!
Wednesday, December 11, 2013
"And grant that when Christmas morning breaks for us this year, we may
have something more to show for our much running about than
tired feet, wrapped presents, and regrets for cards not sent."
Ernest T. Campbell
Where Cross the Crowded Way: Prayers of a City Pastor
After a distinguished career as president of one of his denomination's most renowned colleges, he was a successful interim pastor.
Of course, nobody's perfect except for...
The reason for the season!
Anyway, I liked Bob and he became one of my mentors.
He taught by example more than exhortation about staying loyal to Him over them; even if it means catching everything but heaven too often with a spiritual eye to Matthew 16:26.
Of course, again, nobody's perfect; not even our mentors.
For example, when he was the interim pastor of a city church in Pittsburgh, he put this sermon title on the bulletin board in front of the church: "Get a Hoe!"
If I have to explain how that went over/down in that city church, you wouldn't understand anyway.
I used to type out the liturgies for worship services for my secretaries.
Here's what I would type in big bold capital letters at the top every week: A SERVICE FOR THE WORSHIP OF GOD.
I got it from my liturgy and homiletics professor in seminary who was always harping on and on and on about pastors who'd start worship by calling out, "Let's celebrate life!" He'd shout, "You don't gather together to celebrate life! You gather together to worship God! To praise Him for being God! To declare as You thank Him for who He is and what He has done for us and for our salvation in Jesus! To honor the Creator, Savior, and Sustainer of life here and now and forever! We don't get together to celebrate life! We worship God!"
He'd also get really, really, really upset after seminary chapel services when someone would ask during worship, "Shall we pray?" He'd blurt, "Shall we pray? Shall we pray? Shall we pray? As if we're going to take a vote on it!"
Anyway, I'd sometimes mess up the typing of those big bold capital letters at the top of the weekly worship services by misspelling worship with whoreship.
Annnnnnnd as I've become more acquainted with Matthew 15, 23, and other idolatries, traditions, and human ingenuities masquerading as worship over the years, I've often wondered if God wasn't trying to tell me something through those misspellings that maybe weren't as accidental as I used to assume.
If I have to explain that to you, you wouldn't understand anyway.
God's deal with Noah was prompted by His broken heart.
People took the goodness of His creation and created wicked pseudo-facsimiles.
Jesus looked at the clergy of His day - and if you actually read what He had to say about 'em in places like Matthew 15 and 23, now ain't thaaaaaaaat much different from then - and it broke His heart in a Matthew 23:37-39 kinda way.
They took the goodness of His creation and created wicked pseudo-facsimiles.
He offered life.
They chose death.
Happened then and happens...
Sooooooo why bring this up now?
It's sparkle season!
If everyone is sparkling so much around this time of the year, why are there more suicides around this time of the year than any other time of the year?
It can't be just because it's another year without the Cubs winning anything.
I don't think I'm wrong when I say Stephen Schwartz's narrator in Pippin could have been talking about Christmas 2013 while observing a young prince who wasn't celebrating any season of his life: "You look frenzied, you look frazzled...Flushed and rushed and razzle-dazzled.'
There's a lot of depression out there and everywhere because, as Campbell prayed back in 1973, too many of us have nothing more to show for this season than...
Stressed not blessed is how too many of us feel around now.
Sooooooo busy, busy, busy striving to make the season bright for everybody else that...
We're missing it/Him.
Kung was right.
We've got to be reminded of what/Who it's/He's all about to catch the season's spirit.
"Not another gospel; but the same ancient gospel rediscovered for today!"
"Before it was covered with the dust and debris of two thousand years" of celebrating life more than worshipping God!
So let's go back before continuing or moving ahead!
Let's rediscover the reason for the season.
From an angel and Joseph and Mary and shepherds and magi and Simeon and...
It's all right there for here and now and forever in the book.
Matthew 1-2 and Luke 1-2.
It'll take just 20 minutes to read 'em again; and recapture...
Let me put it another way.
You've heard it before.
Don't take Christ out of Christmas!
That's because there is no season without the reason!
Let me put it another way.
"Whoever has the Son has life!"
There is no life without the Son!
Let me put it another way.
"Wherever He entered, into villages, cities, or the country, they laid the sick in the marketplaces, and begged Him that they might just touch the hem of His garment. And as many as touched Him were made well!"
There is life with Jesus!
That's how we can have Someone more to show for the season!
Maybe my college president and interim pastor friend Bob remains right!
Hoe! Hoe! Hoe!
Get a Hoe!
"You shall be My witnesses!"
Hoe! Hoe! Hoe!
It's/He's the only way to recapture...
Blessings and Love!