Friday, August 5, 2016

A Day at a Time

One of my reflection partners this past week was an old friend of mine, Zach Eswine, who wrote a very honest pastoral theology entitled Sensing Jesus. In it he takes the measure of a day (among many other things). I found his Biblical construct of a day to be very helpful and thought it was worth passing on. So whether you are old or young; changing diapers, organizing meetings or plumbing a house; walking through your day thoughtfully can actually help you take things a day at a time.

Mornings (6-12) are for Praise — "in the morning songs of praise and thanksgiving can rise because God’s strength has gotten us through the night. The night didn’t win! We awake and see once again that God’s love hasn’t quit on us, and we ask that he will go with us and guide us into what awaits us." Let me hear in the morning of your steadfast love, for in you I trust. Make me know the way I should go, for to you I lift up my soul. (Psalm 143:8 ESV)

The Noon hours (12-6) are for Persevering in Wisdom. During these hours we are often in need of wisdom in work and with people to persevere through the “burden of the day and the noon day heat.” Often the wisdom with which we traverse the noon day will set a course for the remains of the day. By God’s grace, justice and righteousness will shine like the noonday sun. (cf. Ps. 37:6)

Evenings (6-10) are for Hospitality — "extending kindness and the protection of a peaceable presence to our neighbors … by enjoying the blessings of ordinary goodnesses.” This is done with friends or family. There is a breaking from the “work” of the day as we prepare our bodies to rest, enjoying all that God has to offer. (cf. Mark 6:35-41)

Night Watches (10-6) are for Solitude — "not simply being quiet or resting, but taking into the presence of God the very real thoughts, emotions, or questions of the day." Be angry, and do not sin; ponder in your own hearts on your beds, and be silent. …. In peace I will both lie down and sleep; for you alone, O LORD, make me dwell in safety. (Psalm 4:4,8 ESV)

This is obviously very abbreviated and perhaps you want to fill out your own “seasons of the day,” but there is beauty and practicality here for those who have eyes to see:

  1. There is a path through each day. We shall not be overwhelmed for we can take it one “watch” at a time.
  2. There is grace to be sought and grace to be dispensed throughout the day. As we look to God for joy, wisdom, strength, and love, we are mindful of the Holy Spirit and the power he so powerfully works in us.
  3. But there is grace too when we have “blown” one of the “seasons” of the day. A faithless morning can give way to a wise noon. A grumpy noon can be repented of as we gladly reach out to Christ again for evening hospitality. God’s grace is new, each morning, noon, evening, and night!
  4. Mark your days by pausing to pray, reflecting on the passing hours and bringing in the waiting hours, in the hope of the risen Christ.

Perhaps you have your own roadmap through the day. I am sure that I have a lot to learn from those who have been walking this road longer than I have. I would love to hear your wisdom!

Friday, July 29, 2016

Finding Life in Honesty

If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us. 1 John 1:8-10

There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death. Romans 8:1–2

I will start with the bad news first. There is no question about the presence of sin in every one of our lives. If we are honest with ourselves it is obvious. Sure, we can blame our parents or the environment around us. As we will see with Adam and Eve, we can even blame God if we want or turn a blind eye to the “bentness” of heart that produces sinful actions. But if we are honest and practice no deceit, the presence of sin is hard to miss. But here is the good news: the Gospel encourages honesty. Rightly acknowledging the presence of sin in our lives will not kill us. In fact, it is just the opposite: when we keep silent about our sin we waste away (cf. Ps. 32.) But in confession our God is “faithful and just to forgive.” “There is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” Praise be to him.

So as you prepare for worship this Lord’s Day and our initial reckoning with Genesis 3 and the Fall, I invite you pray in all honesty with me, that we might together find the grace of repentance.

Holy Father, whose eyes are too pure to look upon evil, who am I to deny the presence of sin in my life? Surely you see it. You see the annoyance and anger that so easily flashes when things don’t go “my way.” You see my wandering eyes, my greedy heart. If I were to maintain otherwise, I may deceive myself, but I would never deceive you. So rather than go the route of deceit, I would be honest today and throw myself on the mercies of the one who is faithful and just to forgive. I would be found in Christ, where there is no condemnation. What glorious promises you have given. Holy Spirit, strengthen my faith that I may believe. In the strong, sweet name of Jesus, Amen.

Friday, July 22, 2016

Still Resting?

Sabbath is a time to stop. To refrain from being seduced by our desires, to stop working, stop making money, stop spending money. See what you have. Look around. Listen to your life. Do you really need more than this?... You cannot buy “stopped.” You simply have to stop. —Wayne Muller, Sabbath.

I hope you have had good week and had a chance to string along some thoughts from this Sunday’s meditation on Sabbath. Through a creation-ordained, weekly rhythm we are invited to stop (rest and contemplate), shout (worship and delight), and share (mercy and community). Shouting, stopping and sharing don’t come naturally for any of us, but rather are gained through reliance on the Holy Spirit, a reliance born in faith. This is why for some, the Sabbath so embodies the heart of the Gospel (a free gift, received by faith). What a gift it must have been for the Israelites to be told by God in Exodus 20 that one day in seven there was to be a comprehensive, communal ceasing of labor. This was a slave nation who for 400+ years was not allowed to stop, who had to produce more at greater speed. But that is not our God, and it is not the gospel. God said, “Stop. Delight in me. Share with one another. Right the wrongs. Enjoy forgiveness. Eat the fat. Drink the sweet wine. Take a nap.”

So are you ready for Sabbath? It is right around the corner. Be thinking of it ahead of time. Long for it. Prepare for it. And then relish when it comes. Be assured that God will meet you there and transform you, which in itself is a great motive to embrace Sabbath.

But what if your Sabbath rhythms are messed up or you are working through baggage from the past or pressures in the present? As with anything, don’t let past failures stop you from making fresh starts. Lynne Baab, in her book Sabbath Keeping reminds us that, “The goal of Sabbath keeping is not to get it right the first time or even to get it right over time.” It is a gift. Received by faith and to be enjoyed in the weekly repetition, even as we long for the Eternal Sabbath!

Almighty God who, after the creation of the world, rested from all your works 
and set apart a day of rest for all your creatures, grant that I may put away all earthly anxieties, prepare me, Lord, to worship, grant that my Sabbath on earth 
may be a preparation for the eternal rest prepared for your people in heaven. 
Adaptation from the Book of Common Prayer

Friday, July 1, 2016

Our denomination just concluded a momentous week with actions that carry with them a range of emotions. Last week was the General Assembly (GA) for our denomination. For those of you new to Presbyterianism, GA is the “highest court” of the denomination, in which churches throughout the country gather and are represented by pastors and elders to conduct the business of the church. Reports from various agencies like Covenant College/Seminary, Mission to the World, Reformed University Ministries, etc… are made. Often these agencies have business that needs to be voted on by the body. Overtures are also considered. Overtures can come primarily from presbyteries asking the assembly to consider a course of action or statement.

Last year the assembly began a discussion of our denominational responsibility with regards to the sin of racism particularly from the civil rights era and how that has implications for today. Being in the north we do not confront this in exactly the same way that some of our churches in the south do. There are churches and schools connected to our denomination that supported various segregation practices and ideals. Beyond that, last year one of the remaining founding fathers of our denomination confessed that even for those who were not guilty of “sins of commission” the denomination and individual churches did almost nothing to fight racism. This of course, has implications for both those of the majority culture as well as those in minority cultures. To acknowledge these wrongs and their continuing impact on race relations in America the assembly adopted this overture:

Therefore be it resolved, that the 44th General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in America does recognize, confess, condemn and repent of corporate and historical sins, including those committed during the Civil Rights era, and continuing racial sins of ourselves and our fathers such as the segregation of worshipers by race; the exclusion of persons from Church membership on the basis of race; the exclusion of churches, or elders, from membership in the Presbyteries on the basis of race; the teaching that the Bible sanctions racial segregation and discourages inter-racial marriage; the participation in and defense of white supremacist organizations; and the failure to live out the gospel imperative that “love does no wrong to a neighbor” (Romans 13:10).

The overture is lengthy and you can read it in its entirety here. It goes on to call individual churches to make this known to their congregations, to commit these issues to prayer, and for individual Christians to examine their own hearts for racial attitudes that may need to be confessed, and to strive to pursue Christian love to all.

Just two comments. First, sometimes as majority folks in the north we can be a bit separated from the effects of our country’s racism. This assembly was a very significant moment for many of our southern churches and also for those in our denomination that are in the minority. In a pastoral letter associated with this overture, Christians are encouraged to learn about, pray, acknowledge, relate to the “other” and commit to living out humble, Gospel-filled lives with those around us, regardless of culture or ethnicity. One place to start is simply reading some of the responses from our brothers and sisters in the minority regarding this action. Here is a hopeful, but realistic piece from an African American leader in the PCA. This is a penetrating piece from another denomination leader highlighting how prevailing attitudes hurt the cause of the Gospel.

Second observation. Doesn’t this discussion bring us back to Genesis 1 and the image of God? If we properly grasp the image of God displayed throughout humanity, how can racially predjudiced attitudes survive? “Let us make man (humanity) in our own image,” God says. It is our privilege and responsibility to see that image in all people, regardless of race, culture, ideology, or creed and to seek to love them accordingly. We are after all, in the image God, both that He created and that Christ came to restore.

Friday, June 17, 2016

The Horns of a Dilemma

In the early hours of this past Sunday morning, a gunman opened fire at an Orlando nightclub and left a wake of destruction in his trail:  49 dead, 53 wounded, several critically.  It is undoubtedly one of the worst single shootings on American soil ever.

But response to this tragedy is complicated.  For starters it was perpetrated by a gunman claiming allegiance to the Islamic State and praising the efforts of the Boston Marathon bombers.  This touches into fears that many have regarding Islam, terrorism, militants, etc… Compounding the confusion of our natural empathy is the fact that the nightclub was made up of the “other.”  The victims were predominately Latino which is a culture that not all of us identify closely with.  More distancing yet, the nightclub was a gay establishment, a lifestyle that most of us don’t endorse.

So how do we respond in a Gospel-centered, God-honoring way?  How do we avoid political pandering and genuinely grieve for those suffering without feeling pressured to hold the rainbow flag in solidarity with the lost?

Can I suggest that best place to start is Genesis 1:26-27.  Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. … So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.” Here is the solid, Biblical footing that we need in order to authentically grieve without feeling the need to respond politically out of fear or shame.  What we find woven into the fabric of God’s world is that every single human being is created in the image of God, and as such deserves love, respect, compassion, empathy, etc…  This is true regardless of whether we agree with them ideologically or religiously; whether they speak our language, or if they even speak at all.  What God does by creating humanity in His own image, is create a being of inestimable worth, PERIOD.  This is why the response of those like Stephen Anderson, a pastor from Arizona, who claims that “the world is better off with 50 less pedophiles” and who refuses to see the shooting as a tragedy are so, so wrong.  One does not need to condone a homosexual lifestyle to grieve over the brutal ending of an image bearer of God.

Understanding what it means that we are image bearers of God is one of the most fundamental truths to be grasped for the Christian. So much of how we understand this world, particularly our responses in it, is drawn from the implications of this teaching that we must grapple with it at the deepest level possible.  After all, it is out of love for rebellious, recalcitrant image bearers that Christ gave his life.

Friday, June 10, 2016

Grace that is greater than ALL our sin!

Often when we think of grace setting us free, we think of drugs, debt, depression or other such despots.  Certainly the gospel does set us free from these and more. Included in that “more" are also less noticeable jailers, but jailers nonetheless, like judgmental thinking, irritability and pride. I invite you to read and reflect on the following from Jack Miller. Note the insidiousness of the latter jailers, which he terms Phariseeism. Note as well as the nature of grace to deliver us:

     The essential Pharisee is a person who is more aware of the sins of others than of his own and consequently feels superior to other human beings and judges them without first taking the beam out of his own eye (Luke 6:39ff). He also lacks a living hope. He does not expect grace to do much for himself or others.
     So we recovering Pharisees often find that we have collected in our mind's albums dark snapshots of people, ourselves, and finally of God and his grace. What is real in our minds are negative images of the resistance of non-Christians to the gospel, our own failed attempts at witnessing, and feelings of powerful self-condemnation at work beneath our proclaimed righteousness.
     But here our need makes us teachable. Grace, not sin, is the governing power in our lives, and therefore it stirs us to look at the way prayer and the promises can become the power source for bold ministry.

Praise God! “Grace, not sin, is the governing power in our lives”. It makes no difference whether we are a recovering Pharisee or battling gross immorality.  Grace is what we need. God’s grace is what delivers us. And it is grace that launches us into a "living hope" with prayer and the promises of God as fuel!

Friday, June 3, 2016

Enjoying God with Worship

Over the last few weeks we have been thinking through ways that we articulate/share the vision that God has given us for life in this world. So far we have said, Enlivened by the Gospel, We will Engage God’s World with Winsomeness and Embrace God’s family with Welcome. This week we come to the fourth and final “E”, namely, Enjoy God with Worship. Let’s break this down a bit.

What does the word worship conjure up for you? Sunday mornings? Images of hymnals and organs, guitars, drums, people seated in rows? Is it the music, the preaching, prayer? Is it solemn or joyful? How about all of the above, and more! Worship is the totality of how we live our lives before God as those enlivened by the Gospel. Worship shouts to the Lord in praise and adoration. Worship quietly and soberly reflects on the meaning of our days. Worship engages the marketplace through our occupations. Worship raises kids at home. Worship shares the good news with our neighbors. Worship tosses a ball in the yard or takes a walk in the woods. Worship wakes us up daily to be followers of Jesus in every aspect of life!

And it is important that it is God whom we worship. It is often said that you worship what you love. For some that may be money or cars, academic achievement or music, a spouse, our kids, popularity, power, you name it. Many of these are good things, but when they become ultimate things the worship becomes idolatry. God alone is worthy of our worship. Our fervent desire is that he is at the center of all that we do, both formally and informally as CC.

What is the result of a life filled with the worship of God? Joy! Joy does not mean an unmitigated happiness that never suffers, but rather it is a quality of spirit that is characterized by gratitude, contentment, and hope. Some of you are familiar with the Westminster Shorter Catechism Q. and A. #1 which asks after the chief end of humanity. The answer is that the chief end of humanity is to glorify God and enjoy him forever. Worship of our God with joy, delight, and pleasure, is why we were made and it is through the enlivening work of the Gospel that we experience the true joy that never fades. The Psalmist captures it well in Psalm 73 when he says, “Whom have I in heaven but you? And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you. My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever " (25-26).

Enlivened by the Gospel, We will Engage God’s World with Winsomeness, Embrace God’s family with Welcome, and Enjoy God with Worship. What a story we are in! What a God we serve! He gives us the dignity of service, a family to embrace, and a relationship to enjoy! It is good news worth sharing and a shape for life worth living.