Wednesday, March 30, 2011

As It Is Not Written

An Inkling
Lent always brings a spate of passion plays.  Have you seen one?  They can be both enjoyable and inspiring.
But I feel for the folks who portray Jesus.  No matter how able they are, few in the audience are satisfied with their inter­pretations of Jesus.  He’s always too wimpy, too spacey, too stiff, or too something.  It’s odd that we’d be so picky, since we have no description whatsoever of Jesus’ appearance.  In the early centuries of the church, artists depicted Jesus every which way.  It was several centuries into the church’s life before the standard artist’s conception that you’re thinking about emerged.
Why do the gospels not tell how Jesus looked?  Maybe for the same reason they don’t tell us what happened with him between the ages of twelve and thirty.  Nor do they give us much detail about his suffering on the cross.  (Can you imagine how cable news would have covered the crucifixion?!)  Nor do the gospels describe exactly what sort of body Jesus had after his resurrection, a body which could be touched, but which could appear and disappear.  What a long list of questions we could make about Jesus!
The story is told of John Calvin that he was once asked what God was doing before he made the earth.  Calvin’s reply was, “Making hell for people who ask questions like that!”  That was Calvin’s not so subtle way of saying that God tells us as much as we need to know to follow him, but not all we would like to know.  The serpent’s temptation to Eve and Adam was to seek to know all they would like to know (Gen 2:17, 3:4-5).
We’ll have to trust the portrayal of Jesus to the artists’ conception.  Let’s go with what we’ve got in the gospels:  a risen Savior and the faith he gives us.  That’s more than enough!

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

How Odd

An Inkling
Yes, we're odd.  We admit it.  We get excited about worship.  We talk about the presence of the Holy Spirit as if we really believed he were here.  We sing as if God himself were our audi­ence.  Tears come to our eyes as if we really had met Jesus.  How odd.
There's no denying it:  we're odd.  Our membership standards create no aura of exclusivity.  Wealthy, well-connected, beautiful people are welcome here.  But they're no more welcome than are the unemployed, addicts, and ex-cons.  That's because our only membership standard is repentant faith in Jesus Christ.  How odd.
We're odd:  we give money away.  All around us people are concerned (including us) about the shaky economy.  And yet when it comes to our family of faith, we're looking for ways to give more away, both as individuals and as a church.  As a church we're seeking to manage so well the parts of our budget that go toward what we can see (the physical plant, etc) that we can put more and more toward mission and ministry (results of which we often cannot see).  How odd.
Our oddity extends yet further:  we are people of commit­ment.  In a day of radical individualism, a day when people avoid most commitments and break the commitments they find inconvenient, we make commitments, and by God's grace, keep them.  We know no love but love with commitment.  How odd.
How odd?  We're a bit odd, and becoming odder.  That's because Jesus is very odd, and we're becoming like him.  Those who know him won't find that so odd.  Indeed...
The odds are in our favor,

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

God's Highlighter

An Inkling
I’m writing this on Tuesday.  I don’t believe much differently than I did last Tuesday.  But in the meantime God took his highlighter to some of my beliefs.
We awakened Friday to learn about the huge earthquake and tsunami in Japan.  Our middle daughter, Dorothy, and her husband, Brandon, live on the Atsugi Naval base, just south of Tokyo.  So naturally we were concerned.  Thankfully Brandon had already posted on Facebook that they were both okay. 
But there was more to the story.  When the earth quaked Dorothy and a friend were an hour from home, up in the mountains at a spa.  The quake shook the building, rocking its columns, but it stood fast.  But then they didn’t know what to do.  They heard announcements – in Japanese, but they found no one to interpret.  They gathered that the train which had brought them there was not running.  They also discovered that they were out of cell phone contact with the base.  So they were alone and afraid.  Then, amazingly, a retired naval officer and his wife, who had driven to the same spa, appeared out of nowhere and offered them a ride back to the base.  The wife, who is Japanese, could understand the tsunami warnings, and so they steered away from the coast, using her iPhone to map a course on the back roads.  Between their roundabout course and some mudslides, it took them ten hours to get home.  But home they got!
As I said, I don’t believe differently than I did a week ago.  But through this event God has highlighted some his truth and promises, such as:
  • That which looks solid is really not.  Only the Lord is beyond quaking.
  • Life is fragile.  Thus the joy of knowing that our life in Christ is beyond shaking.
  • The Lord is endlessly resourceful in caring for his children.  (How about a retired Navy guy and his Japanese wife with a car!)
  • We must trust our loved ones to the care of the One whose arms are both longer and stronger than ours.
  • Even so, it is well to pray for God’s blessing and protection for our loved ones.  You never know how God might use your prayers.
  • And finally, watching the horrid images of the destruction, I can say ever more certainly that our world needs a Savior.
In the scripture God has given us all sorts of amazing promises and enlightening truths.  But he didn’t just publish them once long ago and then move on to other things.  Rather, through the various events of our lives, he highlights them in ever new ways.  And so this week the Lord’s power, goodness, and grace has been highlighted for me. 
Thank you Lord!  What’s he highlighting for you?

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Lent Indeed

An Inkling
Lent begins this week.  Last week I encouraged you to think ahead, and specifically to think about what you might give up for Lent.  I have a further suggestion:  don’t just lay something aside, take something up.  Disciplines of abstinence are well balanced with disciplines of engagement.  (If you’re interested in the rationale, check out Dallas Willard in The Spirit of the Disciplines.  He’s a profound thinker on disciplines.)  How can you take something up?  Through such disciplines as study, service, or memorization.
First study.  Study is a discipline through which we enrich our understanding.  You can  do so with a Lenten focus.  Here are three books with Lenten themes:  The Cross of Christ, by John Stott; The Cost of Discipleship, by Dietrich Bonhoeffer; and Not the Way It’s Supposed to Be, by Cornelius Plantinga.  The titles of the first two make their topics obvious.  The third is a profound reflection on the nature of sin, and yet is uplifting.  Any of the three would be a good read for the seven weeks of Lent.
Another possibility is service.  We all serve in various ways.  But what special regimen might you take up for Lent?  Here are some ideas: 
§       a weekly visit a near-by nursing home, and focus on the residents that the nurses tell you get no other visits
§       walk your neighborhood once a week picking up trash
§       write a weekly note of encouragement to someone – anyone
§       bake some bread and take it to a neighbor
You get the idea.  What form of service would work for you?
And the third possibility for engagement is memorizing scripture.  Dallas Willard touts the importance of this neglected discipline.  Because it’s one I’ve neglected, and because it’s one that my mind resists, this is the discipline I’m taking up for Lent.
Specifically, I’m memorizing John 14.  These were Jesus’ words to his disciples on his last night with them.  They are more than fitting for Lent.  Might you join me?  Thirty-one verses spread over seven weeks is certainly doable.  And what better words to sink into one’s heart? 
What might God do in us as we’re postured in readiness for his work through such Lenten disciplines?  He knows, and we’ll find out!  But we already know it will be good.  Which might you take up?

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Tilting Toward Lent

An Inkling
We’re still a week out from the season of Lent.  So you have several more days for your Mardi Gras revelry.  But I’d like to prompt you this week to think ahead about how you might be engaged with a Lenten discipline this year. 
You know the routine:  people typically give up something for Lent – sweets, red meat, chocolate, or some such.  Why?  For some it’s just a ritual.  But there are good reasons for Lent being associated with some form of fasting.
Lent is the season when we give special attention to the gospel’s claims upon us.  The gospel promises are still in effect; the gospel’s grace is still to be celebrated.  But during Lent we focus on the gospel’s total claim upon us.  And that means that we give special scrutiny to anything that distracts our attention and divides our loyalty.  To act on our readiness to be focused on our highest calling, we then set aside something that we really like, or even crave.  In that discipline of fasting we then find our focus on what’s most important revived – and just in time for the highpoint of our gospel celebrations:  Easter.
So how do you decide what you’ll set aside?  The traditional cravings are good ones:  sweets, chocolate, etc.  But think more broadly about what you crave.  Because we usually have ready access to all that we crave, we don’t even recognize our cravings.  So think about what agitates you most when it’s removed.  When the electricity is out, or when you’re on a trip that disrupts your ordinary patterns, what most puts you in a grump?  That which you most miss is a good candidate for your Lenten fast.
Here are some possibilities – the sorts of things that many of us are really attached to:  Facebook, high falutin’ coffee, Fox News (or MSNBC, depending on your politics), a talk show, web surfing, ESPN Sports Center, fine wine, a soap opera, a sit-com, NCIS or Bones or Glee (the top three shows these days), Twitter, Diet Coke, or… you fill in the blank.  What agitates you most when it’s missing?
As they say, “Preacher, now you quit preachin’ and gone to meddlin’!”  Yep.  Sort out one or more of those meddlesome possibilities as the right one for you this Lent.  I’ll be doing the same.
And next week I’ll have another suggestion for us to take up together for Lent.