Sunday, January 31, 2010

KIDS CAMP MISHAP



This is a true story that happened to one of the board members at my church.

One day Bill was at home installing ceramic tile on his basement floor and steps.  Brenda called down the stairs to say that their daughter Bree was on the phone and needed to speak to her dad.  Since he was in the middle of tiling, it was inconvenient to stop, clean up and go speak on the phone.  But since it was his daughter and it sounded urgent, he came upstairs and took the phone.

His daughter is a paramedic and told him about a serious situation she had responded to that day.  The call came on the radio dispatching her medical team to a kid’s camp several miles out of the city.  They hurried there with sirens screaming and lights flashing.

Upon entering the campgrounds, they were directed to a group of people next to a sports field.  Two kids were on the ground with obvious injuries and bleeding.

Bree began examining one of the kids and asked him what had happened.

“We were playing a game when we got hurt.”

“What game was that?”

“We were playing Red Rover.” 

(For those who don’t know, Red Rover is a game where two teams line up on opposite sides from each other with hands linked.  The team decides who to call over from the other team.  That person then races across and tries to break through the line of joined hands.  If they succeed in breaking through, they return to their own team.  If they cannot break through, they must join the team they failed to conquer.)

So Bree listened and continued her examination.  She pulled out her penlight and aimed into the kid’s eyes looking for signs of brain injury.  As she shone the light, she told the young boy, “Follow the light with your eyes.”

“What are you talking about?” was the reply

“Do you know where you are?  This is CNIB camp for blind kids.”

I do not know which is funnier; that Bree did not realize her patient was blind or that blind kids were playing Red Rover.  Surprises for everybody.


Friday, January 29, 2010

TALITHA KOUM





Mark 5:
 35While Jesus was still speaking, some men came from the house of Jairus, the synagogue ruler. "Your daughter is dead," they said. "Why bother the teacher anymore?"
 36Ignoring what they said, Jesus told the synagogue ruler, "Don't be afraid; just believe."
 37He did not let anyone follow him except Peter, James and John the brother of James. 38When they came to the home of the synagogue ruler, Jesus saw a commotion, with people crying and wailing loudly. 39He went in and said to them, "Why all this commotion and wailing? The child is not dead but asleep." 40But they laughed at him.
      After he put them all out, he took the child's father and mother and the disciples who were with him, and went in where the child was. 41He took her by the hand and said to her, "Talitha koum!" (Which means, "Little girl, I say to you, get up!”). 42Immediately the girl stood up and walked around (she was twelve years old). At this they were completely astonished. 43He gave strict orders not to let anyone know about this, and told them to give her something to eat.


Jesus knew how to respond to this chilling news of the girl’s death.  Rather than leaving Jairus to sort it out alone, he reassured him to keep trusting.  Now Jesus thinned out the crowd and continued to journey to the home of Jairus.

As the family and neighbors faced this crisis, Jesus tells them the girl is sleeping.  In shock at this awkward commentary, they laughed at him.  Not willing to showboat this opportunity, he takes the father and mother and a few disciples in to where the girl lay.  He raised her from the dead and told them to give her some food.

He gave strict orders not let anyone know what had just happened.  This miracle of the Kingdom was a gift to the family, not a media event to gain popularity from. 

In a surprising twist, the delay led to a greater miracle.  The Kingdom of God has many such twists and delays, but in the end the true nature of the King is revealed.

Have you faced situations which appeared impossible?  Jairus had to reach out beyond his social comfort to find an answer in Jesus.  The unclean woman had to break the law to reach out to Jesus.  How have you had to reach out past normal in seeking God’s help?


2.       The woman believed superstitiously that touching a holy man’s garment would heal her.  While this was not accurate, Jesus accepted her faith and responded with healing.  First the healing, then the clarifying of truth.  Does God still respond to faith when people practice superstition in search of answers?

3.       Jesus was not afraid to leave the needs of the crowd to deal with an individual.  We often assume the needs of the many are greater than the needs of the few.  What does this say about how we should focus our ministry?

4.       When you are faced with delays and ongoing need, what can you do to remain in faith?



Wednesday, January 27, 2010

WAITING TO BE HEALED





Everyone has reasons for reaching out to Jesus.  Here is a story of two people in need and how delays were part of their narrative.

Jairus - The Desperate Religious Leader


Mark 5:
21When Jesus had again crossed over by boat to the other side of the lake, a large crowd gathered around him while he was by the lake.22Then one of the synagogue rulers, named Jairus, came there. Seeing Jesus, he fell at his feet 23and pleaded earnestly with him, "My little daughter is dying. Please come and put your hands on her so that she will be healed and live." 24So Jesus went with him.

Jairus is a father with a sick 12 year old.  His daughter was at home dying and this father reached out to Jesus.  As a synagogue leader, he was respected in the community.  His actions were sure to be noticed by those who looked up to him.

Jesus was notoriously scrutinized by religious leaders and often faced severe opposition.  But Jairus was a desperate man with no other answers to the deathbed dilemma of his daughter.  He came before Jesus and dropped to the ground pleading at his feet.  Jesus agreed to come to the girl and heal her.

The Desperate Outcast


Mark 5:
A large crowd followed and pressed around him. 25And a woman was there who had been subject to bleeding for twelve years. 26She had suffered a great deal under the care of many doctors and had spent all she had, yet instead of getting better she grew worse. 27When she heard about Jesus, she came up behind him in the crowd and touched his cloak, 28because she thought, "If I just touch his clothes, I will be healed." 29Immediately her bleeding stopped and she felt in her body that she was freed from her suffering.
 30At once Jesus realized that power had gone out from him. He turned around in the crowd and asked, "Who touched my clothes?"
 31"You see the people crowding against you," his disciples answered, "and yet you can ask, 'Who touched me?' "
 32But Jesus kept looking around to see who had done it. 33Then the woman, knowing what had happened to her, came and fell at his feet and, trembling with fear, told him the whole truth. 34He said to her, "Daughter, your faith has healed you. Go in peace and be freed from your suffering."

In contrast the Jairus, the respected religious leader we meet a woman who had been diseased for twelve years. 

Because of her condition, this woman was continuously unclean according to Leviticus 15:25-31.  She could not go to the temple to worship. She could not touch anyone or they would be unclean for the rest of the day. If she sat in a chair, it was unclean for the rest of the day, etc. So she was basically cut off from normal fellowship with others and with God.[i]

Consider the contrasts.  A 12 year old girl and a woman who had suffered 12 years…  A respectable Jewish leader and an unclean outcast… imminent death and lengthy suffering… an insider and an outsider…

The woman interrupted Jesus journey to heal the young girl.  Perhaps Jairus felt frustrated by this awkward delay.  It appeared that Jesus was not single-mindedly rushing to heal his daughter.  This unclean woman appeared to matter more at the moment.

Superstition said that power was in the robe of a great man, priest, rabbi, etc. Her belief was that touching the fabric would make her well. In fact, when she did touch His garment, she was healed.  Jesus was aware of the fact that a miracle had taken place. Was she healed by touching his garment? Was it the garment that healed her? No, Jesus felt the power flow from Him. Mark wants to distinguish between the fabric and her faith in Him.[ii]

In order for her to reach out and touch Jesus’ garment, she would have broken Jewish law which forbade an unclean person from physical contact with a clean person.  Her touch was considered defiling. 

In desperate times, people will break conventional wisdom and rules to get help.  Jairus reached out to Jesus in spite of the controversial nature of doing so.  This woman broke religious law and superstitiously touched his garment.

Jesus responded to the woman’s unorthodoxy with a healing, saving response.  He did not demand that she get the facts straight before he would act.  He responded to her faith and healed her.

Monday, January 25, 2010

HOW PEST CONTROL TAUGHT US ABOUT WAITING ON GOD



 

When we are delayed, we are tempted to question whether God or life is fair.  We have an expectation of some need being met and think a good God should respond like a mother to a baby’s cry.  We also believe that doing the right things will lead to predictable outcomes.

In the summer of 1996, we put in an offer on our church building here at 993 Drouillard Road.  The church had begun holding services in 1994 in rented spaces and we felt the need for a permanent setting to work out of.  The old bar was listed at approximately $150,000 and included enough room and parking to house our needs.  For the budget we were working with, we had not found anything close to what this property offered.  We had viewed a dozen properties over many months and there were always setbacks to having our offer accepted.

When it came to this property, we had a confidence that we should buy it.  On the Sunday morning that we talked with the congregation about it, we were comparing two properties.  The other was on the West End near the University. 

One after another, people stood to comment.  They shared meaningful experiences that had happened in this neighbourhood.  Close to half of the crowd had visited the property as a bar in years gone by.  One girl was a bartender here.  Another man had been barred for life from attending this bar due to his history.  A couple talked with tears in their eyes about delivering Christmas hampers as an outreach of a former church they attended.  Story after story confirmed that God was speaking to us about moving here.

A decision was reached to present an offer to the real estate company.  On the day before our offer was to go in, someone else placed an offer and it was accepted.

We were stunned and crestfallen.  We were sure that we were heading in the right direction.

Steve Fox, a founding member spoke a word of wisdom to us at that time.  “If that is the property we are supposed to have, it will come back to us.”  

As the leadership team pondered what to do next, we reached a decision to approach the new owner and see if he would sell it to us.

Mr. Qaqish had bought the property with half a plan to rent out rooms upstairs and use the hall as a rental space.  He had purchased it for $145,000 and made a few minor repairs.

After some conversations, he said he would sell it to us for $206,000.  At first we were hesitant.  We were prepared to purchase it when it was on the market at a cheaper price.  We were questioning why we should pay more if God had led us to it.  After some deliberation, we agreed to present him with a conditional offer for the amount he was asking.

The property became ours in February 1997 and we began using it in March.  So what was the delay about?

The answer came when we called in a pest control company.  During construction we had discovered dead cockroaches and wanted to make sure we were not going to be re-infested.  The pest controller told us that this property had one of the worst infestations he had ever seen in the city.  During our major construction, we had removed 40 large dumpsters of rubble and junk.  We were putting up newly constructed walls and floors.

The pest controller asked if the heat had been off through the winter.  The interim owner had the heat off because the building was uninhabited.  The coldness had annihilated the roach population and our new construction had removed much of their former hiding places.

The $60,000 delay had inadvertently destroyed a major pest problem that would have had a negative effect on the hospitality and housing our building was to provide. 

The delay was used by God to build our trust in His ability to provide.  God’s timing on the project did not coincide with our wishes, but we continued to reach out to our Provider.

How long will we wait for an answer when we reach out to God?

G. Campbell Morgan said this:
Waiting for God is not laziness. Waiting for God is not going to sleep. Waiting for God is not the abandonment of effort.  Waiting for God means, first, activity under command; second, readiness for any new command that may come; third, the ability to do nothing until the command is given.[i]

Saturday, January 23, 2010

HOPE FOR DAMAGED LIVES





Luke 13:
 6 Then he told this parable: "A man had a fig tree, planted in his vineyard, and he went to look for fruit on it, but did not find any. 7 So he said to the man who took care of the vineyard, 'For three years now I've been coming to look for fruit on this fig tree and haven't found any. Cut it down! Why should it use up the soil?'
 8 " 'Sir,' the man replied, 'leave it alone for one more year, and I'll dig around it and fertilize it. 9 If it bears fruit next year, fine! If not, then cut it down.' "

The fig tree is a symbol of the nation of Israel.  Jesus used parable to say that their concept of God was not working.  Instead of producing the outcomes expected, Israel was barren.  The glory of God was not clearly visible in His people.  There was no fruit as evidence of God’s life working in them.

In agrarian societies, plants that will not yield are removed.  Jesus reveals something about God’s heart towards Israel’s barrenness.  God is not willing to give up easily.  Like the farmer giving another year to see if the fig tree will be fruitful, God works and waits patiently for a harvest.  If destruction is inevitable, God’s heart is to wait.

This view of Jesus is opposite to the harsh, judgmental view of an arbitrary God.  An arbitrary God would not delay, but impulsively punish and destroy all who fail.  The earthquake in Haiti led to the deaths of both saints and sinners.  Whether tragedies are acts of God or something else, does not change the essential goodness and redeeming heart of God.  He continues to work on fruitless trees and hardened hearts.  Isaiah saw it and wrote in hope.

Isaiah 42:
1 "Here is my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen one in whom I delight; I will put my Spirit on him and he will bring justice to the nations.
 2 He will not shout or cry out, or raise his voice in the streets.
 3 A bruised reed he will not break, and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out.  In faithfulness he will bring forth justice;
 4 he will not falter or be discouraged till he establishes justice on earth.  In his law the islands will put their hope."
 5 This is what God the LORD says— he who created the heavens and stretched them out, who spread out the earth and all that comes out of it, who gives breath to its people, and life to those who walk on it:
 6 "I, the LORD, have called you in righteousness; I will take hold of your hand.  I will keep you and will make you to be a covenant for the people and a light for the Gentiles,
 7 to open eyes that are blind, to free captives from prison and to release from the dungeon those who sit in darkness.
 8 "I am the LORD; that is my name!  I will not give my glory to another or my praise to idols.
 9 See, the former things have taken place, and new things I declare; before they spring into being I announce them to you."

Thursday, January 21, 2010

GOD'S EYE IN THE STORM





What about God’s responsibility?  Is he in the background deciding which disaster to roll out next?  The big question is whether God is arbitrary?  Does He act impulsively or on whims?  Is God moody and subject to uncontrolled outbursts?  If He bears ultimately responsibility for hurricanes and such, does that make God evil?

In the series ‘Transforming Christian Theology For Church and Society’ [i], the question was posed to a diverse group of theologians:  “Is God as arbitrary as life?”

John Thatamanil of Vanderbilt Divinity School answered in this way:

God is concerned with a variety of creatures, all of which are part of God’s creation; some of which would like to eat me.  Viruses are a part of God’s Creation and apparently there are entire galaxies which are exploding and colliding with each other.  There is destruction in Creation on a scale I cannot imagine.  If God is the God of all of that, then surely God is going to look arbitrary to me.  But if God is also understood as the one who generates and is something like the furnace or the energy source for the whole of this dynamic, active creation then arbitrary might not be the right word.  It just may be that we have not learned to think on a scale that’s large enough and deep enough to account for the mystery.[ii]

The challenge for us in the face of tragedy is to think larger and deeper about God.  The cosmos is filled with life and death.  As the Creator, God has a larger picture than we can comprehend.  This may not be the first thought of Haitians in the face of incredible loss, but points to our limitation.  We allow suffering and grief to sum up the heart of God towards humanity. 

If we look deeper, we find the mystery of God entering humanity through the gate of suffering.  Jesus came as the Suffering Servant and Sacrificial Lamb before He became our Resurrection King. 

As the old order crashes painfully into history, Jesus is leading Creation into the new order of the Kingdom.  The failed, broken system is crashing horribly.  The earth is groaning and shaking as a sign of our need for God.  Haiti will one day be brought into the perfection of the Kingdom of God.  Until that day when God sets the world aright, we pass along the prophetic glimpses of a new, coming reality.

Is God arbitrary?  Or is God working in ways beyond our comprehension?

Tom Reynolds at the University of Toronto answers the question “Is God as arbitrary as life?”

That question can be seen in a variety of ways.  Arbitrary, meaning bad things happen and so, God is behind bad things in all cases.  There’s an overarching determinative force, an all powerful God who controls and determines.  Or arbitrary can mean that God is so distant.  God does not care for what is going on.  The suffering and injustice and tragic events like tsunamis and hurricanes are not even a part of God’s attention.  For me, in my thinking about suffering and tragedy in the world, God is right in the heart of it; opening future in the midst of tragedy so new possibilities can be reborn.  God is both here and also a future that calls us into greater moments.  In the example of suffering from a broken past (slavery, injustice to American Indians, injustice in situations of poverty), these are not the final word of life but openings to future with transformative relation.  God is a life force at work propelling history in redemptive directions of holistic healing, new beginnings and the possibility of failure.[iii]

When Jesus calls for repentance, it is in recognition of the messy work at hand.  The old building must be flattened before the new can be built.  All creatures will die before the Kingdom comes fully.  Do not be shocked by death.  We all stand in line for that inevitability.  Instead of staying focused on what is ending, look to the future God is revealing.

We will all mourn at our losses and the death of others.  Let us mourn with the awareness that God is not arbitrary.  He is moving us toward unlimited joy in the new morning.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

HAITI'S DEAL WITH THE DEVIL




Around the world, worshippers are gathering with Haiti on their minds.  Many have questions about God in the face of such devastating human tragedy.  From a distance, it is easy to form opinions that do nothing to relieve a suffering nation.  It is more helpful to pray, to give toward relief efforts and to consider going to help. [i] 


Haiti’s Interior minister Paul Antoine Bien-Aime said, "We have already collected around 50,000 dead bodies.  We anticipate there will be between 100,000 and 200,000 dead in total, although we will never know the exact number." [ii]

The Telegraph Media Group reported:

If that casualty count is confirmed, it would make Tuesday's 7.0 magnitude earthquake one of the ten deadliest on record. The death toll would also rival that of the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami, which claimed roughly 250,000 lives. However, officials with knowledge of both incidents said the Haitian disaster - which hit a country already barely functional - posed an infinitely tougher relief challenge.
"This is a historic disaster," said UN spokesman Elisabeth Byrs, whose own organization has lost 36 local staff in the earthquake. "We have never been confronted with such a disaster in the UN memory. It is like no other."[iii]

As Christians, what should be our understanding of why these tragedies happen?  Insurance companies call these ‘acts of God’.  The question is what part God has in these events.

There are some who believe that God is acting out in judgment on sinners.  Pat Robertson, the face of Christian Broadcasting Network was quick to voice his opinion.

"Something happened a long time ago in Haiti, and people might not want to talk about it," Robertson said. "They were under the heel of the French ... and they got together and swore a pact to the devil. They said, 'We will serve you if you'll get us free from the French.'"

"True story," he continued. "And the devil said, 'OK, it's a deal.' Ever since, they have been cursed by one thing after another." [iv] 


Pat Robertson’s remarks appear to be rooted in Haitian mythology about its own history.  Whether there was a deal with the devil or not, the question is whether Haiti is uniquely cursed by God for the sins of its ancestors.

Jesus encountered the same attitude in his day.  It was common for the populace to view tragedy as God’s judgment.

Luke 13:
1 Now there were some present at that time who told Jesus about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mixed with their sacrifices. 2 Jesus answered, "Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans because they suffered this way? 3 I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish. 4 Or those eighteen who died when the tower in Siloam fell on them—do you think they were more guilty than all the others living in Jerusalem? 5 I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish."

Every generation experiences tragedy and thinks about what it means.  Jesus highlights a couple current events that people had knowledge of. 

In the one case, Pilate had some Galileans put to death and then mixed their blood in with the Temple sacrifices at Jerusalem.  This was an unholy action against the religion of the Jews.  As discussions ensued on the street and in the synagogues, it would be commonly believed that these people got what they deserved.  They must have been especially bad sinners to die in such a controversial way.

In the second case, eighteen people died from the collapse of a tower.  Again, the logic of the day suggested that they were being judged by God for being especially sinful, more so than the average Jew.

Jesus challenges the inclination to blame the people whose lives ended tragically.  He asks if they really believe the victims were any more sinful than they themselves are.  At the heart of blaming tragedy on its victims lies a dark fear. 

“God is out looking for people to punish.  Live right or you might be the next to die horribly.”

Jesus challenges their thinking.  Were the victims really more sinful or could the same thing happen to anyone?  According to Jesus, they were living with a false sense of security.  Death and tragedy are inevitable.  He calls for repentance as opposed to waiting for the next tower to fall. 

He points them to a far greater tragedy, the loss of their soul.  Even if a person lives a peaceful life without a major disaster, they can go to the grave without turning to God.  That is the tsunami that can obliterate the whole world.  Turning to God now is a human responsibility.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

CHANGE OF HEART





Luke 5:
 36 He told them this parable: "No one tears a patch from a new garment and sews it on an old one. If he does, he will have torn the new garment, and the patch from the new will not match the old. 37 And no one pours new wine into old wineskins. If he does, the new wine will burst the skins, the wine will run out and the wineskins will be ruined. 38 No, new wine must be poured into new wineskins. 39 And no one after drinking old wine wants the new, for he says, 'The old is better.' "

The patching of a torn garment implies that the old robe is ready to be replaced, but it is more economical to patch it and keep using it. 

Jesus is calling for an emptying of their closet which will result in a trip to the dump.  Get rid of the old rags and pay the price of being covered by something new. 

Jesus is like a new piece of cloth. No seamstress worth her salt would take a new piece of cloth and patch it onto an old garment. Such a match produces two problems. The new cloth will tear the old, and the pieces of material will not match. There is irony here: the patch that is supposed to fix the garment would end up ruining both. This new era Jesus brings simply cannot be wed to the old practices. It is new and requires new ways.[i]

Religion often has a preferred past to hold onto.  It was easier and more predictable to keep things the same.

Jesus wants the Jews to understand that their understanding and experience of God is like an old garment that needs repair.  They fast and pray constantly because there is a gaping hole in their religion.  But, Jesus is not in the same frame of mind as his critics.  He has a new way of thinking and it is not compatible with their way.

Hence, the ‘new wine/old skin’ analogy.  New wine was put into a goat skin.  As the fermentation took place, the wine expanded and stretched the wineskin.  If you put new wine into a skin that was already stretched, you would have a problem with containment.  Eventually the new wine would cause a rupture and the wine would be lost.

Jesus was bringing a new, expanding truth that could not be contained by an old religious mindset.  If Jesus were confined to the stretched containment of Judaism, there would be a rupture.  His ministry demanded a new wineskin.  Containment of His truth would require a larger capacity for love and truth than religion could provide. 

In many ways the book of Acts is the historical outworking of this point. The gospel is a new way, so the practices of Judaism cannot contain it. This is why Luke will later call Jesus a prophet like Moses.  Jesus, like Moses, is the leader-prophet of a freshly formed community of God, revealing the new ways the new movement requires.[ii]

Just as there is a religious tendency to favor the ancient over the new, plenty of Israel’s leadership preferred the ancient brew over the newer wine.

And the Point Is?


Jesus calls his followers to appropriateness.  The gospel is expansive and will stretch your mind and heart to new limits.  It is appropriate for you to behave differently than the codified norms established by others. 

After all, God is at work to conform you to the image of His Son Jesus.  How is that measurable and typical?  Jesus was not entirely measurable, nor typical.  He was new. 

While we sometimes get caught up in the discomfort of how things change, it’s not about our comfort.  The gospel is about our capacity to contain God’s Love.  To be stretched to the limit is a by-product of God’s Spirit dwelling in you.

When the believers in the Upper Room were filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke in tongues, the religious observers assumed that they were filled with alcohol.    Instead of seeing the truth of God’s intimacy in the lives of these new believers, they saw negatives. 

New is threatening to some.  New requires that you remain teachable and adaptable.  New needs to be tested and approved.

Old is safe.  Old allows you to master and to memorize.  Old is viewed as synonymous with mature. 

Do not be surprised when you encounter followers of Jesus who think and act in ways that are unlike you.  God is at work in them.  The Kingdom of God is expanding in new wineskins.  Are you stretched and old or are you being renewed day by day to expand your capacity for God’s Love?

Friday, January 15, 2010

RAISED EYEBROWS AND EXTRA CAUTION





After Jesus invited Levi the tax collector to join his team, he was met with raised eyebrows and extra caution.  The Pharisees and teachers of the Law could not understand why Jesus and company surrounded themselves with the unrighteous and sinners.

A quick study of Jesus and his disciples lacked the appropriate behaviour expected of religious leaders. 

Luke 5:
 33 They said to him, "John's disciples often fast and pray, and so do the disciples of the Pharisees, but yours go on eating and drinking."
 34 Jesus answered, "Can you make the guests of the bridegroom fast while he is with them? 35 But the time will come when the bridegroom will be taken from them; in those days they will fast."

“Genuine, religious people fast and pray.  They wear sackcloth and put ashes on their head regularly.  With the terrible problems facing the nation why are you always having a good time?  You should be on your knees!  Your disciples do not behave like those who follow John the Baptist, nor do they behave or look like our students.  Don’t you understand that the real leaders are more fervent than you?”

Jesus’ response came out of relationship, not conformity.  The disciples were with Him, so why would they need to fast to get closer to Him?  To be with Jesus was an experience of enjoyable relationship, not deep ponderous solitude!  You do not go to a wedding feast and announce to everyone that you are fasting.  That is inappropriate.

The Pharisees believed their practices set a higher standard.

The ancient practice of fasting had a rich heritage in Judaism. It was a highly regarded act of worship. The Day of Atonement was celebrated with a fast.  A four-day fast commemorated the fall of Jerusalem.  Fasts could be acts of penitence or could be associated with mourning.  Pharisees fasted twice a week, on Monday and Thursday.  Fasts are serious expressions of worship.[i]

It is a religious temptation to take an intense experience or sacrificial act and turn it into a measureable routine to judge yourself and others by.  

Jesus questions the very basis of their appropriateness.  What is appropriate?  It is not appropriate for Jesus and his followers to pattern themselves after others.  Jesus’ teaching and ministry is beyond the scope of all others.  How can it be appropriate to settle for a lower standard?

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

FERVENCY FAILURE




This year I am coming up on twenty-five years of working full-time in churches.  I think I might stay with it.  It has failed to bore me.

My Bible College internship consisted of spending three weeks shadowing the staff of a church with several hundred adherents.  Through spending time observing and participating in various activities and ministries of the church, I was expected to gain insight into the inner workings of pastoral life and the leadership required to lead a congregation—in three short weeks.

Fortunately now, internships last three months instead of three weeks.  Today’s student at my alma mater ‘Eastern Pentecostal Bible College’[i] also have the advantage of ongoing mentoring from area pastors. 

My time at the large church was interesting and challenging, nonetheless. 

I especially remember the youth pastor coaching me in his office.  In one of our sessions, he said, “Kevin, I noticed when you led in prayer at the young adults meeting, you weren’t fervent enough.  You need to be more fervent when you lead in prayer.”

I was taken aback and offended.  It felt as if prayer was a performance and I did not possess the emotional swagger to convince God or the people listening.  I felt as if that pastor was missing the point.

Sometimes people have standards and measurements for approval that have nothing to do with God.  Godliness and religious conformity are treated synonymously. 

You have the pastor who insists that a business dress code for church is biblical.  You have the churchgoer who believes that only born-again believers should be allowed to sweep the floor or fix the roof.  You have parents who believe it is the Christian school that will save their children from the corrupting influences of the public school system.  You have the amateur doctors of doctrine who will only speak with you if you score 100% on the pop quiz of fundamental beliefs.

Each is entirely convinced and ready to prove you wrong if you believe otherwise. 



[i] Now called Master’s College And Seminary www.mcs.edu

Monday, January 11, 2010

THE MANGER THRONE




‘Greensleeves’ is an old English folk tune first published in 1652.  Throughout history there have been many lyrics attached to this beautiful haunting melody.

In Shakespeare’s time, he mentions the song in ‘The Merry Wives of Windsor’.  It was played while traitors were hung.  It was a song associated with drinking in the pubs.

In 1865 Englishman William Chatterton Dix wrote "The Manger Throne," three verses of which became "What Child Is This?" In the era while Dix was writing hymns and raising a family, Christmas was not the celebration it is today. Neither was it a season where many openly celebrated the birth of Christ. Conservative Christian churches forbade gift-giving, decorating, or even acknowledging the day. These Puritan groups feared that if set aside as a special day, Christmas would become a day of pagan rituals more than a very serious time of worship. In this context, it was unusual for Dix to feel moved to write about Christ's birth, since many hymn writers of the period ignored Christmas altogether.[i]

In this powerful hymn, Dix covered the life of Jesus from birth to resurrection and makes powerful statements about the Divinity of Christ.  He writes as a seeker asking questions, imagining visitors at the manger pondering this unusual birth. 

William Dix took a drinking song with a variety of irreligious themes and used it to proclaim Jesus to the world.  He wrote the song at a time when the church avoided anything that might suggest a celebration of the Christmas holiday.

Like the Lord Himself, the song raised questions and challenged religious fears.

This... this is Christ the King.  He is the song of men and angels.  In His Name we will sing songs of justice and mercy.  He is the only One we celebrate.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

WENCESLAS


 


So many Christmas hymns speak of the justice and mercy that the King of Kings is initiating in human history.  There are also songs which tell stories of inspired humanity acting in Christ-like ways.  ‘Good King Wenceslas’ is a legendary Christmas song inspired by an actual historical figure in what is now called the Czech Republic.

King Ratislav and Queen Drahomira had their son Wenceslas raised by his paternal grandmother Ludmila.  This arrangement allowed them to remain focused on the matters of state.  It also provided an environment where Wenceslas learned of Jesus from his grandmother.

When Wenceslas was 13 years old, his father Ratislav was killed in battle.  His mother Drahomira became the ruler.  She had always been a private, practicing pagan and her ascent to the throne gave her opportunity to promote paganism and persecute Christian priests.

Wenceslas privately continued to practice his Christian faith and gained support from Christian nobles who overthrew Drahomira and placed Wenceslas on the throne when he was 18 years old.

One of his first acts was to reinstate the Christian religion and end the persecutions.  Wenceslas became renowned for his good works among the poor.  He exemplified good governance and a Christian vision of justice and mercy for the poor.  Eventually, pagan nobles and his brother Boleslav conspired together and assassinated Wenceslas. 

John Mason Neale (Joy to the World) wrote the hymn ‘Good King Wenceslas’, a tribute to the gospel message that the good king lived by.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

VENI EMMANUEL


In the medieval Roman Catholic Church of the 12th century, a Latin hymn ‘Veni Emmanuel’ was written for the first Sunday of Advent.

Advent, which begins four Sundays before Christmas, is the season of the church year that emphasizes the anticipation of Christ's first coming to earth. His coming as the Messiah was first prophesied in the sixth century B.C. when the Jews were captives in Babylon. For centuries, faithful Hebrews looked for their Messiah with great longing and expectation, echoing the prayer that he would "ransom captive Israel."[i]

In the 19th century Anglicans scholars and preachers translated many of the ancient Greek, Latin and German hymns into English.  John Mason Neale translated ‘Veni Emmanuel’ into the Christmas hymn ‘O Come, O Come Emmanuel’.

The verses speak to believers of every age about the anticipation of Messiah’s arrival.  The hope is echoed through our Christian experience as we wait for the Second Advent of Jesus.  He will come again to rescue all creation.

Here's a modern version from Lifechurch in South Tulsa, OK.


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