Thoughts on Oaths

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The Heidelberg Catechism Lord’s Day 36-37 discuss the Third Commandment.  “You shall not misuse the name of the Lord your God, for the Lord will not hold anyone guiltless who misuses his name.” Exodus 20:7 NIV 84

Sermon writing involves taking a lot of notes, about 60%-90% of those notes never make it into the final Sunday morning text.  I will use this space to think out loud about this text and give you a glimpse of the many ways a text like this can speak to our world today.

  1. Context:  God is speaking to Moses at Mount Sinai.  Moses is the first person to be told God’s name.  He is also the first to be commanded about the misuse of God’s name.  This is the third commandment, like the first two, this commandment deals with our relationship with God.  We are to not have any other gods, not to make an idol… and relatedly, we are not to make an idol out of the name of God either.
  2. OT Context:  Most uses of God’s name involve oaths.  This is still true today when a person swears to God, or says something like “God is my witness,” or “I promise to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, so help me God.”  This kind of language is shorthand for something like “May God judge me, be it ever so severely, if I am not telling the truth.”  Basically, the person who says such things is bringing God in as a second witness, for in Bible times testimony required two witnesses to be valid.  Now, to misuse the name of God, would be to swear to something that is false.  Because, you have now made a false claim about God, you have made God party to your lie.  Understandably, this is a forbidden form of speech for it dishonors God.  We understand this implicitly, in terms of advertising and trademarks.  How often have we heard something like “the views expressed in this program are not the views of …”?  The overseeing company or broadcaster does not want to take credit for views that are not their own.  God doesn’t want do such a thing either.
  3. In Leviticus, the penalty for misuse of God’s name is stoning.  Basically, a crowd would throw stones at a person until they were killed and then covered over with stones.  Dying this way would leave a pile of stones over the body.  Piles of stones, in the Bible are memorials that cause people to remember.  So a young person might walk by such a pile of stones and an older person would say, that is what happened to the one who misused the name of the Lord.  That would have sent a powerful message.
  4. NT  Context.  In the sermon on the mount,  Jesus says that his followers should not make oaths at all.  “Let your yes be yes and your no be no.”  Here Jesus points out that the need to swear an oath presupposes the possibility of lying.  If your yes is always yes and no is always no, there is no need to swear an oath.  This command is repeated in James 5:12.  On the other hand, we do have examples of the Apostle Paul swearing an oath.  See 2 Corinthians 1:23.  “I call God as my witness that it was in order to spare you that I did not return to Corinth.”  Therefore, the Heidelberg concludes that oaths may be used in God’s name if they are done reverently, when the government demands it or necessity requires it.
  5. Blasphemy.  This is a second type of misuse of God’s name.  swearing oaths wrongly is the first type.  Blasphemy involves making yourself equal to God.  We could say that a false oath is a kind of blasphemy because the person is claiming to speak for God and is not in fact actually speaking for God.  Blasphemy also includes claiming to be God or claiming to have God’s authority, when one does not actually have God’s authority.  Finally, and most plainly, blasphemy means insulting or cursing or belittling God, speaking of God with a disrespectful tone.  This would include careless uses of phrase “Oh my God” or “Oh God.”
  6. Language in general. Many Christians have interpreted this commandment more generally to include what is politely called “bad language.”  The commandment demands that we say what we mean and mean what we say.  As John Calvin once put it: “I consider looseness with words no less a defect than looseness of the bowels.”  Christians should be marked by sincere and reliable speech.
  7. Contemporary context.  In the 1700s a man in England loaded up a ship full of kidnapped women in an attempt to bring them as brides to the British Colonies.  He was found out and the women were freed.  He was hanged.  However, he was not hanged for kidnapping.  He was hanged for misusing the name of the King.  He claimed the King had authorized his trip.  The misusing of the kings name is serious business.  Moving closer to our time, I already referenced disclaimers that TV shows commonly use to distance themselves from the opinions of those on the show.  This is about preserving the name of the TV show.  Anyone who has had their identity stolen online, also knows how much damage the misuse of a person’s name can be.
  8. Idols also have their own blasphemy rules.  What is a person not allowed to say?  The answer to this question will show what is valued and what is worshiped.  For example:  When a football player refused to stand for the national anthem, he was criticized.  He had dishonored the name of his country.  The idol is the country, the blasphemy is the sitting down instead of singing the words to the national anthem.  A scientist has his reputation tarnished for studying cold fusion.  The idol here is a bit trickier to pick out:  Lets call it “respectable science” where what determines “respectable” is not scientific. See this.  The blasphemy is daring to study what should not be studied.  We can go deeper here.  How many times have you posted something online, only to delete it?  How many times have you censored what you were going to say, because you were worried about what someone else online might think?  The god of eros reigns online, and any attempts to limit pornography or to discuss sexual ethics are quickly punished. It is blasphemous to the god of eros to say that not all things that happen between consenting adults should happen between those adults.  Say what you cannot say, and the idol appears.
  9. But this is not true for God.  The prohibition against the misuse of God’s name, frees up rather than limits discourse.  The creation is now open, and all aspects of it can be studied and discussed.  In speaking of God rightly, we come to speak of ourselves rightly as well.  We have learned much about the world, about humanity and anatomy, about cultures, about psychology, biology, physics, and about human sexuality precisely because people have been willing to let their yes be yes and their no be no, to talk honestly about their experiences, no matter how difficult or surprising those experiences have been.  The fact that this commandment, and Jesus’ interpretation of it in the sermon on the mount, opens the door to exploration of the world shouldn’t be overlooked in a society that madly trying to create safe spaces, pass hate crime legislation, and limit free speech.  The idols which enforce their own rules of blasphemy may silence us all, and our world begins to look like that described in Romans 1, where the truth is suppressed…
  10. Now for something different… When people are blessed in Numbers 6, the Bible says that by this blessing, God puts his Name on the people.  Similarly, in Matt 28 when Jesus gives what is called the Great Commission,  the disciples are called to baptize in the Name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.  Thereby putting again the name of God on God’s people.  This is a double edged sword.  On the one side, this means that When God’s name is misused Christians are abused.  For our reputation is wrapped up in the name of God.  On the other side this means that when Christians behave badly, they bring dishonor to God’s name, for we are wrapped up on the name of God.  Positively, this means that we do carry the name of God wherever we go, as has been said often, you might be the only Jesus someone ever meets.

I think that is enough for now.

 

 

 

Sermons UP and II Corinthians

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The sermons on the website are working again.  We should have the most recent sermons up in a couple of days.

Starting on April 17 we will begin a series on II Corinthians.  This series will be different from the sermon series of the past because half of the series will be posted here.

As we work through II Corinthians, I will preach on a passage and then blog on the next passage.  In this way we will work through the whole book.

Here is a little background on the Corinthian church, to whom the letter is addressed.  (The information comes from either my course notes from Dr. Jeff Weima at Calvin Seminary, or from An Introduction to the New Testament by  D. A. Carson and Douglas J. Moo.)

The Greek city of Corinth was destroyed in 146 BC.  The Romans rebuilt it under Julius Caesar around 30 BC.  By the time Paul visits Corinth around AD 50, the city is a well established Roman city and the capital city of the province of Achaia.  As a Roman city it was a site for emperor worship in addition to the worship of other gods.  The temples in Corinth were known for their cult prostitutes, which probably explains why the prohibition against eating food sacrificed to idols is coupled with the prohibition against sexual immorality.

Corinth is also a port city, making it a very busy city with many opportunities to gain wealth and climb the social ladder.  For this reason it attracted the ambitious from all over the empire.

In some respects Corinth reminds me of Toronto.  Toronto too is a booming port city.  Like Corinth, Toronto attracts ambitious people from all over the world who are looking to climb the social ladder.  Along with the influx of people comes a wide range of religious expressions.   Toronto also is a capital city for the province of Ontario, meaning that like Corinth it is a center of political as well as economic power.   These similarities will make it easier to cross the historical divide between ancient Corinth and our experiences today.

The Corinthian church was probably made up of about 30 to 40 people.  The majority of the church was lower class.  The culture of social ambition and pagan worship inevitably made it into the church itself, requiring Paul to point to the humiliation of the cross as the antidote to selfish ambition.  The Corinthian church was deeply conflicted over a variety of issues.  In 2 Corinthians, Paul reminds them that he has been given a ministry of reconciliation. And in reading 2 Corinthians we will see how Paul keeps referring back to the cross and back to Jesus as a means to overcoming conflict and achieving reconciliation.

Let us see what the Lord will teach us.

 

About Those Women

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A Good Friday Meditation, Matt 27:55-56

“Many women were there, watching from a distance. They had followed Jesus from Galilee to care for his needs. Among them were Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James and Joses, and the mother of Zebedee’s sons.” (NIV 1984)

Watching from a distance. Many women were watching from a distance. That is what this day is about. It is a time to join these women, women who had followed Jesus from Galilee. They don’t have the power to stop what is happening. They cannot remove Jesus from the cross. They cared for his needs. Matthew says. But they cannot provide care now.

Instead they watch from a distance. They see. They see the ridicule and humiliation. They see the brave men, the disciples flee. They see honest men get whipped up into a murderous crowd. They see men in leadership betray their calling, and pass judgment on the innocent. They see the suffering of Jesus, they see the darkness that comes over the land.

As someone put it, they see the time when the strength of men failed. Matthew tells us that Mary Magdalene was there, as was Mary the mother of James. The mother of James and John, sons of Zebeddee, she was there too.

Several years ago, her sons jumped out of their boat and followed Jesus. He said they would be “fishers of men.” She always warned them about being so impulsive. But, what could she do? She followed too. Someone had to make sure the clothes got washed and the food got prepared. She followed, probably on foot, some 100 miles from Galilee to Jerusalem.

Surely, at some point she must have come to believe herself. The care for her sons that probably motivated her trip must have turned into a genuine care for Jesus and then a reverence. She couldn’t leave him now. She would get as close as she dared, bearing witness, as women have done for generation upon generation… From Sarah who was the first witness to the promised son Isaac to Rahab the first witness to God’s conquering army in Jericho, to Mary the Mother of God, the first witness of the Messiah. Ignore the testimony of these women at your peril. They saw what even the great men of their generation did not see. They were there.

How many times has the true testimony of a woman been ignored? How many times has she been told that she was telling a lie, that she was being hysterical, that she was only out to discredit the man? How many times has she suffered twice? Once when she bore witness and second when she is not believed?

At this moment, when the sky is dark, at this moment, when Jesus gives up his spirit, God imparts a special grace to these women. They are given the chance to watch from a distance. It is as though God says to these women, I believe you. I will entrust you with the memory of this event. You will witness it. You, faithful women, will be the first to see the redemption of the world. You, who have been mistrusted, who have not been heard, who have not been believed for generations, you whose testimony is not valid in the court, you will be trusted with the most important message the world has ever received. You will be the example for the church itself, which is called to follow Jesus, and bears witness to the Crucified Messiah.

For God makes it his habit to choose what the world thinks foolish to shame the wise, and God chose what the world thinks weak to shame the strong. God chose what is low and despised in the world, what is regarded as nothing, to set aside what is regarded as something, . He puts his King on a Cross, and has the women tell the tale, so the lowly and the despised may set aside those who thought they were something. The boasts of men are undone by the Crucified King who was regarded as nothing and the boasts of men are silenced by the lowly testimony of the despised women.

The women just witnessed the Son of God, willingly take on the punishment for sin and willingly lay down his life for the very friends who abandoned him. They just witnessed Jesus give up his spirit. They witnessed his death, the death that tramples death by death. They just watched the death unleashed by Eve and Adam’s sin get conquered by the death of Eve’s greater son.

Their names appear here, at the end of the account of the crucifixion of Jesus. It is as though Matthew is giving his footnote. All that he reports about the soldiers mocking, the crowd mocking, the words of Jesus on the cross, the dramatic moment when Jesus cried out “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? The final moment when Jesus gave up his spirit.. the unexpected exclamation of the centurion “Surely he was the Son of God!”

All this is the testimony of these women, the testimony of those thought foolish and weak, the testimony given to shame the wise and the strong. Let us join them from a distance today. Let us see what they saw. Experience what they experienced. Let us remember and believe.

*********

 

As countless women are not believed and as countless women keep silent because they fear they will not be believed… These women have been justified, declared not-guilty, declared to be truth tellers by the cross and resurrection to which they alone bore witness, first hand.

Online Sermons and other thoughts

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I thought I should note here that we are actively working to get the online sermons up and working again.  In the meantime, everyone is always welcome to come and listen to a sermon in real time and in real life at our church on Sunday morning at 10:00am.

4561 Langstaff Rd
Woodbridge ON L4L 2B2

 

 

Faith

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For the past few months I have been wondering about what James KA Smith wonders about in his book Imagining the Kingdom.  Charles Taylor in The Secular Age has similar wonderings, (or wanderings!) as does Hunter in To Change the World, and Lose in Preaching at the Crossroads.  The wondering is this:  What does it mean to believe today?

We can look at this question in two parts.  What does it mean to believe? and secondly, how does the world of today impact how we believe?

Last night at our Wednesday Bible Study, we asked these questions.  We looked at the passage in Acts 16:25-40.  Paul and Silas have been beaten and thrown into a prison.  Rather than moping about their bad luck, they start singing hymns to God. Everyone else in the prison listens in.  Suddenly, in the middle of the night there is an earthquake.  The chains fall off the prisoners.  The doors open.

The prison guard is terrified.  He knows it is life for life.  If a prisoner escapes then he loses his head.  “What must I do to be saved?!” he cries.

“Believe in the Lord Jesus.” Says Paul.

Believe.

Sounds simple enough.  Until we stop for a moment and wonder: What is Paul asking him to do?  He is worried that he might loose his head because the prisoners might have escaped and Paul says “Believe, man… you just gotta believe.”  What is Paul asking him to do?

There are a couple answers here.  First, Paul is asking him to believe some facts about the world and about God.  Facts like: God saves people from difficult situations.  God answers prayer.  God intervenes in the world.  God sent the earthquake that freed the prisoners. The God of the Jews now invites Roman Jailers to be a part of the kingdom of his Messiah Jesus.

Secondly, Paul is asking the jailer to trust in this God, who sent his son Jesus into the world.  Now this is a little different than merely believing facts.  For example: I might believe the fact that the parachute will open and I will drift safely down to earth.  But when I jump, then I am trusting that the parachute will carry me safely down to earth.  Likewise, the Jailer is invited to trust that God will really save him and that by trusting in God, the Jailer won’t lose his head.

Third, Paul is asking the jailer to decide without a full understanding of the situation.  The faith is somewhat blind.  Paul cannot say what will happen to the Jailer.  Paul cannot say how the Jailer will be saved.  Paul can only bear witness to what God has done, and invite the Jailer to decide on the basis of Paul’s testimony.

We can imagine Paul saying something like this: Jesus made it clear to his disciples many times that they would be persecuted, jailed, and flogged.  So here we are, recovering from a flogging in jail, because we are disciples of Jesus.  Jesus also promised that he would deliver us from death.  And look, there was an earthquake and we are free from a long suffering death in prison.  Paul may have spoke of the time when Jesus spoke directly to him.  Paul is then able to draw the conclusion:  What Jesus told us would happen, did happen.  We trusted in Jesus and now we are delivered.  If you want to be delivered, you should do the same.

And that brings us to a fourth aspect of belief.  Believe in the Lord Jesus, like I do.  It is an invitation to imitation.  This is to say, the Jailer is invited not only to think different thoughts and to put his faith in a different God, he is invited to do different things.

What is the thing that Paul and Silas are doing?  They were singing praises to God.  They were worshiping God in a dungeon, because somehow they were able to imagine (see beyond) in the current situation a broader picture of God who allows his servants to suffer, but still holds them and the world in his hands.  And this singing, this worship, reinforces their belief and trust in God.  There cannot be belief and trust in God separate from worship.

Therefore, they offer an invitation to imitation.  They invite the Jailer to worship the same God they worship.  To believe and be baptized.  And when the Jailer does this, he is filled with joy… not unlike the joy experienced by Paul and Silas when they sang hymns at the beginning of the story.

Faith then, involves believing, trusting, deciding, and imitating (worshiping).  Consider one of my favorite theologians, John Calvin, on faith (all translations from the Battles ed.) :
-Faith is a sure and certain knowledge of God’s benevolence (believing)
-Knowledge of faith consists in assurance (trusting)
-Faith cannot be separated from a devout disposition (imitation and worship)
-Assurance of faith is tinged with doubt and assailed by anxiety.  It certainly feels to us like we are deciding to have faith in these moments, even though the Holy Spirit is guiding our steps.

The Christian tradition has emphasized these different parts of faith at different times.  The movement of Christian Apologetics in the 20th century was very interested in the believing part – the proving that the facts are true.   We see Christian movements, like Billy Graham crusades that were heavy on the deciding aspect of faith.  Make a decision for Christ!  Most of us who were born and raised Christian tend to see faith through the lens of imitation.  I pray like my father did and my pastor did.

Each of these aspects of faith don’t play well in today’s culture.  The question of believing facts quickly slips into endless debates about science and history and the reliability of the Bible.  The challenge to make a decision is less pressing in a pluralistic culture.  Why choose one faith, when I can dabble in them all, or ignore them all?  On the imitation side, there are less people to imitate.  Name five famous Christians that inspire you to be like them.  Not as easy as it once was.

What is left then is faith as trust.  This aspect of faith still resonates today.  We are looking for authenticity and credibility.  We are looking for a story that resonates.  The Jailer needed to trust Paul.  And Paul was the real deal.  He sang praises in prison and an earthquake set him free.  Put your faith in me, Paul seems to say, and I will show you where you can safely and securely put your faith and trust.  This “I believe in you and you believe in God…” may very well be the first step into the Christian faith for many people in this pluralistic age.

Photo credit: https://jamesrg.wordpress.com/2013/01/23/last-days-in-rome/

 

Notes on the 116th Psalm

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Here are some notes on the Psalm that will the sermon text for Sunday, Jan 17, 2016

I.  I believed; therefore I said, “I am greatly afflicted.”  Psalm 116:10.

Not our typical response.  More often we will hear someone say, “I am greatly afflicted… (sad, ill, depressed, worried, victimized, oppressed, hurt, wounded, angry)” Therefore I said, I don’t believe. But even that feels a little too personal for most people.

Let’s depersonalize it a bit and say “there are people in the world who are greatly afflicted.  Therefore, I don’t believe.”  And some version or another of this statement gets made all the time with varying degrees of sincerity.

The psalmist turns the statement around.  He doesn’t start with the affliction, he starts with belief.  I believe.  This is shorthand for, “I believe in the saving power of God.”     He believed before the affliction and he believes in the midst of his affliction.  The existence of the affliction doesn’t challenge his belief.

Instead…

His belief gives him permission to speak of his affliction. I believe, therefore I said.  Speaking the truth flows out of believing in the saving God, even if that truth is an ugly one.  “I said, I am greatly afflicted.”

The psalmist shows us a different way to be in the world.  Affliction doesn’t mean there no God, rather belief in God gives courage to speak honestly about affliction.

II.  Listen to the words of Affliction
-The cords of death entangled me
-The anguish of the grave came upon me
-I was overcome by trouble and sorrow.
-I was in great need
-I was in chains (vs.16 you have freed me from my chains)

III. These things happened to a believer.  His belief didn’t keep the trouble away.  Should think about that for awhile…

IV.  “I am greatly afflicted” Sounds less like a statement, and more like a prayer.  The Psalmist has a Person to whom he can take his trouble.

He prays the truth to God.  And God hears.

The sermon based on these notes is for Sunday Jan 17, 2016.  It will be posted on this website.

Christmas Message

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There is a painting by Gari Melchers entitled The Nativity.  Joseph is seated leaning forward.  His large carpenter hands are folded together.  His elbows are resting on his thighs.  He looks down with tired eyes at the baby in front of him.  Now, finally, all things are still.

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Mary is next to Joseph, sitting on the floor with her head leaning on Joseph’s side. Her legs are straight out in front of her. She is quietly gazing at the new born.

 

Both are completely exhausted and wondering what  it all could mean.

 

The child’s head glows brightly.  And the light coming from the manger reflects off of Mary’s clothing and her face.  The light also reflects off Joseph’s hands, his clothes and his brow.

 

The door to the room is open, but no light comes in from outside.  The only light in the picture radiates out from the baby.  The light shines in the darkness.  The light of the world has been born. The painting invites us to take a moment, to sit and to look.

 

For we too are exhausted, we too are tired.  But here, in that lower room, where the animals were kept, lies the light that no darkness can overcome.  We are drawn in, so that the light of the world will reflect off of our clothing and off of our faces.  In this moment, the light of the world puts no demands on us, no obligations, no duties.  The light shines without us needing to do anything at all.

 

Hear these words of grace.  The light shines without us needing to do anything at all.  Just be… Just be… The time has come, Luke puts it in 2:6.  The time has come and Jesus has been born.  The light of the world has come into the world.

 

And that light comes on its own schedule.  When we read Luke’s gospel we notice that there are different ways to account for time.  There is, of course, the time measured in months.  So Luke tells us that the Angel Gabriel comes to Mary in the sixth month.  This is probably August, since the Roman calendar had 10 months, not 12.

 

In the beginning of Luke 2, we read that Caesar Augustus issued a decree for a census.  This, Luke tells us, was the first census that took place while Quirinius was governor of Syria.  So we can account for time according to the reigns of rulers and governors and the great events they bring about, like moving a vast number of people to their homes to register.

 

But Luke gently hints at a third way to account for time, Luke says, “the time came.”  Or the time was fulfilled.  The word used here is indefinite, imprecise.  It is the kind of time or schedule that is unknown to us.  Pregnancy is like that.  In her book “Holy Listening” Margaret Guenther, notes that pregnancy is a sign to us that there are other times besides the hour by hour, day by day, month by month time that we live in.  Some pregnancies are short.  Some run longer than expected.  While we say nine months.  We all know that the baby comes when the baby is ready.

 

Pregnancy hints at the fact that God’s time is not our time.  Luke doesn’t tell us if Mary was overdue, or if Jesus was premature.  He only tells us that the time came.  Other great events were shaping up around Mary and Joseph.  They had to travel to Bethlehem.  They had to discover that there was no room for them.  They needed to arrive in the place the Lord had chosen to be born.  Then the time would come, in Bethlehem.  The city of David, the place where the prophet said the messiah would be born.

 

This schedule of events probably didn’t make any sense to Mary and Joseph.  Mary was probably checking off the days.  Relieved that Joseph decided to stay with her after all.  Joseph probably got wind of the news of the census and did a little math himself and realized, Uh oh… we are going to have to travel right around the due date.

 

But all the while there was this other time,  God’s timing, weaving through the events of history and through the edicts of kings to ensure that the right people were in the right place, when it was time for the baby to be born.

 

And this is still true today.  There is another time, God’s timing, that is operating along in our lives.  God’s timing cannot be measured, but there will be moments when that timing is fulfilled.  There will be moments when God will put us right in the right place at the right time and we will see his glory.

 

We too may have to wander.  We too are under authority of governors and leaders.  We too may have to go when it is inconvenient and difficult.  So we remember Mary and Joseph.  Perhaps, God is at work through all that is going on, to ensure that we are where we need to be.  So that when the light does shine in the darkness, we will see the Glory of the Lord.

 

They placed the light of the world in manger, a cattle trough.  There was not a palace, nor a temple, nor silk blankets for this king.  The glory of the Lord chose to shine in an out of the way place.  The goods and glory of this world didn’t matter.  Nothing would have been good enough anyway.  He chose the out of the way place, so that out of the way people would find him.  The angels told the shepherds, while kings rested in their palaces.

 

Think about these things as you imagine that baby in the manger today.  Light shines out from him to you.  No longer do you need to stumble around in the darkness.  He will light your path and guide you.  There is no being too early and no being too late.  We catch a glimpse of the Glory of the Lord when the time is fulfilled.  Lay down your anxieties at the manger.  He cares not how you look, or where you come from. The glory of the world matters not to the one who fashioned the stars.  He shines in the out of the way places, so that out of the way people might catch a glimpse of him.

 

He took on flesh, because the body, our physical bodies, have been formed and fashioned by his hand.  Don’t miss the point. Christianity is spiritual and intellectual, but Christianity beats with a living heart of flesh.  It is deeply physical.  It is about the God who is clothed in light, choosing to then be clothed in flesh and swaddled with cloth.

In flesh he will know both suffering and pain.  With this flesh he will die the death that destroys the power of death.  And then, he will carry this flesh, his body scared and marked, tanned by the sun, and wrinkled by the wind, once dead but now alive, up into the throne room of heaven, as a continual reminder of the physical cost of love itself.

 

For we worship the God who made his dwelling among us.  We worship the God who reveals himself, not as an idea, or an abstract concept, but as a flesh and blood child, who can cry and laugh, smile and weep.  Others may speak of God, but we know that he walked this earth and that anywhere we stand, might very well be holy ground.

 

The painter knows this, as he captures with physical paint what words fail to portray.  “She gave birth to a son, wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no room for him in the inn.”

 

Merry Christmas

Causes of Community Catastrophe

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There are many changes at work in the broader culture relating to how we communicate with one another.  As we adapt to these massive changes, it is helpful to keep in mind the factors that can threaten a community.

The first is a Culture of Criticism.  Individuals will not step forward to complete the tasks at hand, or initiate a new program in a culture where others are waiting around to criticize.  Criticism though is calmed by Charity.  Charity is the old translation of the Greek word agape, or love.  When I was a student studying philosophy, we would speak about what we called “the principle of charity” a principle we would keep in mind when we criticized the work of others. According to the principle of Charity, criticism is done best, when the person wanting to offer a criticism, tries to understand as best they can the position they intend to criticize.   So you wonder why was this done this way?  And how is the other person thinking about this?

You try to put yourself in the other person’s shoes, walk down their pathway for a while.

Then the principle of Charity takes things a step further and asks, How can I improve, or can I improve the position I am criticizing?

Now what happens?  If you are able to prove to the other person that you completely understand them, you earn respect.  And with that respect comes an openness to receive the criticism with Charity.  And this is because the Criticism was given in Charity.

So if you feel the urge to criticize, whether in person or in secret, take a moment to walk in the other person’s shoes, wonder why they did what they did and offer your thoughts with Charity.

Number 2.  A culture of criticism, if allowed to linger too long, spawns a cancer of complacency.  If I know that my ideas and my labour for the church will be criticized, I will eventually close my mouth and stop my labor.  I become complacent.  I stop offering my time and talents to the community.  Why should I help again, after I was criticized before?  Unlike most cancers, this cancer is contagious.  As different individuals step back from full involvement in the community, others follow suit.  Soon, it becomes difficult to find volunteers.  And those who do volunteer find themselves overwhelmed by the work.

But take heart, there is Chemotherapy for complacency.  And that comes through connection and invitation.  Start small, seek out someone you don’t normally speak to and start a conversation.  Encourage someone who is down.  Support the weak.  Compliment rather than criticize.  Now, Chemotherapy, many people have told me is an uncomfortable process.  Chemotherapy for complacency is no different.  It involves changing one’s priorities and putting the needs of the Church community ahead of other considerations.

Number 3.  If left unchecked, the culture of criticism and resulting cancer of complacency creates a crisis of commitment.  Everyone else has something else that they need to do.  As result, the lonely are not visited, those interested in the faith are not given opportunities to learn, the young are not properly instructed, and the spiritual needs of those around us go unattended.  This crisis of commitment is catastrophic for Christian community.

So what do we do?

We begin with a renewed Commitment to Christ and to the Church Community.  I put it this way because our first commitment is always to Christ and secondly to his body as it is found in the local church.  So I encourage you over this Christmas season, to renew your commitment to Christ, to remind yourselves of the promises you made at profession of faith.  A promise first and foremost to “Love the Lord.”   And secondly to review your commitment to the local church.  Where is God calling you to serve?  How is God calling you to serve?

For I remain convinced that God’s will for his Church to be salt and light, remains God’s will for his church.  God is pouring out his blessings on us, he is filling us with his wisdom, and he is opening our hearts to people from all over the world.  God is forming us into a community here, a community where Jesus is the center, and where grace and mercy flows.  Do not be discouraged, the task to be faithful is being made more difficult in these trying times. Do not be discouraged.  Remember that Jesus has overcome the world.  Rest in that comforting hope.

For where there is charity in the face of criticism

And Chemotherapy of connection to treat the cancer of complacency

And renewed Commitment to Christ in the midst of challenges to community

There we find the elusive Christian community we seek.

 

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The Blue Dragon

Front Page Pastor's Pen

Here is the link to the article in wired about the blue dragon:

Absurd Creature of the Week: This Crazy-Looking Sea Slug Has an Ingenious Secret Weapon

The blue dragon incorporates the stinging cells of the man of war into its own body and gains the ability to sting others.  This as we said in the message, is something like us. We are stung by others and we incorporate that sting into ourselves ready to sting the next unsuspecting person to come our way.

Peter in I Peter 3:9 tells us that Christians should not return evil for evil or insult for insult.  When we are stung, we should not sting someone else.  But how can we do that?  Only by hope in Jesus who takes the stings and sin into himself and buries them in the grave.  The sins committed against us and the sins we committed are removed.  We are set free from the cycle and able now to respond to evil with blessing.

The sermon can be heard here.  (in a few days when it is online)

picture taken by SYLKE ROHRLACH/FLICKR

 

Prayer

Pastor's Pen

“Teach us to pray.”  This is one of the few times, if not the only time the disciples directly ask Jesus to do something for them.

It was a number of weeks ago now, when I heard a sermon on those lines.  The preacher imagined what the disciples might have seen when they saw Jesus praying.  The disciples must have seen heart felt love and that Jesus gave and received from his Father.  The disciples must have seen the deep compassion as Jesus prayed for the needs that he encountered.  The disciples must have seen his face light up with thanksgiving as loaves and fishes multiplied before the eyes of the 5000.  The disciples must have seen the bitter anguish as Jesus wrestled with his future and pleaded, “not my will, but thine.”

The preacher, whose name I cannot recall, said, When the disciples saw Jesus pray, they must have thought, I want to pray like that!  Teach me to pray.  And with those simple words Our Father in Heaven, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come… Jesus taught them and teaches us to pray.

And some of us learn the lesson better than others.  Through this, God gives the rest of us leaders and teachers who teach us to pray merely because they are following closely the greatest Prayer Teacher there ever was.

Two weeks ago, I had the opportunity to go home and to preach at my home church.  The pastor, who has been there since before my family began attending was gracious enough to share the pulpit with me.  He lead the service, and I preached the sermon.

He was praying for the needs of the world and the needs of the congregation and I was listening.  I began to think, “hey! he says what I say!”or more profoundly, I say in my congregational prayers what my home church pastor says.
Rev. Jim Settles taught me to pray.

He never sat me down and said, “Now when you become a preacher, this is how you pray.”  He never said in passing, “How do you pray for your flock?  Let me tell you what I say.”

No, Pastor Settles just prayed, he prayed humbly and consistently, he prayed reverently with a deep faith that God would move mountains if God saw fit.  He prays out of the deep conviction that we are God’s children and that God hears us because God loves us.  He prays with those who come forward to pray and he prays with the whole congregation and there is no doubt that he prays alone, in the upper room where his Father can hear him.

And without knowing it, I learned from him how to pray.  Thank you Pastor Settles for being faithful.

-Nate