Jake’s Birthday – July 30, 1985

July 30, 2012

Abilene, Texas

In the summer of 1984, I left my job as the general manager of the Crystal’s Pizza restaurant in Abilene to study for Christian ministry. We moved to the Dallas suburb of Mesquite and joined eighteen other families who were also interested in Scripture and ministry.  It was a bold step to take.  Several months into that adventure, God provided a new and amazing twist to the adventure!  Our first child was on the way!

Sandra and I had been married for three years in 1985.  Preaching school was a great experience!  We had great teachers and I was spending eight hours a day in class.  It was intense.  It was also a season of dependence and even poverty.  Dr. Clark had an obstetrics practice in Waxahachie.  He had agreed to help the Preston Road students’ wives with their health care.  We were happy to drive out to Waxahachie to see the doctor.  As the day approached for Jacob to be born, we toured the maternity ward at Tenery Community Hospital.  It was locked on the day of the tour.  There were no babies being born that day in that hospital!

Jake was born on a Tuesday.  We were at the hospital early. The plan was to induce labor.  Sandra and I had taken the Lamaze classes. The plan was for there to be no drugs.  I don’t remember how we came to that decision, but we were pretty sure that we would not do that again! The Pitocin drip brought on a long day.  Somewhere in the early afternoon, Sandra had a little Demerol, which she did not like at all!  She said, “The room is rolling!  Could we make it stop?”  However, it did bring the labor to a peak.  Jake was born at 3:46pm. What I remember about that moment was his demeanor.  His eyes were open and he was as calm as could be.  He was not disturbed or distressed in any way. He was already in learning mode.  He was taking it all in!

There are no words to express how much we love our children.

Eyes Open, As Calm As Can Be

Jacquie’s Birthday

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July 28, 2012

Abilene, Texas

In 1989, Sandra and I had been married for seven years. We were living in Nacogdoches, where I was serving the North Street Church of Christ as the Youth Minister. July 29th fell on a Friday. Sandra was working for an office supply house called John S. Wyatt. On that Friday, we were both working.

For me, it was the last day of Vacation Bible School. I was the director and had a great group of workers. Tahna Cody was the coordinator for the classes. Paula Griffin was in charge of crafts. Becky Cranford was in charge of fun! And LeAnn Stanaland (Shull) was in charge of refreshments. I was responsible for worship and big group times.

Sandra was, of course, very pregnant. She had what we thought were ‘Braxton Hicks’ contractions. She was at work. We had plans to take cupcakes to Tanglewood Child Care Center where our Jacob was spending his days having fun with his friends.

That morning, during VBS, Sandra called Ruth Garrison at the church to leave me a message.The first message was for me to call her whenever I got a chance. I was pretty busy, and did not get a chance within the hour. She called again after that hour passed and said that I did not need to call, but that I should come to get her whenever I was done. That was about 10am. VBS was scheduled to go to 11:30am. We sang and played and had fun. As we were dismissing the group to their parents, Ruth came in with another message. I should come to John S. Wyatt, now!

When I arrived at JSW, Sandra was ready to go. We stopped by a camera shop to get a flash that had been in repair. We were headed home to get the cupcakes and go to Tanglewood to celebrate Jake’s birthday (July 30, 1985). We went to our home on Myrtle Street to get the cupcakes and as we were leaving the house, Sandra said, ‘I think we need to go to the hospital.’ We went to Nacogdoches Medical Center where we thought Tony Haskins would deliver Jacquie. When we arrived at the hospital, we had not done the admission paper work, so I was standing at the desk. We had arrived at 12:30pm. As I was working on the paperwork, the hospital staff was looking after Sandra. Dr. Haskins was in the middle of a surgery, so our friend, Kim McMorries was called in to deliver our baby. Someone came to get me from the counter, saying, ‘It’s time!’

With Jacob’s birth, we had gone through Lamaze Classes, and that was painful (understatement?). Well, the Lamaze classes weren’t painful, but Sandra says delivery was! Sandra was sure that she didn’t want to do that again. However, Jacquie was born at 12:46pm. We got to the hospital, and she was born 16 minutes later. We think maybe the contractions that Sandra was having all morning we not Braxton Hicks, but Labor!

Jacob did not get cupcakes that day. I cannot even remember how we got him home! Sandra and Jacquie Leigh spent the night at Medical Center, but early the next morning, they both attended a baby shower that had been scheduled to celebrate Jacquie’s arrival.

In some ways, this story tells you about Jacquie’s way (and her parents). Joyful, flexible, hardworking, non-anxious, multi-tasking, ready to arrive.

Today, we celebrate Jacquie’s 23rd birthday. She is in Evanston, Ill working on a graduate degree in Sports Administration at Northwestern. We don’t get to be with her today, but we are helping engineer a celebration/adventure for the day. She is our beloved child in whom we are well pleased.

Celebrating the day! Ready to Arrive!

Dad

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On Earth as it is in Heaven

These are Bible Class notes for a class at Highland Church of Christ in Abilene.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

“True godliness does not turn men out of the world, but enables them to live better in it and excites their endeavors to mend it. — William Penn”
Foster, Richard J. (2010-10-12). Streams of Living Water: Celebrating the Great Traditions of Christ (Kindle Locations 2421-2423). Harper Collins, Inc.. Kindle Edition.

Amos as a Witness to the Intentions of God

“The story of Amos is a deeply challenging depiction of the Social Justice Tradition, the compassionate life. The first in a great line of pre-Exilic prophets, Amos declared in no uncertain terms that sacrifices, ceremonies, propitiations, and other externalities of religion were insufficient for a life with God. He insisted that social righteousness — that is, justice in the social realm — was absolutely central to a life that is pleasing to God.” -  Foster, Richard J. (2010-10-12). (Kindle Locations 2562-2566).

Amos was no professional prophet (7:14).  He was from Judea and was sent by YHWH to deliver an indictment to Israel.  Assyria was coming as God’s agent for judgment.  Amos came to give a warning, to make a plea from God for the ‘people of God’ to do what was right.  He came to speak a word because he was sent (and like Jonah, could not really refuse).

Amos 3:8 (NRSV) The lion has roared; who will not fear? The Lord GOD (adona YHWH) has spoken; who can but prophesy?

Amos has multiple charges to make.

Amos 2:6-8 (NRSV) Thus says the LORD: For three transgressions of Israel, and for four, I will not revoke the punishment; because they sell the righteous for silver, and the needy for a pair of sandals— 7 they who trample the head of the poor into the dust of the earth, and push the afflicted out of the way; father and son go in to the same girl, so that my holy name is profaned; 8 they lay themselves down beside every altar on garments taken in pledge; and in the house of their God they drink wine bought with fines they imposed.

  1. They sell human beings for trivial debts.
  2. They abuse their position with no regard for the poor.
  3. The work of evil is to diminish, discourage, and destroy.
  4. Their sexual immorality has no regard for the wellbeing of others.
  5. Garments taken in pledge were to be returned each night (creditors abusing those in debt – Deut 24:10).
  6. In the legal system the fines were for restitution, not for selfish consumption.

More… Business Pressure

Amos 8:4 (NRSV) Hear this, you that trample on the needy, and bring to ruin the poor of the land, 5 saying, “When will the new moon be over so that we may sell grain; and the sabbath, so that we may offer wheat for sale? We will make the ephah small and the shekel great, and practice deceit with false balances, 6 buying the poor for silver and the needy for a pair of sandals, and selling the sweepings of the wheat.”

  1. They were impatient for the ‘time devoted to YHWH’ to be over so they could get on with business.
  2. They were intent on maximizing their profit to the degree that they were willing to cheat. Reduce the bushel and imbalance the scales.
  3. When people are powerless to challenge the business practices, you can sell inferior food (or any product).

More… Legal Indifference

Amos 5:10 (NRSV) They hate the one who reproves in the gate, and they abhor the one who speaks the truth. 11 Therefore because you trample on the poor and take from them levies of grain, you have built houses of hewn stone, but you shall not live in them; you have planted pleasant vineyards, but you shall not drink their wine. 12 For I know how many are your transgressions, and how great are your sins—you who afflict the righteous, who take a bribe, and push aside the needy in the gate.

  1. When whistleblowers are weak, they get crushed.
  2. Again the powerful are founding their prosperity not on the ‘favor of God,’ but on the abuse of the weak.
  3. Top-down structures do not tend to resemble to Shalom of God.

I don’t know much Hebrew, but there are several words that help us grasp the character of God that I think we could have fun saying, and be blessed in the practice of.  Biblical morality is rooted in the character of YHWH.

Mishpat. Tsedaqah. Hesed. Shalom.

  • Mishpat is justice. God loves his people, and we are all His.  Amos is telling Israel (the people of God) that His favor will not rest on those who care nothing for justice for all.
  • Tsedaqah is righteousness.  Fundamentally it is to be upright before God, to do what is right, correct, and compassionate.  Jesus is our perfect model. Self-giving love.
  • Hesed is steadfast love. It is John Cameron Swayze, Timex love.  It is new every morning.  God pursues His people relentlessly, with some eventual limitation.
  • Shalom is peace. This is not the absence of conflict.  Conflict is inevitable and perhaps necessary. Shalom is the wholeness that God intends. Shalom is the produce of a life designed by God. Thy will be done on earth, as it is in heaven. This is what it means to be saved. This is what the Prince of Peace brings to earth. This is the gospel of peace (Eph 6:15).

A few interesting practitioners:

  • John Woolman (1720-1772) – Society of Friends – instrumental in helping the Quakers renounce slavery in colonial America.
  • Mother Theresa (1910-1977) – an Albanian Catholic Nun who gave herself for the poor of Calcutta.
  • Dorothy Day (1897-1980) – a journalist and activist who came out of a season of brokenness to give her life in the cause of the poor and the working class.
  • Enrique Carrillo – a missionary Church of Christ preacher in Chiapas, MX. This last week near the Guatemala border, Enrique was physically beaten by other preachers who think he is working too much for the poor and failing to preach against other ‘Christian perspectives.’
  • Larry James and Charlie Middlebrook. Charlie launched IMPACT in Houston inner city.  Larry has led Central Dallas Ministries that has now become CitySquare.  His goal is to make things Square, fair and square. Fighting the root causes of poverty in Dallas. ACU and the Honors College and Highland are all learning from Larry and his work.

    Larry taking a group of ACU students on a tour of urban food deserts in South Dallas.

  • Highland Church. Restoration. This is our vision. Love your neighbor as your self. Bringing the shalom of God to Abilene.

Forms of Worship are Insufficient

Amos 5:21-24 (NRSV) I hate, I despise your festivals, and I take no delight in your solemn assemblies. 22 Even though you offer me your burnt offerings and grain offerings, I will not accept them; and the offerings of well-being of your fatted animals I will not look upon. 23 Take away from me the noise of your songs; I will not listen to the melody of your harps. 24 But let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an everflowing stream.

  1. I don’t know if we have ever been more interested in forms of worship than the character of God, but if we have been, then this is a thunderous word.
  2. Israel was going to ‘church.’ They were doing church really well, even.
  3. Why do you suppose it was so offensive to YHWH?

Let justice roll down like waters.

Worship is ‘good’ when it transforms us into the likeness of the character of God.  When worship says one thing, and our ethics and actions say another, what can you call that?

 

In the desert places, when the waters roll, transformation happens.

Let mishpat roll and tsedaqah flow like an ever-flowing stream!

Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.

 

Friendship – Jesus Style

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Welcome to the first Sunday after Pentecost, according to the ancient church calendar.  When Jesus ascended into the heavens…well, let’s look at that!

Luke 24:44-53 (NRSV) Then he said to them, “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you—that everything written about me in the law of Moses, the prophets, and the psalms must be fulfilled.”  45 Then he opened their minds to understand the scriptures,  46 and he said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Messiah is to suffer and to rise from the dead on the third day,  47 and that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem.  48 You are witnesses of these things.  49 And see, I am sending upon you what my Father promised; so stay here in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high.”

50 Then he led them out as far as Bethany, and, lifting up his hands, he blessed them. 51 While he was blessing them, he withdrew from them and was carried up into heaven.  52 And they worshiped him, and returned to Jerusalem with great joy;  53 and they were continually in the temple blessing God.

I could spend some time in a text like that!  We could talk about Jesus and the importance of the Old Testament. We could ask God to open our minds and the minds of others, if he does that kind of work!  We could talk about the fact of forgiveness.  We could think about repentance.  We could think about being witnesses of these things.  Of course, I want to talk about lifting up his hands, he blessed them. But not today.

On the First Sunday after Pentecost, the gripping line is in verse 49.  Stay here in the city until you have been clothed with power on high.  I think that is exciting and compelling.  That is pregnant with anticipation. We want power from on high, don’t we?

I think we are powerfully encouraged to think that God is at work in us, through us, and for us.

You have already seen the title of our conversation this morning.  Friendship.

Who needs power to be friends?  And then when you think about what it means to be friends (a deeper notion), I think you will be fully aware, that we need power from on high. 

Life is hard.  Love is difficult. Friendship.  We need it.  It could even be crucial for us.

We sing about Jesus being our friend.  He is a friend next to ya. There’s no friend like the lowly JesusWhat a friend we have in Jesus. Right?  What does that mean?  I know you have an idea.  But I want us to give that some serious thought this morning.

What it isn’t.

Can you imagine Jesus as your Facebook friend?  I think that could be good.  Maybe we would be more careful about what we post.  Still, I am sure that this is not what Jesus would have in mind.

It is not a greeting card kind of friendship.  It isn’t Christmas card friendship.

You have some of those, right?  And it is good and important. Last month, when Sandra’s dad passed away, the cards that came were important.  However, Jesus is not sending you a card.  And he is calling you to something different from that.

I would say it is not like many of our affiliations.  You know that we have a tendency to spend time with the people we prefer.  I wish I were more like Will Rodgers, who said, “I never met a man I didn’t like.” (Like is an option, where love is not, from a Christian perspective.  I find that a great relief.) This friendship with Jesus is not an affiliation (your soccer friends, your coffee friends, your political friends, your fishing friends, or dinner club).

Friendship is not the same thing as companionship or camaraderie.

Friendship, Christian friendship, is an extra-ordinary thing.  It is about love.  A risky love, one that will require power from on high.  Not because it is always difficult.  But because it is so big!

This love, this friendship, as Jesus offers it, is vital, energizing, animating, important, and perhaps central to being the human being that God has in mind.

Listen:

John 15:12-17 (NRSV) 12 “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. 13 No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. 14 You are my friends if you do what I command you. 15 I do not call you servants any longer, because the servant does not know what the master is doing; but I have called you friends, because I have made known to you everything that I have heard from my Father. 16 You did not choose me but I chose you. And I appointed you to go and bear fruit, fruit that will last, so that the Father will give you whatever you ask him in my name. 17 I am giving you these commands so that you may love one another.

No greater love.  Lay down one’s life for one’s friends.

This is my commandment that you love one another as I have loved you.

You are my friends.  I do not call you servants.  I have made known to you everything.

I appointed you to go and bear fruit that will last.

Here is our model for friendship.  What does it mean to be a friend?

  1. A Friend Lays Down Their Life
    1. When Jesus says this to his disciples, he has not gone to the cross.  He is going.  And maybe they will not fully understand until they look back.  Jesus begins laying down his life in the incarnation.  The Word became flesh and dwelt among us.
    2. He says I lay down my life for the sheep. (John10:15).
    3. When he washes their feet, he is showing us, laying down our lives. (John 13:12)
    4. Would you be a friend who lays down a life?
    5. What does that look like?  When Judas came to the garden where Jesus and the disciples were praying, the authorities came with lanterns, torches and weapons.  It was like the good shepherd, with the sheep (disciples) in the pen, protecting his own.  When Jesus saw them coming, he came forward, he stepped up.  “Whom are you looking for?”  he asked.  “Jesus of Nazareth” they said.  “I AM” he answered and they fell back.
    6. Laying down your life is making a purposeful sacrifice for your friends.  It is to resist the use of power for selfish means.  It is to ask, “What do you need?”  Instead of being desperate about what we need. Friends don’t grab or clutch.  In the hymn of Philippians 2, we read, who, being in the very form of God, did not consider equality with God as something to be exploited.  Rather, he emptied himself.
    7. I suppose the question is, do you have enough?  We can be pretty neurotic about that.  I can.  Do we have enough significance?  Do we have enough security? Do we have enough respect? Do we have enough love, admiration, comfort or pleasure? (We have a neurotic cat.  His name is Jiffy Lube.  He doubts his daily bread.  When he sees a glimpse of the bottom of his bowl, he comes a talkin’.)
    8. David says, “My cup runneth over.” God has prepared a table.  It is more than enough.  Maybe we have been clothed with power from on high.  Laying down your life for your friends.
    9. It is not actually dying.  At least not necessarily…today.  It is the willingness to put up with discomfort (The Giving Tree – Shel Silverstein – do you know that story?).  It is a willingness to pray through your difficulties rather than lashing out in anger (Psalms).  It is handling disappointment with grace and determination.  It is thinking about what you can do to make your family, and your church better. What can you do in the world, in Buffalo Gap, in Taylor County, to bring justice and fairness and goodness and comfort to those who have little or none?
    10. No greater love than this, than one who lays down their life for their friends.
    11. Jesus commands that we love one another just as he has loved us.
  2. A Friend Speaks Openly and Boldly.
    1. The servant does not know what the master is doing (15:15), or thinking.  Jesus tells them everything.
    2. Do you have people around whom you guard your words?  Would you tell a friend the truth about their talents?  Often we will say the good, but sometimes not.  Rarely will we offer a frank opinion about weaknesses.
    3. Jesus was traveling with his disciples when his friend Lazarus died.  He told his disciples that Lazarus had fallen asleep. They missed the metaphor.  John 11:14 (NRSV) 14 Then Jesus told them plainly, “Lazarus is dead.”
    4. Why don’t we speak frankly?  It could be because we are not friends, yet.  It could be that we hesitate to baptize our own words. We sometimes speak impulsively. We did not mean to wound, but we did.  Then people are on guard.  You have to trust that people will not hurt you for your thoughts, ideas, feelings and plans.  Of course, if you are laying down your life then maybe we could choose to be friends, turn the other cheek, go the extra mile, and make allowances for our deep and profound flaws..
    5. Most of us would rather hear a true evaluation than flattery, right.  Flattery is not friendship.  You cannot trust a flatterer.
    6. To know everything is to be treated as equals.  It is in situations of fear, in situations of power, that we will not speak openly, or boldly.
    7. I wonder what church would be like, if we were better friends.  No undue power.  No economic influence (tip-toe through the tithers).  No positional authority.  No racial or gender power.  Is that too much to ask? Clothe us with power from on high! We pray.
    8. Can parents be friends with their children?  You can speak openly with your children, maybe because of power structures. And I hope young people can speak openly with their parents. However, husbands and wives should be friends.
    9. How many times do you come to church, to the assembly and have little deep conversation?
  3. A Friend Shares All Things
    1. Jesus shared himself.  It is in the bread and in the cup.
    2. Jesus shared his mission.  John 20: 21 – “As the Father sent me, so I send you.”  He gave them purpose.  Change the world.  Peace.  For God so loved the world that he gave Jesus.  Jesus even shared his tribulations.  John 16:33 (NIV) 33 “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”  Trouble comes.  And Hope, too.  You share that.  As he shares with you, so you share.  That is what it means to bear much fruit.  You invite people to know the peace of the Good Shepherd. You tell them of the mercy of God for you and for them.  You invite them to receive love.  You welcome them to the realm of God’s intentions for the world.
    3. Would you share all things in common?  In a competitive world it is not a great plan for selfish success.  The post-Pentecost church did this. (Acts 4:32)

Is it too bold to call us to be better friends?  For God so loved the world…

    1. I think Christianity can change the world.  I think it is supposed to change the world.  We pray that wars will cease.  We pray that children, all children, could be spared from the ravages of injustice and violence.  And remember that as we pray, we also find our lives drawing in line with the work and way and will of God (function of prayer).

What a friend we have in Jesus!

Greater love has no one than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.

We are Christians.  We walk in the Way.  We lay down our lives.  We make friends.  We speak boldly and openly.  We share our strength, and we bear one another’s burdens.  And we do that with joy!

This is the life that is vital, energizing, animating, important, and central to being the person that God has in mind.

Want to be friends?  I think you do!

There is More

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I am proud to stand in The Gap with you, especially today.

Today is Easter Sunday, or Resurrection Sunday.

Like a lot of holidays (holy days) it has some strangeness to it!  Bunnies, and eggs, and chocolates and lilies.  And the whole hunting for eggs, just strikes me as funny.  It is a cultural thing.  And it is an opportunity for fun and beauty and color.  I am so thankful that we no longer hide real eggs.  Finding them with the mower in mid-May…ugh!

But I do love a day like today.  It is good to have a whole Sunday devoted to this story.

Resurrection is about More. 

I know you probably have characters, people, in the Bible that intrigue you.

Today, I just want to put Peter in the story for you.  Peter is impetuous.  I can relate to that.  Sometimes I can be plain-spoken.  I have no poker-face.  Sometimes I am quick to speak.  I listen.  I process quickly (usually).  Then I talk.  Last Sunday, I told your preacher (again) how much I appreciate him.  For as long as I have known him, he has been quiet, reflective, careful.  When he preaches, he opens pathways.  He does not put his fingers in your wounds.  Sometimes, I am not so careful.  I sometimes don’t have his finesse.  I have such respect for him.  He is not like Peter.  Peter blurts.  We could give examples, but I think you can trust me on that.  In the week before Resurrection Sunday, Peter struggled. It was a big failure.  Three times he denied Jesus. (Do you know that The Gospel of Mark is Peter’s report? This is Peter confessing….) It is a great relief that the story does not end here.  There is More.

You were with Jesus, the man from Nazareth.  Peter says, “I do not know or understand what you are talking about.”

This man is one of them. But again he denied it.

Certainly you are one of them; for you are a Galilean.  And Peter responds, cursing, and swearing an oath, “I do not know this man you are talking about.”

And he broke down and wept bitterly

Peter confesses.  And on some level, I just know how he feels.

Hang on to this.

  • Have you ever had one of those life-changing moments?  A couple from Nacogdoches got a call that their son was in a car wreck.  They are a year and a half into such a difficult season.  Their son, Ryan was hurt.  He has not woken from the crash, yet.  His parents pray. They spend all of their time and energy, all that they can spend, on their son, Ryan. They are praying for him to wake up.  They are praying that he will not only wake up, but that he will be healed.  They know it is asking a lot.  But they know others who have been hurt as badly who have made it to the other side.  They pray in hope.  They are looking for a resurrection (anastasis – to stand again)
  • I know that is dramatic.  There are more ordinary moments of resurrection, too.  I love grace.  But, I also know dis-grace. Let me tell you about two women.  One, after fourteen years of marriage, was dumped by her husband for another man.  She is working through her reaction.  She had a hysterectomy.  The doctor nicked her bladder.  She also had a terrible auto accident, with broken bones and more.  Her life was a wreck.  How would she respond? As she was deciding how she was going to respond, she was thinking about another woman that she knew, a woman who responded poorly.  After twenty-two years, her husband’s leaving was still the dominating story of her life.  She could not let go.  She could not find resurrection.  Her world shrunk to the very size of a Martini glass.   
  • And you have these stories in your life.  Before this happened, life was one way.  After this happened, nothing is really the same.  It could be your own sin.  It could be your own lostness.  Being lost is lacking direction.  To be lost is to be on the wrong path.  To be lost may even be the failure to know that you are on the wrong road.  Where are you going?  What are you doing?  How are you going to spend your life, your energy? 
  • Resurrection can be what happens right here in this kind of wandering.  The light dawns.  We decide.  We choose.  This, THIS is who I am and THIS is what I am doing.
  •  Do we all have a resurrection story to tell?

On a Good Friday, on a God’s Friday, there was a cross.  It is at the crux.  It is the turning point.  What difference does it make to you that Jesus died?  Is it just a story?  Or is there an impact?  Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world.  If Jesus died for all of your sins, then you do not have to be ruined by them.  And remember that it was the sins of the world.  Could that be true?

But that is only a part of the good news story of God for us.  There is More.

Early on a Sunday morning something happened.    

Here is the story according to Mark.

Let’s overhear…

Mark 16:1-8 (NRSV) When the sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices, so that they might go and anoint him.  2 And very early on the first day of the week, when the sun had risen, they went to the tomb.  3 They had been saying to one another, “Who will roll away the stone for us from the entrance to the tomb?”  4 When they looked up, they saw that the stone, which was very large, had already been rolled back.  5 As they entered the tomb, they saw a young man, dressed in a white robe, sitting on the right side; and they were alarmed6 But he said to them, “Do not be alarmed; you are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has been raised; he is not here. Look, there is the place they laid him.  7 But go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him, just as he told you.”  8 So they went out and fled from the tomb, for terror and amazement had seized them; and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.  

ImageJesus died. 

There was no doubt about the fact.  He had been nailed to the cross.  His side had been pierced (perhaps his heart was pierced).  They took his body down from the cross. 

Isaiah 53:5 (NRSV) Wounded for our transgressions, crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the punishment that made us whole, and by his bruises we are healed.

For Our Transgressions.   Made Us Whole.   We Are healed.  Right?

Jesus was dead.  He had said, “It is finished.”  But the disciples are filled with grief.  They don’t feel whole or healed.   Not yet.

             

But then, after the Sabbath of the Passover, as early as possible on the First Day (a work day), three women come to the tomb, to the place where Jesus’ body had been laid.  They came with spices to treat the body (which had already been taken care of on Friday!). 

Disarray.  The powerful (Joe and Nick) were not telling the ordinary folk what they had done. Mary of Magdala was one who had been delivered of seven demons (16:9).  Salome was the mother of the sons of Zebedee the fisherman (James and John, Matthew 27:56).

Death is disorganizing. 

Death is disorderly.

Death stings.

O Death, where is your sting?  (1 Cor. 15:55)

Everywhere.  Since you asked.  Just about everywhere.  Indeed.  (Annie Dillard – The Living)

Everything within us tells us that death is a permanent fixture of life, that it is the ordinary path.  If we evaluate based on past experience, we will all die

Our days are numbered.

Mary, and Mary, and Salome have come to love and to serve in their sorrow.

They were concerned, as they walked along, about the heavy stone sealing the tomb. 

The three of them were not going to be able to move it.  “What will we do?”  I wonder.  They could have said to themselves, there is no point in going!  There is a stone!  There is an obstacle.  (You do know that there is ALWAYS an obstacle, right?)  They were concerned, but they came. 

When they arrived at the tomb, the stone was already rolled away.  How about that!!?

There, they saw an angel dressed in white robes, who knew what they were up to.

He comforts them…or astonishes them!

  1. Don’t be alarmed (angels always say that!). Fear not!
  2. You are seeking Jesus of Nazareth.  I love the specifics!  The one crucified.
  3. He has been raised! What do you suppose their reaction was?
  4. He is not here.
  5. Come and see.  Want to look??  I would!!

He commissions them. 

  1. Go tell.
  2. Go tell Peter, specifically.  Go tell Peter that he really is not ruined.  A three-time denial is not too much for God to overcome!  You will see Jesus!
  3. Go to Galilee.  He is going ahead of you to Galilee. To Galilee?
  4. No “gotcha” back in Jerusalem!  Can you imagine Jesus making another triumphal entry into Jerusalem?  That is what many of us would have done.  We would have come back and said, “Thought you got me, didn’t you!”
  5. There you will Seehim. 
    1. Eating breakfast on the beach.
    2. Building a fire.

 

What is Easter about?  (Comfort and Commission)

Mark 16:8 (NRSV) So they went out and fled from the tomb, for terror and amazement had seized them; and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.

What an odd way to end a story!

But somehow the realism is striking.

We seldom “get it” right away.

As we asked about the death of Jesus, “What difference does it make?”

The grave is not the end. Death does not have the last word.

There is something going on, on the other side of death.

I am not ruined, and there is More. 

More life, More adventure, and a great deal More love. 

We are free to give our lives away.

Free to live the adventure of life without fear.

Free to remain in the challenge of a difficult circumstance.

Free to forgive, and let go, because that is the story that we live.

Because for those who believe, those who covenant with God, there is More life on the other side of death.

A Dying Story (From Tom Long)

“She told me last fall that her father had died over the summer.  It was a hard last week because her father had a stroke and lost his power of speech.  ‘And you know how hard that would be for my daddy,’ she said. ‘He loved to talk.  But in his last few days, he couldn’t speak.  I will never forget, my sisters and my brother were gathered in his hospital room on the last day of his life and we were feeling the pain of his struggle as he tried to communicate with us.  Finally he motioned toward my brother as if to say, Get me a glass of water.  My brother went over to the sink and filled the glass with water and brought it to my father.  But he wouldn’t drink it.  He motioned as if to say to my brother, You drink it.  So my brother took a sip.  Then my father made a motion, Give it to your sister.  He handed the glass to my sister.  And then he motioned to pass it to me.  Suddenly my brother said, Oh my! He is serving communion!

      “In the moment, we knew that neither death, nor life, nor powers, nor principalities, nor anything else in all creation could separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus.”

      The father was saying, with his dying actions, there is more for me, and more for you who wait.

There is more and death does not win! That is why we celebrate. And this is how we comfort.  And this is what we have to say. You are not ruined.  There is MORE. More love. More goodness. More LIFE.

Ritual, Story, and Prayer (Oh, My!)

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Ritual, Story, and Prayer (Oh, My!).  Some of you know the rhythm of that, right?  Lions, Tigers, and Bears!  As Dorothy and Toto were making their way to see the Wizard of Oz, the entourage, the group of travelers, were considering the hazards of the journey.

This is not that!  Rather, as your guest today, I want to think with you about encouragements for the journey, instead of looking at the hazards! Rituals are good things, don’t you think?  Here in just a bit, we will break bread and give thanks, and share.  We will share that in a predictable way.  And it is important to you and it is important to me.  It is full of a story.  We know what it means to share this bread and to drink this cup.  We are included in the life of the One.  We are forgiven.  Those are powerful words, don’t you think?  Included.  Forgiven.  Fed.  Welcome.  This makes the gathering and the sharing VERY powerful, don’t you think?

As I was thinking about today, I wrote these lines. I must confess that I have never been to a Texas Aggie football game. I am a SoonerHowever, I have seen a game on television. I have seen their pep rallies. I have even known some yell leaders. Almost every thing they say (shout, chant, yell) is a mystery to me.  They (you?) love the ritual. For me, I am just missing out.  I don’t know the stories behind those actions or the words. It has no power for me. I wonder if we as Christians in this place, practice a similar routine.  We gather. You know the actions.  You know the words. They have power for you. You know the story, right?  Today we will use this lens to remember the Lord’s Prayer.

I am old enough to remember saying the words of the Lord’s Prayer in school (in Dewey, Oklahoma) when I was growing up.  I did not understand the words.  I don’t think it helped me much.  I did not have a rich enough understanding of the story.

Some Christian traditions use this prayer often.  Our tradition, the Churches of Christ, is rediscovering the prayer.  I think some of our folks left it because they listened to some preacher (some one like me!) say that there was something wrong with it.   However, I think learning to pray from Jesus is the Christian thing to do.  I could be wrong. Today, I thought we would walk through the lines and think about this prayer together.  Of course, I remember it best in the King James English.

Matthew 6:9 (KJV) After this manner therefore pray ye: Our Father which art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name. 10 Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven. 11 Give us this day our daily bread. 12 And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors. 13 And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil: For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever. Amen.

Our Father, which art in heaven.  I think this is a confession about relationships.  Of course, sometimes our relationships with our earthly fathers color our relationship with Our Heavenly Father.  It is supposed to be the other way around.  Our Father. The One who created.  The One who provides.  The One who gives us life.  The One we are meant to resemble.  Merciful. Gracious.  Slow to become angry.  Abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness. Forgiving iniquity, transgression and sin.  The One who loves us and longs to be with us.  And don’t miss the other relationship!  We say this together!  This is not My Father, even though that is true.  This is Our Father.  We are not in this journey by ourselves. That is such good news!  And heaven, too.  He sees from a perspective that we cannot know, yet.  But, one day.

Our Father, which art in heaven.  Hollowed by Thy name.  Now, I could be wrong, but I wonder if this is not about the words we use to name God.  We have words.  And those words are important (Yahweh, Elohim, El Shaddai).  Holy is your Name.  I think this is about the Way.  God’s Way is Holy.  God’s Way is different.  This will leak over to the next ideas, but I wonder if God’s different (holy) way is manifest in Buffalo Gap? I have been thinking about Pirates and the history of the Caribbean.  Did the explorers bring the Way of God, the Christian way to the New World? I think it mostly did not look like Jesus.  It looked imperial.  It looked greedy.  It looked deadly.  It ended up looking like human slavery.  Hallowed by Thy Name.

Thy Kingdom come. And these modifying words, Thy will be done on earth, as it is in heaven.  This is where our tradition had some fruitless arguments.  Some said that the kingdom came on Pentecost and that we could not (or should not) ask for it to come again.  And all I can say is, what about Juarez?  That is a story you know.  Has the kingdom come in fullness?  Does God reign?  Or do you find brutal politics and the Principalities and the Powers at work in the world?  The work of the devil is to diminish, discourage, and destroy.  I have to ask, “Am I involved?”  Would I pray, “Thy will be done on earth, in my heart, in my hands, in my words, in my way?”  Would I set the captive free?  Would I give myself away, just like Jesus does?  Would I present my body as a living sacrifice?  Thy kingdom come!  Thy will be done on earth.

Give us this day, our daily bread. By His hands we all are fed.  I hear an echo of the story of manna in the wilderness (Exodus 16/Numbers 11). The people of God learned to depend on God.  They could only gather enough for the day.  If they saved, it would spoil.  I think we have a tendency to be spoiled.  We think we supply.  We would do well to pray like a farmer who had no crop insurance or subsidy.  We would do well to acknowledge that it could all change in a moment, whatever prosperity we posses.  And we should learn to be God’s agent in Providence.  This March, the plan is for Stephen and I to take some Honors students to Dallas for a few days.  We are going to think with them about Urban Food Deserts.  If you are of a low income and live in central Dallas, where to do get healthy food?  There are restaurants.  There are convenience stores.  But there are not grocery stores.  And you cannot get in your car and go shop.  You might say, and some do, that we have no responsibility for that.  Those people should move.  And I would say, “but we do pray this prayer.”  Thy will be done.  On earth.  Give us this day.  Our daily bread.

And this will be familiar to you: Deuteronomy 8:3 (NRSV) He humbled you by letting you hunger, then by feeding you with manna, with which neither you nor your ancestors were acquainted, in order to make you understand that one does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of the LORD.

Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors. Do you need to be forgiven?  For all have sinned.  Iniquity, transgression and sin.  Sometimes we are hungry and desperate and fearful.  The story of humanity that I see in Scripture is that every inclination of the hearts of men was evil all the time (Gen 6:5).  I want you to know that God really does forgive you.  He is better at it than you are.  You will carry your self-inflicted wounds much longer than God will.  This I know.  The hard part of this prayer is the as we forgive.  With the measure you use will be the measure you get (Matt 7:2).

Lead us not into temptation.  But deliver us from the Evil One.  Now, maybe I’m wrong, but I think of the story of Job.  Do you know it?  Job was a righteous man.  And there was a season of testing that came to Job.  God asked Satan, “Have you considered my servant Job?”  Do you know what happened?  Job was put into season of grief and trial.  The question at stake was, “Does Job just love God in the good times, when life is easy and prosperous?” (Job 1:9)  I would rather not have God say to Satan, “Have you considered my servant Michael?”  But you know, I’m thinking, of the influence of the Evil One.  He diminishes, discourages, and destroys.  Please Lord, deliver us from that!  Make us whole and fill us with power and courage and goodness.  For Thine is the Kingdom, the Power, and the Glory for ever and ever.  Amen. That has such power!

Jesus teaches us to pray this way. This is a prayer that is full of this story. Is it a ritual?  Yes!  But full of power.  It is important and life changing.  If you are comfortable, maybe we could say it together.

Matthew 6:9 (KJV) Our Father which art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name. 10 Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven. 11 Give us this day our daily bread. 12 And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors. 13 And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil: For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever. Amen.

God With Us – Merry Christmas

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Good morning!  Thank you.  And Merry Christmas!

We were reading in the Gospel of John on Wednesday night and saw this episode in

 John 12:20-21 (NRSV). Now among those who went up to worship at the festival were some Greeks.  21 They came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, and said to him, “Sir, we wish to see Jesus.”

I think that is right!  I wish to see Jesus.  And I see Jesus in you.

I know Jesus better for having lived in your company for about the same length of time as the ministry of Jesus.

The world is blessed when they see Jesus.  And you are how they will see!

You know the story.

John 1:1 (NRSV) In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.

John 1:14 (NRSV) And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth.

This is the story! This is God moving in your direction.  You could call it God’s cultural accommodation.  He enters the human story, the language, and the rituals. He comes as a baby.  He learns to talk.  He learns carpentry (Mark 6:3).  He goes to ‘church.’  He has brothers and sisters.  He learns what families do.

Then, remember, when the angels announced the birth of Jesus, they were making an announcement of the purpose of this move toward us.

Luke 2:14 (KJV) Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.

Peace on Earth!  Most of the letters that you find in the New Testament begin and end with words like grace and peace.  I think that must be central to the whole message.  What do you think?

The Prince of Peace has arrived.  His mission is to bring peace.  And I am sure that he means for you to bring peace, too.  He said, “Blessed are the peacemakers for they will be called Children of God” (Matthew 5:9).

That is a tall order, to be a peacemaker.

Peace for you, now that would be something, wouldn’t it?  What would that be like?

A sense of satisfaction.  A feeling of enough.  Being whole and well.

Knowing where you are going, and being happy with the journey and the destination.  Peace.  Fearlessness. Confidence.  An anxiety-free existence.

It has been a goal…and intention of God….for you…for everyone you know.

The prophet Isaiah proclaimed seven hundred years before Jesus: The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned. Isaiah 9:2 (NIV)

He said it as if it had already happened…then he made this announcement…

Isaiah 9:6-7 (NIV) 6 For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. 7 Of the increase of his government and peace there will be no end. He will reign on David’s throne and over his kingdom, establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time on and forever. The zeal of the LORD Almighty will accomplish this.

A couple of chapters earlier…in Isaiah 7 he spoke of the birth of a child.  It is a passage that Matthew remembers when he is writing his gospel.

Matthew 1:23-25 (NIV) “The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel” –which means, “God with us.” 24 When Joseph woke up, he did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took Mary home as his wife. 25 But he had no union with her until she gave birth to a son. And he gave him the name Jesus.

The archangel Gabriel had come to Mary, who was engaged to Joseph.  He told her that she was going to have a baby!  The baby would be God’s child.  Of course, Joseph would be troubled by the whole affair.  It was in his dream that the angel had come to him, to remind him about this Scripture, from Isaiah.  He was a part of a remarkable plan of God.  REMARKABLE!

What I want you to see today is Immanuel.  God with us.

This time of year, you may see scenes of the Nativity.  The word itself just means being born.  But when we use it, we mean a representation of the birth of Jesus.  It is a blend of the various scenes of the story.

  • Angels and Shepherds.  Shepherds!  Not important people.  Not ‘good’ people.  The announcement is to certain poor shepherds!  Angels and Shepherds.
  • An extraordinary bright star in the black night sky.
  • A stable.  Sometimes we see the wise men from the east at the nativity (they might have come two years later!).  However, in the Nativity, we still see this collision or contrast.
  • Here come these Magi with gifts of incense and myrrh to the stable.  Can you smell the mixture?  Myrrh and the earthiness of the stable.  How strange!
  • The coming of the one who would be the Prince of Peace and then what Herod did after the Magi went home…the slaughter of innocent babies in Bethlehem (Matt 2:16).

What do you see?

God with Us.

God With Us – The juxtaposition of undeniable glory and indisputable coarseness.

God, in his humility …came…and dared to be one of us.

Out of the Ivory Palaces and the sweet smell of the anointing of myrrh – these were images of the coming King from Psalm 45:8.  He came.  I just marvel at the humility of God to draw near and become like you and me!

What does it mean?

God thinks highly of us!

We do not have to clean up before we engage.  God sidles right up next to our earthiness.

All the way he came.

God loves you, wants you, pursues you.

God with us in our trouble – that’s the story.

In an unplanned pregnancy. (You see Mary, here right?)  In the disorderliness of being away from home, with no room at the inn (out on the streets in some way).  In our simple lives, even as outsiders to the religious world (that Shepherd thing).

God with us in our troubles. That is such good news.

And something else.

God with us.

It is not God INSTEAD of Us.  I hear people saying that God has a plan, and all we need to do is go along.  God will get me a job.  Really? I would say, work on your resume.  Work on your job skills.  Get out there and seek.  God is not going to find you a husband, a wife, a job, a house, a life.

Jesus is God WITH us.

It is not God INSTEAD of Us.  And…

It is not US Instead of God – where people think they can or should or will manage just fine without the interruption of God.  When you are just left to the trouble, you begin to ask at some point, what is the point??  The world is so broken, all I want to do is close my eyes and pretend it is all okay.  It is not okay.

God with us.  You are not on your own.  But, you are involved.  God WITH you.

You see the purpose of God and the glory of the coming of Jesus?

No more distance. No distance in vocabulary. No distance in perspective and vested interest. Full relationship. Perfect communion.

Peace in you.  Peace for you. Peace FROM you.

What is God doing?  Creating Peace on Earth!

And He has such confidence in you. The high view of humanity that God has, that he would come and invite us to participate in the life that he imagines.  Your job, whatever your career might be, whatever your marital status might be, wherever you might live, is to love people into the presence of God.

If we are following Jesus, then the path is clear.  We step into a world of woundedness and trouble, into the lives of people around us, not to take over, but to accompany.  God is with you and in you, and when you carry him into those trouble spots…peace happens…or at least peace is an option.

Unto us a child is born, unto us a Son is given.

Unto us an example, a leader is given, making clear that our mission is to bring the goodness of God into the world.

You are the light because the Light is in you.

Go!  Close the gap between glory and coarseness.

You will have to really join them…just like Jesus.  You may have to learn their language, their habits and their customs.  But you cannot forget who you are, and what your mission is.

Peace: For you and from you.

Would you let God be with you?  That is what Christmas is really about.

Merry Christmas.

Peace.  Really.  Peace be with all of you.

My Shoes Are Red

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What an honor it has been to be your preacher for a season.  You know that I have wanted these to be conversations.  I have not been telling you.  I have never thought that was effective as we devote ourselves to Scripture.  What I have sought to do is to think with you, to be your companion in discovery.  We have listened together.  What will you remember of our time together?

When I was with my friends at Southeast, when I earned my doctorate, they gave me a clock that sits on my desk.  They inscribed it with some words they heard from me.  I cannot tell you how powerful and wonderful that gift was for me.

The inscription says:

You are the beloved of God.  Created His child.  Chosen His servant.

May the Lord guard your heart.  May He guide your steps.

And may you find satisfaction in Him.

That is what they heard from me.  They were returning to me the Truth.

What have you heard?

Maybe you will remember that the work of God is to bring order out of chaos.

Genesis 1:1-2 (NIV) In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. 2 Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters.

The wind of God, the breath of God, the Spirit of God, hovering over the chaos, about to create.  I think this still happens.  I think this is a good baptismal imagine.  (If anyone is in Christ, it is new creation – 2 Cor 5:17).

Are you involved?  Is this your work, too?  I think it is.

We are created to be like God.  We are created in God’s very image.  His character is meant to be our character.  And what is that?  This is one of those passages that should be marked in your Bible.

Exodus 34:6-7 (NRSV) 6 The LORD passed before him, and proclaimed, “The LORD, the LORD, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, 7 keeping steadfast love for the thousandth generation, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, yet by no means clearing the guilty.

Isn’t that good news?

I think it speaks of justice and righteousness.  His Way is our way.  You are merciful.  You are gracious.  You are slow to anger and your life is steadfast.  You forgive iniquity and transgression and sin.  And you are not reckless.  You are accountable.  You are responsible.  Right?  And then, we also know how very difficult it is to be like God.

Perhaps that is the fundamental story of God that we find in the Old Testament.

God is faithful.  Human beings are a mess.

If you were a part of our Wednesday and Sunday evening study groups, we walked through Genesis together and found that every inclination of our hearts is a mess.

Genesis 6:5 (NIV) The LORD saw how great man’s wickedness on the earth had become, and that every inclination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil all the time.

I’m so thankful that the lead characteristic of God is mercy.

God pursues his people and is a covenant maker.  He made promises to Abraham.  The promises were and are that Abraham would have innumerable descendants, that they would have a place, and that through him all nations would be blessed.

This was the good news – the gospel.

Galatians 3:8 (NIV) The Scripture foresaw that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, and announced the gospel in advance to Abraham: “All nations will be blessed through you.”

Blessing.  It is not extra.  And it is not new.

I hope you heard me say that to be blessed was to have God’s Good Attention.  It does not mean that it will go easily for you.

Jesus is blessed.  And his earthly life was difficult.  He was criticized.  He was lied about.  He was teased and mocked and abused.  He was cruelly killed.  And yet, he was God’s Beloved.  He was blessed.  God was with Him.  And through Him, God was and is with you.

Hear the Blessing:

Numbers 6:22-27 (NIV) The LORD said to Moses,  23 “Tell Aaron and his sons, ‘This is how you are to bless the Israelites. Say to them:

24 “The LORD bless you and keep you; 25 the LORD make his face shine upon you and be gracious to you; 26 the LORD turn his face toward you and give you peace.” 27  “So they will put my name on the Israelites, and I will bless them.”

Words have great power.

And your ministry is God’s Mission.  He who brings order out of chaos, calls you to be a peacemaker. (Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called children of God.)  God is with the Peacemakers!  He calls you to heal and encourage and call people into His character (merciful, gracious, slow to become angry, abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness).  And this is our character, too, right?  That is what it means to be a Godly person.  That is the work of our lives.  That is what we are doing here!

There were some Psalms that you have heard from me.

You are beautiful.  You are wonderful.  I know that full well!

Before a word is on your tongue, the Lord knows it completely.

There is no place to hide from God.  He knows you.

Psalms 139:1-14 (NIV) O LORD, you have searched me and you know me. 2 You know when I sit and when I rise; you perceive my thoughts from afar. 3 You discern my going out and my lying down; you are familiar with all my ways. 4 Before a word is on my tongue you know it completely, O LORD. 5 You hem me in—behind and before; you have laid your hand upon me. 6 Such knowledge is too wonderful for me, too lofty for me to attain. 7 Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence? 8 If I go up to the heavens, you are there; if I make my bed in the depths, you are there. 9 If I rise on the wings of the dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea, 10 even there your hand will guide me, your right hand will hold me fast. 11 If I say, “Surely the darkness will hide me and the light become night around me,” 12 even the darkness will not be dark to you; the night will shine like the day, for darkness is as light to you. 13 For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. 14 I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well.

You are fully known.  You are genuinely loved.  That is good news.  That is what we so want and desperately need.

We have spoken about Psalm 88 on occasion.  Almost every Psalm contains a word of hope.  All except for one.  Psalm 88 ends this way…

Psalms 88:16-18 (NIV) Your wrath has swept over me; your terrors have destroyed me. 17 All day long they surround me like a flood; they have completely engulfed me. 18 You have taken my companions and loved ones from me; the darkness is my closest friend.

Sometimes, we are right there.  I think it is the feeling of Jesus on the cross when he began to quote Psalm 22.  My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?  Scripture is honest.  And sometimes, this is the truth from our depths.  With God, you don’t have to be afraid of the truth of your heart.  I think that is good news.

And, along those lines, there is Psalm 137.  It is not a nice moment.

Psalms 137:8-9 (NIV) O Daughter of Babylon, doomed to destruction, happy is he who repays you for what you have done to us— 9 he who seizes your infants and dashes them against the rocks.

Isn’t that terrible!  Yet, here is what I want you to see.  Sometimes we are angry.  How can you be angry and sin not (Psalm 4:4, Eph., 4:26)?  I think this psalm tells you.  You sing it out.  You sing it up.  You give it up to God.  He will receive it and you will be healed.  I think that is good news.

And, I hope you have heard that all of this is about Jesus.

Luke 24:44 (NIV) He said to them, “This is what I told you while I was still with you: Everything must be fulfilled that is written about me in the Law of Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms.”

Jesus came to announce the arrival of the rule and reign of God.  God’s Way was breaking in with his birth, with his life, with his teaching, with his loving self-sacrifice on the cross, with his resurrection from the dead.

The Word had said that the king was coming, and a kingdom.

Daniel 2:44 (NIV)  “In the time of those kings, the God of heaven will set up a kingdom that will never be destroyed, nor will it be left to another people. It will crush all those kingdoms and bring them to an end, but it will itself endure forever.

And…

Isaiah 61:1-3 (NIV) The Spirit of the Sovereign LORD is on me, because the LORD has anointed me to preach good news to the poor.  He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners, 2 to proclaim the year of the LORD’S favor and the day of vengeance of our God, to comfort all who mourn, 3 and provide for those who grieve in Zion—to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair.

Jesus came.  He said:

Mark 1:15 (NIV) “The time has come,” he said. “The kingdom of God is near. Repent and believe the good news!”

Today.  Now.  The Way is clear.  Come to it!  Merciful.  Gracious.  Slow to become angry.  Steadfast in Love.  And full of the justice of God.

And he said this about the Isaiah words, which he read in the synagogue in his home town.

Luke 4:20-21 (NIV) Then he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant and sat down. The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on him, 21 and he began by saying to them, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.”

Today.  Beauty for ashes. Praise instead of despair.

Binding up the brokenhearted. Gladness instead of mourning.

We have been through Matthew and Mark and Luke and John.  We have centered on Jesus.  We have seen the power of the Presence of the Messiah (the Anointed One, The King, The Christ).

He says, “follow me.”

Matthew 18:3 (NIV) And he said: “I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.

He says you must be born again (John 3:3) from above.

He calls you to go into the world for their sake.

John 20:21 (NIV) Again Jesus said, “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.”

You are the Presence of Jesus, the Body of Christ.  His Work is your work.  His Way is our Way.

There is more, so much more.  Rejoice in the Lord, Always.  Let your gentleness be evident to all.  The Lord is near.

But perhaps, most often, you would hear this hymn from Philippians 2:

Philippians 2:5-8 (NRSV) Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, 6 who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, 7 but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, 8 he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death— even death on a cross.

This is the call to the Way.

Have this mind in you.  Have this attitude.

You are wonderfully blessed.  God is with you and in you.

You are powerful.  You are forgiven.

But it is not all for you.  You cannot exploit the blessings for your self.  That is not the Way.  We give ourselves away.  We give ourselves all the way away.

How could we complain or grumble if we have died?

This is your baptism.  These are the implications of your baptism.

You died.  You are resurrected.  To this Way.

Okay.  Enough.  Not really.  But it must be so.  I need to end with one illustration.

Do you remember this story?  You probably do.

Fred Craddock – Craddock Stories, page 27.

By Anastasia Zamyatina

I have a student who, for eight years, taught in a school in Nashville, Tennessee, for children with hearing disorders.  Their ears were all right; they just did not make contact.  He said that after eight years, “I just could not stand it anymore.  I went home crying.  I went to work crying.”  He said, “One year, right after the Thanksgiving holiday, there was this beautiful girl in the school.  Heather was her name.  She was seven years old.  We were out on the playground just after our Thanksgiving holiday.  I went over to Heather, took her by the shoulders, squatted down in front of her, and said, “Heather?  Heather?  What did you eat for Thanksgiving?”

Heather said, “My shoes are red.”

He said to me, “I just couldn’t take it anymore.”

I did not have the heart to tell him that he’s going to have experiences pretty close to that.  I was in Dallas in a service in which the music, the anthem, the prayers, the songs, everything gelled, and in the sermon, everything was just right.  I was in the presence of God.  Standing there after the benediction, I did not want to move.  I was immobilized by the presence of God in the service.  Just a guest.  A man in the pew in front of me – he didn’t know me, I didn’t know him – turned around and said, “Do you think Tom Landry’s going to coach the Cowboys another year?”

Do you know what the man said to me?  The man said, “My shoes are red.”

O Lord, open our ears.  Tune our hearts to hear.  Help us to grasp the point, the story, the wonder, the hope, the news.  This is what I meant to say to you, in our season together.

And if we cannot get it, even if our shoes are red.

He loves us still.  This I know.

What do you think about gambling?

Today, I have one idea.  Well, maybe two!

You should know that is a challenge for me.  One idea.  How many ideas can you carry away from a Sunday morning?  Today is the last teaching sermon.  And, really, I intend for only the first half to be a teaching lesson.  In the second idea for the day, we will take a turn for home.

After today, we have two more Sunday’s in our relationship.  Next Sunday, will be about Worship and Take-Away.  And then, our final Sunday will be about Christmas, The Word Became Flesh.

Last week, I told you that there were two cultural practices that we were going to talk about.  Last week was about alcohol.  And today is about another potentially addictive and destructive indulgence.  We could call it, something for nothing.  We could call it greed, which is idolatry.  We will come back to that note from Colossians.  We could call it covetousness.  And it has many manifestations, the short circuits of capitalism (stock market speculations).  You do know what capitalism could be?  It was finding some people who had an idea, a business plan, that we respected.  We thought they had a good idea.  They were willing to allow us to participate by investing in their company, helping them build the infrastructure and the market.  Then, at the end of the year, we would earn a dividend on our investment, if all went well.  We also hoped that our share in the company would grow in value.  That hardly resembles the stock market day trading we see these days.  We do not count on dividends (earnings) as much.  Instead, we hope to take our profits daily or whenever the market turns.  The market is up and we sell what we bought when it was low.  When we think it hits a peak, we take our profit and get out.

Here is what I want to tell you today.  Slow and steady wins the race.

Have you heard stories about Black Friday this year?  Even at places like Wal-Mart, on Thursday night was crazy.  Wal-Mart was getting ready, but people did not really want to wait.  Columns of goods were in the aisles wrapped in shrink-wrap.  Wal-Mart put boundaries around it and posted guards (employees).  People brought food and surrounded the columns, ready to pounce at midnight.  What kind of bargain were they going to get?  What does Wal-Mart have that warrants such behavior?  Maybe you know.  But it is a mystery to me.  Is the behavior rational?  I don’t think so.  And especially when people begin to fight.  “You are line hoping!”  And out comes the pepper spray or the fists, or just the shouts and angry attitudes.  It just makes the shopping so much fun!  Merry Christmas everybody!  What is that about?  It is about getting something.  It is about a bargain.  It is also about hunting and winning and competing.  “Look what I got for nothing!”

Crazy.  I heard in the news this week that Florida is revisiting the business of Casino Gambling (http://www.npr.org/2011/12/01/142864058/in-miami-plans-for-mega-casinos-bring-hope-and-ire ).  When economies struggle, the big time gaming organizations come along and make promises of jobs and prosperity.  When I lived in Colorado, I remember driving into the mountains around a little old mining town called Central City.  It was a sleepy little place.  Then the casinos came.  Now it has huge buildings and is extravagant in many respects.  What I wonder when that happens is, “Where did that money come from, for those buildings?”  Was it capital from investors?  Maybe.  I am also thinking that it is from the gamblers.

Why does gambling appeal to people?  I think it is linked to Black Friday Shopping and to Wall Street Profiteering.  It is a rush!  It is exciting.

Early in our married life, Sandra and I were traveling out to California by car.  We got to Las Vegas

By Ian Johnston

and decided that we wanted to see it lit up.  We arrived at about four in the afternoon and had to wait.  We did and then went to drive through it all.  We decided to spend forty dollars.  We turned it into quarters and played.  We may have spent an hour.  We walked out with what we walked in with, and we were pleased that we had an experience and we lost nothing.

Do you know that the plan of the Casino Executives is to addict you on the rush?

And you should know that they are NOT gambling.  They have it down to a science.  They are not going to lose.  They are counting on your human nature.  And they are going to take your money.  Do you know that?  It is true.

I know that Shreveport is a lure for some in East Texas.  I had a lady in her 80’s in my office several months ago who came to tell on another lady, also in her 80’s.  She was trying to create trouble.

She also told me that her preacher (at Fredonia Hill Baptist) had said it was okay to gamble.  I just had to try not to laugh.  People sometimes hear what they want to hear.

Is it bad?  Is it bad to seek the rush?  I can’t say that it is fundamentally bad.

I wonder if it is related to fishing or hunting?  Free fish!  I had an experience fishing off shore.  The boat was a 54’ Bertram (about a half-million dollar boat).  We filled the tank with diesel.  The tank holds 1524 gallons.  When we went, it only needed about 900 gallons to fill the tank.  I think diesel was going for about $5/gallon.  Let’s see that is about $4,500 for fuel.  What would be the price per pound of that Yellow Fin tuna?  Is that crazy?  It isn’t bad (maybe).  But it might be crazy.

Here is what perhaps we should know.  Let’s consider these statements from the Letter to the Corinthians.  I think they have a pretty broad application.

1 Corinthians 6:12 (NIV) “Everything is permissible for me”—but not everything is beneficial. “Everything is permissible for me”—but I will not be mastered by anything.

The quotation marks are indicators that Paul is quoting his opponents.  He is taking their phrase and giving it some important modification.

When you are deciding what you are going to do, these principles are central to your Christian faith.  Is it beneficial?  You can apply this to eating at McDonalds, to gambling, and rearing children, and changing the oil in your car.  It applies to your clothing choices, the practice of modesty, and playing miniature golf.  There are some things that we do that are not beneficial.  (Fun is often beneficial, by the way.)

I will not be mastered by anything.  We are addictable people, don’t you think?  We love the adrenaline rush.  I think it is one of the ways that the devil can work his destructive powers.  You cannot stay focused on the mission of your life when you are running after the rush of sudden acquisition or when you are addicted to much wine.  You cannot.

Paul says it again several chapters later.

1 Corinthians 10:23 (NIV) “Everything is permissible”—but not everything is beneficial. “Everything is permissible”—but not everything is constructive.

So here is a last word. Are you constructive?  Slow and steady wins the race.

How do you build a life?  How do you train a child?  How do you develop a farm? How do you even repent of destructive impulses?  I am thinking here not about sin that you need to quit right this very minute.  You very well may need to stop something immediately. I am thinking about your exercise program for getting healthy.  Today, you may not be ready to run a marathon (some of you are I know).  Exercise is a discipline.  You do it most days.  You make good choices about what you eat and drink.  You discipline your mind.  You learn all of the time and every day (instead of cramming for an exam!).

And when it comes to earning a living, you work hard every day.  You save.  You create.  You sow seed.  You do things the right way without short cuts.  Slow and steady wins the race.  Almost all short cuts are wrong, unconstructive, and in the worst cases are addictive and non-beneficial.  That is not your Way.  That is not God’s Way.

Colossians 3:5 (NRSV) Put to death, therefore, whatever in you is earthly: fornication, impurity, passion, evil desire, and greed (which is idolatry).

All of these are destructive.  All of this is sin.  So often we would rather dismiss greed, as if it was not as serious.  However, you see what this says.  Greed is idolatry.  Greed says you trust your ability to grab, you trust only yourself to supply.  You think there will not be enough.

Slow and Steady.  Lead a life of discipline.  Lead a life of love.  That is how you stay focused.

And now, the turn toward home.  Every journey is an exodus.  We are Traveling Home Together.  Some times we are in close proximity in this journey.  We have work to do together for a season (or two).  Then there is a season where we are traveling, but not in one another’s immediate company.

Here is what I know about you.

You are the Light of the World.  And you are the Salt of the Earth.  You cannot be more important than that!  You manifest the Presence of God.  You are the Body of Christ.

We believe that God has sent us to you (both times).  We think this on an individual basis for those of you who have invited us into your lives.  We think this on a collective basis because you have allowed me from week to week to speak into your spirit and into your mind, critically important ideas.

One of the things that you have heard from me is that I think that words have great power.  You know that to be true.

Sometimes the words of a Sunday Assembly are full of nourishment.

Sometimes it may be oatmeal, good, helpful, but not memorable.  You have let me stir you up.  I count that as sacred space.  I am so honored to be the one to open God’s Word with you, to let us be stirred to love and good works (Heb. 10:24).

You have been graceful to us.  From time to time, I say, “I could be wrong.”  In all humility, I say to you, “I could be wrong.”  I do not intend to be.  I am passionate about getting it right.  But every word has such power that I ask God for his continuing mercy.  I dare to teach.  And you have learned.

I see the Holy Spirit in this place, in you.  You have been kind and gentle.  You have been loving and patient.  You have let me push.

I am sure that good preachers are a dime a dozen.  But I also know that in some ways we are a peculiar lot.  I love Bill Sherrill.  I have learned so much from him.  And I am thankful for his honest and good and kind ways.  He has been my preacher.  I am proud to say that.  And yet, in many ways I am not like him.  Nor am I like Dorian Flynn, whom it seems that everyone loved.  I am a different flavor.  It takes some adjustment.  I am thankful that you have listened so very well.  Most Sundays this room is just intense and alive.  You listen.  I am just so humbled and thankful for that.  And now, you will adjust again, to someone who is probably not like me.  I know that takes energy and work.  But I have confidence in you.  And I have confidence in God.

This is our second season with you.  We came in the summer of 1986.  You were such a blessing to us in those five years.  We learned so much from you.  Those of you who were a part of North Street then.  You let us teach your children! You were the first church that we served in a full time capacity.  And now, the circle is completed, as you are that last church that we serve in a full time capacity (probably).

We were yours first.

We were yours last.  We needed you both times.  We thank you for these eight years.

Of course, today is not the end.  We have a bit more work to do, but I know that we enter the holiday season and you will be on the move.  The time is short.  It is important to me that you know what deep and abiding affection we have for you.

Let us stay focused.  We have a mission in mind.

Making Choices About Alcohol

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Jeffery Smith commented to me last Sunday after the lesson that I sounded like a dying man.  What I think he meant was that the conversation was open and honest and earnest.  When one speaks their last words, you tend to hear some very central ideas.

Last week, we were thinking about stewardship.  We are responsible.  We are participants in the world.  Our objective and our identity are pretty important topics.  Who are you?  What are you doing here?

There was a story on CNN from September of last year (09/07/10) that contends that a lot of young people in America are following a mutant form of Christianity.  Kenda Dean has been doing research for a book and did nationwide interviews with 3300 teens.  She is a professor at Princeton.  Her book is called Almost Christian (http://kendadean.com/406/chapter-1-becoming-christian-ish/ ).

She says that the imposter faith is the largest reason that many are leaving churches.  There is just nothing under the surface, no substance, no interesting texture, no meaty gritty truth.

In her interviews she found that most church going teens were indifferent and inarticulate about their faith.  (I thought, well, they are teens!) However would they be inarticulate about love and music and friends?  Hardly.

What are the central questions of faith?  Who am I?  What am I doing here? Does Christianity answer the questions?

What Dean found in her study was that teens think that God wants them to be good and do good.  Dean called this moralistic therapeutic deism.

What does she mean by that?

Moralism is working the list.  We make lists of what is right and wrong.  And I think you have to decide in advance where the moral line is between good and right and bad and wrong.  Moralism, however, has a tendency to reduction.  We lose sight of the rationale.  Why is this action right and good?  And why is this action bad or wrong?

Our relationship to God involves morals.  But the relationship is the point of it all.  And relationships are full of texture, of nuance, of emotion, and involvement.  The relationship is poor if it is reduced to things that we do and don’t do.  I call you on Tuesdays.  We snuggle on Wednesdays, whether we (you) want to or not.  You make my favorite food on Fridays.  We say “I love you,” to finish a phone call.  Rules. Structures.  Habits.  However, is there substance behind it?  Is there nuance and emotion?  I think moralism is an impoverishment.

Therapeutics.  If our faith is about making ourselves feel better, I can understand that.  But does that not turn it into a selfish thing?  We forgive so that our hearts will not be heavy.  We pray to cast off our burdens. We practice the ritual to cast off our guilt.  Being a Christian is good for your spirit.  I know that.  However, when we invite people to that, I’m not sure that lines up very well with the life of Jesus and the Disciples.  Their life is not easy.  There is a lot of suffering in the story.  There is joy in the middle of all of that suffering, no doubt.  But the goal is being the Light of the World through self-sacrificial love.  Sacrifice hurts.

Deism.  A Deist believes in God.  However, for them, God is not involved in the details.  The Holy Spirit, for them, is not a real presence.  Jesus is distant.  It is one of those things that I think we miss sometimes in communion.  Jesus says, “This is my body.”  There he is standing with bread in his hands, saying something that sounds amazing, “This is my body.”  Could we believe it?

Today and next week I want to talk about two cultural practices that I think have some challenge for us.  We will not reduce the conversation to moralism.  We want to think about them with texture and nuance and thoughtfulness.

Today, we are going to think about drinking alcohol: wine, beer, spirits.

A couple of years ago I was called on to do a wedding for a young couple from a very conservative church background (Stallings Drive Church).  The preacher had learned that alcohol was being served at the reception and backed out just a few days before the wedding.  They asked if I would do their ceremony.  I was happy to inhabit sacred space with them.  The wedding was wonderful and there was responsible consumption of alcohol by a whole host of people you know!

I also know that many of you have made some choices about alcohol usage. And we have not talked about the subject, have we?  Let’s talk.

How does God feel about wine?  The Palmist writes:

Psalms 104:14-15 (NRSV) You cause the grass to grow for the cattle, and plants for people to use, to bring forth food from the earth, 15 and wine to gladden the human heart, oil to make the face shine, and bread to strengthen the human heart.

God commanded the people to bring wine as an offering to Him.

Numbers 15:5 (NRSV) Moreover, you shall offer one-fourth of a hin of wine (about a quart) as a drink offering with the burnt offering or the sacrifice, for each lamb.

The priests received this as the tithe:

Numbers 18:12 (NRSV) All the best of the oil and all the best of the wine and of the grain, the choice produce that they give to the LORD, I have given to you.

They were not pouring that wine on the ground.  It was for them to have, to enjoy, to consume.

In a season of Thanksgiving, hear these instructions.  You were meant to have a celebration before God, but if you could not get your feast to the Holy Place, you were supposed to sell your produce and buy a feast!

Deuteronomy 14:25-26 (NRSV) …then you may turn it into money. With the money secure in hand, go to the place that the LORD your God will choose; 26 spend the money for whatever you wish—oxen, sheep, wine, strong drink, or whatever you desire. And you shall eat there in the presence of the LORD your God, you and your household rejoicing together.

On the other hand, there is plenty of warning about the downside of drinking alcohol.

There is this important piece of wisdom in Proverbs 31:

Proverbs 31:4-6 (NRSV) It is not for kings, O Lemuel, it is not for kings to drink wine, or for rulers to desire strong drink; 5 or else they will drink and forget what has been decreed, and will pervert the rights of all the afflicted. 6 Give strong drink to one who is perishing, and wine to those in bitter distress.

Alcohol makes it difficult to think.  It slows your ability to respond with consideration for the consequences.  In this way, it is a destructive power.

In a season before judgment fell upon the Northern Kingdom of Israel, Isaiah brings this oracle.

Isaiah 28:7 (NRSV) These also reel with wine and stagger with strong drink; the priest and the prophet reel with strong drink, they are confused with wine, they stagger with strong drink; they err in vision, they stumble in giving judgment.

What does the New Testament have to say about drinking?

You know that Jesus turns water into wine for a wedding at Cana.  He turns six thirty-gallon water jars into 180 gallons of premium wine (John 2:3-10).  That is a lot of good wine!

Did Jesus drink wine?  Yes, of course, he did.  You have to do some mighty Scripture twisting to deny it.  Jesus says:

Luke 7:33-34 (NRSV) For John the Baptist has come eating no bread and drinking no wine, and you say, ‘He has a demon’; 34 the Son of Man has come eating and drinking, and you say, ‘Look, a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’

The point, of course that these people were going to be critical, regardless.  But you should see that Jesus came eating and drinking (wine).

And of course, there is communion.

I think it is rather funny how some have scruples about having unleavened bread, but they are also willing to have grape juice rather than wine.  By the way, I think grape juice is fine.  I think the whole ‘bit-o-cracker’ is far removed from what was experienced at the table of the Lord.  And I don’t think it matters in this powerful, real, and symbolic meal that it is far removed.  My point is that the cup was full of wine.

Jesus says: Matthew 26:29 (NRSV) “I tell you, I will never again drink of this fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father’s kingdom.”

I read that as we will enjoy this with Jesus, again, one day.  Maybe I’m wrong.

Paul has some words of caution.

Ephesians 5:18 (NRSV) Do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery; but be filled with the Spirit.

But that is not a command or expectation to be totally abstaining.

Paul says this to Timothy.

1 Timothy 5:23 (NRSV) No longer drink only water, but take a little wine for the sake of your stomach and your frequent ailments.

And a last word for bishops, Paul says:

Titus 1:7 (NRSV) For a bishop, as God’s steward, must be blameless; he must not be arrogant or quick-tempered or addicted to wine or violent or greedy for gain.

Isn’t that an interesting list of qualities?  “Addicted to wine” is the word paroinon, meaning drunkard.

Thank you for bearing with me through this little Bible drill.  My point is that in some respects, the Bible is ambivalent about drinking wine and beer and strong drink.  What I mean is that you cannot say, “God forbids.”  Consumption is clearly not a sin.  However, it would be irresponsible to say that there are no clear boundaries.  We cannot be moralistic in general about our attitudes toward those who choose to consume alcohol, either.

Would you say, those who choose to consume are not good Christians?  You would have to say that Jesus was not a good Christian.  Ha!

Yet, alcohol has been a problem in our society. You know that.  It has been worse than it is today.  In the 1820’s there was so much corn whiskey sold that there was enough for every man, woman, AND child to have consumed a fifth of a gallon every day!

Alcohol has the capacity to be a demon, to take control of your life.  Of course, it is easy to say that there are worse demons (methamphetamines for one), but no one thinks that meth is okay for casual, social, or church folk consumption.

I think we have some choices to make.  We will have to decide if drinking wine or beer or liquor is a good and right thing.

Some of you will decide that, for you, the answer is no, it is not a right or good thing.  You will have your reasons.  You may have known people who were out of control in negative ways in your life.  You may have been hurt by them.  You have seen the destructive power of being under the influence.  Or it could be that you don’t like the feeling. You may have been out of control yourself, and you recognize that alcohol is a danger for you.  For you, you know that it is a sin.  And in your discipline, you draw a line.  That is a very good choice.

Some of you will decide that wine or beer or liquor is a good and right occasional gift that you receive with thanksgiving.  You may have a glass of wine in the evening at home.  You may be among those who have a hot toddy, or Nyquil (50 proof), before bed.  You may have a beer with your friends.  You know what your responsibilities are, and you keep good boundaries.  You have in your heart of hearts a determination to do no harm to others.  You will not drive when your mind is less than perfectly alert (for whatever reason), right?

And that leads me to ask us a question:

Why don’t we drink (more)?  I have some sample answers.

  1. I’m not sure I want to consume those sugars and carbohydrates.  That is not good nutrition!
  2. I am socially responsible.  I am sensitive to your expectations and to the expectations of our community.  When the weak see me, I feel responsible.  Do you remember what I said last week?  I am responsible.  I want to be a careful man.  I don’t want to do harm.  I hear God say, “Love your neighbor as yourself.”
  3. I want to be clear minded.  Thinking is important to me.  It is difficult to be sharp when alcohol is in the system.  That is also true of turkey and too much sugar.  All of that just makes me sleepy.  I suppose that is why coffee delivers my favorite effect.

And here is a word for you.  It says that you are free to choose.  It also says that the issue, the life, the choice, is not essentially about the food or the drink.  Our way is one of self-sacrificing love.  And stumbling is not a matter of disagreement.  The stumbler is not the person who looks in your grocery cart to see what you have.  Stumbling is a matter of doing real harm.  Stumbling is a matter of causing someone to fall into sin.  You, as a Christian, are not permitted to do harm.  We may not do harm.  Listen closely.

Romans 14:13-21 (NRSV) Let us therefore no longer pass judgment on one another, but resolve instead never to put a stumbling block or hindrance in the way of another. 14 I know and am persuaded in the Lord Jesus that nothing is unclean in itself; but it is unclean for anyone who thinks it unclean. 15 If your brother or sister is being injured by what you eat, you are no longer walking in love. Do not let what you eat cause the ruin of one for whom Christ died. 16 So do not let your good be spoken of as evil. 17 For the kingdom of God is not food and drink but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. 18 The one who thus serves Christ is acceptable to God and has human approval. 19 Let us then pursue what makes for peace and for mutual upbuilding. 20 Do not, for the sake of food, destroy the work of God. Everything is indeed clean, but it is wrong for you to make others fall by what you eat; 21 it is good not to eat meat or drink wine or do anything that makes your brother or sister stumble.

Remember stumble is not the same thing as passing judgment on you.  That is what happens in an environment of moralism.  To cause one to stumble is to cause them to sin.

Let me say one final comment about young people and alcohol.  You may have heard me talk about the last part of the brain to develop.  It is the orbital frontal cortex, right here behind your eyes.  It is the portion of the brain that gives us a chance to rethink our choices.  When we have some experience that has taught us some lessons and when our orbital frontal cortex is fully developed, we are better decision-makers.  That is why our society has decided that those under 21 are not permitted to consume alcohol.  It is dangerous.  It is unwise.  There will come a day when you can decide for yourself, but if you are under twenty-one, that day is not today.

The title of these lessons is staying focused.

We are a people on a mission.  We are full of energy and the Holy Spirit.  God has some work in mind for us.  We are sometimes so easily distracted.  Or we reduce our faith to a list of rules that hardly help us stay focused on being loving and helpful and encouraging. Make some choices about it and stay focused.

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