Month: February 2014
It is very easy to be cynical about the church. I have often been guilty of this myself. This is especially true when we think about the church only as the institution and program we see on Sunday mornings. Unfortunately, this is likely a common view for many Americans. So, we get into long and sometimes ridiculous discussions about what the Sunday morning meeting should look like. Don’t get me wrong, we should think, talk, and plan about that, but it shouldn’t consume us.
This morning I gathered in a hospital waiting room with a group of guys that I have the deepest respect for who shepherd our church. I was honored to come alongside them and lay hands on a sweet lady whose husband is lying in a hospital bed after suffering a massive stroke and pray with her. The gentleman lying in that bed is a hero of the faith. He is a legend in our church and has had an impact across the world. They have lived a long life together as husband and wife and now she is walking through the valley the psalmist speaks of in Psalm 23. It is a journey through a valley that some of us have not yet even experienced and some of us know all too well.
I love Psalm 23. It is likely one of the most well known passages in all of Scripture. I particularly like the part about how we have no fear when walking through that valley because the rod and staff of the Shepherd comfort us. I don’t think the comfort comes from an intellectual knowledge of the Shepherd. To me, the comfort is fully realized in the flesh through the Body of Christ, his church. I want so bad to do something for this precious lady walking through this dark valley, but the thing is, there is nothing I can do. Not because there isn’t anything to be done, but because she is surrounded by a group of people who are already showing her in the flesh the comfort of the Shepherd. Now that the time has come for her to journey through this dark valley, she isn’t walking alone. The church of Jesus Christ is walking with her, comforting her.
You can be cynical about church and have endless conversations about Sunday morning. You can think the church to be a waste, not worth your time and effort. I know this though; I am going to think twice about cynicism in the church. Because when the time comes, I want them walking through some of the darkest seasons of my life with me. I can’t do this journey alone. No one can. The church is so much more than a Sunday program. The church is the comfort of the Shepherd’s rod and staff being fleshed out in our lives.
And as a complete side note, I absolutely love my church. I saw today the giant footsteps that our current elders have to fill from some great men who have gone before them. I couldn’t be more proud of how well they are doing just that. We may not always look perfect on our Sunday mornings or in our programs. We will make mistakes. However, there isn’t another group of believers I would rather be on this journey with right now. I thank God for his church worldwide. Not the institution, but the people.
I used to enjoy a warm cup of coffee (2 or 3 actually) each day. There isn’t anything much more relaxing than sitting down to a fresh cup of brewed coffee and something interesting to read. Each sip warms my body and calms my nerves, allowing me to really enjoy myself. I still enjoy a warm cup of coffee; I just don’t get it very often. You see, now when I sit down to my coffee, I have a 2 year old or a 7 month old yelling for my attention and pulling me away. So, I (sometimes begrudgingly) go wherever they are pulling. The other day I sat down to my warm cup of coffee while reading for grad school about the cross. I was reading about how the cross now becomes the interpretive event through which I see my life and therefore should shape my marriage, work, parenting, and everything else I am engaged in. I really enjoyed that thought, and then my 7-month-old Henry cried out from his bedroom. So I went. I wasn’t happy about it, but I went. This of course led to me having, yet again, a cold cup of coffee. I’m sitting there rocking one of my babies and thinking about how much I want to be at the table finishing my reading and my coffee when it dawns on me what I was just reading.
Through the event of the cross, I am learning to die to myself. Yet, somehow through this death, I live. Much like Paul who says he has been crucified with Christ, nevertheless he lives. It may not be living the way the powers of this age tell me I should live, but it is living in its fullest form. What I want and desire is no longer what gives me life. I’m learning, through the cross, to find life in giving mine (my desires, cares, etc.) away. If I can’t handle a simple interruption from a precious child that takes me away from a cup of coffee, I have to wonder how well I’m living into the event of the cross.
The truth is, my reaction to this simple interruption is telling of a larger story in my life. I like things my way, on my time, and in ways that make me comfortable. My frustrations with being interrupted show a larger struggle with living into the death and resurrection of Jesus. The death and resurrection of Jesus becomes the story in which I live into, which is the opposite of trying to live into my own story. Living into the death and resurrection of Christ places me in the world in such a way that being interrupted and making space for others ought to be a way of life for me, not an annoyance.
So, I may not have a warm cup of coffee for a long time. I may have people knocking on my door or moving into my life in ways that I don’t like. I may have to give into the desires of others over my own. I certainly will live a life of submission and sacrifice for my wife and family. All of this is because the cross is now the event through which I interpret all of the relationships and happenings in my life. Living into the death and resurrection of Jesus informs every aspect of my life, not the least of these being my relationships.
I love to preach. Not just the delivering of the sermon, but the whole process. I love the progression my mind and heart go through as I prepare. It seems that I start with a small nugget and by the end God has walked me through a long process of growth that concludes with the delivering of the sermon. While I enjoy preaching, I don’t do it a lot. So when I do, I really want it to be epic. I won’t have a chance for a do-over for a long while so I really want each one to count.
Two days ago I had the opportunity to preach at my church, the Golf Course Road Church of Christ. We are in a series called “Second Touch” and are taking a second look at Jesus, as well as allowing him to give us all a second touch. We are going through the book of Mark and when my time came, we were at Mark 4. Mark slows the gospel down in chapter 4 and really emphasizes the teachings of Christ, revealing something to us about the Kingdom through parables. This sermon was going to be focused on the Parable of the Sower.
I had no idea going into this sermon process how God would shape my thoughts. I had only heard one type of sermon on the Parable of the Sower, and it always seemed lacking. Thankfully, I heard a sermon by a preacher named Wade Hodges that gave me a second look at Jesus’ teaching. I always thought the emphasis was on the soils. So, I read the parable and asked the question, “what kind of soil am I?” Not a bad question and in fact, I think it is one we need to ask. However, what I wanted us to think about through this message was that if our only take away from this parable is to do a soil analysis, we might have missed a major point. The truth is, if you are honest, you are a little of each of these soil types at times. As Wade Hodges helped me see, the disciples themselves looked like bad soil through most of the gospel narratives. However, if we read the whole story, we see the soil change. Why and how? Is it because of the soil? No, it is because the Sower is so great and he is relentless in his working of the soil. I desperately wanted people to hear that message two days ago.
As I said, I don’t get to preach often. Therefore, when I do, I really worry and struggle over whether or not people journeyed with me through the process I went through. Two days ago I really wanted people to hear how faithful the Sower was and how he takes our little and makes it a lot. After I preached this sermon (twice in two services), it occurred to me that the sermon process was not complete before the delivering of the sermon. Here I was worried about me, the soil. Did I say it right? Was I clear? Did people here what I was trying to say? The climax of this process was the close of the second service when I felt God really saying to me, “just cast the seed, I’ll work the soil”. They say you learn more preaching and teaching than the group your teaching does. I can say for sure on Sunday that is a true statement.
So, thank God I don’t have to be epic when I speak. If I did, I wouldn’t ever do it again. And, I’m thankful for the process he took me through to show me how faithful of a Sower he is. If you are a follower of Christ, you have been called into this business of sowing seed. As I told my church Sunday, we grab a bag of seed and go to sowing with him. Sometimes we will feel like a hard path, sometimes it seems we are full of rocks, and if you’re like me, often you feel the thorns closing in around you. But, the Sower is faithful. He keeps sowing and he keeps working that soil until he sees a great harvest. We see glimpses of that harvest now, and one day when he returns and makes all things new, we will see the full extent of that harvest. A harvest that is so great it seems almost too good to be true. Why? Because the Sower is so great and he keeps on sowing.
Although historians dispute the validity of the story today, tradition tells us that there was a man called Valentine of Rome. The story goes that he assisted Christian’s who were being persecuted under Emperor Claudius II by marrying Christian couples and helping them to escape the persecution that was taking place under the emperor. There are varying stories told as to why he was eventually martyred. Some say that he was friends with Claudius and tried to convert him. Some say Claudius tried to force him to deny Christ and he refused. Either way, tradition says he was killed on February 14, 269 because of his committed faith and love for Jesus Christ.
So fast-forward many years to today and some of you are panicking trying to get your plans together for tonight. Some of you are brave enough (maybe foolish enough?) to go out to a restaurant tonight. I’ve made that mistake before and never will again. We switched our tradition early on in marriage to cooking at home, usually grilling steaks. However, there are still many of you making plans, buying chocolates, flowers, or whatever else it is that you like to buy and do to show appreciation to the one you love. And, some of you are trying to ignore the day altogether and pretend it doesn’t exist. In the midst of the hustle and bustle of the day, I want to give a quick reminder of the One who loves us.
I was very intentional with that last sentence. I think it is important to make the distinction that we live under God’s love. Yes, we love him, but I don’t want us to miss that it is really about his love for us. We are a people loved by God. We live in a world loved by God. Because of that, he has come into the middle of it and created a new order. The old order of death, decay, and disease is passing away and a new one is unfolding in our midst. It all started when the Father sent the Son who inaugurated a new age. It is the age of God’s rule and reign and it is slowly moving about and progressing in our world. It has small beginnings like a mustard seed, but it has always created big reactions like the martyring of Saint Valentine, because it is doing away with the powers and authorities of the old age. Even with all of that, the most important thing is its catalyst has always been the love of the Triune God.
So, enjoy your Valentine’s Day. Whether you are with the one you love, lost the one you love, or have no significant other, Valentine’s Day should be a special day of remembering the love of a God who relentlessly pursues us. The love of a God who refuses to leave the world and its people the way we are. As you go about your day either immersed in the world of chocolate and roses or hiding from that world, don’t forget how deeply the Creator loves you and the world he made. Yes, we love God, but it is his love for us that makes all the difference. Happy Valentine’s Day everyone.