Saturday, December 31, 2011

Happy New Year 2012

A year filled with wonder. A life full of hope.
Each day full of grace.
Each breath full of expectation.
No moment lost. No opportunity wasted.
Risk. Dream. Embrace. Forgive. Love.

Happy New Year!

Friday, December 30, 2011

I Had a Kid

The oldest turned 18 today and he’s home from school on break right now. I think he’s enjoying being home (except for the working full-time part), but he’ll be ready to head back for his Spring semester when it starts.

Its hard to tell an eighteen year old that you’re proud of them. It  usually comes out sounding like the ending of a bad episode of the Waltons. You have to pick and choose those times carefully, because until they hit their mid-twenties or have kids of their own – you’re just going to sound old. But … I am proud.

I think school is [already] rapidly becoming home and this is becoming “his parents house.” As I think back, it was about this time during my freshman year that I hit that same exit ramp and never looked back. Good for him.

This is why his mom and I have put the long hours in. We wanted to raise someone who could survive in the world more or less independently. I never felt like we were in the business of raising “children.” If he gets to be 21 or 25 and he’s still a “child,” then we failed. Parents are in the business of raising “adults.”

We’ve wanted him to be someone who was ready to take on the role of “adult” when his time came. His time is coming pretty quickly and its looking like he’s doing just fine. He’s not perfect (how could he be? – look who his Dad is!) and he’ll make his share of mistakes, but he’s in good shape for the shape he’s in.

18 years ago this morning I walked out of Greater Baltimore Medical Center with the sense that I was the same, but that the whole world had changed. I was right. And it hasn’t stopped changing for a single day.

This week’s After-school Special is now over.

~ Godspeed.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Advent Devotions – For you, for your family.

I’ve been using YouVersion for almost a year now. YouVersion is a Bible App for your smartphone that has a load of different versions, a great search function, allows you to bookmark favorite passages and even lets you post directly from the app to Facebook or Twitter.

One of the features that I like best is the different Bible reading plans that they have developed (or that others have developed and made available). Some are all year long plans, others are shorter. Some are seasonal.

It’s those seasonal plans that prompt this post. There are some great reading plans on YouVersion for the Christmas season. Even if you don’t have a phone with YouVersion, you can still go to their website and look up the daily readings on your computer.

Here are some Christmas reading plans you might want to check out:

If you are looking for some ways to focus on devotions as a family between now and Christmas, check out the Countdown to Christmas Plan. It’s a 29 day plan that includes daily activities for children that coincide with the readings. You and your kids will enjoy this! Start this one today so you can get all of the readings and activities in before Christmas.

Another plan that you’ll want to start right away is Christmas Begins with Christ. It’s a 28 day plan that focuses on bringing us back to Jesus and the light, joy, peace and hope he brings for all of us.

Another option is the Rediscovering the Christmas Season plan. This plan starts on December 1 and includes questions as well as action steps to center each day on Christ. It would work for individuals, families and small groups.

A personal favorite is a plan called Carols: A Christmas Devotional. It’s also 25 days and explores some familiar Christmas Carols born from the joy of Christ entering the world. Rediscover the reason some of these songs are classics.

Just some suggestions for how you and your Bible and your faith might intersect over the next few weeks.


P.S. – Find out more about all of these and other reading plans at

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

A Life of Prayer – Every Day

Over four weeks, the church I pastor [First Saints Community Church] walked through a sermon series called “A Life of Prayer.” You can find the downloads here.

Each day there was a Scripture and a thought to help focus us on prayer during the week. It was a great way to carry the Sunday message into each day – at work, at school, into our homes. Many of you responded on Facebook or Twitter to those daily posts; they seemed to be well received at the time.

Since then I’ve had several requests to collect those daily prayer thoughts in one place so I have collected them here. I hope they are helpful as you continue in the relationship and conversation that is a life of prayer.

~ Godspeed


Week 1
· Monday – 1 John 5:14. Today approach God with confidence. What is happening in your life that you are hesitant to talk to God about?
· Tuesday – John 10:27. Make today’s time of prayer a time of listening only. Hear God’s voice.
· Wednesday – 1 Thessalonians 5:17. Today, take every opportunity throughout the day to lift up a short prayer to God.
· Thursday – 1 John 5:15. God hears you. What is weighing you down that you need God to take from you the most?
· Friday – Psalm 46:10. Find a quiet place and be still while you seek to bask in the presence of God in the midst of your silence.
· Saturday – James 4:8. Remember that prayer is a conversation. Draw near to God in this time of conversation.
· Sunday – Luke 11:1-4. Ask God to teach you how to pray better, more often and more effectively over the next few weeks.

Week 2
· Monday – James 5:16. Today’s prayer should be a time of confession. Is there anyone to whom you need to confess?
· Tuesday – Luke 18:1. Is there a prayer that you’re about to give up on? Today, be reminded to always pray and not give up.
· Wednesday – Hebrews 11:1. As you pray, tell God about the one thing that you hope for the most.
· Thursday – James 5:13. Make today’s prayer full of songs of praise. Make music of your own or sing along to the radio or a CD.
· Friday – Matthew 18:20. If its possible; spend time in prayer with someone else today.
· Saturday – James 5: 14. Who is on your heart that needs healing? Lift their name and need before God today.
· Sunday – Isaiah 54:17. No weapon formed against you will prosper. Claim a victory over something you’ve been struggling.

Week 3
· Monday – Matthew 6:6. Make sure that your prayer is done in a way that doesn’t call attention to yourself. Remember, this is about God!
· Tuesday – 1 Peter 5:6-7. Cast your cares on God. Let Him carry your burdens today; no matter how great or how small.
· Wednesday – 1 John 1:9. Confession is important, but so is God’s forgiveness. Remember that your sins are forgiven and be thankful.
· Thursday – Matthew 10:29-30. God even cares about the “little things.” Share even the trivial parts of your life with God as you pray.
· Friday – Matthew 6:7. Prayer is conversation. Talk to God like you would talk to a close friend. Keep it simple.
· Saturday – Psalm 27:14. Sometimes we have to wait to hear from God. Is today one of those days?
· Sunday – John 17:1-5. Go ahead. Pray for yourself first. Jesus did!

Week 4
· Monday – John 17:8-9. Pray for our church to follow its vision. “Meet people where they are. Lead them to where Christ wants them to be.”
· Tuesday – John 4:24. Pray that our church’s worship would be pleasing and acceptable to God.
· Wednesday – John 17:23. Pray that our church would experience unity so that others might see God in us.
· Thursday – John 17:13. Pray that First Saints and all of our people might experience fullness of joy.
· Friday – John 17:20. Pray for those who come to our church and need to hear and experience the Good News of Jesus Christ.
· Saturday – Ephesians 6:18. Today, this reminder to pray for all the Lord’s people is a reminder to pray for our church’s lay leadership.
· Sunday – 1 Corinthians 15:58. Pray for the Pastors of First Saints; that they give themselves fully to the work of the Lord.

Friday, November 18, 2011


[I have written this post a thousand times. And edited its content a thousand and one.]

Last weekend I went to a wake.

For a church.

My heart is aching. And I am angry.

Along with many other emotions I am feeling.


What I can say …

It was great to see everyone. [It truly was.]

God reigns. Even when my vision is clouded and I see only evidence to the contrary.

God has a plan in all of this that has yet to be revealed. [He does, most certainly.] All things do work together for good for those who love God and are called according to God’s purpose.

Nothing can change all the wonderful things that God has done at that church over the last 20 years. God’s Word does not return void.



All of those things are true. And I will cling to them.

Even if those statements do not begin to tell the depth of what I feel …

… or the weight of all that I wish to say.



Tuesday, November 15, 2011

OWS – 15 November

NO matter how you feel about OWS, the early morning raid on Zuccotti Park reveals several things.

1. Freedom of the press is a thin illusion. Thousands of reporters were barred from covering events in the park as they unfolded under the guise of “protecting” journalists from harm. [Even if you admit this were the case for journalists on the ground, under what pretext do you prohibit news helicopters from “violating the park’s airspace?”]

We deploy journalists in active warzones facing enemy combatants, but we can’t allow them into a public park across the grass from fellow Americans. If public officials are to be believed, our fellow Americans, unarmed and half-asleep at 1:00 a.m., are more dangerous to reporters than Iraqi and Afghan insurgents with automatic weapons.

2. This isn’t going away. That was clearly not the thought of Mayor Bloomberg and other NYC officials when they reversed course and allowed the OWS protesters to remain in the park a couple of weeks ago. They underestimated the resolve of the people of this movement.

The OWS movement has been widely criticized for lacking clear goals and focus, but its hard to criticize its staying power. And last night’s sweep of the park shows signs of providing focus and clarity rather than dissipating it. The web is alive with reports of smaller gatherings around the city as people plan next steps, meet with NYC civic leaders and prepare for a previously planned gathering on Thursday to mark the two months of OWS.

In fact, a NYC judge has reportedly just issued a restraining order saying that OWS protesters can return to the park immediately and has scheduled a hearing for later today. This is far from over.

In short, this is likely just the beginning of OWS. And the criticisms of lack of focus may not remain for long. Popular movements often lack focus, clarity and leadership early on; that was true of the civil rights movement in its early stages. Even unity within these movements is hard to achieve at first; that was true of the suffrage movement.

3. Be prepared for the pictures. The pictures will turn the tide. They did in the civil rights movement and in the Viet Nam War. They may very well do so here.

To date, we haven’t seen the dramatic pictures out of Oakland or New York in the mainstream media but now that reporters are being excluded and sidelined by the authorities that may evolve. If journalists begin to see themselves as outsiders looking in, their attitudes and tactics will change. Reporters can be a very agreeable bunch – but they react negatively and decisively to being pushed out and pushed aside like they were earlier this morning.

4. The line between public and private is more confusing than ever. At this point in our history, your bank account, your cell phone records and your internet activity have all been determined to be public. And a public park (Zucutti Park is technically own by Brookfield Properties) has been determined to be private.

5. This will become more polarizing the longer it goes on. That really shouldn’t come as a surprise. It has happened with every major movement in our country’s history. Whether OWS has the staying power to ultimately be classified as a “major movement” along side others is still open for debate, but this will further divide an already divided nation.

In the first two months since OWS began I’ve seen friendships erode and end. I’ve seen civil conversations erupt into shouting matches. We’ve only scratched the surface of what could be coming if our past national experience is any indication of what lies ahead. If that’s true, there is a national crisis in the making that will require healing. [And we haven’t healed from the other national crises yet!]

6. People of faith have a special responsibility. I am a Christian; and as part of that tribe I believe we have a special role and responsibility. We have the responsibility to set aside the lens of nationalism, classism and allegiance to an economic system. We have the responsibility to thoughtfully and prayerfully ask “Where is the Kingdom of God?” Our task is to seek out where God is at work … and then join God in that work.

That sounds easy and simple. It is not.  That is why I use words like “thoughtful” and “prayerful” a lot. The more confident and quick to respond you sound, the less confident I am that you know what you’re talking about.

I believe that there are places where God is at work in “Liberty Park.” And I believe that there are places where God is at work on Wall Street. I do not believe we can lionize every OWS protestor any more than we can demonize every NYPD officer. Both are far too easy.

Pray quickly. Speak slowly. Act deliberately.



Thursday, September 1, 2011

Therefore – in Hebrews 11 (Again)

Story after story, from Hebrews 11:3 until 11:38. Twenty-five + stories that tell of God’s faithfulness and humanity’s faith in God. All so that the writer can set up Chapter 12. Just so he can say, “Therefore …” in Hebrews 12:1.

It says, “Therefore, don’t get bogged down and wallow in your sin. Persevere. Fix your eyes on Jesus! Don’t grow weary and lose your way.” And whenever it says, “Therefore,” you always need to go back and see what its “there for.” The call to persevere and stay strong is directly related to what came before – to these stories of faith. Something about the stories is supposed to make us stronger.

But we don’t know the stories of our faith and our heritage. Heck, we don’t really know the stories of our own family much less what happened a few thousand years ago. In fact, those most familiar with our faith stories are those outside the community of faith. Inside the community, we don’t seem to believe that knowing these stories matters. And as a result, we’re ignorant of our heritage, ignorant of a source for our own strength. We don’t have the staying power that we should. We lose sight of Jesus and then we get tired and give up. At least in part because we don’t know what the “Therefore” is there for.

I don’t think that’s the plan God has for us. I don’t think God has put faith in us for our eventual demise, defeat and discouragement. If we knew our stories, we would know better. If we knew our faith stories (Old and New Testament alike), then we would get the reward of what comes after “Therefore.”

It really does help to know that God has been found by others in the past. And “therefore” we can count on finding God today. And in the future.


Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Irene in the Going

I’ve been thinking about this storm and the stories we are telling. What’s striking is that I can almost guarantee that my experience of Irene and someone else’s experience right around the block from me are going to be wildly different. Instead of widespread paths of destruction it seems as though we have pockets of wreckage; so clearly marked that you can see where things begin and end and begin again.

Trees that have fallen through houses, cars and trailer homes. Root balls the size of houses. Creeks and streams flowing over roads. Power lines tangled and suspended overhead even though the bottom 10 feet of some poles are missing. And then you turn the corner and see a block of houses untouched.

Remarkably, at our house we rode out the storm and never lost power. Three days after Irene and I know of many who have been told that it will be days more before power is restored. About all we had to deal with was the cable going out – so insignificant that I feel guilty mentioning it in light of what others are dealing with.

The stories I’m enjoying hearing are the way neighbors have pulled together and helped remove downed trees and limbs. People who had power restored opening their homes to neighbors who need a place to stay. The church in Dundalk who is feeding over 80 residents of a senior apartment complex that is without power. Irene is uncovering a goodness in people that we often gloss over. Its there, we usually just see the dross that’s caked over it.

In times of crisis like this most people pull together and they remember something thought long forgotten – community. Not just people living in proximity to one another, but people doing life together. That’s what we mean in the church when we talk about being part of a fellowship. Deep, abiding, lasting community. Fellowship like that has little or nothing to do with coffee and donuts.

At its core, its something far deeper. It means life lived together. Its living into the idea that my life’s wreckage can flow into those places where your life has been relatively untouched and together we can put the pieces back together again. It’s the believe that your broken places can meet the grace I have to offer and you can find healing. All of this because we believe that God wants us to be whole. That God wants us to experience shalom; a word that means so much more than simply “peace.” It more properly means something like “well-being” or “completeness.” And we believe that God wants that for us.

Typically, after an event like Hurricane Irene, some time will pass and then we will all go back to our routines and retreat back inside our houses. The connections that we made this week with neighbors will become moments we look back on with fondness and say, “Remember after the hurricane when …” but we won’t do much to maintain the community we’ve started to rekindle.

More’s the shame for us; especially for the Church. This is an opportunity for us to do the thing we’re supposed to be really good at – community. Doing life together not because of a storm, but because of a Story – “Christ has died, Christ has risen, Christ will come again.” I don’t care whether your church is big or small, real community is something you can do. Should do. But will you?

Don’t let this be another woulda-shoulda-coulda moment. We’ve stirred up something. Something good. What can you do to make sure it lingers?



Thursday, August 25, 2011

Calling Back

The Word of the Lord comes to Jeremiah and in Chapter 2 he says: What fault did your ancestors find in me, that they strayed so far from me? For several more verses God laments that the people have turned away and then in verse 8 God says …

The priests did not ask, ‘Where is the Lord?’ Those who deal with the law did not know me; the leaders rebelled against me.

The people forgot all that God had done for them and so had turned away from God. They forgot about Egypt and the Red Sea. They forgot about the pillar of fire and the pillar of smoke that guided them through the wilderness to the Promised Land. They forgot manna, quail and water from rocks. They forgot a land flowing with milk and honey.

As bad as that was, I feel like there was something worse. Israel’s leaders never stepped up to call the people back; to remind them of the things that were fading from their memories. To remind them of just who their God was. “The priests did not ask …”

Part of a leader’s deal is to hold the flag high; to be the bearer of God’s standard. To ask the question “Where is the Lord?” even while pointing to the answer! It’s a role that leaders better take seriously.

It’s why I think Jeremiah 30:21 and Jeremiah 2:8 are related. If you are a leader and you plan on holding God before people you better draw close to the Lord. You need to devote yourself to being near the Lord. There’s danger in forgetting for each of us as individual disciples. But the danger for leaders and the people we lead is supremely higher – whether you lead a church, a small group, your kids, a Sunday school class or whatever.

I’m not always doing this perfectly and neither will you, but I want to develop a lifestyle of singular devotion. If you’re not reaching for it, you’ll never grasp it. And if you’re not reaching for it, you probably shouldn’t be leading.



Monday, August 22, 2011


I’m intrigued by this verse I “discovered” in Jeremiah the other day.

“Their leader will be one of their own; their ruler will arise from among them. I will bring him near and he will come close to me – for who is he who will devote himself to be close to me?” declares the Lord. – Jeremiah 30:21

What a great question! We are invited to make seeking after God a life-priority. We are welcomed into a relationship that puts into practice a lifestyle of devotion; a hunger to live completely for God.

I’m reminded that I can’t serve two masters. I can’t be devoted to God and to another Lord. God, so worthy of my trust, wants to be not only number 1 – God wants to be my only One!

God’s working this verse into my life. I may have many loves, but I want one devotion.

More from Jeremiah later this week.


Thursday, August 18, 2011

Ancient - in Hebrews 11

In the course of the reading and reflecting on this chapter, I’ve read some writings from the Early Church Fathers. Church Fathers usually refers to a group of influential teachers, theologians and pastors whose writings were used as the foundation of Christian theology for centuries. Reading what they wrote as they reflected on Biblical passages gives me a lot insight about what the church thought and believed at its beginning. I want to share some of what they said as they reflected on Hebrews 11.

“Rejoice that whatever the shadows of the Old Testament used to veil beneath testimonies of prophets has been brought out into the open through the mystery of the Lord’s passion.” Sermon 69.2 by Leo the Great. {Leo was the Bishop of Rome from 440-461. He was a key figure at the Council of Chalcedon in 451.}

“For it is not possible to become a believer otherwise than by raising one’s self above the common customs of the world.” On the Epistle to the Hebrews 22.1-2 by Chrysostom {John Chrysostom was the Bishop of Constantinople and lived in the late 300’s through the early 400’s. He was known for his eloquence in preaching. That’s why he was given the Greek surname “Chrysostom” which means “golden-mouthed.}

“Please do not be ungrateful to the one who made you able to see; this is why you are able to believe what you are not yet able to see. God gave you eyes in your head, reason in your heart. Arouse the reason in your heart, get the inner inhabitant behind your inner eyes on his feet, let him take to his windows.” Sermon 126.3 by Augustine {Augustine lived in the late 300’s through the early 400’s. He was the Bishop of Hippo, a city near the Sea of Galilee. He is sometimes called the greatest theologian the church has ever had.}

~ Godspeed

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

What About When God Doesn’t?

Yesterday I was reading Psalm 103, especially verses 1-8. The psalm begins with praises to God: "Let all that I am praise the Lord; with my whole heart ,I will praise his holy name. Let all that I am praise the Lord; may I never forget the good things he does for me.”

In verse 3, the praises shift and become a litany of all of the reasons we praise God: “He forgives all my sins and heals all my diseases. He redeems me from death and crowns me with love and tender mercies. He fills my life with good things. My youth is renewed like the eagle’s!”

Its in this litany of reasons that I started to ask questions. Let me explain why. But first, an affirmation: I have experienced so clearly in my life the forgiveness of sins that the Psalmist is talking about. I have every confidence in that. In many ways that’s a faith statement, but in many other significant ways that’s also a statement based on reality. The guilt of those sins is gone. I can feel it and I know it. The weight of them is gone and for that alone, I would praise God from now until the end of my days.

But … the rest of this litany gives me pause. “He forgives all my sins and heals all my diseases.Let’s be honest. We know God doesn’t always heal. So what do we do when God doesn’t heal diseases? What do we say to a family when sickness and disease linger?

What about those times when we aren’t rescued from trouble? (That word redeemed in verse 4 could just as easily get translated as rescued.)

As Followers of God, what do we say about those times when there is little or no love and compassion?

What about those times when we aren’t satisfied (filled with good things) or when our youth is not renewed?

When I’m struggling with anything – sickness, depression, finances, work, relationships; its hard to rely on platitudes. “Trust God.” “It’s God’s Will.” “It will all work out.” “God’s in control.” Even if those things are true, they sound trite and dismissive. They don’t help. They sound like the person saying them is trying to keep their distance because their afraid something I have will rub off. Like I’m contagious.

When people have tough questions you better have tough answers – answers that are tough enough to hold up under pressure.

What about those times when God doesn’t heal? When we aren’t rescued from trouble? The Psalmist says: “The Lord is compassionate and gracious, slow to get angry and filled with unfailing love.”

What about days devoid of love, compassion and satisfaction? When renewal and hope seem far off? The Psalmist says: “From everlasting to everlasting the Lord’s love is with those who fear him.”

Sometimes rescue simply means drawing close. It means, “I’m here with you.” And you can’t love from a distance; not in a crisis. When things get tough for someone you love and you’re far away, your first instinct is to get to them. You want to close the distance. Love draws close. That’s what God does. God draws close. God loves.

So, the answer to the question: “What do we do when God doesn’t come to the rescue?” really depends on what kind of rescue you’re looking for.

If you’re looking for a God who will come to save you from pain, loss, death, disease, misery and suffering – I have to be honest and tell you I’m not going to be much help. BUT, if you’re looking for a God who will draw close to you in those very times and love you like no other can – I know just where to look for that kind of rescue.



Monday, August 15, 2011

Better – in Hebrews 11

Following on the heels of verse 13 about aliens and strangers, are these words: People who say such things show that they are looking for a country of their own. Since we are aliens and strangers here, we’re looking for where we do belong – a country of our own. And its "a better country - a heavenly one" (verse 16).

Another phrase (or two) that stick in my mind. Looking for a country of their own. A better country.

It says something to me about citizenship. About priorities. About hopes and longings. We get so tied to here and now. To things and circumstances. I may be an alien, a foreigner and a stranger here, but I have a country of my own. A better country. One I’m looking forward to.

God has something else for us if we will look up!



Thursday, August 11, 2011

Strangers – in Hebrews 11

"All these people were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance, admitting that they were foreigners and strangers on earth." – Hebrews 11:13

I’ve always been drawn to this image of “foreigners and strangers” or “aliens and strangers” as I’ve heard it put. It was an especially appealing thought to me as a teenager. I felt like an alien and a stranger. I felt like I was on the outside looking in. I just didn’t fit. In this verse I found permission not to fit. In fact, I wasn’t supposed to fit.

As an adult, I find that I try too hard to fit. It’s nice to be reminded that I don’t need to try so hard. In fact, Jesus didn’t fit. He was comfortable with that. In some ways he relished that. If our goal is to be Christ-like a little more “foreigner and stranger” would be a good thing, yes?

On Only Visiting This Planet, Larry Norman said, “This world is not my home. I’m just passing through.” That’s the way foreigners and strangers talk!



Monday, August 8, 2011

Dying – in Hebrews 11

It says "All these people were still living by faith when they died," in verse 13.

I want that. I want a lifetime of long, steady obedience in one direction.

This verse reminds me of some precious people in my life. Dwilla McIntyre who came to faith as a teenager, was baptized on her uncles farm in a horse trough. She passed away last month in her mid-nineties. She always had a smile, had a growing faith until her last days and had a huge heart for people. Her birthday was December 24th and every Christmas Eve after our church services were over … we had cake. Not for Jesus; for Dwilla. Our church family gathered around one of our precious saints and sang “Happy Birthday.”

I met Bill at my church in Frederick. I’m extremely extroverted. Bill … is not. He is a quiet, confident man; full of God and God’s Spirit. He’s been following the Lord longer than I’ve been alive. So, when Bill talked; I listened. One of the best pieces of advice I’ve received as a pastor (and I get a lot!) was from Bill. I was in a dry place and struggling with calling, relationships and leadership. As I shared this with Bill, he listened and remained silent – to a point. Finally, when I ran out steam he quietly said, “John, you have to decide who you are trying to please.” Me, speechless; doesn’t happen often. But he was right and I’ve never forgotten that moment. Bill’s not dead yet (and hopefully won’t be for a long time), but he’s living by faith and will be when he dies. And he’ll touch a lot of lives before his road is finished.

My mom is in her 60’s. Being my mom has probably been one of her hardest jobs. She’s not dead yet either, but there were times when I pushed it. People always underestimate her: always to their detriment. She’s a lot stronger than she looks! She came to faith in her late 20’s. After early years in the Moravian and Methodist Churches, her faith drifted for a bit. Then when I was 8 or 9 – her life changed. She met Jesus. And from that moment to this she’s never let go of him. Almost 40 years later and she’s still living by faith. Her influence on my life and my sister’s life is immeasurable.

Everyone has an aunt that isn’t their aunt. You know what I mean; a close family friend who you end up calling “Aunt so-and-so.” My Aunt Florence died 15 years ago. When God made my Aunt Florence he left parts out. Parts like jealousy, bitterness and hate. She was one of the most Christ-like people I’ve ever known. When the ground was shaking and the world shifting under everyone’s feet, Aunt Florence was unflappable. “Who’s on the throne?” she would ask. And we knew the answer. God. God is on the throne. I still miss her.

There are so many more names. Saints who lived and are living lives of faithfulness. That’s a lofty, but good goal. To come to the end of our days “still living by faith when [we] die.”

Friday, August 5, 2011

Forward – in Hebrews 11

I love verse 10 – "For he was looking forward to the city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God.” I especially like the phrase “looking forward.”

FORWARD was the theme of a capital campaign at the church I pastor in 2010. We quoted this verse a lot during the month and a half or so of the campaign. I haven’t grown tired of it. It says two very important things.

First, vision if forward. Life should be lived forward. The things you can change, effect, influence are all forward. Backwards doesn’t get you anywhere. Today and the days after are all you really have to work with. Do it! Look forward. In Philippians, the Apostle Paul says, "Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead." Forward is really where we belong.

Some versions of Philippians say “casting off” instead of “forgetting.” I like that. I suspect most of us have more casting off to do than we have forgetting. What do you need to cast off (not just let go, but cast off)?

Second, looking forward is where we find God active and alive. When we look forward our vision doesn’t randomly wander, we are looking for something in particular. We are searching for a “city with foundations whose architect and builder is God.” Paul talks about “straining toward what is ahead.” What’s ahead is God!

And when we look, we find him! He’s preparing the way. There is a city he has designed and built for us. If we’re looking we can see hints of it all around us.

There are some things I wish I could go back in my life and fix. I can’t. There are some things about my present circumstances I wish I could change. I’ll do my part in making that happen, but a lot of that isn’t up to me. Ultimately, I’m looking forward. I see God there. And he’s been busy.



Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Home - in Hebrews 11

Now, I’ve read this chapter before; but today? Wow! Lots and lots jumped off the page. So much in just a few verses, I could probably do a series of posts. *Hmmmmm.*

In verses 8-9 God is calling Abraham. He is “called to go,” but the verse makes it clear – “Even though he did not know where he was going.” He is ready to go where he is sent even though he doesn’t have any idea where that will be. Unsettling? Yes. But it also says that when Abraham got to the place God showed him that he “made his home” there.

Remarkable. Go where I tell you to go. But, I haven’t told you where that is just yet. Start walking and then I’ll tell you. And when you get there … that’s home. Make it home.

I wonder how many of us are someplace, somewhere – but not home? Even though its where God wants us to be, where God has called us to be, we haven’t made it home. We want where we are to be temporary. We are waiting for God to make a better offer. We can’t really enjoy where we are because we’re too busy looking for the next thing. We haven’t made it home.

Stop waiting and start living. God led you there, God’s with you there. Relax, okay? “You’re home.”

Thursday, July 7, 2011

It Really Was The Best Week Ever

I spent last week at Camp Manidokan near Harper’s Ferry, Maryland; a United Methodist camp where I’ve spent at least part of the last 10 summers. It was The Best Week Ever, with a pile of volunteer leaders and over 60 Middle High students. I’ve been thinking a lot about it since I got back last weekend.

Camp has always been a special place for me, ever since my first week at camp when I was nine. This past week reinforced that feeling for me and I’ve tried to put my finger on why it is still such a special place. So in that spirit, here is ….

Everything I need to know, I learned at Summer Camp.

1. God’s creation really is amazing. We’ve kind of muddled things up, but the “amazing” is still right there.

2. You really can make friends in about 30 minutes and they really will last a long time.

3. Sharing is a really good idea. I’m not sure who thought of it first, but they were on to something.

4. Thirty plus girls in close quarters = drama about inconsequential things.

5. Thirty plus boys in close quarters = bragging about inconsequential things.

6. Even at camp, inconsequential things are still inconsequential.

7. Camp isn’t complicated. It’s just not. Kids. Adults to love them and watch over them. Silliness. Adventure. Fun. And God does the rest – and does it in a big way.

8. Life isn’t complicated. It’s just not (see number 7). We make it complicated, myself included; but it doesn’t have to be.

9. Doing something you’ve never tried before is important. Even if you blow it. There’s just something about being in an adventure, even a small one, that we need as much as we need to breathe.

10. Getting “away from it all” is a pretty big deal. Leaving behind distractions, entanglements and worries for awhile clears your head. And in the silence, God’s voice sounds a bit louder.

11. Other people are worth it. Investing yourself in other people takes time and effort. It’s inconvenient. It’s easier to justify when it’s your family: your spouse or your kids. But investing yourself in other people beyond your circle is worth it too.

12. The future is in better shape than most people think. I’ve seen it in the faces of Middle and High school students. People complain about kids all the time. They worry about what things will be like when these kids are adults. You might find some things to worry about right now, but when they get there, they’ll be ready. Remember; today they’re just kids. It’ll happen. Let them be kids first.

13. You only need a few things to do effective Youth Ministry. Beyond the necessity of being gifted and called there are only a few essentials. They are: the Bible, duct tape, newspaper, a rubber chicken, some bananas, yarn and about $500.00. [The $500 is mostly to fix stuff that you and the kids break at the church.]

14. You find treasure in hidden and unexpected places. When a beautiful singing voice comes out of a camper that you’ve been sparring with all week. When a student who wanted to go home on Monday, “comes home” to Jesus on Thursday. “There’s gold in them thar hills!” There’s just nothing better. And that’s why it’s The Best Week Ever!

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Looking Back on Lent

We spent Lent 2011 walking through a series of sermons called “24 Hours That Changed The World.” Before we rush headlong into our next series, lets take just a few minutes and reflect on where we’ve been and what we’ve encountered during the eight weeks of this series. {A special thank you to Linda Shaffer for putting this reflection together.}

1. Last Supper: Jesus often revealed Himself as He shared a meal with others. At this meal, Judas probably sat next to Jesus. How do you think Judas felt about this? What does this tell you about Jesus? How has Jesus revealed himself to you during meals shared with others?

2. Garden of Gethsemane: In His time of greatest need Jesus turned to God for guidance and strength. His friends tried to be there for him, but kept falling asleep. When have you failed to be attentive to Jesus? Remember that in those last moments with His Father, Jesus prayed for you and all believers. He prayed for perfect unity among believers and stated that He had given all future believers (you and me) His glory. What does this tell you about the character of Jesus? How is His glory revealed in your life?

3. Condemned by the Righteous: Jesus was persecuted and ultimately condemned by those who professed to know and love God the most. What objections would today’s “righteous” have to Jesus if He was with us now? Are you open to all of the revelations of Jesus, no matter how controversial or inconvenient? What would Jesus have you do next?

4. Jesus, Barabbas, and Pilate: Reluctantly, Pilate gave in to the crowd’s wishes. He decreed that Jesus would take the punishment that Barabbas deserved. When has “the crowd” convinced you to go against God? How do you find the strength to stay strong and true to what is right?

5. Torture and Humiliation: As Jesus was tortured and humiliated the crowd taunted Him. In this, we are aware of our own moral failure. We often fail to recognize God in our worst moments. Judas betrayed Jesus, Peter denied Him. We are afraid to speak in His defense for fear of being ostracized. When have you failed to defend God? When have you softened your testimony of God’s love in order not to offend?

6. Crucifixion: Jesus was crucified on the Passover holiday. He, who was without sin, bore the sins of the world on the cross. Since the time of Moses, the Hebrews had sacrificed a perfect lamb to remember the Passover. On this Passover, Jesus became that perfect sacrifice. His blood sealed the covenant between humanity and God and delivered all from death into eternal life. Imagine that you are at the cross, looking at Jesus as He dies. How is Jesus responding to you in these moments? How are you responding to Him?

7. Christ the Victor: In His final moments on the cross Jesus quoted the opening lines from Psalm 22. This brought to mind the entire Psalm – a final declaration of victory: “All who seek the Lord will praise Him, Their hearts will rejoice with everlasting joy. The whole earth will acknowledge the Lord and return to Him.” (Psalm 22:26-27) Three days later the tomb is empty and the risen Christ has revealed Himself. The resurrection is God’s seal of victory. In this, Jesus wins. Death is defeated and evil is overcome. In the midst of a messed up world, how does this hope change your life?

8. What if Judas had lived? How did this message change the way you view forgiveness? What is the difference between knowing that God has forgiven you and forgiving yourself? Can you fully accept the forgiveness of God without forgiving yourself? Ask God for forgiveness, and know that it is granted.

How has this season of Lent changed your faith? Your life?

What have you learned about God? About yourself? About your relationship with God?

~ Godspeed

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Easter – Be Ye Glad!

Below are the lyrics to the song that closed our Easter services at 9:15 and 10:45. I found a YouTube version that is by a vocal group called Glad. I heard them perform it at Lebanon Valley College in 1983 or 1984. Its been a song that lingers in the back of my mind since then, working its way to the forefront at the most God-filled times. Happy Easter!

Be Ye Glad

In these days of confused situations
In these nights of a restless remorse
When the heart and the soul of a nation
Lay wounded and cold as a corpse
From the grave of the innocent Adam
Comes a song bringing joy to the sad
Oh, your cry has been heard
And the ransom has been paid up in full
Be ye glad

Oh, be ye glad, oh, be ye glad,
Every debt that you ever had
Has been paid up in full
By the grace of the Lord
Be ye glad, be ye glad,
Be ye glad.

Now from your dungeon a rumor is stirring
And you have heard it again and again
Ah, but this time the cell keys are turning
An outside there are faces of friends
And though your body lay weary from wasting
And your eyes show the sorrow they’ve had
Oh, the love that your heart is now tasting
Has opened the gates, be ye glad

So be like lights on the rim of the water
Giving hope in a storm sea of night
Be a refuge amidst the slaughter
Of these fugitives in their flight
For you are timeless and part of a puzzle
You are winsome and young as a lad
And there is no disease or no struggle
That can pull you from God
Be ye glad

Oh, be ye glad, oh, be ye glad
Every debt that you ever had
Has been paid up in full
By the grace of the Lord
Be ye glad, be ye glad
Be ye glad.

(Words & Music © 1980, Michael Kelly Blanchard)

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Seeing and Savoring Jesus - Assurance

We’ve reached the end of our Lenten study for 2011. Easter morning is upon us and we are gathering to share in celebration this Resurrection Sunday.

At the end of the day, it may be best to close this series of posts about Piper’s “Seeing and Savoring Jesus” with two quotes from the Afterword.

First, an oft-quoted passage from CS Lewis’ Mere Christianity: “A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic – on the level with the man who says he is a poached egg – or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You can shut Him up for a fool, you can spit at Him and kill Him as a demon; or you can fall at His feet and call Him Lord and God. But let us not come with any patronizing nonsense of His being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to.”

And from Piper himself: “Jesus refuses to be domesticated.”

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Seeing and Savoring Jesus – Appearing

There are five major doctrines that are embedded in the story of Jesus. And no; doctrine is not a bad word.

The Virgin Birth
The Crucifixion
The Resurrrection
The Ascension
The Second Coming

Curiously, Piper deals with each one except the Ascension and I’m not surprised. The Ascension is one of the least explored elements of Jesus’ life; at least in terms of its relevance and importance.

This chapter deals with the second coming – a popular topic of my church growing up but not so much on the radar these days. But its one worth lingering over.

There will come a time of Jesus’ appearing. A time when human history will draw toward its close. A time when God will directly intervene again in our destiny. A time when God will, in essence, say “enough is enough.”

Growing up, this was always presented as a moment of validation. A time for a cosmic “we win!” When Christians are finally vindicated for their belief and their faithfulness. A time for Jesus to show the full force of the power of God and claim (enjoy!) final victory.

This is not primarily a moment of triumph. First and foremost, it is a moment of glory. At this second coming, the complete glory of Jesus will be revealed. The One who has the power of death and hell is defeated. Those who live in slavery to sin are delivered. The dead in Christ are raised.

But most of all – faith is swallowed up by sight. Believing will be replaced by knowing. Because the glory of Christ is revealed. In 2 Timothy it says that on That Day it will all be about “his appearing.” His Glory.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Seeing and Savoring Jesus – Invincible

It’s so interesting to me that the issue was never whether or not Jesus died. They all knew he died. The Pharisees knew it because they stayed at the cross until the end just to make sure. The Disciples knew it because John and Jesus’ mother Mary were there at the  cross until he died. The Romans knew it because they had troops there.

They all knew he was dead. That was never in question.

That’s why Matthew 28 records the lame attempt at a fabricated story: that the disciples had stolen his body from the tomb. Of course, this doesn’t make sense either. A Roman guard had been placed at the tomb with explicit instructions to keep people away. The rumors of Jesus predicting his resurrection had even reached the Pharisees and Roman officials.

The penalty for a Roman soldier who failed at his duty was death. They weren’t about to let a ragtag group of Jesus’ disciples steal him away at night from right under their noses. They valued their lives a little too much for that.

The truth was too fantastic to imagine – that Jesus had conquered death. That even in the face of humanity’s greatest enemy, Jesus was invincible.

The resurrection is about power. Power over circumstance. Power over doubt. Power over defeat. Power over life and power over death.

“Like every historical fact, the resurrection of Jesus can be doubted.” But sooner or later you have to come to terms with the power.

~ Godspeed

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Seeing and Savoring Jesus – Severity

We like choices. In every area of our lives, we like choices. Even in our religious life, we like choices. We shop for churches in much the same way we shop for toothpaste – we evaluate the choices and pick the one we like best.

We do the same with the Bible. We pick and choose. We make choices. It’s the rare person who even makes the attempt to integrate the Bible as a whole into her or his worldview. The usual path is to pick the parts we like and ignore or minimize the rest: we make choices.

And we do the same with Jesus. We pick and choose. We make choices about what parts of the Jesus story we focus on. We make choices about what parts of Jesus’ teaching we will take seriously. And when we do, we come away with part of the Gospel.

The parts of Jesus’ story that make us most uncomfortable are when Jesus steps out of the role of loving, caring shepherd. When he gets his back up. When his words get pointed and severe. We don’t have much use for that Jesus.

When he says, “love your enemies” we shy away. When he confronts the hypocrisy and corruption of the religious people of his day – we get uncomfortable. When he says, “take up the cross daily and follow me” – we start to waver. Its too severe. Too hard to hear. Too restrictive. Too unloving. Too sacrificial.

And then we remember …. we can just ignore that part  (please note sarcasm)! And concentrate on the parts we like: “Pass me not, O Gentle Savior!”

~ Godspeed

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Seeing and Savoring Jesus - Riches

The incomparable riches of the God we serve. Infinite wealth. Infinite power. Infinite wisdom.

[Romans 9:23-24] 23 What if he did this to make the riches of his glory known to the objects of his mercy, whom he prepared in advance for glory— 24 even us, whom he also called, not only from the Jews but also from the Gentiles?”

[Romans 11:33] 33 Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable his judgments, and his paths beyond tracing out!”

[Ephesians 1:7] 7In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace 8 that he lavished on us.”

[Ephesians 3:16] 16 I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being.”

[Colossians 1:27] 27 To them God has chosen to make known among the Gentiles the glorious riches of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.”

Wisdom, Knowledge, Grace, Christ in You. The incomparable riches of God.

~ Godspeed

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Seeing and Savoring Jesus - Choices

God could have taken care of this already. God could have settled this question of good vs. evil and the devil’s free run could be over and done with. It’s not, but it could be.

Piper suggests one reason: That through the incremental defeat of Satan (instead of instantly and all-at-once) Jesus’ death plays the pivotal role. Its through Jesus’s death that Satan is defeated. And through Jesus’ death sin and the law have no power. That means that Satan is already defeated, even though he hasn’t left the field of battle.

So, God didn’t annihilate the Enemy – God defeated him and lets him live with his defeat.

One of the most insidious things that our Enemy does is to convince us that the outcome has yet to be determined. That there is still any doubt about the Victor. [Or barring that – that there is any battle at all.]

And that leaves us with an interesting choice. We still have a decision to make. We still have to choose which battle line to join. Our free will and the choices we make still matter and still have consequences. We still make meaningful decisions.

God desires your freely chosen allegiance. The Enemy desires to convince you that there is another, better Cause. Your choice, your fidelity matters.

~ Godspeed

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Seeing and Savoring Jesus - Suffering

Jesus didn’t suffer.

At least he didn’t if you ask a lot of the people who call themselves Christians. Most people go from the celebration of Palm Sunday to the celebration of Easter without much thought of what happens in between. Good Friday is just too messy; Jesus’ suffering is just too gruesome for us to spend too much time thinking about.

Several years ago I spent our Good Friday service talking in some detail about the suffering that Jesus underwent on the cross. I talked very frankly about the physical torment that he endured.  I wasn’t morbid or overly graphic, but I was descriptive. Crucifixion was designed to inflict the maximum amount of pain and torture for the maximum amount of time without causing death.

Evidently, you’re not allowed to talk about that on Good Friday either. I had two people tell me after the service that they were leaving the church because they were so upset that I would talk about Christ’s suffering in such plain language.

Let’s be clear – Jesus suffered. A lot. It was devastating. And he endured it for us. There’s no excuse for forgetting or overlooking that.

~ Godspeed

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Seeing and Savoring Jesus - Scandal

We may not want to acknowledge it, but there is scandal in the story of Jesus. His birth. Born of a Virgin? He ate with prostitutes and tax collectors. He habitually broke the purity laws of Jewish teaching. Scandal is inevitable if we even glance at the story of Jesus.

1 Corinthians 1:23 says that Jesus was “a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles.” Jesus was an obstacle. He didn’t make the way of faith easy to find. You tripped and fumbled your way into it. You looked silly and foolish trying to find it.

That phrase “stumbling block” is one Greek word: scandalon. It means more than just something scandalous. It means something that is a trap or a snare. An impediment. For many who heard the words of Jesus, they were more than just hard to hear – they were too hard. They made it more difficult to believe than before.

I’m never surprised by someone’s struggle to come to faith. I’m never surprised that for many there is a long and drawn out wrestling match with God over ideas, theology, old hurts, disappointments, and unanswered questions. That’s part of the scandal. The stumbling block. There’s a lot to struggle with on the way to embracing Jesus.

The wisdom and truth that Jesus reveals is beyond our comprehension. It takes a while for us to begin to assimilate the depth of Christ’s wisdom and the clarity of His truth. It takes time for us to begin to grasp that “the kingdom of God has come upon you” in the face of this Jesus.

There is glory in this scandal. Even when its hard to see.

~ Godspeed.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Seeing and Savoring Jesus - Wisdom

We find ourselves looking beyond the wisdom of Solomon in Chapter 6.

Jesus is the picture of wisdom. He knows our thoughts. No action is unknown to him. Our future is a mystery to us, but not to Christ. Nothing perplexes him.

But that’s not the most amazing thing about his wisdom. What’s truly astounding is that Jesus knows (and wants to know) my heart. When Jesus and Peter talk in John 21 and Jesus says to him, “Do you love me?” Peter says, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.”

Jesus knows everything, he has all wisdom. And the result of that wisdom is that he knows Peters heart.

By his wisdom Jesus knows my heart.

I’m just in awe that Jesus would bother. But that’s my sense of insignificance talking. Jesus doesn’t see it (or me) that way. Because he knows my heart.

I could say a lot about Jesus’ wisdom. Its scope. Its impact. What astounds is that Jesus has chosen to know me. And … well, you also.

~ Godspeed

Friday, March 25, 2011

Seeing and Savoring Jesus - Problems

In Chapter 5, I run into my biggest struggle [my biggest problem] with Piper’s book so far. It feels a bit fatalistic to simply resign myself to the suffering I see. There is too much pain to simply bow to God’s sovereignty and go about my day.

Make no mistake; God is powerful and in control. Jesus is the center of all things. All things were created in him (John 1:3) and are held together in him (Colossians 1:17). He is the beginning and the end (Revelation 22:13). The wind and the waves obey his voice (Luke 8:25). And yet, I’m not ready to stop asking questions.

I don’t want to dictate who lives or who dies; who suffers and who does not. But I would like to understand some rhyme and reason to the way things work. Just a glimpse of the plan.

Piper presents two choices in response to my questions: worship or curse. Given those choices I will choose worship. But that’s too simplistic. I will choose worship and still will ask questions. Why? Japan. Haiti. Pakistan. Cancer. AIDS. Violence. Abuse. “Why” is the question my non-Christian friends are asking and Piper’s Christian version of “live with it” and “get over it” doesn’t cut it.

C.S. Lewis’ answer – that this is the “best of all possible worlds” – has never seemed to cover it. Piper’s answer – a spiritual version of “suck it up” – certainly doesn’t. Even the answer that God gives Job – as good as it is – only goes so far.

In the end, I’m okay with not knowing all of the answers. I’m okay with “I’m God and you are not.” What I’m not content with is – “this is the way the world is, the way a sovereign God designed it;” and by implication, “there’s not much you can do about it.”

I have a little more free will than that. That’s why I’m here. That’s why God wants a relationship with me. So that empowered by the Spirit I can make some small difference.

~ Godspeed

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Seeing and Savoring Jesus – Joy

Joy is Indestructible.

I believe that, but I recognize that some will see it as a pretty bold statement. Especially in light of the circumstances and struggles in their own lives. In light of Haiti and Japan. Especially in light of Jesus. In light of Gethsemane. In light of Calvary.

At least in part the truth of those words rests in the definition of joy and happiness. Joy is internal. Happiness is external. Joy is independent of circumstances. Happiness is dependent on circumstances. Joy is a gift from God. Happiness is something we have to generate.

Even though Jesus goes through Calvary and Gethsemane there is still joy. That’s the significance of Hebrews 12:2. He endured the cross and the shame – for the joy. The circumstances aren’t conducive to happiness, but he still has joy.

Your happiness is not God’s priority. But God does want you to have joy. “These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full,” says Jesus in John 15:11. But no where does he talks about happiness.

Joy comes from the deep and abiding sense of God’s presence in your life. That is how you can become strong and unshakable in your faith.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Seeing and Savoring Jesus Christ – Paradox

A Lion and a Lamb. A Savior who is defeated. Life from Death. Justice tempered by mercy. Majesty and meekness. Exaltation and humility. Love revealed in the middle of hatred and fear.

We begin to see opposites converging in the person of Jesus. “The glory of Christ is not a simple thing.” It’s a coming together of many differing things – some of them seemingly contradictory. But at the very heart of this faith that we claim is paradox. What Jonathon Edwards called over 250 years ago “an admirable conjunction of diverse excellences.” What has more recently been called a “beautiful collision.”

Call it whatever you want. Bottom line = our faith is filled with these paradoxes that we are never meant to resolve. Perhaps the biggest of them if embodied in Jesus himself. Human or Divine? Conqueror or Sacrifice? Lion or Lamb?

Jesus isn’t who he is in spite of these paradoxes. He is Savior, he is glorious because of them. He is the Lion of Judah because he was the Lamb of God who took away the sins of the world.

I’m afraid that too often we take the tension out of paradoxes we were never meant to. We err on the side of the Lion and neglect the gentleness of the Lamb. We rest in the consolation of the Lamb and grow uncomfortable around the Lion.

And we end up with a Jesus that’s lopsided. Neither completely Lion nor Lamb and certainly not fully both.

~ Godspeeed

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Seeing and Savoring Jesus Christ – The Mystery Begins

Chapter 2 of Seeing and Savoring Jesus Christ presents us with the beginning of the Great Mystery – Jesus is the glory of God revealed.

Jesus, human and divine. Jesus, born of Mary. Jesus, “in whom the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily.” (Colossians 2:9)

Last time we talked about seeing the glory of God revealed in the majesty of Creation. Now we see God’s glory in a more immediate and personal way. In a person; in Jesus. Its still not about us. Its about God revealing God’s fullness in Jesus.

But in a small [and important] way – its about us. Its about us because the purpose God’s glory being revealed in these ways (in Creation, in Jesus) is to establish the basis of a relationship with us. God’s not content to stay far off; God is drawing near. God is pulling back the veil.

God is I AM. God is present. Right here.

Jesus is Emmanuel. “God with us.” He is present. Right here.

And that, is glorious.

~ Godspeed.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Seeing and Savoring Jesus Christ – Searching for Glory

Chapter 1 of Piper’s Seeing and Savoring Jesus Christ opens with a quest for a  clearer understanding of the glory of God. Without the glory of God, he says, we don’t understand the gospel of God.

The Psalmist says that “the heavens declare the glory of God.” This quickly gives us a perspective focuses us on God – its not mainly about us. First and foremost, its about God.

True. So true. All of creation declares God’s glory and we are just a small (very small) part of that creation. The Creation points to the Creator. But the Creation makes a point about us too. This beautiful creation that reveals God’s glory so clearly has been given to us to explore, to steward, to enjoy, to embrace. That says something about us!

In our soul’s search for glory, we don’t have to travel far. God draws close. Our search can begin as close to home as our ability to recognize the glory that God has placed right in front of us. Its close by because God has chosen us to share it with us.

That is our call; to see and savor the glory of Jesus. To put the glory of Christ back into the center of all things. To claim that blessing for ourselves. “The healing of the soul begins by restoring the glory of God to its flaming, all-attracting place at the center.”

This Lent, we see and savor “the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.” [2 Corinthians 4:6] For Jesus’ sake and for ours.

~ Godspeed

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Ash Wednesday - Lent Begins With a Question

In Lent 2011, First Saints is reading through the book Seeing and Savoring Jesus Christ by John Piper as a discipline of study, focus and prayer. Today, as Lent begins on Ash Wednesday, we are starting with a question. A very important question.

Who was Jesus Christ?

As we journey through Lent together, our aim is not simply to read about him. It’s not to learn about him. Our purpose is to see him!

I’m thinking of seeing that doesn’t happen with our eyes, but with our hearts. In Ephesians 1:18 (a text I almost preached on last Sunday), it says “I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you.”

That’s a great prayer to begin Lent with. May the eyes of your heart and mine be enlightened so that we may know the hope to which God has called us.

~ Godspeed

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Remembrance Day

On Sunday, 27 February, 2011, something incredibly significant happened. And most of us missed it.

Frank W. Buckles died on Sunday. He was 110. And believe it or not, the fact that he was 110 wasn’t that incredibly significant thing – although it is pretty amazing when you think about all that he saw in his life since 1901.

Frank Buckles was (as far as the Veterans Administration can determine) the last surviving veteran of World War I.

Longevity in and of itself is not such an amazing personal achievement. In some ways its beyond your control (environment, genetics, etc.).

What’s significant here is what Mr. Buckles’ death represents. The passing into history of a significant chapter of our past. The generation of people (men and women) who turned the tide in France. Who played a key role in stopping the German advance toward Paris. Marne, Saint-Mihiel, Meuse-Argonne, Cantigny. Places that most of us have never heard of, but names that men like Frank Buckles would never forget.

Frank Buckles lied to get into the Army in April of 1917 when he was just sixteen years old. Close to 5 million Americans served in World War I. They’re gone now. We’ve lost something.

I wonder if we’ll notice.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

7 Promises of God – Looking Back

First Saints just finished a great series of sermons. On seven consecutive Sundays we looked at some of the promises God makes in Scripture and explored the deep significance of those promises.

We discovered some surprises along the way! Some of these promises were familiar to us and over time we had built up some erroneous assumptions about what God meant in these passages. In other cases, we discovered that what we thought God was saying was just the tip of the iceberg – God was reaching much deeper than we ever imagined and offering something much greater than we had dared to hope.

With Lent just around the corner, we will be starting a new series of sermons. But before we do let’s pause and look back at the 7 Promises we’ve studied.

  1. God will supply our every need according to his riches in Glory (from Philippians 4:10-20).
  2. God’s grace is sufficient (from 2 Corinthians 12:9).
  3. God has promised us His Presence (from Matthew 28:20).
  4. God has promised that we will not be overcome by temptation (1 Corinthians 10:13).
  5. God has promised that all who believe will be saved (from Mark 16:16).
  6. God has promised that all things work together for good (from Romans 8:28).
  7. God has promised us eternal life (from 1 John 5:11-13).

God’s Word is full of promises – over 3,000 of them! These seven are just a small sample. I hope that they have spoken to you over the last seven weeks just as they have to me.

~ Godspeed

Friday, February 25, 2011

Questions from Crisis, part 6

Concluding a sermon by Rev. Ronald W. Leichty at First EUB in North Manchester, Indiana (May 14, 1967).

Through all of this there are at least two reasons why this whole issue is a religious concern.

First, because the maintenance of the status quo, maintaining things just as they are, this is not a Christian goal and a Christian concern. God sent Jesus Christ into the world to change things. Jesus was not sent to pat the Jews on the back and to say ‘nice goin’, boys; keep up the good work.’ Jesus was sent into this world to change things. And the history of the Christian Church, as the history of the United States, is a history of a people in revolution. This revolution we cannot ignore; it has come to us … we are a part of it.

Pentecost, which we celebrate today, is a recognition that God sent a continuing power to be with his people. God’s gift of the Holy Spirit whose task it was to continue to motivate his people, not just to revolt for revolution’s sake, but to look in the direction of what is needed in the world and to have the courage to move in that direction.

The red that you see on the paraments this morning is not just for beauty. This does not represent peace in the traditional sense. It does not represent tranquility. The red represents the blood of Jesus Christ. It represents the blood of martyrs in every generation who have died in order that the fulfillment of God’s challenge to his people might be fulfilled.

The first reason that this is a religious issue is because maintaining what is, is not the heart of the Christian faith.

The second reason why this is a religious issue is that it deals with our relation with God and with other people. Love your neighbor as yourself. This deals with other people. And we in the church are convinced that it is only as we are in a right relationship with God that we have a chance to be in a right relationship with our fellow man.

The work of leading and showing us what this means was left in the hands of Jesus on earth. And it was put into the hands of the Spirit to continue to motivate us so that we could understand that God did accept us when we weren’t fit to be accepted; and thus we must accept others if they do or say what they want or not. And we come to understand that we must love our neighbors as we would want them to love us. And we come to understand that we must hear them out even as we expect them to hear us.

We have been in a crisis, my friends. We have not come through unscathed. Perhaps we did not know where we were or what we believed ; now we do. Now we know the direction to go and the place where help is needed. And I am convinced of this: that it is a good thing we are Christians. For we know the source of our help. God through his ever-present Spirit offers to lead us individually to a deep, abiding and assured faith. And this we cannot take apart from that. He also offers to give us a faith by which we can respect and love and live with our fellow man.

God expects no more of us; we cannot ask any more of our fellow man. Amen.

more next time

Friday, February 18, 2011

Questions from Crisis, part 5

Continuing a sermon by Rev. Ronald W. Leichty at First EUB in North Manchester, Indiana (May 14, 1967).

The fourth question that I put before you is this: What do you believe is the purpose of education? If one questions stand out from this week’s activities, this is it. What do you really think education is all about? What should we be trying to do in our schools and more pointedly in a college that is in our town?

It seems that there is a tremendous gap between the understanding of what we are trying to do in education, between many people in our town and the professional educator. As an oversimplification, let me say that what I heard this week in many conversations seemed to be saying this: that the educational task is a task of indoctrination. Indoctrinate young people with the facts by which they can be good citizens in the pattern of the community. Indoctrinate them to be good members of the community so that they don’t ask the wrong questions or rock the boat. Indoctrinate them to fit into a life that is basically white and protestant.

This is not education; and professional educators do not see their task in this light. They see their task as opening the doors by which youth understand what is  going on in this world, by which they come to an understanding of opening before youth the many resources that are available in this world. Professional educators see their task as helping youth to choose how they will use their life in the light of these opportunities. They see their task as helping youth to make value judgments in the light of all that occurred around them.

From this standpoint, I think you can see why a man like Dr. King was invited to come. Dr. A. Blair Helman, the President of Manchester College, summarized these goals in his statement when he came onstage to indicate Dr. King would not come. He said this: “One commitment of education is that ideas are to be presented and challenged. No idea is to be taken for granted. Education is a process in which one hears ideas and then makes up his mind.”

It goes without saying that this concept of education is different than that which many of us fear. And yet, it is positive. And the gap must be bridged. In order to share this concept with the community, the Chamber of Commerce and the college are sharing staff persons, meeting with business persons from our community on a monthly basis to try to answer questions and to help understand.

I have sent from our church over my name a letter to Dr. Helman urging that this series of meetings be continued and also suggesting that additional meetings be arranged for other groups of persons within our community. I hope that many of us will have opportunity to share in such sessions. For I am convinced that it will help us to answer a basic question that was found to be lacking in these days: “what is the purpose of education?”

to be concluded

Friday, February 11, 2011

Questions from Crisis, part 4

Continuing a sermon by Rev. Ronald W. Leichty at First EUB in North Manchester, Indiana (May 14, 1967).

The third question that bothered me a great deal during this week had to do with definitions. What is communism? What is patriotism?

During these days these two words were used with great frequency. And I do not have a great learned paragraph to explain and define it for you. But this I know; that true communism is nowhere present in our world. Communism in the United States is a color word. The tradition has developed that anyone who does anything we don’t like is branded a communist. And we don’t have to prove he’s a communist. Somewhere we have turned the tables around and forced those of us who believe in a person to prove he’s not a communist. And for those of you who have your friends branded this way, you are forced to prove they are not communist; and in so doing we have completely twisted around the concept of the American judicial system.

Likewise patriotism is linked at this time to support of the administration’s policy in Viet Nam. This be itself is not patriotism. We criticize national policy; I’ve heard many of you do it, I have done it. We criticize high taxes. We criticize social security and yet we participate in them and we aren’t branded communists because we dissent from one national policy. But let one person denounce the policy in Viet Nam and they are colored for life.

My friends, patriotism is not so narrow as supporting one particular national policy. Patriotism is not proof nor disproof by our actions and regard to draft cards or saluting a flag or using zip codes or having prayer in the schools or accepting social security. But of this I am convinced that if we allow ourselves to be forced into either pattern, a unified patter – either of Washington or of Russia – then we are open to a take over. Of that I am convinced. But as long as the freedom of dissent is laid before us, at least that long, the powers of communism will find it, I think, impossible to take over this nation. As long as the ability and freedom of dissent is there and it is used, I do not fear a take over from the outside.

But the question is there. What about you? What is communism to you? What is patriotism to you?

to be continued

Friday, February 4, 2011

Questions from Crisis, part 3

Continuing a sermon by Rev. Ronald W. Leichty at First EUB in North Manchester, Indiana (May 14, 1967).

During these days, four questions kept reoccurring and reappearing in my mind. And these are the four questions that I put before you this morning for your consideration.

The first is this: In regard to this deep feeling and emotion that is evident in our community: are these feelings new? Are these feelings new?

Obviously the answer is no. The feelings and emotions were there all along. They had just not been touched in such a way that they came out. But now they have been touched! And they are out and the yare with us and we see, at least some of us, what we really are. This says that sometimes we even surprise ourselves at the things of which we are capable as human beings. It’s there … if only it’s touched. The feelings are there; they’re not new.

The second question is not quite so simple. It is not quite so cut and dried: Do we really believe in freedom? Do we really believe in tolerance? Do we really believe in the right to allow somebody else his point of view? Do we really believe in dissent?

We Christians are great ones for saying we believe in tolerance. But usually this means that we believe we have the right to say what we think. Usually this means we think we have the right to criticize. And as you know, we do. We criticize the tax structure of our town, of our county, of our state and government. We criticize the church program. We choose which friends we allow to be near us and which friends we’re going to push aside. We do these things and many other things that illustrate that we believe that we have the right to choose.

But a real belief in tolerance, a real belief in freedom allows the other fellow the same rights that we claim for ourselves. Are we as willing to allow the other fellow to criticize what he and whom he chooses? Are we as willing to accept another person who criticizes the things that are dear to us like we want him to accept us when we criticize the things that are dear  to him? When we ask the question, ‘do you believe in tolerance?’ I think for most all of us the answer has to be both yes and no. For few of us are willing to grant to the other fellow a freedom to dissent as whole-heartedly as we embrace it as our inalienable right.

Persons who cannot listen or will not listen to another point of view lack confidence in their own position. To close doors … to shut off sources is neither to be Christian nor human. To close off sources … to close our senses to others, this indicates the weakness of our own position. Our inability to have what we believe scrutinized does not illustrate strength, but weakness. It’s something like the story that’s told about preachers. “If you don’t have a good point, make the one you do have loud!”

Still another concern I have at the point of tolerance is the point of responsibility. Tolerance and dissent are not possible without responsibility. Those who merely criticize, those who are merely against, will also be ignored except for the noise that they make unless they have something to offer positively. Too many times today we hear only the noise. We need the voice of the dissenter who feels he has a better idea; and to this man the world has an open ear and a ready tolerance. This is the freedom we need.

Dr. Viktor Frankl, speaking in Indianapolis a week ago, an Austrian psychiatrist, spoke to our need of we Americans for responsibility. He used these words: “You Americans need to complement your statue of liberty on the East Coast with a statue of responsibility on the West.

Amen! We need the  tolerance; the tolerance of dissent that has come from the freedom of the American system. We need dissenters, but we need responsible dissenters who offer to us the hope of maintaining and continuing and projecting what our forrefathers saw as the hopes of a continuing nation.

Do you really believe in freedom? Do you really believe in tolerance? Do you really believe in the right to dissent?

to be continued…

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Scenes from an Italian (Panera) Restaurant

Had the occasion to spend some time in a couple of different restaurants over the last couple weeks. When you are in a place like Panera and there are people and conversations happening all around you and sometimes people are only a couple of feet away, there’s no way you can expect that your conversation is private. Especially when you’re talking at the top of your lungs!

P1: [in Liberty University sweatshirt] I really wanted him to go there. I just wanted to know that when he wasn’t home someone else was watching over him when I wasn’t there. It’s scary.
P2: So he likes it?
P1: He seems to. But it doesn’t matter. I like it and he’s getting a good education too.
P2: Ok.
P1: They check his room a couple times a week. Make sure its neat, makes his bed. They can’t ground him, but they give him demerits. And when he gets demerits, I find out.

Man 1: There are two of them. They’re both really small.
Man 2: How small is small?
Man 1: One is about 40 and the other is about 25. She said she rarely gets more than that. They’ve been about that for years and years.
Man 2: Huh.
Man 1: Yeah. They can’t pay her and they can barely pay their bills. But they’re never going to close those two churches. They can’t.
Man 2: Why not?
Man 1: They’re almost 200 hundred years old. You can’t just shut down churches that are that old – no matter what. No matter what happens you have to keep them open.

Her: Really?
Her: Really!
Her: No way?
Her: Way!
Her: Huh!
Her: Yup.
Her: Done?
Her: I guess.
Her: So…?
Her: I dunno.
Her: Huh.
Her: Yup.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Questions from Crisis, part 2

Continuing a sermon by Rev. Ronald W. Leichty at First EUB in North Manchester, Indiana (May 14, 1967).

Persons told me that this man [Dr. King] had no right to speak in our community. Students wrote into the newspaper indicating their conviction that this man was a communist. Shopkeepers were apprehensive. At least one was reported that he would lock his shop and leave town for the day because he was frightened. At least one other told me that they were ready to lock the shop on a moments notice as soon as any trouble that they expected erupted.

On the campus I found four general attitudes. One was to give Dr. King a fair hearing. One was an attitude by which the student would leave campus and not be a part, not be around. One group was planning to get up and leave in a mass protest as soon as the man came onto the stage. Another was going to stand and give him a rising ovation before he said a word. An African student at the college was telephoned with threats so often that he left town because he could not endure it.

At least one other clergyman besides myself received a telephone call before 7:00 that morning asking us to read books on how communism came to this country; with the obvious implication that we were ignorant on the subject, and that our actions indicated a sympathy either knowledgeable or without knowledge.

Persons in our community whipped up fervor, making the vocal minority, which I am certain was a minority; but making this vocal minority seem bigger than it was. One person spoke in a group where I was in attendance said something like this: “Wherever this man goes, he causes trouble. If one stone is thrown, the whole town will be torn apart!”

I don’t know what you heard, but these are some of the things that I heard. And my friends, I was shocked. For this week I have been weak.

Dr. King did not come. And neither did the large group of Negroes from surrounding cities that had been promised for demonstration. And neither did the large group of rabble rousers arrive that had been anticipated. Indeed a demonstration on campus was so small that WANE-TV in reporting this incident said that they tried to make their numbers appear larger by each carrying two signs instead of one. The crowd in the auditorium was quiet and orderly.

The apprehensions proved unnecessary. But of this I am convinced, the fact of Dr. King’s appearance at this moment was unimportant and remains unimportant. What was and is of  greatest importance as I see it is evidence of feeling that has come into the open. A feeling and emotion that is still with us; and feelings that will remain as they are unless something positive is done about them.

to be continued

Friday, January 21, 2011

Questions from Crisis, part 1

A friend came across this sermon, preached by Rev. Ronald W. Liechty on May 14, 1967 at First Evangelical United Brethren Church in North Manchester, Indiana. It’s a picture into a time that for many of us is becoming too remote to understand. It also shows the courage of a preacher in a difficult time as he calls his people to a holy and devout life. It’s presented here with permission from Rev. Liechty.

“It had been common knowledge for some months that Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. had been invited to speak at a convocation at Manchester College. Being relatively new in this community, I expected some feelings to be evident. However,  I must admit I was totally unprepared for the extremes of the attitudes that were exhibited in our town during this past week.

To be sure, there were some moments of moderation; and to be sure, there were some positive attitudes, but the general attitude of the negative completely overwhelmed me. For me personally this was not evident and was in the background until a meeting I attended last Monday noon. At that time a meeting of business leaders of our community to discuss business matters ended in a discussion of the coming of this man to our town. One man spoke out in opposition to the visit. And soon a number of other expressed their views; and the comments were acid. They were remarks like this: “that n______ is going to take all that money out of our town.” They were remarks like this: “the stand he has taken in Viet Nam marks him as a communist.” For 45 minutes the leaders of our community exhibited this type of feeling. And it was only through the quiet intervention of another respected gentleman of this town that this tirade of words finally ceased.

I went home limp. I was shocked at the complete lack of tolerance, the inability to accept a dissenting voice, and the seeming complete lack of understanding of what education is all about. But even more to me was the mystery of such deep feelings that were obviously a part of the warp and fabric of our community. Feelings that had been covered up until that moment.

From that time on, last Monday noon, I did some detective work around our community both in the campus and in our town attempting to find out just what the thinking was of our people in regard in regard to the coming of this man. Again, there were some moderating influences and some moderating voices, but by and large my findings merely supported the attitudes of that which I have just described.

to be continued

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Baptism vs. Dedication

A serious question for my friends who are United Methodist pastors - do you do Infant Dedication as well as Infant Baptism in your church?

If so, where do you find the liturgy for a dedication? You’d have to go outside the denomination or to an old (almost pre-merger) Book of Worship. The lack of a liturgy for Infant Dedication in the current Book of Worship at least implies that we don’t do dedication, doesn’t it?

And more questions: How does dedication fit into your overall theology of baptism? How do you distinguish between a dedication and a baptism, for yourself, for your congregation, for the parents?

Where, if at all, does Confirmation fit into this over-all picture? As the institutional way we urge young people to make a Profession of Faith.

I’m asking because I’ve followed pastors who only allowed Infant Dedications and I’ve followed pastors who only allowed baptism. I know pastors who will do either/or. I’ve wrestled with this a lot myself, both in seminary and in the parish. I know where I’ve come down on this, but I know that I have colleagues who have differing ideas. Sadly, there is rarely an opportunity for us to exchange those ideas.

I’m hoping to hear from at least some of you here. I really want to know what you think.