Sabbath Notes

8.29.2014

"I do not know everything there is to know about sabbath; in this discipline as much as any other, I am a beginner.  What I do know is there have to be times in your life when you move slow…times when you walk rather than run, allowing your body to settle into each step…times when you sit and gaze admiringly at loves one, rather than racing through an agenda…times when you receive food and drink with gratitude and humility rather than gulping it down on your way to something ‘more important.’  Times when hugs linger and kisses are real…

"There have to be times when you sink into the comforts of home and become human again rather than using home as a hotel or a fast-food restaurant; times when you light a candle and find the place inside you that loves and then pray out of that place."

- from Sacred Rhythms, Ruth Haley Barton

Baptism

8.27.2014

Last Sunday we baptized nine teenagers who professed their faith in Christ, and reaffirmed the baptism of two others who were baptized very young.

One of the things I tried to say to these young disciples, and that I hope they will remember along with the chilly water in which they were immersed, is that their baptism is something to be remembered and affirmed their entire lives.  It isn’t a momentary thing, but something we carry with us our whole lives.

In the Westminster Confession of Faith, which helped define the Reformed tradition of the Christian faith in the 1600’s, it says that the effectiveness of our baptism is not merely tied to the moment when we are baptized.  The Holy Spirit makes the grace of baptism real according to God’s own will and in God’s own time.

It is like baptism plants God’s grace in us, and God has a plan for when and how that seed will bloom into faith.  And that may be at a later time.  Not everyone jumps out of the water fully formed and mature in faith.  Baptism transcends times.

And then, in the Larger Catechism, it says, “The needful but much neglected duty of improving our Baptism, is to be performed by us all our life long…” (Q. 167)  Baptism is to be improved, perhaps like a marriage is improved as the people grow and mature in love.  I find this idea challenging.  It also makes baptism relevant my whole life long.

Our young people have many struggles and times of darkness to go through.  The road of their faith will not be without its adversity.

They are really kind of disciples in embryo, just beginning to be formed.  No one is complete just by being baptized.  No, really, we are just saying, “I am but a child and have much to learn and many ways to grow as a faithful follower of the Lord.”

But I pray that as they grow up and go further in life, what happened to them on Sunday will (in the words of the dudes who were at Westminster) “improve”.

Merton Monday

Christ will be not be visible to the world in His Church except in proportion as Christians seek peace and unity with one another and with all humankind. But since conflict is inevitable, unity cannot be maintained except in great difficulty, with constantly renewed sacrifice, with lucid honesty, openness, humility, the readiness to ask forgiveness and to forgive. Christian life is a perpetual conversion, a turning to God and to the Church for pardon.

- Thomas Merton, Seasons of Celebration

New Sermon Series

8.22.2014

We are a tired, stressed-out, workaholic culture.  We are go! go! go! and find it hard, even undesirable to stop.  We push ourselves, our kids, and everyone else that we can take with us.

We brag about the long hours we put in, and how we haven’t had a day off in weeks.  And then, we complain about how tired we are, and how we are in desperate need of a break.

Yet, when God created the world (and as important and impressive as my projects are, creation trumps it big time) he rested on the seventh day.  God stopped and rested.  The Hebrew word for “rest” gives us the word “sabbath”.

I suppose if God did his work in six days, and rested on the seventh, I might want to look into it for myself.

God commanded us to take one day every week to stop our work and rest.  It is one of the Ten Commandments and it tells us to remember the Sabbath and keep it holy.

If we are tired and strung-out, maybe its our own fault.  At least we can’t blame God.  He has given us the Sabbath.

Sunday, I begin a sermon series on the Sabbath.  It is called “Rest”.

Jesus said, “Come to me all you who are weary and carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.”

Oh, how we need rest.  And God offers it to us to be a weekly, renewing, refreshing reality.

I hope these sermons will help us find out how.

I have been living with this quote from Desmond Tutu, “Do your little bit of good where you are; it’s those little bits of good put together that overwhelm the world.”

This comes from Steve Lawler, Rector of St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church in Ferguson, Missouri.

How often I get overwhelmed with the immensity of the world situation, and even the trials, burdens and adversities I absorb in my own role as a pastor, husband, father and friend.  Are you like me and feel like things are a little more chaotic and seemingly out of control right now?

Lawler is obviously living in the midst of one of the situations that we see and it scares us, so I stand under his authority.  But in our feelings of the overwhelming evil and pain of our world, these words of the Archbishop from South Africa help me “counter-overwhelm”.

I will be trying to live these words, too.

Seeing Christ in Others

Dorothy Day, the founder of the Catholic Workers Movement, said that it is an act of faith constantly repeated to see Christ in people.

Well, our faith gets plenty of work here.  There are people in whom we long to see Christ become real.  There are people who seem so far from what he wants them to be and we pray and hope for his presence to be seen in them.

Sometimes the very people we, in our limited faith-vision, think are farthest from Christ are none other than the Lord himself.  Remember the parable, "When did we see you, Lord?"  "If you did it to one of the least of these…"

Seeing Christ in others gives our faith a workout.

Lord, give us the eyes of faith to see you in people - all people.  And as we learn to do this, make our faith stronger.  Amen.

Merton Monday

A tree gives glory to God by being a tree. For in being what God means it to be it is obeying Him. It “consents,” so to speak, to His creative love…The more a tree is like itself, the more it is like Him. If it tried to be like something else which it was never intended to be, it would be less like God and therefore it would give Him less glory…Therefore each particular being, in its individuality…gives glory to God by being precisely what He wants it to be here and now, in the circumstances ordained for it by His Love and His infinite Art.

Thomas Merton, New Seeds of Contemplation
Same Old Sermon

It has been a few weeks since I have preached and its time to stand up and give the Word again.  I will be preaching tomorrow morning.

Preaching the gospel is somewhat like the way airline crews go over the safety procedures before a flight.  There is a captive audience.  Some listen attentively.  Some look like they are listening but are thinking about other things.  Some really don’t pay attention at all because they have heard it all before (maybe for the third time that same day).

The crew does it anyway because it needs to be said and heard.

Sin, grace and forgiveness has been said and again and again and again for many centuries now.  But it needs to be said.  And it needs to be heard.

Christians in Iraq

8.13.2014

This came today from Rev. Dr. Dana S. Allin, Synod Executive of ECO: The Covenant Order of Evangelical Presbyterians. I think it is worthy of noting:

A number of people have inquired about sending support to the Church in Iraq as it responds to the displacement of Christians and others from Mosul and neighboring cities and towns.  As you are aware, the situation is dire and the needs are great.  The Presbyterian Church in Kirkuk, which is about 100 miles from Mosul in a stable Kurdish-controlled area, is already responding to the needs of Christians and Muslims who have fled their homes, as Pastor Haitham Jazrawi writes:

About 10:30 last night, someone knocked on our door. Being that it was so late, and because of the tenuous situation in my city, my wife and I wondered who would be knocking on our door at this hour. We were not expecting anyone. So, I was afraid to open the door and wondered if I should. I thought it might be a criminal or a militant with a gun. I didn’t know what to expect. I hesitated, but finally decided to open just a crack and ask who was out there. The person answered me, “I am a Christian from the Mosul area; I am a refugee.” I didn’t know if I should believe him, so I asked, “How can I be sure you’re telling the truth?” He said, “Here is my ID card; see for yourself.” My wife was very frightened. She whispered to me to keep a distance from the stranger. I inched toward him warily. I saw his ID card. He was a refugee. He had three daughters; the oldest was not more than 5 years old. We talked for a long while. I promised him that our church would not leave him alone. Please pray that we will be able to support them. The Lord has enabled us to help many displaced Iraqis, regardless of their religion or affiliation. Christ’s commandment to us is not to support and help only our own; rather, his commandment is that we serve everyone in his name. Once again, we find ourselves faced with a new challenge. Let us join hands and help those who have come our way.

The Outreach Foundation is able to receive gifts in support of the relief work of our partner, the National Evangelical Presbyterian Church of Iraq. Checks should be noted “Iraq Relief” and mailed to: The Outreach Foundation, 381 Riverside Drive, Suite 110, Franklin, TN 37064. You can also give online.
 
Thank you!
The Outreach Foundation and the Fellowship Community

Recalls

8.12.2014

Over the weekend I did some grocery shopping, and after I completed my purchase a longer than usual receipt was handed to me by the checkout clerk.  I had just bought a few things, but the slim, white paper looked like I had just shopped for the Utah football team.  She told me that there were some recalls listed on the receipt, and that if I had purchased any of the fruit listed, that I could bring it back for a refund.

I looked at the list and noticed it was for fruit that was sold before July 20.  If I had bought some those peaches, plums or nectarines - which I hadn’t - I can’t imagine I would still have them, or that they would be good.  Hence, why the need for a recall?  If bought them and they were tainted then I am probably gasping for breath in some hospital.

Fruit, cars, children’s toys - it seems like “recall” is a constant word in our daily vocabulary.  Recalls are for the defective, the unsafe, that which you don’t want anymore.

There are days I think my life should be on recall.  My attitudes and actions seem to undermine who God wants me to be, and the Christian I long to become.

My heart seems so defective, and I wonder if others think I am, indeed, unsafe.

Saint Paula Frassinetti, a nun in the 19th century, said, “Don’t permit your miseries or defects to depress you.  Rather, let them be steps by which you descend the deep mind where we find the precious gem of holy humility.”

Our defects can be reason for a greater growth toward the Lord.  As Sister Fassinetti wisely points out, they should teach us humility.  But our failures and warts should also open more to our need for the grace and mercy of Christ.

Thank God he doesn’t recall us, but patiently works in us, conforming us - sometimes ever so slowly - into the image of the Son.