A Forgiveness Endured

December 11, 2012 § Leave a comment

Malachi 3:1-4 A Forgiveness Endured December 9, 2012

I don’t know if I’ve told you this before or not, but Christine and I are suckers for Christmas movies… the corny-er the better!

It’s not uncommon at this time of year, to find us if we have some free time, sitting down to enjoy a B-level Christmas movie with a predictable plot, bad acting, and a happy ending.
It puts us in the holiday mood I guess.

Now, these Christmas movies, they usually fall into one of two general categories.

First, there’s the romantic comedy type of Christmas movie, where the setting is an awkward family gathering during the holidays, and the main character is forced to introduce their boyfriend or their girlfriend to the family for the first time.

The particular stresses of the holiday season usually lead to a breakdown of one kind or another, old family wounds are torn open and long-buried grudges resurface to make the holiday thoroughly awkward and comically disastrous.

So, I like those movies, but they’re a little too much like real life. 🙂

My favorite Christmas movies anymore involve Santa Claus and elves, or magical worlds where animals talk. These movies usually open with the main character not believing in Santa Claus, and having a bad attitude towards the Christmas season.

Then, throughout the movie, they endure a series of events that calls their unbelief into question. By the end of the movie, they’ve been transformed, and the world they live in is feeling the effects of their conversion. For example, they’re generous if they were stingy.

Typically, by the end of one of these movies, the main character has come to believe in Santa Claus (or in my favorite movie, he actually becomes Santa Claus), and they’ve been transformed in a way that reaches out and affects all the lives of the people who they have interacted with.

The main message is simple and clear…Belief makes all the difference.

And that’s a nice Christmas message, isn’t it?

The world will change, things will work out for the best, everything will be OK if we just believe the unbelievable!

Our culture distinguishes very little between the unbelievability of the North Pole and the unbelievability of the Resurrection. Both serve as nice, quaint decorations at this time of year.

December is the month when “Belief” becomes a tricky subject, because it dresses up in plastic and tinsel, and sparkles and shines like something new.

In many ways, belief is never easier than it is in December; when it’s being sold like a commodity.

We talk about belief, and we could mean simple facts like the world is round, or we could mean deeper truths like believing in Jesus, or God, or the Holy Spirit.

Or we could talk about belief, and be referring to a cultural icon like Santa Claus.

So belief is easy…and this time of year cheapens it in a way, because there’s no distinction made between belief in Santa, belief in yourself or others, and belief in God.

So I say, belief is easy.

It’s far more challenging to take our ‘beliefs’ seriously…to ask of them the difficult questions that beliefs are meant to handle.

It’s the living in response to what we believe; taking our beliefs and the beliefs of other people seriously; that’s the hard part.

So Malachi comes to us today, and he gives us this picture of a God who comes with fire in one hand and soap in the other.

And we might not think that’s such a fitting image at this, the hap-happiest time of the year.
We’re filling our time with cookies, tinsel, and pine.

Our nativity scenes are laid out nice and clean beside our plastic Santas, across the room from the Christmas tree standing watch over the presents we’ve bought for people we ‘believe’ in.

-This hardly seems the time for a message of fire and soap.-

And yet that’s exactly what we’ve got. Fire for refining, and soap for cleansing.

And I know we’ve heard this message of before; that we’ve all got dirty secrets we try to hide, that we need to be cleaned up; purified; refined; scrubbed clean in order to be found fit for service in the kingdom of God.

And I know that everything about that message is true; we do all have dirty secrets that we need to come clean of before a Holy and Righteous God.

And it’s true, that the refining and the scrubbing; these are painful processes to go through, such that they are meant to be endured, not enjoyed.

It’s true, that we all carry wounds.

We all carry grudges.

We all carry misunderstandings, wounded ways of living and relating to the other people in our lives, and we approach our family gatherings and company parties burdened with the gunk and grime that comes from living.

And most of us have been invited to get cleaned up a hundred times if we’ve been invited to get cleaned up once. Then another season of life goes by, and the same resentments and wounds and hurt feelings begin to coat our souls anew with a gritty film of bitterness and anger.

No matter how much gloss we put on the Christmas season, no matter how much tinsel we string up, our lives are still filled with junk.

The way Still needs to be prepared in the wilderness of our inner landscape.

Our mountains of Pride need to be leveled. Our valleys of despair need to be filled.

And so God comes with fire and soap…just as God came with fire and soap.

But not just any fire or soap.

He comes with a refiner’s fire, and a fuller’s soap.

And what’s interesting about this particular kind of fire, and this particular kind of soap, is that they both take skill to use properly. They’re both tools of a skilled craftsman.

Someone who is skilled at the art of creation.

See, precious metals, like silver…when they’re mined, or when they need to be used for something different than what they had been used for, you might have a very little bit of silver, mixed in with a whole lot of dirt and grime and maybe lead, or iron, or other minerals that are of less value.

And it’s not just that those things need to be burned away; it’s that they have to be separated out from the silver in order to make the silver worth using.

The end result of the process is a lump. I think they actually call it a “pig” of metal.

(so I guess we could say God is turning us into a bunch of pigs!)

It’s not a useful object. It’s just a lump of material that’s ready to be worked with.
Likewise with this “fuller’s soap”.

I know in the NIV, this verse is simply translated as a “launderer’s soap”…but in other translations, the word we have there is a “fuller”.

And it’s interesting, the process that’s being referred to hear; it’s more than just making something clean that has gotten dirty, like we might think about washing a pair of blue jeans or something like that.

Fulling is actually the process that Wool goes through soon after it’s been sheared.
It cleans it, yes, but it goes much deeper than that, too…it’s actually how cloth is made!

There are two processes that a fuller used to use in order to prepare cloth in ancient times.
Scouring and Thickening.

Scouring involved using certain chemicals to wash the wool and even bleach it white. They started out long ago by using stale human urine; something about the salts in urine helped to bleach the fibers as they scoured it.

Thankfully, in future years they learned how to do the same thing with a particular kind of clay that’s called “fuller’s earth”, and they eventually developed a really harsh lye-based soap that does the same thing.

That’s the scouring, they would also “thicken” the wool, by pounding it together with their hands or feet, or maybe with a wooden paddle type thing.

The point is, whether we’re talking fire or soap, these are tools that take skill to use.
Not everyone can use them correctly.

And at the end of the day with both processes, all you have to show for your work is material that’s ready to be worked with further! On their own, a bolt of cloth or a ‘pig’ of silver; both items are almost useless because they haven’t yet taken a useful form.
But at the same time, in that state…the potential within them is beyond measure!

The mind of the Craftsman is the only limit to what they can become!

So even here in Malachi, we get a picture of a God who is fundamentally Creative, even when he comes as a Judge! The point of judgment is not punishment; it is redemption!

The message I want to give you this morning is that we can join with God in the act of Creation every single day!

Yes; our lives are filled with impurity and brokenness and even shame.

Yes; we are sinful people in need of redemption, and we war within ourselves with the forces of Good and Evil.

But in the hands of a creative and highly skilled God, we are also being transformed into something far more useful than mere flesh and blood…even when we can barely stand the process. Even when it’s a forgiveness we must endure.

I read a book recently that suggested that being creative in some way is the antidote to
Cynicism. The author basically says that we each have creative gifts, and the desire to create in some way (which makes sense to me since we’re created in the image of a creative God).

And so, he suggests that when we don’t create, we’re actually stifling that part of us, and it comes out then through cynicism towards the people who are being creative!

I had to think of Christine’s challenge from a couple weeks ago, to hold our tongues when we want to talk negatively about the people around us.

I wondered if maybe it would be easier to do if we joined with God by using our creative gifts more often when we’re tempted to snark.

So that’s my challenge as we keep moving towards Christmas, if you’re ready for another one so soon. 🙂

Be creative for the next week or two.

When you’re tempted to tear down, try building something up.

When the tension inside yourself rises to a fever pitch, go get by yourself and create in the way that only you can do. If you’re a writer, write. If you’re a baker, bake. If you run, or read, or Stamp or scrapbook or make music or make things out of wood; do it!

I have a hunch that when we fill our time creatively, God is delighting with us, and there’s that much less time that we’re being cynical or negative, right?

It’s in the act of creation that we can stand with the God who comes with fire and soap, ready and willing to scour and refine not for our punishment, but because He is fundamentally creative and sees in us the limitless potential of what we can become!

Prepare Ye the Way of the Lord!



Sermon Starter for Advent 1

November 29, 2012 § Leave a comment

When I was in elementary school the swings were a pretty popular place to be at recess, but it wasn’t because it was so much fun to simply swing gently back and forth, like I might do today.

It was more because we usually screwed around on the swings until somebody eventually got hurt. Every year at least one kid would get seriously hurt because of doing something stupid on the swings.

But that didn’t stop us from continuing our “Lord of the Flies” type competitions.

Probably the safest thing we did was see who could swing the highest. Two guys would sit in swings next to each other, and then they’d start swinging at the same time, and see who could get the highest the quickest.

You had to be careful not to swing crooked, because then you’d hit each other and it would probably hurt. The goal you’d aim for was to swing so high that the chains would go slack, and you’d actually freefall for just a brief moment before being jerked backwards.

Not many kids could go quite that high.

But a few could.

And the kids who could, they were the same ones who quickly decided that it would be even more exciting to swing that high, and then jump off the swing right at that highest point.

We were in awe of those kids.

They were the daredevils of the playground.

And it’s not surprising that they were often the ones who ended up in the nurse’s office after twisting their ankles or knocking their heads after such a stunt.

Such is the cost of glory.

Now, all stunts aside, we can imagine a simple swing like you might remember from your own childhood. My swings were at school, maybe yours were at an aunt and uncle’s house, or a park, or maybe you had your own swing.

And maybe you can remember what it was like, to swing, to pump your legs back and forth and gain momentum and simply enjoy the movement of swinging through the air.

And maybe you can remember; just faintly, that moment when you swing forward, and your forward movement stops for just a split second before you start going backwards.

It’s that moment, when you’re suspended in mid-air, going neither forward nor backward, free for an instant from the forces of gravity and time, that’s the moment I want to zero in in this post.

That moment stands as a very literal and yet very symbolic turning point. It’s both a beginning and an ending, and yet that moment itself is neither.

Do you get what I’m saying? However brief it might be, there’s one moment –one instant– between each swing where




It’s that one magical moment when the end of one movement kisses the beginning of the next.

For Christian people, Advent is that moment.

Sure, it’s about the baby Jesus and the miraculous conception and the faith it takes to bring a child into a world ruled by brokenness and pain.

But it’s also about what comes next; the cosmic “forward” that feels like “back”; the reality that we are somehow living between the forward swing of Christ’s life and death and resurrection, and the next swing back of the “second coming”.

Advent is that moment; and yet in that moment I’ve got eternity on my mind. It’s a moment that sweeps past and present and future into its warm embrace. It’s a timeless moment stretching through eternity.

Advent is as much about looking back as looking forward. That’s what’s so hard for our Western eyes to understand. We’d prefer if it was linear, progressing from the birth to the death to the resurrection to the natural state of a better world.

Unfortunately, it’s not like that. We still have signs of the kind Jesus talks about in Luke 21; the same kinds of signs that generation beheld. Nations continue to be in “anguish and perplexity at the roaring and tossing of the sea.” People still “faint from terror, apprehensive of what is coming “. We are still in that timeless moment between the swings.

And Jesus still says “When these things begin to take place, stand up and lift up your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.” (Luke 21:28). I hear an edge in Jesus’ voice this year that I haven’t always heard.

“Stand up, lift up your heads, for your redemption is drawing near.”
I almost hear a challenge there, like “Look at me when I’m talking to you!” “Stand up straight and look me in the eye!” Meet your Maker’s righteous gaze when he comes “in a cloud with power and great glory.”

It’s not all judgment though; for we do share the hope of resurrection.

What are your thoughts? Can we help each other “be able to stand before the Son of Man”? (Luke 21:36). Can we swing together, encouraging each other to remain faithful in this timeless moment between ‘now’ and ‘later’?

New Direction

November 18, 2012 § Leave a comment

Sometimes the most life-giving decisions I’ve made have been on the spur of the moment. When I started baking bread for sale while I was in Seminary, it took me all of an afternoon to make the decision, create some brochures, and start taking orders. It turned out well, and it was something I looked forward to every week.

The same thinking applies to ‘blogging’. Patnaff has been an eclectic assortment of thoughts, poetry, prose, and the occasional sermon. I’ve really had fun interacting with you all through this medium, and more recently I’ve been wanting to do something more focused on “the blogosphere”.

So, I’ll probably continue posting the occasional rumination or random thing here at patnaff; but I’m also beginning a new venture called “The Mennonite Muse”. I invite you to check it out and let me know what you think. I’m hoping for it to be a space for preachers and seekers (because I believe the best preachers are seekers themselves) to encounter something fresh in the biblical text. I also seek feedback for the thoughts, poetry, and assorted other ‘musings’ I end up posting there.

Again, thanks for your support and friendship, and I look forward to interacting more at http://www.mennonitemuse.wordpress.com. See you there!


As For You (full sermon)

November 15, 2012 § Leave a comment

II Timothy 3:14-17 As For You November 4, 2012
Today we’re looking at one scripture that has been formative for this church. We chose it as part of the process last week, as we chose 13 scriptures that are important to us as a group.

And I think I know at least one reason we chose this
scripture…because we take scripture seriously here, and these verses speak to that.

But I also know that many of us have had negative experiences with verse 16 in particular.

“All scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness”

For some of us, this verse has been used like a flint stone, to put a sharper point on another verse that someone was using as a weapon, to make one point or another.

We’re really good at lifting verses out of their contexts and using them like ammunition in whatever battle we find ourselves in.
And it’s true, that people can pick a verse at random to defend their position, and then use 2 Timothy 3:16 as a way of supporting their particular interpretation of whatever scripture is in question.

I don’t think that’s why we chose this verse.

(…But then again, it’s nice to know it’s there in a pinch, right?)

I say all that to simply acknowledge that there those of us here who love this passage from 2nd Timothy, and there are those of us here who haven’t found it to be helpful.

But before we get into an argument about who’s right or wrong, I think we need to do just a little more homework about why it’s here, what Paul might have meant, and what it means for us today.

And to do that, we need to start with asking ourselves what exactly 2nd Timothy is.

First and Second Timothy are often called “Pastoral Epistles”, along with Titus.

What that means is, they were written to individuals, rather than
whole churches like the other letters that we have.

And I know that in the Bible, the order of the books goes First and Second Timothy, then Titus. It makes sense to put them in that order.

But it can be a little confusing, because you can start to think they were written in that order.

In all probability, Paul wrote first Timothy, then he wrote Titus. He probably wrote those two letters as a free man.

And then he was put in prison for the last time.

He was put on death row, so to speak, and he knew it.

And then he wrote 2 Timothy.

So when we read 2 Timothy, in a way, we’re reading Paul’s last will and testament.

These are the things he chose to pass on to his most beloved and trusted friend, Timothy (whose name, by the way, means “One who Honors God”).

I take that to mean that the things he writes in this letter are be applicable to everyone who seeks to honor God with their lives.
So it’s a letter from jail…and it’s the last letter that Paul will write before his execution in Rome.

That’s a little bit about the context.

Paul is in jail at the end of his ministry, actually at the end of his life.

And he chooses to write a letter to this guy named Timothy.

So who was Timothy?

Well, if 2 Timothy is Paul’s last letter, 1 Thessalonians is the very first one.

Actually, 1 Thessalonians is the oldest book in the entire New Testament.

It’s even older than the gospels as we have them.

And in the very first verse of first Thessalonians, Timothy shows up, along with a guy named Silvanus.

So we know that Timothy was there at the very beginning of Paul’s ministry, and from this final letter, we know they stayed together right up until the end.

They had shared a long and fruitful ministry together. They had planted churches across an unbelievable amount of geography for that time.

Paul had been through years of beatings, prison terms, travel, shipwrecks, and finally as his life is draining away to the final drop, here he is, writing to his most trusted and beloved companion, Timothy.

So we know that Timothy was Paul’s most loyal companion through all the years of his ministry.

But we have enough in scripture to uncover a little bit more about Timothy, too.

See, good Jewish mothers, back in the day, they would kind of brag about how early they were teaching their children the scriptures and the traditions of their people.

They would say they had been teaching their children the stories and the traditions from the age of being swaddled.

It was a sign of pride to have taught your children the ways of the faith from their earliest breath, so that even if they forgot their own name in old age, they would not forget the scriptures, which told the stories of their God.

And there’s evidence to suggest that Timothy wasn’t raised in a home such as that.

His mother was possibly Jewish, but his father was probably Pagan.
In Acts we’re told how Paul circumcised him in order to silence Jewish opposition against him.

So it seems that, even if his mother was a Jew, she didn’t take her religious commitments very seriously. Timothy wasn’t circumcised, and a “good” Jew wouldn’t marry a Pagan anyway.

So when Paul writes this about continuing in what you have learned and firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it…he’s probably not talking about Timothy’s mom.

He’s talking about himself.

It’s no wonder he calls him a son.

Our faith is all about all kinds of adoption.

So that’s a brief overview of the who and the why of 2nd Timothy.

And it might help us read the verses we’re looking at today, and to see if they’re applicable today, if we go back a little bit earlier in what he’s writing, to the beginning of chapter three.

That’s where he warns his beloved son, the one who he’s counting on to carry his torch when it’s finally extinguished…he warns him against false teachers.

He says that distressing times will come, “for people will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boasters, arrogant, abusive, (is any of this applicable to presidential politics?) [they’ll be] disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, inhuman, implacable (I’m not exactly sure what that means), [they’ll be] slanderers, profligates (That’s another one I’ll have to look up later), brutes, haters of good, treacherous, reckless, swollen with conceit, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, holding to the outward form of godliness but denying its power.”

Don’t you wish Paul would just speak his mind sometimes?

AVOID THEM!! He says to Timothy.

Avoid the False Teachers…the ones who teach what they do not know…the ones who promise what they can’t deliver.

These are going to go from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived…that’s just how it’s going to be.

“But as for you,” he says… “continue in what you have learned and firmly believed”.

Continue in the Truth…for in the Truth there is no deception.

“Continue in what you have learned and firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it.”

The world is going to keep doing what the world does.

Paul is saying that the deceivers are going to continue deceiving, and they’re going to continue being deceived.

But he writes… “as for you…you who seek to honor God…you continue in the Truth you have learned.”

You continue in the Truth that has very literally shackled me and taken me prisoner.

The Truth that is leading me to death…but also, mysteriously, into life!

We’re two days away from a presidential election that many people are saying is the single most pivotal event in American history…possibly even in global history.

I’ve been told, time and time again, that our very way of life hangs in the balance as this particular election draws near.

The rhetoric doesn’t just suggest that this race is bigger than politics.

It screams that you and I are on the hook.

That we are responsible for the health and well-being of our nation.
And it goes on to scream…even more loudly…
that choosing sides is the only option we have to control the outcome.
…That One Guy is Good
And the other is Bad.
Not just Bad…
But rather, Evil.
And so, the campaigns scream and yell and holler and thump their chests.

They tend not to tell us how good their guy is.

They rather tend to tell us how evil the other guy is.

And we might almost start to believe them.

We might almost start to believe
that we’re on the hook for the health and the well-being of this nation.

We might start to believe
that the measure of a church is how willing the leadership is to choose a side.

We might want to be told which choice is good, and Christian, and Proper.
And which choice is bad, or evil, or Pagan.

And if you’ve been coming here on Sundays, and if you’ve been looking for those kinds of statements from this church, then hopefully you’ve noticed that we haven’t endorsed anyone.

We haven’t passed out voting guides.

We haven’t talked about “Taking Back America”.

We haven’t posted anybody’s political agenda on the bulletin boards.
Indeed, the most we’ve done is plan a communion service.
Along with more than 700 other churches
in all 50 States
representing more than 25 denominations.

Not because we’re interested in baptizing the political process
or the outcome of this election.

But rather, because we in the church are more than a vote.
We are the body of Christ.

And this election is literally making the body turn against itself.

It’s literally making us sick.

You want to hear from the pulpit, which side is Pagan, and which side is Christian?
I’ll tell you.

The State is Pagan.

The church is Christian.

The only Christian nation in the world…is the church.

It’s been like that since the time of Jesus.

And if you want to know what the Christian response should be to the Pagan government…even when the Pagan government wants your vote…you should look to the cross.

Or you could look to the Roman Jail

Where Paul was writing this letter

Saying “All Scripture points back to Christ.”

Proclaim the message; be persistent whether the time is favorable or unfavorable; convince, rebuke, and encourage, with the utmost patience in teaching.

The Christian way is the way of suffering for your enemies,
and loving them even as they drive the nails through your hands.
Even as they imprison you

I’m not saying don’t vote.

I’m saying don’t –ever- call it “the” Christian vote.
Rome will always be Rome. Don’t expect otherwise.
But as for you…
Continue in what you have learned, knowing from whom you have learned it.

Foxes and Birds

November 15, 2012 § Leave a comment

October 28 2012 Foxes and Birds Luke 9:57-62
This passage is a hard one to swallow, isn’t it?

Just before the passage we’re looking at this morning, there’s this kind of cryptic story about Jesus ‘resolutely’ setting out for Jerusalem, as the time came near for him to be taken up to heaven.

This is Luke’s way of foreshadowing that there’s going to be a showdown in Jerusalem, and the readers better buckle up for the rest of the ride. 🙂

So Jesus sets off, and he sends messengers ahead of him to kind of pave the way through Samaria. You know how celebrities, or sometimes politicians, will send people ahead of them to get things ready…that’s what Jesus is doing. They’re supposed to go find a place to stay and make arrangements for food and that kind of thing.

So these messengers go into a Samaritan village to get things ready, but the people there were not welcoming.

And we’re not left guessing as to “why”.

It says, they did not welcome them, because they were heading for Jerusalem.

We might think that sounds kind of strange.

What’s it matter that they were going to Jerusalem? That’s where the climax of the story is going to come, right? What is it about Jerusalem that’s drawing Jesus, and what is it about Jerusalem that makes these people close their doors against him?

Well, Jerusalem was the capital of Judah, in the south.

And Samaria was the capital of…Samaria…in the North.

Jerusalem was the capital of the Southern kingdom.

Samaria was the capital of the Northern Kingdom.

Remember last week how I talked about Solomon being the best king that kingship can produce, and how at the end of his reign, the kingdom was divided?

It was divided into the northern and the southern kingdoms.
Whenever groups of people are divided from each other…there is resentment, and tension, and strife. And if left to go unchecked, it can develop into generational resentment and tension and strife.
And as the years and the generations pass along, you start to forget that you were all originally part of the same family.

That kind of tension was at work between Samaria in the North, and Judah in the South.

You can see it in the lack of hospitality, and you can see it in the way James and John want to call down fire from heaven to destroy the village.

Jesus rebukes them for it.

The point I’m trying to make is, they were traveling through Samaria…a place they didn’t want to be, and a place that didn’t want them to be there.

So we’re left with the impression that today’s passage also takes place somewhere in Samaria.

And the reason that’s important to start with is because when you follow Jesus, you’re going to be uncomfortable. He’s going to take you through places you’d rather not go, with people you don’t like.
And along the way, he’s going to keep attracting, calling, and repelling would-be disciples.

Think about that the next time you’re tempted to judge someone who isn’t like you, or the next time you gather with your like-minded small group, or your like-minded sunday school class.

Think about that the next time you’re tempted to stay home from church because “so and so” might be there, or you don’t like the crackpot who’s preaching!

It’s easy not to listen to someone because we don’t agree with them. It’s easy to call down fire from heaven, if not literally, at least in our soul as we silently sit as judge, jury, and executioner over the cases that come before us.

Do we have the commitment we need, to confront each other in love, rather than calling down our passive-aggressive fire from heaven?

That’s part one of this story. Jesus sets his face towards Jerusalem, and he’s going through Samaria on his way.

And as they were walking along, a man came up to Jesus, and said “I will follow you wherever you go.”

And this kind of statement is hard for me to take real seriously anymore.

We sing this kind of thing all the time…Step by Step you lead me, and I will follow you all of my days. I will give you all my worship, I will give you all my praise, you alone I long to worship, you alone are worthy of my praise.

They’re good songs, don’t get me wrong.

But do we really mean that when we sing it?

“I will follow you wherever you go” says the Samaritan.

“I will follow you wherever you go” says the Mennonite.

And I like how Jesus responds.

When you follow Jesus, you get very few straight answers. Usually, we’re looking for a “Yes” or a “No”. But Jesus never makes it that simple.

Instead, he says “Foxes have holes, and Birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head.”

Jesus wasn’t very pastoral.

It’s almost like he didn’t care about gaining followers.
If we follow Jesus’ example here in this passage, I’m guessing church would be a lot smaller.

Not bigger.

People would be turned away.

Not gathered in.

And maybe that would be alright.

Foxes have holes.

Birds have nests.

But the savior of the world was a homeless man.

Did you ever wonder why Jesus chose these particular words?

At this time, Judah and Samaria…both the northern and the southern kingdoms of Israel…both had been ‘conquered’ by Rome.

Rome was the superpower of the day, and back before Jesus came on the scene, they had started occupying the whole region.

So even though there was bad blood between Samaria and Judah, they had a shared experience in their distrust of Rome, as well as the puppet kings that Rome set up to keep tabs on the region.

The puppet kings were like foxes…Luke 13 says as much, where Jesus calls Herod a fox, because he would manipulate information to make himself look good. He did whatever he could to survive. He was someone who couldn’t be trusted, except to look out for his own self-interest..

Foxes couldn’t be trusted…but at least they had a home. And the people who kept them in power…they also had homes. Play nice with the foxes, and you’re guaranteed at least some security.
And Rome itself…The superpower of their day…they had a symbol that they would put on their standards, or their shields, or maybe some banners and things like that.

You know how our national symbol is the bald eagle?

Rome’s symbol was…the eagle.

(I’m not making this up!)

Foxes and birds have homes.

Palaces actually.

But the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.

If you want to follow Jesus, like this first guy did, Jesus is going to expect more from you than just kissing your family goodbye.
He’s saying “if you want to follow me, say goodbye to the security that you might otherwise find in that fox Herod, say goodbye to the safety offered by that Roman Eagle, or that American Dream.”

*Because if and when you join this company, you play by different rules.*

You’re going to lose your sense of “home”, because the foxes and the birds have gotten under your skin, and in your blood.

You’re going to lose everything if and when you choose to go where I’m going.

And if you truly understand the full weight of that commitment, the cost of leaving behind the entire system you’ve come to believe in and call “home”, then you’ll be far less apt to say something as audacious as “I will follow you wherever you go.”

Jesus then calls to another man, saying “follow me.”

And the man replies “Lord, first let me go and bury my father.”
And Jesus says to this guy, rather harshly, “Let the dead bury their own dead, but you go and proclaim the kingdom of God.”

I remember hearing this passage as a kid, and I always imagined there was a funeral happening like right then. I imagined the casket like 50 yards away, just in the background of the scene.

I understood this guy’s request as wanting just to go ‘finish up’ what had already been started, that his father had died and needed to be buried.

And when you read this like that, Jesus seems like he’s in an awful hurry, doesn’t he?

But I read something this week that suggested that just maybe his dad hadn’t died yet.

That just maybe the nature of his request had more to do with wanting to leave his town with his good reputation and his untarnished family name intact.

Because in that culture, your biological family was your security as you grew older.

And one of the most honorable, respectable things that a son could do was make sure his father died with dignity and respect, surrounded by loved ones, and given a proper burial.

It shed new light on this passage.

This is the guy who wanted to follow Jesus, but also wanted to be well thought of in his community.

This is the guy, who wants to leave his village on good terms, so that if the whole Jesus-thing doesn’t work out, he would have something to fall back on.

Jesus says “no”. The life I’m inviting you into will not wait. It’s so much bigger…life with Jesus is so much bigger…than your reputation and your family name.

It’s like two completely different things.

They’re so different, in fact, that It’s like one way is death, and
one way is life.

One is concerned with foxes and birds and making sure everything is prim and proper and socially respectable…

The other involves crossing boundaries, making disreputable friends, and entering the kingdom of God.

Let the dead bury their own dead. You, go and proclaim the Kingdom!
Anytime you hear the voice of God speaking to you, and your response is “I will…but first…” the chances are, it’s not going to happen. (no matter what it is).

Act when your heart is stirred.

There’s a moment of decision for nearly everything.

Don’t let the moment get away.

Have you ever thought about writing a letter, a note of encouragement, or a sympathy card…or making a phone call to an old friend…you feel the stirring within you, you know you should do it, but then you think “I’ll do that…but first I’ll take care of…this…”.

I’ll do it tomorrow.

It’s generally not going to happen, is it?

When you’re called to act, Act now.

Do not put off until tomorrow what you can do today, and don’t worry about the consequences, or your reputation as you do it.

Still another guy comes up to Jesus and says “I will follow you, Lord; but first let me go back and say good-bye to my family.”

Again, we have the “but first”.

And Jesus replies to him, saying “No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for service in the kingdom of God.”

I don’t know that much about farming, but I know that even hoeing a straight line in my garden takes a focus on what’s in front, not what’s behind.

God isn’t interested in slip-shod work.

He’s not interested in leftovers, bad attitudes, or less than %100.

If we’re talking fields, he wants straight lines.

He wants his people looking forward, not back.

We are not a people of the past…and neither are we a people of the future….we are a people of the present tense.

Be here now.

Act now, while the stirring is fresh. Work in the present with an eye on the future…and don’t let the past interfere with what you’re doing right now.

Work in the present, with your eye on the future.

There’s no denying the past, for it has made us into the people we are today.

But following Jesus is done in the moment. Not in the past, not in the future, but right now.

Don’t let this moment pass away.

Would you pray with me? …

Bricks and Kings

November 15, 2012 § Leave a comment

October 21 The Physics of Presence I Kings 3:1-15
An acquaintance of ours in Virginia is a Stone Mason; and if I understand it right, he can charge a good bit more money for his work than a regular mason can, because his skill-set is less common.
It takes more skill to work with stone than it does with brick, because working with stone, you have more issues to contend with. You have to know how to compensate for the irregular shapes and sizes of the stones. It takes more planning and more knowledge to set the different courses of stone as opposed to brick, because stones are shaped in funny ways.

Bricks, on the other hand, are nice and uniform.

Bricks are man-made, and they’re all made the same size and shape. So you can plan for a project, and you’ll know exactly how many you’ll need before you ever get started.

You can work more quickly with bricks, because you don’t have to think about each individual brick and where it will fit best…you can just grab the next one from the pile.

Bricks were one of the earliest technologies that we invented.
(have you ever thought about a brick being ‘invented’?)

Somewhere along the line, our ancestors realized that they could build things a lot more efficiently if we used rocks that were the same shape and size.

So they invented the brick.

And ever since the tower of Babel, we have lived in a world quite literally made of bricks.

-now, when I use the word ‘brick’ this morning, I’m not just talking about the things we find at construction sites or brickyards.

I’m talking about all the technology we use that makes our lives more efficient.

I’m talking about cell phones, and computers, and how we transport ourselves across the country. I’m talking about electricity and gasoline and coal and plastic, and all the ways we use all the combinations of those technologies.

There’s no debate about it; technology has changed the world; and we have benefitted from the technology we embrace.

There’s nothing inherently wrong with technology in and of itself.

But ever since the tower of Babel, it’s been our temptation to use technology to be like God, instead of serving God. At the very least, we’ve tried to use technology to gain access to God instead of recognizing our place before Him.

In ancient times, they had bricks.

Today we have Google. (who needs to pray when the answer is just a click away?)

And so I chose Solomon this morning, because I think he represents the kind of growth and prosperity that many of us are looking for through our use of technology.

He represents the kind of person many of us long to become.

There’s a reason Jesus refers to “King Solomon in all his glory” in the gospels…because it’s an image that would have carried water in his day, even more than in ours.

So it’s easy to look at Solomonn and see a role-model for how leaders should lead, and how the people of God should be living.
And I think that’s misguided.

I think it’s wrong.

In fact, I think that the harder we pursue the kind of Growth that Solomon pursued…the more we’re going to look like Pharaoh (and you might remember that Pharaoh wasn’t a good guy).

I’ll get into that more in a few minutes.

See, Solomon represents the culmination of a course that was set way back when the peopel asked for a king.

If you remember, God didn’t want his people to have a king.

But they persisted in their longing.

And so God relents and gives them a king.

So Solomon, and David before him, and Saul before him…they were all part of Plan B.

1 Sam. 8 relates the whole episode; where the people want a king and God tells them through the prophet Samuel exactly what will happen when they take one.

They’ll be taxed, they’ll be oppressed, and their children will go to serve him.

They will cry out to God because of this King that they wanted and asked for.

But they want to be like the other nations more than they wanted to
be who God created them to be…and so they take a king.

Saul was anointed as the first king.

David was the most celebrated king after him.

And then Solomon took the throne.

He was the third king of Israel, and the last to rule a united kingdom.

And from the evidence, he did a really good job at ruling the people.
It’s like he was the best king that “kingship” can produce.
…but even the best “king” is still a king. (not God).

So Solomon represents the fullest, most mature expression of what it means to be a ‘king’.

Saul and David set the stage, but Solomon’s kingdom was more or less at peace while he reigned, he was widely respected for his wisdom, and at least to some degree, Israel prospered under his leadership.
What more could we ask of any king?

Everyone prospered!
…except for the slaves that carried out his ambitious building programs.

Everyone prospered!
…except for the cities that we read about in chapter 9…the ones he gave to Hiram the king of Tyre because Solomon couldn’t pay his bills for all the Cedar wood that he imported.

Everyone prospered!
…except for the way the nation was divided at the end of his reign because he was a harsh master and his son promised to be even more harsh.

(so actually, if we’re going by today’s standards of church growth, we can call that a victory! Instead of just one kingdom, when Solomon was finished, there were now two kingdoms!)

Obviously I’m speaking tongue in cheek.

Solomon is like the ripe fruit of this tree called “kingship”

And what we read, right here at the beginning of chapter three in I kings is, that this ripe fruit looks curiously like Pharaoh.
“Solomon made an alliance with Pharaoh king of Egypt and married his daughter.”

This is the first thing we’re told Solomon does after the kingdom was firmly established in his hands.

Actually, that wasn’t the first thing he did, because we read in the next sentence that he brought her to the city of david, until he finished a couple three building projects that were already underway. His palace, the temple, and the city wall.

These are details that are easy to overlook, but they set the stage for us to feel the full irony of the situation.

Do you remember what the Israelites did in captivity?

Do you remember how they spent their time in the land of captivity?

They were slaves.

They made bricks.

And then they used those bricks to piece together another man’s dream.

See, Kings love bricks…because they love to build things.

Rather, they love to have things built…by a concentrated base of slave labor.

Bricks build kingdoms. and slaves build bricks.

And the first thing Solomon does after becoming king of Israel, is amp up the brickyards.

He starts churning out the bricks, with the daughter of Pharaoh by his side.

Sound familiar?

I’m not saying he was a bad king.

I’m saying he was really good at doing what kings do.

And we-each of us-are like kings to ourselves.

We each have these similar goals; to build our kingdoms.

But instead of bricks we have boxes made of plastic and glass.

We have cheap chocolate, coffee, and tea (and did you know that October is fair trade month?)

See, the irony of all this, is that the story of God’s people–our story–is a story of Exodus.

Not a story of slavery.

It’s a story Erv is going to get into during a Wednesday night Bible study later in the fall.

But we have been called, like Israel, out of slavery, and into the promised land.

They were called away from the tyranny and the security of pharaoh’s brickyard, towards the risk and the reward of the wilderness, the risk and the reward of life lived in communion with God.

These were the people who had come through the Red Sea. The people who had eaten bread from heaven, who drank water from a rock.
These were the people who were led forth by a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night.

They had witnessed the saving power of God in ways that still give us goosebumps, and they shared those stories from one generation to the next until this story of exodus became their identity.

And still, they turned to what was familiar; which was kingship.

They turned to what was safe, which was kingship.

They turned to what was predictable and easy, which was kingship.

So I guess one thing I’d say this morning is, don’t get too wrapped up in which king we should choose here in a couple of weeks, because even the best king, president, or Pharaoh is still just a king, or a president, or a pharaoh.

We know what to expect from them…Brickyards.

We as leadership in this church…we want to grow in faith, hope, and love. We want everyone connected with this congregation to grow in faith, hope, and love.

And bricks are awful ways of measuring faith, hope, and love.

The bricks of empire are not the tools we use to build the kingdom of God.

Only relationships can do that.

We need each other to build this thing we call the kingdom of God.
We have come to Christ. The invitation is still there; to come to Him, the Living Stone; rejected by people but chosen by God and precious to him. And you also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house (1 Peter 2:5).

So let us put away our bricks; the technology that so often serves us at the expense of our neighbor.

And let us turn our eyes again to Jesus, the author and the perfector of our faith.


Well Wishers and the Race of Life

November 15, 2012 § Leave a comment

I’m going to be running 13.1 miles on Saturday, November 24.

That’s a sentence I never thought I’d write, yet it’s true.

I’ve spent since August preparing my body to run what’s known as a half-marathon; the first ever in my neck of the woods. I’ve probably never been more ‘fit’ or ‘athletic’ than I am right now (and those of you who know me know that’s not saying much).

This will be the longest run I have ever completed, and I have to say, I’m pretty excited to run it. Training for the past number of weeks has been a kind of sacred ritual for me; spending Saturday mornings with a few other guys on a ‘long run’ has been a welcome respite from the work week…even though here lately it’s hard to sacrifice the time it takes to cover 10, 11, and 12 mile runs on a precious day off.

You can imagine, going out for a long run like that, gives you plenty of time to think.

Actually, it gives you an agonizingly long time to think (especially when your running partners are sick or injured so there’s no chance at conversation or joke-making).

The nuggets I’ve found most interesting lately, as my training runs have grown into double digits in terms of miles, have to do with things like how running, and training for a race relates to our faith in ways you just don’t understand until you’ve run 9 consecutive miles.

For me, that’s when my body starts to deteriorate to the point of needing water to replenish the fluid lost through sweat.

Starting at about 9 miles, I’d get home after my long run and I’d be completely destroyed for the rest of the day.
I’d sit at the table and I would barely be able to hold a utensil to eat some food. I’d be quivery, weak, and I’d drink water until I was sick. Then I’d lay around a good bit of the rest of the day, recovering my strength. I figured it was just my body “getting in shape”.

But this week (mile 12)…I discovered the enormous benefit of hydrating as you go. I took a water bottle with me for the first time ever. I’d stop for a few seconds every 20 or 30 minutes, and I’d schlepp a gulp or two.

I couldn’t believe the difference it made.

I got home and I was still tired from the effort of running 12 miles…but I felt good tired (not destroyed like I was in previous weeks). I recovered faster and I felt better throughout the run. Also, my hands didn’t swell up like volleyballs like they had in previous weeks.

In short, it was so much more enjoyable that I’m wondering why it took me this long to think of it.

This all has me understanding Paul a little bit differently, when he talks about running in a way to get the prize, or finishing the race, or beating your body. It’s easy to be satisfied with an interpretation that just says Paul means run without being hindered…run as fast as you can…run with your eyes on the goal…and all that is somewhat true.

But when you run distance, your whole mindset changes. The race IS knowing my body. It’s being prepared to go the distance…taking your water with you, knowing when you need to stop and take a drink. Distance running isn’t about getting somewhere fast…it’s about getting there period. The most important part of running 13.1 miles for me isn’t how quickly I can do it…it’s knowing I can do it, and when the race is over, knowing I’ve done it. It takes hard work and determination to finish the race.

It takes learning some unpleasant lessons, just to get to the starting line with a body that’s healthy enough to compete.

See, each runner has their own race. Some mean to place in first, second, or third place. Others (like me) just want to not walk. Maybe still others just want to cross the finish line no matter what it takes.

Can we understand Paul a little more broadly? Can we see that running in such a way as to get the prize looks different from one individual to the next?

We all might be running the same course…but there are as many races as there are people running.

And our job is to run our race. What’s yours?

Jagged Little Something

November 8, 2012 § Leave a comment

Life is like a rainbow.

Or is it more like the thundercloud?
Dark and ominous
and Threatening
to my soul

We’re birthed in pain
And in Pain we must return
the jagged little pieces
to their Master.

For we are more than the sum of our parts.
Or at least that’s what I’ve been told.

And I believe it.
At least that’s what I say.

Life is like a rainbow
or is it more like
shrapnel in this war
we fight
not knowing what against?

Even in this election-time.

But then One
Like a Son of God
-or was it Son of Man?-
Soldiered on, but differently.

His life, like shrapnel,
tearing through the Human Heart.

Altering forever
this beast and burden of selfish regret.

After all, they say,
Love conquers all.

But do they know what they’re saying?

Love conquers all.
But it has to start

Can it be
within me?

As For You

November 4, 2012 § Leave a comment

Sermon thoughts on 2 Timothy 3:14-17

We’re two days away from a presidential election that many people are saying is the single most pivotal event in American history…possibly even in global history.

We’ve been told, time and time again, that our very way of life hangs in the balance as this particular election draws near.

The rhetoric doesn’t just suggest that this race is bigger than politics.
It screams that you and I are on the hook.
That we are responsible for the health and well-being of our nation.
And it goes on to scream
-even more loudly-
that choosing sides is the only option we have to control the outcome.
One Guy is Good
And the other is Bad.
Not just Bad…
But rather, Evil.

And so, the campaigns scream and yell and holler and thump their chests.
They tend not to tell us how good their guy is.
They rather tend to tell us how evil the other guy is.
And we might almost start to believe them.

We might almost start to believe
that we’re on the hook for the health and the well-being of this nation.
We might start to believe
that the measure of a church is how willing the leadership is to choose a side.

We might want to be told which choice is good, and Christian, and Proper.
And which choice is bad, or evil, or Pagan.

And if you’ve been coming here on Sundays,
and if you’ve been looking for those kinds of statements from this church,
then hopefully you’ve noticed that we haven’t endorsed anyone.
We haven’t passed out voting guides.
We haven’t talked about “Taking Back America”.
We haven’t posted anybody’s political agenda on the bulletin boards.

Indeed, the most we’ve done is plan a communion service.
Along with close to 800 other churches
in all 50 States
representing more than 25 denominations.

Not because we’re interested in baptizing the political process
or the outcome of this election.

But rather, because we in the church are more than a vote.

We are the body of Christ.

And this election is literally making the body turn against itself.
It’s literally making us sick.

Do you want to hear from the pulpit, which side is Pagan, and which side is Christian?
I’ll tell you.

The State is Pagan.

The church is Christian.

The only Christian nation in the world…is the church.
It’s been like that since the time of Jesus.

And if you want to know what the Christian response should be to the Pagan government
-even when the Pagan government wants your vote-
Then you should look to the cross.

Or you could look to the Roman Jail
Where Paul was writing this letter,
Saying “All Scripture points back to Christ.”
Proclaim the message
Be persistent whether the time is favorable or unfavorable
Convince, rebuke, and encourage, with the utmost patience in teaching.

The Christian way is the way of suffering for your enemies,
and loving them even as they drive the nails through your hands.
Even as they imprison you.

I’m not saying don’t vote.

I’m saying don’t –ever- call it “the” Christian vote.

Rome will always be Rome. Don’t expect otherwise.
But as for you…
Continue in what you have learned, knowing from whom you have learned it.

Are You the Pastor?

November 3, 2012 § 4 Comments

In my last post, I talked about a man who walked into the church office with a packet of agenda tucked under his arm.

It’s not a common occurrence, but it does happen often enough that I’ve come to expect these visits, especially when there’s an election underfoot.

I talked about how he came in the office, looked me in the eye and said “Are you the Pastor?”.

I talked about how I’ve come to hate that question, but I didn’t really say why.

I’ve seen other blogs that do an occasional ‘top ten’ list or something similar. So here’s my own “Top Five Reasons I’ve Come To Hate The Question” (or at least how I’d like to answer it).

“Are you the Pastor?”

5. “Nope, our congregation just takes turns sitting here in the church office because it’s so relaxing.”

4. “Did the sign on the door give it away?”

3. “Yes I am, but so is she (point to Christine, who also pastors with me).

2. “Why’s it matter?”

1. “I have a feeling if you would have seen Christine first, your question would have been “Is the Pastor in?”…am I right?”

I know they’re snarky come-backs, and I know people don’t mean anything by asking the question.

But there is something I genuinely don’t like about being ‘set apart’ in the way many people want to set me apart as a pastor.

Usually, when someone asks that question, it’s attached to a whole way of ‘being Christian’ that doesn’t fit me, or Christine, or (thankfully sometimes, not so thankfully other times) our Church.

From telemarketers to emails we receive, to the people who come with agenda tucked under their arm…”Are you the Pastor” is a way of making sure they’ve got the right power broker.

Because there’s a way of doing church where the Pastor is like the CEO…where what the Pastor says, goes. Period.

And there’s all kinds of history wrapped up in that way of doing church. There’s all kinds of history connected to race, gender, economic status, and even marriage related to this title of “Pastor” in many Christian circles.

I will try to respect that, but I’ll try just as hard to respectfully disagree with much of it.

Because I don’t fit there.

That’s why I am where I am.

That’s why WE are where WE are…a husband and a wife who share this calling and this job, who are pretty sure neither one of us would want to do it without the other.

That’s why I hate the question…because I know there are assumptions behind it that make it hard to answer Truthfully.
I know that had you seen my wife, the other pastor who works here, those assumptions would work against her, against both of us.

Yes…I am A pastor here.

Now, Which one of us would you like to talk to about your agenda?

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