Sunday, June 14, 2015

Somethings are Very Hard to Do

It's hard to see outside of your own frame of reference. A book, written in 1884 as a bit of satire on Victorian English culture impressed this idea upon me. The book is called Flatland, and it tells the tale of A Square, and his struggles to bring the truth of the third dimension to his own society, one where only two dimensions are possible. One of the real major points of the book is to help you understand that trying to explain things that people haven't experienced is tricky, and mostly impossible. Gazing into eternity with our current bodies and minds is every bit as tricky as a sphere trying to tell a square what the third dimension is like. Of all the tricky things to grasp, the resurrection of Jesus is at the top. As Christians, we accept the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ as truth, and the implication of that truth is that we too, will share in the same resurrection one day.
Paul addresses how difficult this is to understand in 1 Corinthians 15. It was true then, and it's true now, some people don't believe in the resurrection They don't believe because they don't see how our bodies could get any better after being dead. They paint a sacrilegious picture of the resurrection that has no spiritual element. In reality they don't understand the Gospel, so they mock it instead. Let's increase our understanding by reading the following scripture in 1 Corinthians 15, starting with verse 35 (ESV)
35 But someone will ask, “How are the dead raised? With what kind of body will they come?” 36 How foolish! What you sow does not come to life unless it dies. 37 When you sow, you do not plant the body that will be, but just a seed, perhaps of wheat or of something else. 38 But God gives it a body as he has determined, and to each kind of seed he gives its own body. 39 Not all flesh is the same: People have one kind of flesh, animals have another, birds another and fish another. 40 There are also heavenly bodies and there are earthly bodies; but the splendor of the heavenly bodies is one kind, and the splendor of the earthly bodies is another. 41 The sun has one kind of splendor, the moon another and the stars another; and star differs from star in splendor.
42 So will it be with the resurrection of the dead. The body that is sown is perishable, it is raised imperishable; 43 it is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory; it is sown in weakness, it is raised in power; 44 it is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body.
If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body. 45 So it is written: “The first man Adam became a living being”; the last Adam, a life-giving spirit. 46 The spiritual did not come first, but the natural, and after that the spiritual. 47 The first man was of the dust of the earth; the second man is of heaven. 48 As was the earthly man, so are those who are of the earth; and as is the heavenly man, so also are those who are of heaven. 49 And just as we have borne the image of the earthly man, so shall we bear the image of the heavenly man.

We're moving from a physical place, to a spiritual one. It makes sense then, that our physical bodies would have to be replaced with a spiritual one. This spiritual body, if we are to use Jesus as our example, is strange. Apparently, he was able to move quickly, appearing in the middle of a group of people, seemingly at once. One of the crazy things is that even though scripture promises us that there are no more tears or sickness once we get this body, some things linger with us, or else Thomas would not have seen the nail-marks on Jesus' body. It seems as if the pain is taken away, but the work done in our physical bodies was left! It seems that physical things and physical actions and communicate to us spiritual things, and have spiritual consequences. Just as the holes in Jesus' body convinced Thomas of the realness of the resurrection of Christ, the Lord's Supper convinces us of the covenant God has made with us through the sacrifice of his son. This meal is for us, a contract written in Jesus' blood and paid for with his broken body.

When we gather around the table, we gather to hopefully come to a fuller understanding of something that seems impossible to understand in this form of being. Let us take the cup and the loaf together, break it and share, and pray that the day we receive our spiritual body is hastened to us so that we can understand the universe as God sees it.

Sunday, May 03, 2015

Notes for Ephesians 2:1-10

This is part of a "homework" assignment from small group leadership training at my home church. We'll be starting a small group next fall. The assignment is two fold
1. Observe a particular text, and discover the facts that are in that text.
2. Formulate factual questions related to that text

Notes for Ephesians 2:1-10.

1 And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience— among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. 10 For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works,which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.

1. Facts: This text contrasts who a group is, before they were forgiven, and after they were forgiven. People who live in this world are ultimately following "The prince of the power of the air". Everyone once upon a time, followed this prince. God has loved us though. We have been raised! Grace has saved us through our faith. Works do not save us, but we are saved to be God's workmanship, doing God's work. This work was made for us to do.

2. Questions:
How many groups can humanity be divided into, and how could we describe them, according to this passage?

If we were once dead, what then made us alive? Who can be made alive?

What is God waiting to show us? 

What makes faith special in God's eyes, according to this passage?

If God doesn't save us by what we do, why is it important that we do good thing?

What's the good thing you'll be doing this week? (final question)

Sunday, March 08, 2015


This is the Communion meditation for Highlands Church of Christ, given March 08, 2015.

Usually Mr Peterson wore a sweater vest, with a tie underneath. He and his wife sat in the same pew every Sunday, about three rows from the front. It had to be an easy seat to get to, he couldn't move very well or very fast. When I knew Mr. Peterson, his left arm curled into a fist, and he held it close to his body. Sometime in the past, he'd had a stroke. He couldn't talk without a stutter, so he mainly communicated through facial expression, and usually there was a smile on his face. The struggle for Mr Peterson to talk, communicate, move, and interact was real. He also taught me an important lesson on thankfulness every Sunday he met with the church. He taught his lesson over time, and if things distracted you from the lesson, you might let out a snicker, or feel a little embarrassment, but slowly the lesson built. I'm going to share with you a lesson it took me six months, at least to learn.

The first Sunday I remember Mr Peterson in Church, I remember because when he received the cup to take the Lord's Supper, he spoke the word "Hallelujah". As far as I can remember, he said it every week he met with the church. The only time I ever heard him say something clearly and without stuttering was to say "hallelujah" right after taking the cup. He never said it with a hesitation. Sometimes he said it softly, but mostly, his voiced boomed in the silent time that we had after cocmmunion: "Hallelujah".

The word means "Praise God!" It's an expression given both as a command and declarative. "Praise God!" The Psalms especially use the phrase. When Mr Peterson said it, I knew I was learning something, but it took a while to really take. What I learned from him is that a thankful heart always finds a way to turn to God and thank Him for the blood of Christ. Let's read something from Hebrews 13:8-15 together:
8 Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.  9 Do not be led away by diverse and strange teachings, for it is good for the heart to be strengthened by grace, not by foods, which have not benefited those devoted to them. 10 We have an altar from which those who serve the tent have no right to eat.  11 For *xlthe bodies of those animals whose blood is brought into the holy places by the high priest as a sacrifice for sin are burned outside the camp.  12 So Jesus also suffered outside the gate in order to sanctify the people through his own blood.  13 Therefore let us go to him outside the camp and bear the reproach he endured.  14 For here we have no lasting city, but we seek the city that is to come.  15 Through him then let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that acknowledge his name.

When we take the cup of communion, we take the same cup that Jesus called his Blood. Together, we come to the place this passage describes. Let's praise God together, and with thankful hearts take the cup, and offer the sacrifice of praise to God. Let our fruitful lips acknowledge the name of Jesus.

Saturday, January 10, 2015

"Watch Your Pole"

It's been over thirty years ago, but I can remember it just like it was yesterday. It was a day for a "first", the first time I went fishing with my Grandpa. By this time, even though I wasn't quite seven years old, I considered myself an experienced fisherman, able to take up the serious business of fishing for the fish fry my family put on every Wednesday, and during special occasions, like labor day. Tingling with excitement, we pulled up to Clark's Landing on Cocodrie Lake, and I asked my Grandpa a question:

"What's the biggest fish in here?"
In a thick accent caused by a full life in Central Louisiana, he answered
"Dars an ol' gar in der bigger'en you are!"
With wide eyes, my imagination took hold and I began to see the ol' gar down below waiting to snatch a finger. The overcast sky, and cooler temperature added to my anxiety. I kept watch on the water. After fishing for a couple of hours, we decided to call it a day. Normally, Grandpa caught "two or tree" dozen tasty white perch, but today only two fish hit the pot gut minnows he used for bait. I road along on the back seat of the boat, taking in the surroundings. Tupelo trees in the water formed a barrier, and the passageway through the water grew narrow. I began thinking about the gar again, and heard a noise behind me of something slipping. Turning, I gazed in horror as my fishing pole slipped off the side of the boat into the water.

"Grandpa!" I exclaimed "The gar got my pole, he pulled it into the water!"
Chuckling, he replied "Well padnah, sometime, you gotta watch yo pole."

I started learning an important lesson that day. It's hard to fish without the right equipment, but I let my worry distract me and I lost my pole as a result. Jesus called the first disciples to be "fishers of men", and it's equally important, if we're going to follow their example, for us to watch and make sure our equipment isn't lost. The most important equipment we have for fishing for men is the testimony of our faith acting in our life. If we allow the world to distract us, and if we take our eyes off the prize, it becomes easy for others to judge that we hold our faith cheap. If we want to save others, we have to listen to Paul's instruction to Timothy:

1 Timothy 4:16: "Keep a close watch on yourself and on the teaching. Persist in this, for by so doing you will save both yourself and your hearers."

We come to this table recognizing that we're at the tackle shop. It's time for us to get new tackle, to renew the covenant that cleanses us for sin, and to also equip our minds to deal with the stress of life. We go to church, fellowship at this meal, and in honesty and humility, admit to God and to each other that we lost our pole, or at least our bait. Once we're equipped, we're ready to fish again, and tell happier fishing stories next week.