Musings from The Story chapter 17

Captivity. It isn’t a word that sounds like it would be fun to experience. Israel and Judah both are now the victims of captivity. They were uprooted from their homes, and transplanted to a foreign land in a foreign culture. Stripped of identity, home, their beloved temple and all that was similar they are forced to make a new lives in a new place. This new experience would shape their future. Trials have a unique way of defining us in ways we couldn’t anticipate.

Some of the Israelites capitulated to the prevailing pagan culture. That had been their norm by and large since coming into the Promised Land. All the pagan gods and practices Yahweh warned them about, seemed to draw them in and they just couldn’t shake their idolatrous leanings. Over time, Israel rejected Yahweh. The One who had created them, brought them up out of Egypt, provided for them, and protected them was replaced for handmade deities. Other Israelites hunkered down, and began sniffing out the work of their God in the midst of despair. They recognized their own sin, and renewed themselves to wills and wishes of Yahweh. Without a temple, they created meeting places called synagogues that would of served like a community center and a school. Their gatherings were aimed at preserving a people distinct in the world, called to be a kingdom of priests. Their gatherings were also aimed at preserving instruction in the Torah. Knowing how God worked in the past and what he said would benefit them in the now. God’s promises and His presence weren’t limited by geography or exile in a foreign land. To a people in captivity, God continued to send his messengers to call them back to his ways. The goodnews of captivity is that God hadn’t forgotten them nor would he abandon them. He had sent them into captivity because they didn’t listen, but he never stopped loving them. He brought them out of Egypt. He would bring them out of Bablyon. God built a nation in Egypt. God is rebuilding a faithful remnant in Babylon. God intervened in Egpyt and he would do so again in Babylon.

God’s mission for the world still involves these captive people. While we may not be a conquered people we do battle with oppressive forces. God still has a message of rescue and hope for his people. God still uses the voices of his prophets in His Word to point us to God’s plan and remind us that God can use what we believe to be an end can actually be a new beginning. God was looking for hearts that were willing to trust him no matter what, will we be those people?

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51 degrees, Polar Vortex, and the church

51 degrees sounds pretty good right now, doesn’t it? The other night, you remember, the night when it got down to the coldest temperatures in 20 years due to the attack of the Polar Vortex, 51 degrees would have been awesome. Compared to below zero temperatures 51 degrees would be a much welcomed break. Except, when your heater isn’t working properly and it gets to 51 degrees in your house. We survived. We put on extra layers and used lots of blankets. Our furnace was repaired and all is well. It turns out, a relatively small but important piece equipment caused the furnace to shut down.

This most recent experience with the creeping cold, reminded me of two powerful truths. This most recent experience with the creeping cold reminded me of two powerful truths: 1) Small problems can have a big impact, and 2) all parts of the system are important. This sounds an awful like lot Paul in 1 Corinthians 12:12-20, “12 Just as a body, though one, has many parts, but all its many parts form one body, so it is with Christ. 13 For we were all baptized by one Spirit so as to form one body—whether Jews or Gentiles, slave or free—and we were all given the one Spirit to drink. 14 Even so the body is not made up of one part but of many. 15 Now if the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” it would not for that reason stop being part of the body. 16 And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” it would not for that reason stop being part of the body. 17 If the whole body were an eye, where would the sense of hearing be? If the whole body were an ear, where would the sense of smell be? 18 But in fact God has placed the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be. 19 If they were all one part, where would the body be? 20 As it is, there are many parts, but one body.”

Paul reminds us of the importance of the whole. All of us have an important part to play in God’s unfolding story. We are his workmanship created in Christ Jesus to do good in this world (Eph 2:10). When any of the parts of the whole aren’t working properly, or suffering the whole system is affected. When any one of us thinks that we are better than another, or we begin to place our selfish desires above other’s needs we can have a negative impact on the body as a whole. I don’t know about you, but I often cringe at the portrayal of Christians in the media or in movies. Why do we often get portrayed as hateful, judgmental, weird, hypocritical, intolerant…? The list could go on. I think part of the reason for this negative portrayal is the elevation of our selfish platforms, agendas, and issues over against trying to elevate the grandeur and glory of Christ to a broken world.

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I don’t want to go church anymore!

Recently I was asked for my advice from a student about a waning interest and want to as far as church attendance goes. I want to honor the young person who wrote to me, so I won’t share names. But they made a profound statement. The student said, “I don’t want to go to church anymore.”

I don’t want to go to church anymore either. I know others far smarter than I have been writing about this for a long time, but it is time to change the way we talk about church. The church is not brick and mortar, it is the people of God living out God’s mission on earth.

Below is my response to a young Christian. I realize that more than just teens as making similar statements. Maybe, just maybe your asking the same question. If so, maybe you will re-discover the beauty of church once again!

I think all of us at times has the moments where going to be with the people of God every week gets stale. Some of that is normal.

But the church is important. Church is bigger than just a place or a pew, it’s a people who are on a mission from God. Church is about broken people coming together in community. Out of this brokenness we find meaning, healing, community, love and support. Church is a community of imperfect people trying to live out the gospel every day.

Because it is imperfect sometimes church can stink. But the regardless of the imperfection and her blemishes the church there in your town is a good group of people and the church needs you! You are an important piece in the puzzle of the body of Christ. So even when you don’t feel like going “to church,” remember you go there with other broken people to be put back together again. Your not going to a place, your going to meet a person. Jesus is present in our meetings! Don’t give up.

Church is never about us. It’s all about what God is doing in the world in and through Jesus. That is our story!

Posted in church, Theology, Youth Ministry | 2 Comments

Advent # 3: God with us

Immanuel. This is the name that Jesus is referred to in Matthew 1:23, quoting Isaiah 7:14. Immanuel means, “God with us.” After reading the genealogy of Jesus, you begin to realize that God has been busy carrying out his plans from the Garden. Every name in the genealogy is part of God’s unfolding plan. These names in the genealogy remind us that history is not just a list of dates and people, but history is moving somewhere. History is leading us not so much to a destination as a person…Jesus! Jesus is the fulfillment of the Abrahamic promise of descendants. Jesus is also the fulfillment of the Davidic promise for a descendant of David to rule over Israel. In Jesus all of Israel’s hopes come to fruition.

For a people who had been slaves in Egypt, only to be rescued by a deliverer, the coming of God through the birth of Jesus would have been a reminder that God hadn’t forgotten them. Nor would he. For a people who had been sent into exile for their idolatry and adultery, the proclamation that virgin would be with child and the baby would called Immanuel would have resonated deep in their souls igniting a hope and a hunger that had begun to be quenched by yet another foreign power calling the shots in their homeland. The coming of Immanuel was bigger than just the eventual overthrow of Rome. The announcement of God with us speaks to the human condition. Jews may have been the nation of promise. But God was orchestrating his plan to reconcile all mankind in and through the baby yet still in the womb of the Galilean girl named Mary.

Messianic expectation was a fever pitch in the time of the birth of Jesus. Many Jews expected a religious and military hero, one like David to come and conquer Rome. Jesus was the messiah of untraditional expectations.  While the king of the Jews was indeed born to a peasant family and placed in manger, there is nothing royal or powerful about his arrival. Immanuel’s arrival reminds us that it isn’t to the powerful to dictate the affairs of the world. God often uses the ordinary and unnoticed to demonstrate his incomparably great power and wisdom. Notice, Immanuel means, “God with us,” not “God used to be with us,” or “God isn’t with us.” Immanuel is about the ongoing presence of God in and through history.

Immanuel, “God with us,” is present to the broken. God is present to the lonely. God is present to the weak. God is present to heartbroken. God is present to the desperate. God is with the sinner, the shepherd, the foreigner, the destitute, the vulnerable, the sick and the slave. God is with us. Yes, even you. Whatever your yesterday was, God is the God of second chances and hope and healing. The creator of the universe became a helpless baby to demonstrate how far he will go to remind us that he is with us! Merry Christmas!

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Advent #2

Recently I was with the Retherford side of the family. My grandfather and his brothers were given a book from 1958. It was my great-grandmother Getrude’s funeral book. It was stashed away in someone’s attic and was rediscovered and passed on. I never got to meet my great-grandmother. She died tragically when my dad was only four years old. As my dad and flipped through the funeral book’s pages, it was full of guests who signed the book. I recognized a few of the names, particularly those of my grandfather and his brothers. Most of the names, I didn’t know. What I did notice was the names missing from the book. My grandfather’s sisters names were not present in the book. 1958 was a different time for sure. It’s not their names weren’t important. They just weren’t present. I’d like to take the next few minutes to consider another list of names that has the inclusion of female names.

Matthew chapter one opens with a long list of names. I think, if we are honest with ourselves we tend to skip over the genealogical sections in the Bible. Who wants to read a list of names? Names we can’t even pronounce. Names from stories of a history long forgotten in a land that we’ve never been to. But the list of names in Matthew chapter one are different. Normally, ancient genealogical records omit women. So, when we open the Gospel of Matthew we should take not almost immediately that this list seems different. We find such recognizable names, as Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Judah, Boaz, Jesse, David, Solomon,Zerubbael, Joseph, Jesus. We know these names. We know their stories. But look once again, we also find Tamar, Rahab,  Ruth,  Bathsheba (Uriah’s wife Matt 1:6), and Mary. Five women. I know we aren’t fans of lists of names. However, this is no ordinary list. This is an invitation to peer once again into God’s unfolding story. This is in an invitation to see God at work in the world then and now. God isn’t bound by gender limitations, ethnic, racial, or language barriers. He has always used the underdog, the underprivileged and the overlooked to carry out his plans.

​Tamar was a foreigner, and she was a barren widow. She played the part of a prostitute to have a child (Gen 38). Rahab, a foreigner in Jericho had a reputation as a prostitute and hid the spies (Joshua 2). Ruth, Moabite women would be the great grandmother of king David (Ruth 1 and Matt 1:5-6). Bathsheba isn’t even mentioned by name in Matthew 1. But you know her story! She was the mother of King Solomon. Mary, a Jewishteenage girl betrothed to Joseph the carpenter was told she would carry the Christ child, the son of God, the long awaited hope of Israel (Luke 1). These women aren’t just thrown into the story for dramatic effect, or to be politically correct. These names are included because both men and women are crucial to what God was doing in the world. These names are included as a perpetual reminder that God can and does work in and through situations that seem hopeless and bleak. If God can make the barren fruitful, if God can take prostitutes and turn them into providential protectors, think of what he might could do in your life?

Posted in Christmas, Gospels

Advent #1

It is officially the Christmas season. Pumpkins have been replaced greenery, candles, lights, and Christmas trees. My hope is whether you had the opportunity to gather with family or not that you paused sometime during Thanksgiving to give thanks for all that God has blessed you with. I am sure by now as you have been out and about shopping for the last month or more that you have noticed that Christmas is creeping further and further into late fall. Some people get frustrated at this intrusion on Halloween and Thanksgiving. Other’s may not notice. Other’s welcome the extended display of Christmas trees and lights.

It seems that there are two Christmas narratives competing for our attention. The first narrative paints a picture of commercialism, and materialism. Christmas becomes what we think we want. Advertisers and local retailers are experts in offering deals that lead us to brave the cold and long lines for a great deal. Don’t get me wrong, I love to get gifts too. There’s another narrative we need to turn into and allow to take priority over deals and thrills. That’s the original Christmas story. I know you don’t find the word Christmas in the Bible, but far longer than we have celebrated Santa Claus we celebrated the arrival of the Messiah. The word it self may have roots from within another tradition, but the story behind the word is the one in which we learn of God’s intentions for creation. For in this story we learn that we aren’t alone and that hope is more than a theological concept, but a person who who has been shaping human culture for centuries. God has always desired to live in community with His treasured possession. He walked with Adam and Eve in the Garden. He spoke to Moses face to face. He dwelled in the temple. But even in these spectacular ways and connections with humanity, nothing was quite as awe-inspiring as the day the angels announced “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, The Lord (Luke 2:10-11).

So as you begin your annual Christmas preparations, I challenge us to pause now and then in between the lines and gift wrapping to pay attention to story behind the story. While we often hurry through the holidays, this year let the baby wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger be the gift that changes you from the inside out. For if you follow the helpless babe from the manger to the cross, you begin to understand a simple truth that my middle daughter reminded me of this past week, “God really does know what he is doing.” Jesus was sent to show us how to live in the world as the community of God. Jesus came to remind us once again that God has always desired to live with us.

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Daddy + daughters + 5 days without mommy = mommy we need you!

Last night marked 5 nights of Daddy and daughters without mommy! I haven’t have my kids alone like that for that long before. I couldn’t have done this without the help of family and the church! I know that sounds like I’m being a sissy. Maybe. Wives are special people with a special role in the life of the family. 

My wife is currently a stay at home mom. It’s nots a glamorous life. But it’s a rewarding one. Yes, she cooks, cleans, and does laundry. But she doesn’t always do these things lone. She is the primary caregiver of our children. My wife is the glue that holds our family together. She is a schedule maker, appointment taker-to, a boo-boo kisser, homework helper, shoelace tier, hair dresser, and gourmet chef!

When she’s gone life is chaotic. Our lives have been in upheaval. I have always appreciated and adored my precious wife. In her absence, I realize even more how important she is to our family and to me. I have tried to do laundry, do hair, make meals, transport the girls to and from. This week especially, I took the girls to a wedding for one of our young ladies in our congregation, made sure we at Bible class and with our church family for Sunday worship, visited my folks and grandmother and an aunt and a cousin, made a family room fort, went Trunkin’ for Treats, even managed to mow the grass, and had a lot of fun with my girls! I loved them. Today as were building a fort the best part of the morning was hearing my girls say that they were having the best day ever! So even though I’m definitely not mom, I did the best I could. It seemed to be enough to keep them alive and fed.

The girls and I miss mom. 

There’s no way around it. Mom is indispensable. She is traveling back today from visiting her parents. Her dad has been in the hospital and she wanted to be present during his surgery. I’m glad she enters to be with them. When we lived in Oklahoma, her traveling to her folks was a 3 hour journey. Now that we are in back in Ohio, it’s a 12 hour cross-country trek. So today she’s driving home. The girls will be in bed when she gets home. They are super excited about mommy returning. So am I! 

I also re-learned how important dad is. Dad’s play an important role too. We aren’t just resigned to the chair after work. Dad’s are called to jump in and enter into the daily task that make house a home. I don’t mind doing dishes, laundry or helping with shower time. These aren’t just activites to cross off a list of daily chores, but where the gospel meets the heart of the disciple. Who we are in the small things speaks volumes about who we are in the big things. So as we roll up our sleeves, we a rest just scrubbing stains off plates, but telling the story of Jesus by our simple acts of service. 

May we all be aware of the stories we are telling. Only one story is worth telling over and over again!

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