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Monday, August 19, 2019

More Going on than Meets the Eye (Psalm 82)

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Sunday, August 18, 2019

          “God has taken his place in the divine council; in the midst of the gods he holds judgment” (82:1).  What about this verse catches your attention?  Discussing it this week with a Christian I trust, one potential issue became apparent to me.  How much do we really know about the unseen, the spiritual realm that exists all around us but outside our three dimensional universe and outside our powers of observation and measurement? 
          “In the midst of the gods [lower case ‘g’], God [capital ‘G’] holds judgment.”  The Christian with whom I spoke, someone I trust, said, “Whatever that verse means, it cannot mean there are other gods.  There is only one God.”  His worldview demands a fierce commitment to monotheism.  There is only one God.  I agree.
          So what do we do with Psalm 82:1 and other passages that indicate an entire governing system of supernatural beings that exist outside our ability to see?  One scholar I read writes that the Psalmist in Psalm 82 “conjures a mythic heavenly court.”[i]  Calling this writing mythology, the scholar indicates it is poetic way of discussing the problem of evil.  How can evil exist when God is all powerful and all good?  Psalm 82 doesn’t refer to a literal heavenly council because, as my Christian friend said, there’s no such thing.  But is my friend and is this scholar correct?  The book of Job, chapter 1 & 2, refer to a divine council.  So does 1 Kings 22.  Furthermore, Deuteronomy 32, Isaiah 6, Jeremiah 23, and Daniel chapters 7-12 are just a few of the numerous Old Testament passages that indicate an entire unseen world of activity.  Creatures whether we call them angels, demons, gods with a lower ‘g’, or by some other title interact with God and each other.  What happens in that realm directly affects us. 
          Such a statement runs against the grain of our conventional thinking at three levels.  First, in our world of airplanes, space travel, and the internet, we have trouble taking seriously talk of an unseen spiritual realm.  But, the very Bible we claim is an ultimate authority for truth, ethics, and morality in our lives was written in a time that knew nothing of the World Wide Web or telescopes or rocket ships.  So there’s the distance of history; thousands of years of history. 
          The second tension is one of worldview.  The ancients had no trouble talking about demons and gods and spiritual beings.  It wasn’t belief.  That supernatural world was assumed by all ancient peoples.  With each scientific discovery over the past two millennia, belief in the spiritual is pushed further and further into the realm of superstition.  How do we, with a scientific worldview, take seriously scriptures written by people with a pre-modern worldview?
          Assuming by faith we resolve the first two tensions, the third one rears its head.  The writers of Psalm 82 and the entire Old Testament and the entire New Testament were ancient Jews.  They held ancient assumptions.  Even when they held tightly to theiir monotheistic faith – belief in 1 God – they existed in a world that assumed multiple gods and they were a product of that world.  We are Christians in the 21st century.  We are products of our world.  Like my friend, we are tempted to say, ‘no, there’s no divine council; just one God.’  We might not know why this is so important to believe, but we know it is, so we are committed to this position.
          How do we resolve the tensions of history, of worldview, and of our own religious assumptions?  How do we get past the tension so we can do a deep dive into the Bible passage?  How do we get to the point that we can, as followers of Jesus, open Psalm 82 and hear God speak into our lives as we read it?
          We need to name the tension and understand it.  The ancient writers have different assumptions than we modern readers.  There’s no reason to shy away from this tension.  Identify it and accept.
Then, we find handholds.  What are the core issues that ancient writers and modern readers can both relate to?  In the case of Psalm 82, the handhold is in verse 2-4.  This is the common ground. 
In these verses, God is angry with the gods for failing to give justice to the weak and the orphaned.  Whether the term “gods” actually refers to earthly princes, kings, and rulers, or to demonic spirits that malevolently influence earthly tyrants, the result is the same.  God is furious when people who have power in society do nothing to help people who are powerless.  Remember, middle class Americans are rich compared with 90% of the people around the world.  When the rich exploit the poor in order to hoard privilege, God judges the rich.
So the connection point with the Psalm in our day and time is the way we who have privilege either walk alongside the poor, the refugee, the minority, and help them; or, we use our power and privilege to keep ourselves well-fed and to keep the poor down.  As Jesus shows in Matthew 25, how we relate to the most vulnerable people in society is tied to how God relates to us. 
In Psalm 82, the narrator is the speaker in verse 1, announcing God as God holds court in the heavenly council.  In verses 2-4, God speaks to those He has entrusted to inforce justice, but who have failed to do so.  In verse 5, the narrator speaks of the ignorance of those God has judged.  Verses 6-7 give us God’s verdict.  “You shall die.”  Whatever is meant by calling these at the council ‘gods,’ they are completely subservient to the God of Abraham, the God we see in the New Testament.  That God, the only one truly called Almighty, has the power to obliterate these other beings. 
Psalm 82:8, the final verse, changes perspective.  In this verse the narrator again speaks, this time in prayer to God.  “Rise up, O God.  Judge the earth.”  Thus we see the tension resolved as we connect to God where God has expressed the highest value: justice for the poor and for the disadvantaged.  God expected his divine council to administer justice.  God expects us to work for justice and advocate for the poor.
Knowing that, we can read Psalm 82 as a word from God for us and we can live a word-informed faith.  We do this as Christians.  Even though the Psalms come from the people of Israel, the promises to Israel are fulfilled in Jesus Christ.  So our starting point is to give our lives to Jesus.
On this point, know what is being said and what is not being said.  This is not a call to church membership.  Of course we want people to join the church.  But being aware of the unseen spiritual world and navigating that reality as God-worshippers is not dependent upon church membership. 
Neither is it a matter of becoming a Christian.  Yes, we must confess our sins and receive forgiveness and receive Jesus as our Savior.  That is necessary and everyone who does not turn to Christ is cut off from God in sin.  But becoming a Christian is just a partial step. 
We go all the way into the word-informed faith when we give our lives completely to Jesus.  He is master of our lives, every relationship we are in, every bit of our time, and everywhere we go.  We fully surrender our wills to his.
Once we have given our lives to Jesus, we then align ourselves with God.  We value what God values.  In the case of Psalm 82 that would be justice for the poor.  If we were reading 1 Corinthians 13, we’d commit to self-giving love.  If we were in the Sermon on the Mount, we’d explore what it means to turn the other cheek, love our enemies, and pray for those who persecute us.  We scour the scriptures to see how God administers the world and to see God’s desire for how human life is to be lived.  And then, that’s how we live.
Having given our lives to Jesus and having aligned our lives with God’s values, in order to live a word-informed faith, we then commit to two spiritual disciplines.  We commit to prayer without ceasing.  In all the places of our lives, we pray.  Of course, this doesn’t mean stopping the company board meeting to hold a prayer service.  That would get your fired.  However, it does mean as you go through that board meeting, in your mind, you’re reaching to God.  Ask God to help you do your work with excellence.  Ask God to help you show His love to your coworkers.  Ask God to help you maintain your integrity as you work.  This spirit of prayer is constant and it colors who we are in all the places of life.
The other spiritual discipline is worship.  Be committed to weekly worship with the church, either here or in another church. We sing, we pray, we turn our eyes toward heaven, and our hearts toward God.  We believe the Holy Spirit is here helping us worship and receiving the worship we offer.  This belief is the start of our acknowledgement that God is beyond our understanding.  But God is also present, loving us and acting for our good. 
We know there is more here than meets the eye, and because we are children of God in Christ, that is a good thing. 
If you have never given your life to Christ, you can.  Today, turn to Him for new life.  If you are terrified by the thought of demons or evil spirits, you can receive assurance from God right now.  And if you long to see the poor lifted up, be encouraged.  What matters to you matters to God.

Sunday, August 11, 2019

"Blessed Slaves" (Isaiah 1:10-20; Luke 12:32-40)

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Sunday, August 11, 2019

Slavery is evil.  One human or set of humans expresses cruel mastery over another set of humans.  How can slaves ever, in any circumstance, be called “blessed?”  Yet, the New Testament, from Luke to Paul’s letters, consistently likens the most devoted and most blessed followers of God as slaves of Jesus. Today’s sermon title demands an explanation.  Blessed Slaves?
To get there, we turn to the prophet Isaiah who spoke to the southern kings of the Israelite people ruling in Judah, in Jerusalem, in the late 8th and early 7th centuries BC.  In Isaiah 1:2, God says, “Hear, O heavens, and listen, O earth for the Lord has spoken.  I reared up children and brought them up, but they have rebelled against me.”
God expects God’s people to behave in a certain way.  The 10 Commandments lead us to revere God and only God, to acknowledge God as Lord, and honor and respect our fellow human beings.  In the Sermon on the Mount and his other teachings, Jesus illustrates and amplifies God’s expectations.  We are to turn the other cheek in conflicts.  We are to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us.  We are to go the extra mile in helping other people thrive in life.
Helping others and glorifying God is what Jesus has in mind in Luke 12:31 when he says, “Strive for [God’s] kingdom, and these things [all that we need] will be given to [us].”  The picture Jesus paints is of a relationship of absolute trust.  If we devote our lives to worship and helping other people, instead of ensuring our own survival and advancement, God will make sure we survive and flourish.  We have to trust God and help others.  
God expects His people to live in this way.  Anyone who puts their trust in Jesus are included among people of God.  Originally, God chose the people of Israel to be God’s chosen ones.  Again, Isaiah 1:2: “I reared up children and brought them up.”  God’s vision was to reveal Himself and His ways for human life to His chosen ones, the ancient Hebrew people.  Through their worship of Him and relationships with each other, God would be revealed to the world.
In Jesus, all the promises to Israel and expectations of Israel were fulfilled.  Thus, all people who come to God through faith in Jesus become a part of the people of God.  Jesus says to his disciples, “Do not fear, little flock.”  Referring to them as his sheep is the affectionate way He says, you are mine and I am yours.  That invitation to relational intimacy extends to all who come to faith in him and follow Him as His disciples.  We are the little flock he says need not fear. 
In Isaiah 1:10-15, God laments that His chosen ones have turned from Him by worshipping idols.  Calling Israel, “Sodom and Gomorrah,” city names synonymous with unrestrained evil, God rejects Israel’s worship.  “I have had enough of burnt offerings.  … I do not delight in the blood of bulls, or of lambs, or of goats. … Your festivals my soul hates; they have become a burden to me.  When you stretch out your hands, I will hide my eyes from you.  Even though you make many prayers, I will not listen.”  It would be like God getting so angry at us He tells us, no more praise songs.  No more sermons.  Stop taking communion and stop baptizing new believers.  The institutional sinfulness was so great, the community’s worship became meaningless. 
Hearing the prophet’s poetic utterance of God’s frustrated anger with His chosen people, we must get to the heart of the specific nature of their sin.  What is it?  What did Israel do, or fail to do?  Is it a sin we are failing to do as well?  Is it something God expects us to do, and we’re not doing it?  We pick up Isaiah’s depiction of God’s voice in verse 16.
“Wash yourselves; make yourselves clean; remove the evil of your doings from before my eyes; cease to do evil; learn to do good.”  OK.  How?  We know this involves repentance, turning from sin and turning to God.  How is Israel to stop rejecting God and begin living the identity God has given them as His chosen people?  How do we turn from our evil to God’s good?
Verse 17 offers a straightforward answer.  “Seek justice.  Rescue the oppressed.  Defend the orphan.  Plead for the widow.”  Two major conclusions jump out from Isaiah 1:17.  First, God defines justice as those with power and resources working in society to protect and advance those who lack power and resources.  That’s Biblical justice.  The second conclusion is this: the call for justice applies to all people.  The story arc of the entire Old Testament and the entire Bible shows that God’s compassion reaches beyond just the chosen people and extends to all the nations of the earth.
All cultures have widows and orphans, the poor, the disabled, and others with distinct social disadvantages.  In our country today, this might include people with learning disabilities or physical disabilities.  It certainly includes immigrants and refugees.  We’re talking about children from divorced families, addicts, and victims of domestic abuse.  We’re talking about everyone being detained at the U.S.-Mexican border. 
God is not concerned about American policy.  God looks into the hearts of His people – the followers of Jesus.  Jesus is the fulfillment of Isaiah.  Isaiah 1:17 is painfully clear.  Learn to do good.  Seek justice.  Rescue the oppressed – Hondurans fleeing for their lives from criminal warlords their government cannot control.  Defend the orphan.  Plead for the widow.   God looks into the hearts of His followers to see if we will live as our Lord lived, or if we will relegate Jesus to Sunday mornings as we live the rest of our lives futilely attempting to maintain our own comfort while disregarding the pain of the people God wants us to help and love. 
In a simple sentence which we might miss if we read too quickly, Jesus, in Luke 12, indicates how we live out the Isaiah 1:17 instruction to pursue justice.  Pay very close attention to the sequence of statements.
First in Luke 12:32 Jesus says, “Do not be afraid, little flock.”  One of the biggest the fears in America is we who are white giving up our power and our positions and our privilege.  If we share it by helping black and brown people have opportunities for graduate degrees, professional jobs, and positions of leadership, we will lose our hold on those privileges.  If we let all these refugees in, terrorists will sneak in with them and the ones who aren’t terrorists will take all our jobs.  Institutional racism is based in fear.  If “they” – “they” representing whatever is not “me” – if they come in, what will happen to me.  But Jesus says straight up, “fear not.”  There’s no place for fear in faith.  Fear not. 
Next he says, “It is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.”  There’s no better place or condition of existence than the kingdom of God.  Jesus flatly states, God wants to give us this kingdom.  God happily invites us into His kingdom.  We don’t pursue happiness, not after we’ve decided to follow Jesus.  We live generously and work to help people around us flourish.  God gives happiness a gift.  What we receive as a gift from God is far better than any happiness we might earn.
First, do not fear.  Second, God wants to give you the kingdom.  Third, “Sell your possessions and give alms.”  He doesn’t say, “Sell all your possessions,” although some might need to do that to be fully sold-out for Jesus.  Sell some and share – give alms so that others might be blessed.  This is voluntary. 
What exactly does Jesus mean when he says “give alms?”  The Greek word translated “alms” actually means sympathy.  We have sympathy when we see another person’s pain.  So to give alms is to see another’s suffering and to do our best to help alleviate their suffering. 
When you meet a hungry person, buy him a meal, and sit with him as he eats and hear his story.  When you do this, you’re giving alms.  You’re trying to alleviate his immediate pain, hunger, and his deeper, bigger emotional pain, loneliness and rejection.  When we try to attack unjust systems at the societal level, things like institutional, generational racism, and white supremacy, we are giving alms but in a different way.  We are striving for the justice God defined in Isaiah 1:17 at the systemic level.  In both ways we align our lives with Jesus.
His promise in Luke 12 brings us back to the beginning, the premise with which I opened this messaged entitled “Blessed slaves.”  Verse 37 – “Blessed are those slaves [read “Jesus followers,” us] who the Master [Jesus] finds alert when he comes.”  When we are alert, we are living in his grace, giving alms, alleviating the suffering of those around us, and sharing the good news of Jesus.  When we share hope by following Jesus and loving others, we are alert in the way Jesus means it in Luke 12:37.  “Blessed are those slaves who the master finds alert when he comes [and Jesus is coming]; truly I tell you, he will … have them sit down, and he will serve them.”
Wait.  What?  We follow Jesus, worship God and love each other, and help the poor, and Jesus catches us doing this (become he comes at an unpredictable hour) and he says, “OK, everyone, around the table.”  Obediently, we sit down.  And he comes along and takes our drink orders? He brings out our salads?  He, the Master and Lord of the universe, asks if we want the steak, chicken, or fish, and then brings what we requested?  From Isaiah 1:19 to Luke 12:37, yes, that’s what Jesus is saying.
Note that in Luke 12:46, in graphic, bloody, and violent terms, Jesus depicts what happens to his people who are not doing what He said to do, not giving alms, not trusting God.  Judgment.  Violent, final, judgment.  Similar judgment is indicated at the end of the Isaiah reading.  I won’t go into the judgment part.  You look that up. 
My concern is those blessed slaves – us.  We belong to Jesus.  When we work for justice by extending ourselves to help the poor and powerless, we are living Biblically as today’s readings and 100 other Bible verses show.  And Jesus has something for us.  A privileged seat as honored guests at the king’s table.


Wednesday, July 31, 2019

Taken Captive (Colossian 2:6-15)

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Sunday, July 28, 2019

*This sermon was originally preached under the title “Filling the Emptiness” at Oak Forest Baptist Church, in Chesterfield, VA, April 27, 1997.  A version of it was subsequently preached under the title “New Life in Christ” on February 29, 2004 at Greenbrier Baptist Church in Arlington, VA.

            “See to it that no one takes you captive through philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the universe, and not according to Christ” (Colossians 2:8).  I hear ‘taken captive’ and I think of being kidnapped or of being a prisoner of war.  Horrifying images of Liam Neeson’s triology Taken come to mind.
            But imagine this scenario.  A young man and woman fall for each other.  He was adventurous, ready for the next journey, not wanting to be tied down.  But now he’s not going anywhere.  She has captured  his heart.  Captured.  It describes the terror of a kidnapping and the beauty of falling in love. 
“See to it that no one takes you captive through philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the universe.
            Remember Yvonne Hill? No?   She was like anyone of us and would feel welcome in our church.  Yvonne was a 38-year-old mother of five.  She was married to Stephen, an inspector for a tile company.  She was a mail sorter at the post office.  Stephen and Yvonne, with their kids, had a close knit family.  She had a deep desire to know God.  Yvonne Hill?  No?
            How about Michael Sandoe, from Abingdon, Virginia?  Surely you remember him, a 25-year-old army paratrooper and veteran of Desert Storm, America’s invasion of Iraq in 1991.  The son of an evangelical pastor, the young man was popular in high school, and an army hero after high school.  From a small, historic town near the Virginia-Tennessee border, he went on to see the world and serve his country.
            Don’t remember Yvonne Hill or Michael Sandoe?  I’ll try one more: Julie LaMontagne.  No?  Really? This 45-year-old nurse from Massachussetts saw her father die of cancer.  She lived in different parts of the country, including California.  She was a good student, a positive influence on her younger brother, and she was a religious person. Julie LaMontagne?  No?
            Think about our church family.  How many among us are caring parents?  How many work hard at our jobs?  How many served in the military?  How many love their families?  Yvonne Hill, Michael Sandoe, Julie LaMontagne; to borrow a popular TV show title, this is us. 
“See to it that no one takes you captive through philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the universe.”
These three along with 36 others were taken captive by bad philosophy, empty deceit, and false religion.  In Colossians 2:8, “elemental spirits” likely refers to evil spirits or demons[i] that have beguiled human beings.  The deceived individuals developed religious practices in their response to the evil that’s taken over them.  Then, they in turn drew others around them into this false religion.[ii] 
In Colosse, the deception came from local deities and the priests who served them.  Paul taught that the Jesus represented the one and only God.  Verse 9 says in Jesus “the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily.”  Paul said anyone who taught anything other than faith in Jesus is a liar and a fraud.  He wanted to help people get away from using idols and household totems to pray to false Gods like Aphrodite and Artemis. He wanted to help the Colossian church lead people to the one true God. 
Yvonne Hill, Michael Sandoe, Julie LaMontagne did not fall prey to 1st century Greek gods.  What human tradition and elemental spirit captured these three and 36 others?  As I lay out the rest of their story, be thinking about what has grabbed a hold of your attention.  What movement or passion or relationship or politics or religion is trying to capture you or someone you love?
In their search for meaning, in their quest for truth and a fulfilling life, Yvonne, Michael, and Julie fell under the spell of Marshall Applewhite.  He founded the Heaven’s Gate cult, an American UFO millenarian religion.  On March 26, 1997, 39 members of the group were found dead in a house in Rancho Santa Fe, California.  They had participated in ritual suicide in order to reach what they believed was an extraterrestrial space craft that was following the Comet Hale-Bopp.[iii]
Of course if you knew Yvonne, Michael, Julie, or one of the others who participated in this fatally tragic hoax, you ask might why?  Why would they fall for this treachery? How were these bright, hardworking people, good neighbors and good citizens, taken in like this?  God only knows the warped spirituality of Applewhite himself.  Was he deceived by a demon, one of the elemental spirits of Colossians 2:8?  Is that how evil happens?  A demon from Hell draws in one person, a particularly charismatic person, and he in turn suckers the vulnerable and the searching?
We are that.  We are vulnerable, searching beings.  We are certainly no better or smarter or more pure than Yvonne, Michael, or Julie.  You might remember a few years ago, we had a bright young woman share her new member testimony here in church.  She was incredibly smart, earning a graduate degree from UNC and immediately after graduation, a job in her field, here in Chapel Hill, a competitive job market. 
This talented Christian went from joining the church to becoming extremely activity in ministry.  She served in music ministry, hosted a small group in her home, served on the elder board, including a year as chairperson, and went on one of the mission trips to Ethiopia.  No one could be more of a core leader in our congregation than her.  But, before all that happened in her life, before she came to HillSong, she was in a cult.  If we are not convinced by the stories of Yvonne, Michael, and Julie, maybe we see our own vulnerability when we hear a similar story from one of our own. 
Right here in our morning worship, she told her story of being seduced into a cult.  That cult, thank God, did not call on its members to commit suicide.  But she will tell you it was just as dangerous a deception.  Eventually, her sister helped her escape the lies and turn to the only true God, our Heavenly Father, revealed in the Son, Jesus, and present with us, God the Spirit.  We thank God for her rescue and for all people who are rescued from cults like this.  At the same time, we empathize with and grieve for the loved ones of those lost when cults go bad. 
The Heaven’s Gate tragedy is not the only one is America’s history.  On April 19, 1993, a subgroup of the Branch Davidian religion led by David Koresh, who claimed to be the group’s final prophet, ended a 51-day standoff with law enforcement.  The final result was a firefight and explosion which resulted in the death of 76 Davidians.  How did those followers fall under David Koresh’s spell?  Why would they let him convince them to get in a hopeless firefight against federal officials?
November 18, 1978, Jim Jones, founder of the People’s Temple convinced or coerced over 900 of his followers to kill themselves by drinking cyanide-laced Flavor Aid.  Jones was a truly gifted leader who built a community that in many ways seemed ideal and ahead of its time.  But as wonderful his religion seemed, why would the followers knowingly drink poison?  One of the songs they sang in their worship services had this line, sang with great joy and enthusiasm: “something’s got a hold on me.”
Paul knew what he was saying when he wrote, ““See to it that no one takes you captive.”
The best and brightest among us can be lured down the road to destruction by temptation.  The devil lures us in so that we fall prey to him even when we think we’re pursuing truth and seeking God.  No one sets out to practice a false religion.  Whether someone commits crimes or hurts himself as a result of his cult participation, he himself doesn’t see it as false.  He thinks he’s pursuing truth. 
Think you’ll never fall for such a thing as a cult’s lies?  Think back to what I asked you to ponder.  What has grabbed a hold of your attention?  What ideology or trend or social force or past time is trying capture you or someone you love?
Paul wrote this because of how concerned he was for the church in Colosse.  Some kind of competing theology was afoot.  In 1:12, he prays the church will endure.  What trial did they have to endure?  What trials have we endured?  Paul writes in 1:13, “[God] has rescued us from the power of darkness and transferred us into the kingdom of his beloved son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.”  And in verse 21, he reminds the Colossians they were once estranged from God, hostile in mind, and doing evil.  The reconciliation has come about through Jesus’ death (1:22).
I contend that we, without Christ, are just as estranged from God.  Temptations lurk all around, in every environment in the world as it is today.  We need the endurance Paul prayed for the Colossians.  We need the rescue God provided them through faith in the crucified, resurrected Jesus.  He is the fullness of deity (2:9) and we come to fullness in him.  Any teaching, any promise, any offer that claims to give life apart from a relationship with God in Christ is a lie that leads to our destruction. 
We see our baptism language in Colossians 2:13-14.  “When you were dead in trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made you alive together with him, when He forgave us all our trespasses, erasing the record that stood against us with its legal demands.  He set this aside, nailing it to the cross.” 
Our connection to Jesus is our protection against false teaching.  The Holy Spirit helps us avoid falling into temptation and rescues us when we do.  Colossians 2:16 says the Lord “disarmed the rulers … triumphing over them.” 
Your life and my life have meaning, joy, hope, and a bright future when we are ‘in Christ.’  We aren’t captured by His Spirit.  We willingly give ourselves to Him.  That’s your invitation this morning.  Look to the cross and realize that Jesus died that you might have joy-filled eternal life.  You need not fear the enemy that lurks.  Turn to the God that saves, the only true God, and find yourself in Him. 
You’ve thought about your life this morning.  As we sing our final song, come and give to him the things you need Him to take and receive from Him what you need and cannot get yourself.  Come and receive God’s grace.

[i] David M. Hay(2000), Abingdon New Testament Commentaries: Colossians, Abingdon Press (Nashville), p.87.  Hay says the Greek word stoicheia actually refers to supernatural beings that Paul’s Colossian readers understood to be threatening their salvation.
[ii] N.T. Wright (1986), Tyndale New Testament Commentaries: Colossians and Philemon, IVP Academic (Downer’s Grove, IL), p.107.

Monday, July 29, 2019

Thank God for Long Walks

Image result for Long Walks God Psalm 148

Psalm 148:7-10
Praise the Lord from the earth,
    you sea monsters and all deeps,
fire and hail, snow and frost,
    stormy wind fulfilling his command!
Mountains and all hills,
    fruit trees and all cedars!
10 Wild animals and all cattle,
    creeping things and flying birds!

Psalm 9:1-2

I will give thanks to the Lord with my whole heart;
    I will tell of all your wonderful deeds.
I will be glad and exult in you;

    I will sing praise to your name, O Most High.

            I was on a walk this morning, a little over 2 miles.  I have been walking a lot this summer. The arthritis in my left knee, first identified in 2004, has worsened of late.  It has been about 3 months since I went on a run and I’m not sure when I will again.  Actually saying that out loud, or in this case writing it, can be scary or depressing, depending on how I think about it.  I have lived robustly.  I have hiked up mountains, received black eyes playing full contact rugby, survived army basic training, and endured vicious hits on the football field.  I don’t feel grateful for limitations.
            However, this morning I did.  OK, I wasn’t grateful that I have knee pain.  I was grateful that in spite of the knee pain, I can walk 2 miles or 5 miles.  (I don’t know how I’d do after 10). 
            I was thankful because I feel so happy while walking.  I feel so close to God.  This morning I prayed for my family, for my church, and for people in my neighborhood.  I prayed for people by name.  Sometimes my prayer while walking doesn’t involve me bringing things to God.  Rather, I listen to the birdsong and feel the wind blow over me, and the sun shine on me.  I participate as nature praises God (see Psalm 19:1-4; 148:3-10). 
Is the Psalmist in these and other passages guilty of anthropomorphizing non-sentient life?  I don’t think so.   The earth has a relationship with God that God understands even if, in our scientific way of thinking and seeing we don’t.  The Bible is full of passages expressing this relationship between God and creation.  This God-nature connection is as real as anything is real, even if we might call it ‘mystical.’  When I walk, I get to participate in that beautiful interchange between God and all God has made.  That’s why I never wear earbuds while I am walking.  I don’t want to miss anything!
So, as I walked this morning, I felt myself full of gratitude for being able to walk and able to enjoy a good walk so much.  That sense of gratitude led me to this conclusion.  I need to not spend much time lamenting things like the fact that I’ll never put football pads on again or I’ll never run a 6-minute mile again.  I thank God that was able to do those things.  And I thank God for the miles and miles of walks ahead of me.  I enjoy life when I live thankfully.  I see God’s goodness. 
So, I am looking all about my life for prompts to gratitude.  I don’t have to look very long or very hard.  God is the giver of wonderful blessings and I will thank Him for them.