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Monday, November 30, 2015

Faith at Christmas Time

            I am very thankful when I hear my 6-year-old daughter talk about Christmas and I hear her mention Jesus.  We are a Santa Claus household.  My kids do something I never did.  They decorate their bedrooms for Christmas.  There are snowmen, reindeer, and Santa Claus’s all over my house.  Religionists who decry the commercialization and secularization of Christmas would have a field day with my family. 
            I don’t regret a bit of it.  We love the sounds of bells, the smell of Christmas cookies baking, the plans for family to come, and green and red everywhere.  But, when I ask my kids, “What is Christmas really about,” they lead with, “the birth of Jesus.”  Hearing that, I have happiness in my heart. 
            Are they just reciting lines they’ve heard in Sunday school?  Maybe.  And if that’s what they’re doing, that’s OK.  They are living into the narrative we have created.  I happen to think this narrative is true, is a right accounting of reality.  Still, right now, much of what my kids say is parroting.  They are not expressing deep faith convictions.  Not yet. 
            I pray that will come.  With each passing year, as I grieve losing the adorableness of little kids in my home as they grow into big kids and adolescents, I pray the beauty of childhood is replaced with kids that demonstrate a maturing faith and real awareness of the power of God.  Along with that, I pray I will grow in my sense of God’s real presence in my life.
            This year I will do something I don’t always do.  On Christmas Eve I intend to preach an evangelistic sermon in which I urge hearers to come to terms with God by reaching to Jesus for salvation.  The coming of God in Jesus Christ is God’s offer of himself to a world that’s stuck in sin and bound for death.  Jesus is God’s way of changing course for people who will receive the salvation he extends.  Jesus is “the game changer” (to use that overused and often misused phrase).
            Many who come for worship on Christmas Eve will be people who are already believers.  I pray the music, the prayer, the candles, the readings, and the sermon will call those individuals to a deeper awareness and attentiveness to their own personal relationships with Jesus.  And I pray God will speak through the service to seekers who only come to church one night out of the year – Christmas Eve.
            If you think of it, pray for our worship at HillSong on Christmas Eve, 2015.  If you know you’ll be here, see if one of your friends who isn’t really into Jesus might come with you.  Invite a friend.  Let that be one of your Advent disciplines.  That act of extending yourself and inviting a friend who is an “outsider” to Christianity will be an act of discipleship.  It will be an act that moves faith to the center for you this Christmas.
            That’s my prayer for my kids, for myself, for you, and for all who are part of our Christmas as HillSong this year.  I pray faith in the living Lord, the risen Jesus, will cover over and fill all the ways we celebrate and live in the season.

Fall on Your Knees (Mal. 3:7; Lk. 12:35-36)

Our youth pastor Nathan gave the sermon for the first Sunday of Advent.  If you'd like a recording of his sermon, contact our church office or email me.

Here are my thoughts on the text of Nathan's sermon.

     Writer Philip Yancey says he has met the most fulfilled, godly people among the poorest of the poor in prison cells, leper colonies, and inner city slums.  In these dark places, where daily life is survival, and just barely, he has encountered truly holy people who are indeed, very close to God. 
Yancey quotes author John Cheever who said, “The main emotion of the adult American who has all the advantages of wealth, education, and culture is disappointment.”[i] I don’t know how Cheever knows that.  I do, though, find the quote compelling. 
Is it true? 
You can test it yourself, this season, leading to Christmas.  As you shop for that new game system or that new I-phone or some other gift that will bring great happiness when pulled from under the tree and unwrapped, ask yourself, is this were happiness and joy are found?  The main emotion of the one who has everything is disappointment.
          I don’t know if that is true.  I know the world is wounded.  I know there is disappointment aplenty in our community.  There is as much disappointment as there is affluence.
          There is also emptiness. 
          My friend wrote a book which he sent to several of us to review.  In his writing, he identifies a worldview that has no place for God and that accepts that humanity has evolved from simpler life forms.  Millions of years ago, simple chemical interactions came together to produce life – single-celled organisms.  Over the eons, these beings evolved to more and more complex organisms up to the present day.  And today we have us, beings with self-awareness. 
          When we die, our bodies will decompose and eventually go back to the dirt from which we came.  My friend, Steve Davis, a pastor whose church is near Fort Bragg, calls us “dirt in transition.”[ii]  This is the worldview he’s describing.
He does not believe that.  He actually believes we are created beings.  Even if evolution is the process, it is a process God created and each one of us is made in God’s image. 
          But many people are materialists.  They cannot by way of empirical observation prove God’s existence, so they assume there is no God.  They not only accept that humans are “dirt in transition,” they are sure of it. 
In terms of meaning, this worldview comes up empty.  Our lives no meaning beyond what we come up with ourselves.  If the only meaning we have is what we or other humans create, it is totally arbitrary.  No matter what we desire, we are in fact just complex chemical compositions fated to die.

          So is that the human condition?  Philip Yancey cites Loren Eiseley a materialist who makes art out science.  Eiseley thinks that when we long for meaning, the idea that there is something more than the world we see, we are like frogs croaking through the night.  “We’re here.  We’re here.  We’re here.”[iii]  And we hope against reality that something out there notices. 
          This bleakness is in the Bible.  The book of Ecclesiastes opens by saying, “Vanities of vanities.  All is vanity” (1:2).  So for Christmas, buy the I-phone for your girlfriend.  Maybe she’ll be happy, at least until the next one comes out.   Then, well, buy the next thing.

          This disappointment and meaninglessness leads to all manners of catastrophe.  On a small scale, people who cannot afford expensive things are envious and disheartened because they cannot have what others have.  Those who can afford those things are disheartened and disillusioned because the expensive toys don’t bring any real happiness.  The longed-for fulfillment never comes.
          On a larger scale, the emptiness leads us collectively to create myths.  Some myths are couched in religious terms that lead us to accept lies or to join movements that wreak havoc, like terrorist groups.  Other myths wear the colors of patriotism.  In our country that is blended with the myth of the middle class American life.  That is where happiness lies.
          Well, no, not really.  This is not where happiness lies! But our advertisers and our politicians have become wealthy selling this myth.  We get convinced and we buy it all time and in bulk around Christmas time.   In longing for something more, meaninglessness and emptiness and disappointment lead women and men to, create the means of their own destruction. 

          What if the incarnation is God’s response to our desperate longing for something more? 

Incarnation is the word we use to explain God becoming human.  In the birth of Jesus, God entered the world in a new way.  God had always been and always is present.  Nothing is hidden from God. There is never a time when you or I are alone, unseen.  God always is with us and sees us.
          In the incarnation, God is present in a unique way.  God took on human flesh as a complete human being with DNA, with a growth process from fetus to new born, from toddler to adolescent to adult.  Jesus was as human as you or I are human. 
          What I am asking us to consider is this.  What if God doing that – becoming human – was God’s way of responding to our condition, a depression of utter meaninglessness?  What if God came in Jesus in order to show us who we are and who we can be? 
          This assumes that God responds to human beings.  I believe the Bible shows over and over that God is a responsive God.  And I think God’s ultimate response to human pain is God’s coming as Jesus.  If Jesus is God’s embodied response, God’s love embodied, then we are saying God does respond to us. 

          So what then? 
We are empty when we try to find meaning for ourselves.  God responds to impoverished souls by becoming one of us in order to show us love, to die for our sins, to overcome death in resurrection, and then to invite us to faith and life and relationship as we find ourselves in Jesus.  We have the condition and God’s response. 
What of it? 
          How do we respond to God’s action in Jesus Christ?  Chew on this.  We’re ontologically bankrupt.  We have nothing that brings significance.  Then God comes and fills us with joy and meaning and purpose.  What do we do? 
          The great hymn “O Holy Night” gives part of the answer.  In that hymn, we sing these words.
                   A thrill of hope, the weary world rejoices.
                   For yonder breaks a new and glorious morn.
Yes, in the coming Christ, all Heaven had broken loose.  Meaning?  Significance?  Purpose?  We clumps of dirt in transition are invited into an eternal relationship of love with the holy God through the action of God-in-the-flesh!  What do we do?  The song gives the answer.
                   Fall on our knees.  O Hear the angel voices.
                   O night divine.  O night when Christ was born

          We don’t kneel very much in our worship services.  Sometimes individuals will come during prayer time after the sermon, kneel at the steps and either bow their heads or look to the cross.  In these profound moments, the kneeling is a beautiful gesture done to show that the one praying knows who God is.  That’s what we say in kneeling.  I know who God is.  And I know it is not me.
          Through the mouth of the prophet, God said the following (Isaiah 45):
          22 Turn to me and be saved,
    all the ends of the earth!
    For I am God, and there is no other.
23 By myself I have sworn,
    from my mouth has gone forth in righteousness
    a word that shall not return:
“To me every knee shall bow,
    every tongue shall swear.”
24 Only in the Lord, it shall be said of me,
    are righteousness and strength;
all who were incensed against him
    shall come to him and be ashamed.

          Every knee shall bow.  I wonder if this word from Isaiah was on Peter’s mind the first time he met Jesus and saw a miracle.  He threw himself on the ground at Jesus’ feet in worship and in humiliation (Luke 5:7-9). 
I wonder if Paul had this Isaiah passage before him when he wrote in Romans 14:11 that every knee shall bow to the Lord. 
We find a similar sentiment in Philippians 2.  There, Paul is quoting what most scholars believe was an extremely early hymn, possibly sung within just a just few years of the resurrection.  The gospels weren’t written until probably the 60’s or later.  First Thessalonians was the earliest of Paul’s letters.  The hymn he quotes in Philippians 2 might be the earliest actual written Christian work.  In it is the declaration that upon seeing Jesus in glory, everyone will have no choice but to bow in reverence.  This will be an act of humiliation, not an act of faith.  Every knee shall bow.

What I am suggesting is that now, when our response to God is a faith response, not a response that comes after judgment, we choose to kneel.  There is precedent for making this choice.
Throughout the book Revelation there is kneeling.  First, the author, John of Patmos, falls at Jesus’ feet (ch. 1). Then the elders who spend their time in Heaven on thrones, exalted, threw themselves down before Him (ch. 4, 11).   The otherworldly “living creatures” we meet in the vision do the same (ch. 5).  These are instances of people as well as divine beings choosing to kneel and worship.

We find ourselves in a time when we can choose.  Today, God does not force us to kneel, to worship, to give homage.  God helps.  The Holy Spirit convicts us of our sins.  This means, the Holy Spirit shows us the extent to which our sins destroy our lives and the lives of those we love.  The Holy Spirit pricks our consciences, awakens our minds, appeals to our hearts, and opens our eyes.  But God does not force us to worship.  It is our choice and it is one I urge us to consider. 
The prophet Malachi offers a perfect word for us as we live in the days leading up to Christmas.  In Malachi, God says, “Return to me, and I will return to you” (3:7).  Then Malachi writes that the Lord took notice of those who revered Him and said, “They shall be my special possession on the day when I act” (3:17). 
When we kneel before Jesus Christ, we are saying, we are not God.  He is.  He is the source of hope because he brings forgiveness of sin, healing of wounds, restoration of hearts, and an invitation to life.  He gives us meaning when he shows us what love is and fills us with this love and nudges us to share it.  Also, in humility and with great compassion, we invites others to come to Him. 
We are not the source of own meaning.  We are not responsible for filling our own emptiness.  He accomplishes all of this in us when we look to the Lord and when we live in love. 
It starts when we follow the song’s prompt and fall on our knees.  No longer are we consumed with ourselves.  We die to self and find ourselves born again, made new, called into resurrection where our bodies are no longer clumps of dirt, but incorruptible, made of the stuff of Heaven. 

What is Christmas going to be for you this year?  Who can say?  Not me. 
But, here is what I can say.  Of all the things that fill the season, the shopping, the TV specials, the office and school Christmas parties, the decorating, and the other traditions, Christmas is a time of worship.  As you read this, say this out loud, over and over, until it rings in your heart.  Christmas is a time of worship.
          Look at your nativity set.  The lowly shepherds and the gathered magi together kneel before the baby Jesus.  As we worship this Christmas season, may we worship while kneeling before the glorified, risen Lord.  May we discover the joy and happiness that can only be found there. 

[i] P. Yancey (2014). Vanishing Grace (Zondervan, Grand Rapids, MI), p.208.
[ii] S. Davis (2015).  Faith in Your Handwriting (self published, on Amazon Kindle reader).
[iii] Yancey, p.137.

Monday, November 23, 2015

When We Dream (Joel 2:28-29)

Sunday, November 22, 2015

          We have prayed that God would grant wisdom and give revelation to HillSong Church.  These seven weeks have had an inward focus.  Our direction is Godward.  We have collectively, as a family of worshipers, as brothers and sister in Christ, pointed our faces toward the Lord.  We have joined voices and together asked God to speak.
          In the process, we have reflected upon who we are God’s people.  There is a sense of what a Christian should be.  We describe, generally speaking, what a church should be.  We have emphasized what HillSong Church is called to be in the first quarter of the 21st century. 
          These prayers will not cease as we conclude this church-wide emphasis on discernment.  Understanding who we are in Christ is a constant process.  However, it is now time to reflect on what has been revealed; this is also the time to cast our gaze down the road and ponder where we are headed and also to see who, from afar, is coming toward us.
          We have talked about HillSong being safe place.  We strive to be a place of welcome where one can come and be loved and be encouraged and nurtured.  This will always tested as we who make up the community are born-again, spirit-filled yet also tempted by our weaknesses and by the devils’ wiles.  We, the people yearning to create safe space, sometimes are the ones who make it unsafe.  But we press on, we try again, as we welcome the next one through the door.
          In the safe space, our community, we worship.  In worship, our hearts are laid bare before the Lord and we pray that we actually meet God in those encounters.  In meeting God, we are forever changed.  We are made new – new creations. 
As new creations, we are then sent into the world to announce that something has happened.  God has done something.  God has come in human form, in the flesh.  That’s Jesus!  He is God in the flesh and in Him the Kingdom of God has come near.  In Him, people have forgiveness of sins and rescue from death.  We are sent to proclaim that He is Lord and King and people can have life in His name.  We are sent to help people become His disciples.
“Safe-New-Sent;” these words have become a mantra at HillSong.  But this is not all God has revealed.  Relationships matter.  We are a relational people.  Watch what happens when the worship service ends today.  People don’t flood to the exits.  I have been in church services where when the final song is over, people head for the exits like the building is on fire.  Here, people linger to talk, laugh, and embrace.  We love each other.
And our relationships are expanding.  New people come all the time.  Now, new congregations are in the fold with Zion Karen Baptist Church and Iglesia del Amor de Dios meeting in our buildings.  When our elders and deacons met a month ago, one of the observations we took away from our conversations was God is bringing the nations to HillSong.  And we are thrilled about that.
As a relational people living in fellowship with a divine calling to welcome the sojourner and seek out the lost that we might help them find the way to salvation, where do we go from here?

I appeal to the words of the prophet Joel.  He spoke of judgment and called a sinful people to repentance, but then, God showed him a new day dawning.  Here’s what God says through the prophet Joel.

28 [a] Then afterward
    I will pour out my spirit on all flesh;
your sons and your daughters shall prophesy,
    your old men shall dream dreams,
    and your young men shall see visions.
29 Even on the male and female slaves,
    in those days, I will pour out my spirit.

          The dreams that come don’t originate with us. God says, “I will pour out my spirit.”  God’s Spirit visits us, and then the dreams come.  The good in our lives, the purpose which drives us to live and to live in a certain way comes from God.
          Joel shows that we dream God dreams.  To be people of faith, to follow Jesus, is to believe in visions and to experience dreams.  What’s more, this is all of us.  This is not reserved for the spiritual superheroes among us.  Nor is this purview of the privileged or the experienced or those more honored than others.  Children prophesy, senior citizens see things they’ve never seen before, and slaves dream and show the truth of God.  The revelation of God is generously shared as God desires to give it.

          But, what in the world does this mean?  The prophecy from Joel is beautiful and inspired and incomplete, because it doesn’t seem to ever become reality. 
          Then Jesus.
          Jesus comes along, and then Joel makes sense.

          In the book of Acts a series of events takes place.  First, Acts picks up right after the resurrection.  Jesus, who died and was buried, is walking about in his body resurrected.  The disciples see Him depart.  He goes to Heaven, to the right hand of the Father.  Then, after 40 days, the Holy Spirit rains down in tongues of fire on the disciples gathered in Jerusalem for Pentecost.   As they are filled, they speak the languages of all gathered there.
          It doesn’t make any sense.  These are Galilean fishermen, not educated linguists.  Yet with unmatched eloquence, they tell the story of God coming in the person of Jesus, dying, and offering salvation to the world.  The crowd, astounded, doesn’t know what to make of it all.
          That’s when Peter stands and says this.
14 But Peter, standing with the eleven, raised his voice and addressed them, “Men of Judea and all who live in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and listen to what I say. 15 Indeed, these are not drunk, as you suppose, for it is only nine o’clock in the morning. 16 No, this is what was spoken through the prophet Joel:
17 ‘In the last days it will be, God declares,
that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh,
    and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy,
and your young men shall see visions,
    and your old men shall dream dreams.
18 Even upon my slaves, both men and women,
    in those days I will pour out my Spirit;
        and they shall prophesy.
19 And I will show portents in the heaven above
    and signs on the earth below,
        blood, and fire, and smoky mist.
20 The sun shall be turned to darkness
    and the moon to blood,
        before the coming of the Lord’s great and glorious day.
21 Then everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.’

          Peter’s way of making sense of all that happens is to appeal to scripture – the prophecy of Joel.  But Joel only makes sense when understood in terms of the resurrection.  Why can Peter say that the spiritual phenomena that happened at Pentecost is the fulfillment of Joel’s prophecy?  Because Jesus was raised.  That spirit was and is the Holy Spirit of the Lord filling His people.
          Joel’s prophecy continues to be fulfilled as we gather, worship, glorify God in Jesus Christ, and band together as His people.  In this context, the church together, the Spirit pours new revelation and calls us to the work of holy living and holy love in the midst of a hurting and dying world. 

          Where do we go from here?  We worship – together.  We give and receive forgiveness – together.  We passionately discuss the issues of our day.  Sometimes those conversations heated, but it is for the sake of the Gospel because when we go over the issues of the day, what we are really talking about is how sin continuously wounds men and women.  When discuss, because we are Spirit-filled Christ followers, our discussion always comes back to figuring out, in the power of God, how we help heal the wounded.  This too is something we do together.  We live into the calling God has placed on us.
          An issue pressing the world right now, shows this point.  I have been in a number of conversations, debates, about how a nation like America ought to respond to the attacks in Paris and to the crisis of thousands of displaced Syrians.  Some argue that sound foreign policy is to send those Syrians elsewhere.
We don’t even think about sound foreign policy.  We know that our security is in the Lord, not in our government.  We want those who hurt at our doors so we can love them and help them.  Refugees who cannot find a shore?  This is our moment.  To care for them is to live into our calling.
Also, this morning, we have seen where we go from here.  In Baptism, in new members sharing their stories, our fires as a relationship people called together are rekindled.  The newly baptized believer and the newly welcomed member sharing there are hearts as we open our hearts to them and to all who come – this is what we are about.  This is who we are.
Next is Advent, that season in which we remember the coming of Christ and anticipate His return and the final, complete establishment of His Kingdom when Heaven and Earth come together. 
I pray that you will dream dreams the Holy Spirit plants in your heart.  I pray each of us will see our individual relationships with God become deeper, more real, and richer in the season ahead.  I pray God will shape HillSong Church so that in this place His love rules, and people grow into a full understanding that we are His.


Wednesday, November 11, 2015

My Faith and My Military Experience

Veteran’s Day Speech
Gorman Christian School Durham NC
Rob Tennant

          Thank you for inviting me to your school today.  I am honored to be here.  One of the greatest privileges I have is to be able to stand before groups of people and talk about my Christian faith.  Today I will talk about my military experiences, but my most important message is this.  God loves you and that is why God became human.  Jesus is God in human flesh.  He died on the cross and rose from the grace.  When we give our lives to Him and receive forgiveness from Him, we are born again, made new in Christ.  I cannot say anything more important than that.
          With that said, I will share about my life in the military and how that is tied to my life as a follower of Jesus.
          Because of my experience with the army, I have traveled.  I have lived in Germany, Kentucky, North Carolina, and Texas.  And it all happened before I turned 3 years old!  This is because my father was in the army.
          My dad was a commander in a tank platoon.  He was stationed in Germany.  So even though my family is from Michigan, I was born in 1970 in Frankfurt, Germany where my dad was serving our country.  After I was born, we moved around a bit as he went from assignment to assignment.  Then, last in 1970, when I was about 9 months old, he was sent to Vietnam with the army.  I didn’t see my dad for an entire year.  Thankfully, he made it home safely.  In 1973, he got out of the army.
          But the military was kind of always in the background in my life.  My dad was a veteran.  Both of my grandfathers were World War II veterans.  One was with the army in Europe.  The other was with the navy in the Pacific.  And when I got to college, I could feel inside of me a pull.  I felt like I needed to serve just as my father and grandfathers had.  They never put any pressure on me.  But I felt it inside myself.
          I also needed to pay for college and at that time, the army national guard had a great program to help soldiers with their college tuition.  So I talked to my dad about it and he recommended I enlist in the National Guard.  I did not want to go full time in the army because I was playing college football at the time. 
          National Guard soldiers go through the same basic and advanced training that regular army soldiers have.  From late May until the end of August in the summer of 1989, I was at Fort Benning, Georgia, learning how to be an infantry soldier.  It the hardest, hottest summer of my life.
          We did hundreds of push-ups every day.  Some guys lose weight in basic training.  I actually gained because of the muscle mass I gained in my shoulders and chest.  We ran 3 or 4 miles several times each week.  For me those long distance runs were the hardest part.  We also learned how to fire and clean an M-16 rifle.  We threw hand grenades on the practice range.  We became soldiers.
          One of my most memorable days from basic training came after had done some training in the early morning.  We were back at our barracks, outside in the shade.  It was hot, but the shade felt nice.  We were all sitting around cleaning our rifles.  I kind of leaned back against a wall.  My rifle was all taken apart and I had the oil that you rub on the parts to keep everything working right.  I leaned back against that wall in the shade after the hard early morning training and I just fell asleep.    
          The drill sergeant noticed and before my buddies could get my attention he creeped over.  He quietly put his face right up next to mine.  And then he screamed, “You better wake up, soldier!”  He yelled some other things and had me do a lot of push-ups.  When my arms were tired from the push-ups, he had me roll on my back and do a bunch of flutter kicks.  When I was tired from the flutter kicks, he rolled me back over for some more push-ups.
          Now that treatment may sound rough, but it taught me to not fall asleep and to get my work done.  Most of the rough treatment sergeants give troops is really about getting soldiers ready.  Push-ups make us strong.  Running gives endurance.  When you train all night, then in real combat, you are ready for an all-night mission. 
          After basic training, I went back to college and joined my National Guard unit.  I would spend the next six training with them.  We trained one weekend every month and two weeks every summer.  We practiced all the basic infantry soldier skills.  We also trained on how to do riot-control.  And we did push-ups and marching and running.
          One of the neat things I learned in the National Guard was repelling.  That’s where you are up on top of a building or on a mountain or in a helicopter, and you come down a rope that’s hooked to your belt.  You lower yourself down.  I never got to do it out of a helicopter but we did get to do it off of a practice tower.  I was afraid of being up so high, but I learned that the best way to overcome a fear is to face it.  And even though we did not get to repel out of helicopter, we did get helicopter rides and that was very cool.
          In the early 1990’s the United States had reduced the number of soldiers with the plan that if conflicts came up, they might call up reservists and the National Guard.  Then Iraq invaded one of our allies, Kuwait.  That was the conflict known as Desert Shield and Desert Storm.  During that time, the American military got involved.  I was at college by the phone.  I wondered will I miss a year of school.  My dad had fought in Vietnam.  I wondered, would I be sent to Iraq.  The phone call never came. 
          That c0nflict passed without me being called up.  I continued my service through National Guard training. 
          One summer, at one of our two-week commitments, I had an experience that really was the first step in me deciding to get out of the military.  We were out in the woods and we were supposed to be picked up by helicopters.  So we were there waiting and it got later and later.  They never told us the helicopters weren’t coming.  We just waited until we all fell asleep around 9PM out in the woods. 
We had not set up shelters or tents or anything because we didn’t think we’d be staying.  Well, around 11PM, it was pitch black out in the woods, and the skies opened up with a hard rain that did not stop for five hours.  Those hours of laying uncovered in the rain were miserable.  The next day we learned that the helicopters didn’t come because of the weather forecast.
I thought about that.  While we were sleeping in the pouring rain those pilots were relaxing in the warm, dry barracks.  As soon as we got done with our training, I applied to go to school to be a pilot and I got accepted into the school.  But, it would mean I would have to miss a year of college and I would have to extend my time in the National Guard.
At that point, I knew God was calling me to be a minister.  I wanted to focus on learning how to be a pastor.  So even though I got accepted into the pilot program, I did not go.  I finished out my time in the National Guard.  I was offered a promotion to Sergeant in my final six months, but only if I signed up for a few more years.  I decided to turn it down. 
In May 1995, I put my uniform on for the last time.  I turned in all my equipment.  And in June, I receive an honorable discharge.  Eight years later, I was well into my career as a church pastor.  I got married.  My new wife and I talked about me possibly getting back into the military as an army reserve chaplain.  But she really did not want me to do that.
Her father was a career navy man.  He was gone from the family for many months at a time.  This was 2003, and our country had just begun the war with Iraq.  She did not want her new husband going off to war right after we got married.  So, I did not get back into the military.
In my story, you can see that at several point the sacrifice soldiers make.  The rock star Kid Rock has a song in which he sings about all campfires and parties throughout the summer of 1989 on the shores of Lake Michigan.  He and I must be the same age, but I also remember that summer.  But while he and many of my college classmates were having fun all summer, yelling drill sergeants were teaching me how to be a soldier.
My dad made a much bigger sacrifice as he was away from his family for a year when he went to Vietnam.  Had my unit been mobilized, I would have missed a year of college in Desert Storm.  This happened for a lot of men and women during the Gulf War.
Soldiers, sailors, airmen, and marines sacrifice a lot for their families and their country.  We enjoy a great deal of freedom in America and one of the ways that is preserved is the service of our military.  Today is a day to thank America’s veterans and to honor them.
 However, we must remember something very important whenever give honor to veterans.  We are Christians.  We are called by Jesus to love all people.  In God’s eyes, no one country is better than any other.  God’s concern is the Kingdom of God where people from all nations are joined together as brothers and sisters – children of God. 
Jesus was very specific on this point.  He said these words in his Sermon on the Mount.
38 “You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’39 But I say to you, Do not resist an evildoer. But if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also; 40 and if anyone wants to sue you and take your coat, give your cloak as well; 41 and if anyone forces you to go one mile, go also the second mile. 42 Give to everyone who begs from you, and do not refuse anyone who wants to borrow from you.

43 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous. 46 For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? 47 And if you greet only your brothers and sisters,[o] what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same?

Soldiers should be appreciated and loved and honored, but not revered.  Reverence belongs to the Lord.  We worship God as we know God in Jesus Christ.  And our love for America should never produce in us hatred for people from other countries.  They love their nations as much we love ours.  And our deepest love is for God.  We are more strongly connected to other Christians than to other Americans.  First and foremost we are disciples of Jesus Christ.
As I said at the beginning, my most important message is to talk about following Jesus.  As a pastor I get the wonderful privilege of doing this in a lot of different places and settings.  I am very grateful.  All Christians are called to share their and to glorify God in all they do.
On this Veteran’s Day, I am thankful for the freedom we Americans have to live out our faith in Jesus.  And I am thankful to the sacrifice veterans have made to preserve that freedom.


Monday, November 9, 2015

He Went with Him

“He Went with Him” (Mark 5:22-43)
Rob Tennant, HillSong Church, Chapel Hill, NC
Sunday, November 8, 2015

          Ok then, today, ecclesiology.
          Say what? Ecclesiology, you say?  What’s that?
          Do what everybody does.  Type it into Google and see what comes up.
          E-c-c-l-e-s-i-o-l-o-g-y …  Ah, the first hit.  The common definition of ecclesiology: that which “refers to the theological study of the Christian Church.”[i] Some of you will find this seriously fascinating.   OK, a few of you.  Others are mentally checking out as I speak.
          Check back in.  I am going to give you my ecclesiology, my thoughts on God and church, but I promise not to use technical terminology. 
Instead, let’s get personal.  “In the midst of our stories, my life, your life, our stories, our lives – how in the middle of it do we each bear the image of God?” 
You and I are created in God’s image.  How do we live the life we were created to live?  As we pay taxes and discipline children and tolerate that intolerable boss and cheer at the football game and complain about the overhyped movie and call the power company about the outage and plan the Thanksgiving trip to grandma’s and recoil as we watch the news TV and vote and deal with cancer and pray – as we live, how do we do it as God’s image bearers?
One of the main purposes of church is to help people live life in Christ.  The church helps the people who make up the body of Christ live as God-worshipers, God-followers, and joyful, thriving witnesses to the truth of the Gospel and the promise of life Jesus gives.  Church does more than that, of course, but what I describe here is, I firmly believe, a crucial aspect of Church.  Church helps all who attend live the abundant life Jesus promised. 
The gospel writer Mark shows a couple of people who were having trouble living that abundant life.  In chapter five we meet a man and then a woman, two image-bearers, who for different reasons were in great pain. 
First came Jairus, a leader in the synagogue.  We don’t know if he initially scoffed at Jesus and the phenomena around him the way many other religious leaders did, or if Jairus had faith from the beginning.  But, when his daughter’s life hung in the balance that did not matter.  His little girl was going to die.  He knew it.  Everyone around him and his family knew it.  The sickness she had brought death.
So he did what dads do – whatever they can for their kids.  Everyone knew Jairus had a prominent role in public life.  He was a synagogue leader.  Everyone knew Jesus was popular, on the rise, and everyone witnessed the tension that was growing between Jesus and religious leaders.  Would Jairus join the chorus of those who critiqued Jesus?  Or would he go out on a limb and support the rabbi from Galilee?
Jesus had recently driven 1000 demons out of a man in the Gentile region of Gerasenes.  The people in that community saw the miracle, feared the power of God, and asked Jesus to leave and he did.  He and the disciples traveled back across the Sea of Galilee.  Upon arrival, Mark writes “fell at [Jesus’] feet and begged him repeatedly” to help (5:23.) 
We see Jairus’ stance.  Did he sing along with his colleagues?  No way!  As they were challenging everything Jesus said, he fell at Jesus’ feet.  What was Jesus’ response?  Mark write, “He went with him” (v.24).
That’s what Jesus does.  Last Tuesday, I went to vote.  Jesus went with me.  I don’t know if Jesus had specific choices for town council in Chapel Hill.  But I know the Holy Spirit of the Lord was with me then and is with me now. 
At same time that he was with me in that voting booth, that same Holy Spirit was with you.  Coaching a youth soccer team?  On the commute home from work?  Recover from a chemo therapy treatment?  Studying for an exam?  The Lord goes with us, always, reminding us that wherever we are, whatever we are doing, we are belong to God. 
So, they went, in process from the shore, through town, to Jairus’ house.  Jesus, 12 disciples, Jairus, probably other family members and friends from the synagogue.  There may have been more than 20 people in this cluster.  It would have been a site, the kind of thing that makes your head turn and take notice, this little motley grew trouping through town. 
One who noticed, a woman whose proximity to other people was itself problematic, wormed her way through the throng so that she was right next to Jesus.  Mark tells us she had been “suffering from hemorrhages for 20 years” (v.25).  While scholarly opinion about what exactly this means varies widely, we can say a few things with confidence.  First, her condition was not normal or healthy, was a sickness, and made her life extremely lonely and painful. 
Second, she was unclean.  Anyone who came into contact with her would also be ritually unclean.  When she forced her way through a crowd, she touched everyone.  Thus her desperate hope that Jesus might heal her from a malady that had ruined her life led her to an action that affected a lot of people.  But she did it.
Desperation leads synagogue leaders to beg in the dust at Jesus’ feet and it leads untouchable women to ignore all social conventions and wade right into the crowd they’re supposed to avoid.  All of it comes as Jesus is in the flow of his own mission to announce the Kingdom of God.
Jesus heals the woman and the way he does it tells us a lot about the church.  He notices; he senses that power has gone out of him.  When he realizes it is because someone who is both sick and cut off from the community has sought him, he is filled with compassion.  He calls her daughter.  He commends her faith.  He sends her on her way in peace.   
The church today is the body of Christ in the world.  The church is where hurting people encounter the Holy Spirit of God in life-changing ways.  Of course the Spirit touches people outside the church too, but even in those cases, the person who has met God then comes to the church to make sense of it.  We – the people who make up the church – must notice those around us who in pain, who struggle, who need help, and who find themselves in desperation.  We must notice as Jesus noticed and respond with compassion, the compassion of the Lord.
In the delay that came with helping the woman, the daughter of Jairus died.  Everything that occurred there happened while Jesus was on the way to help someone else.  And when Jesus was asked to help Jairus’ daughter, that request came as he was on his way somewhere.
Someone came, reported that the daughter had died, and told Jairus to stop troubling Jesus.  Jesus would have none of such talk.  A hurting person in absolute need was not a bother to him.  Jairus was not troubling him.  Helping a person in such a state reclaim God’s image is why Jesus came. Don’t trouble the teacher?  Oh no!  Once again, Jesus went with him.  He told him to have no fear, but to believe.  The he brought the dead girl to life.
Through his church today, he continues to bring life through the love of a welcoming community.  Specifically, I imagine our church to be an island in the middle of a broad, fast-moving river.  Our community is the river – people moving through.  Some come as visiting faculty and are here a year or less.  Some are graduate students.  They stay anywhere from 3-5 years.  The community is transitory.  It is different in the school year when students are on campus and we feel it as those who rent parking spaces fill our lower lot. 
Then, in early May it clears out.  We find it easier to get around on Franklin Street.  Our town changes.  In those times, many in our church go on vacation or away for the weekend.  It is like this at holidays too.  You never know who will be here.  Our Sunday morning crowd has consistent attendees, but it is different every week, sometimes slightly different, sometimes very different.  The river keeps flowing by.  As it does, we here so people can meet God here and be reminded of who we are supposed to be – those who bear his image. 
We have cited numerous life is broken and bearing the image of God is hard.  It seems impossible for someone just surviving each day to think of herself as one made in God’s image.  Our church is here to help her see that.
Our church is an island in this river. Some pass by and we have them for a summer or a semester or three-five years.  Others, are moving through but decide they love it here.  A semester turns into 20 years.  Someone began here as 18-year-old freshman and is now on the elder board.  That’s our church.
With God present, the woman, ailing from this uncontrollable blood flow – sick and cut off and alone – is healed.  She is healed, she becomes a daughter of God and she has the peace of God.  She forces the community to take another look at those who have been pushed to the margins. We realize that when God is present, no one is marginal or overlooked, unnoticed.  Everyone is God’s image bearer. 
With God present, a father who has been reduced to begging for his child is given that child alive and healthy.  Her restored to life is life for him and for the entire synagogue community.  The entire community now has to reckon with what it really means to say God is present.  It means death will never win.
Our church, planted in the middle of the unending flow that is UNC and Chapel Hill and the triangle, our church is a reminder that God is present.  When God is present that means something. 
In your life, what does it mean?  Are you the woman, injured, feeling totally outside of mainstream life?  Jesus sees you and has healing for you.  Meet him in this church family and allow your life to be remade.
Are you Jairus?  Do you feel powerless as some oppressions threatens to rob you of your joy and of your life?  Meet Jesus here, in this church, and reclaim the image of God in you.
Are you one of the disciples riding the billowing waves of the sea as you follow Jesus wherever he leads?  Where will He lead you next?  What is he going to do next?  What will be your part in it?  Meet Jesus in this place this morning and once again say, “Here I am Lord.  I am yours will do what you say to do, will say what you tell me to say, and will go where you lead.”

See?  Ecclesiology – the study of church; our church family is an island in a river where people are constantly flowing past.  Those who stop in meet Jesus in this place.  They are healed, restored, and reminded of what it is to bear the image.  Whether they stay go some other place because that’s where He led them, they meet Him and become His disciples.