A Broken-Hearted Father

So I’m an “80s kid” — I graduated from high school in 1991.

I’m also a nerd — not that that is a big surprise to anyone reading this blog!

I also process many of the stories and ideas that I encounter via other stories that I know and love. Those three things came together in a scary way last night.

You see, we were talking about King David of Israel, the infamous “man after God’s own heart,” and how such a flawed person could receive such a noble description. We considered his unstinting loyalty to his God — how no matter the terrible situation (even the illness and death of he and Bathsheba’s first child), he never seeks aid or comfort from “the gods of the nations.” He talked about his depth, and how his contributions to the Psalter amaze us with his passion and his contemplation of the wonders of his God.

And then we turned to 2 Samuel 18 and talked about David’s love, and I got overwhelmed and started CRYING! It all came at once, because of how I often process stories through other meaningful-to-me stories.

Being an 80s nerd who lives on stories, especially movies, you might imagine that Dead Poets Society is one of my heart’s favorite stories, and you would be correct. A scene from DPS and a scene from the life of David came crashing together. I can’t find a Youtube clip of the actual scene, but it doesn’t matter, because what blew me away was my memory of a voice (captured in the link below).

The voice of a heart-broken father discovering that he has lost his beloved son.

That perfectly-rendered agony from the deepest part of the soul was what I heard in my head and my heart as I read:

The Cushite arrived and said, “My lord the king, hear the good news! The Lord has vindicated you today by delivering you from the hand of all who rose up against you.”

The king asked the Cushite, “Is the young man Absalom safe?”

The Cushite replied, “May the enemies of my lord the king and all who rise up to harm you be like that young man.”

The king was shaken. He went up to the room over the gateway and wept. As he went, he said: “O my son Absalom! My son, my son Absalom! If only I had died instead of you—O Absalom, my son, my son!”

More profound, though, is the recognition that what makes David a man after God’s own heart is his undying, unchanging love. All the awful things Absalom did to his father did not change the fact that David would have, in a heartbeat, died in his son’s place.

This is the love of the one true God, the God who suffered death to take the place of his children whose sin had wrought death for themselves. When we suffer because of sin, He suffers alongside us. He cries out, “Oh [your name here]! Oh my child! Oh no no!”

This is the heart of David, and it is the heart of the God who pursues you relentlessly (but not irresistibly), to bless you and rescue you and grant you life, life, and more life!

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A Wedding Blessing for D and Lea

Christianity is an ancient religion. The ancients understood, better than we do today, how life can be dark and full of terrors — how we need protection against the forces of evil in this world. The ancient way that that protection has been sought and given is through blessing. To live without a blessing is to live unprotected against the darkness. Pray with me, as together we ask God’s blessing over this new couple.

———-

Blessed are You, Lord our God, Ruler of the universe, who created all things for His glory.

Blessed are You, Lord our God, our Maker and our Sustainer and our Father.

Father, embrace this couple. Protect them.

Give joy to this bride and this groom all the days of their lives. Be their shield and their very great reward.

Make Derrick a pillar of strength, a living reminder to Lea of your love and your strength and your power. Make him a Husband and a Father like you.

Make Lea a companion of equal strength, a living reminder to Derrick of your grace and your mercy and your provision. Make her a Wife and a Mother like you.

May their laughter and their joy be a blessing to their friends all the days of their lives. Bless them, Father, that they may be a blessing to everyone they meet.

Blessed are You, Lord our God, Ruler of the Universe, helper of the helpless and giver of joy to the weak.

Bless us all as we enjoy this foretaste of the Age to Come.

We pray in the name of your Unique and Blessed Son, Jesus your Christ and our Savior. Amen.

Looking For Focus

Saul of Tarsus, the Apostle Paul, is a Hebrew of Hebrews – exalted among the Jewish hierarchy – when the Messiah strikes him blind for three days and transforms his life.

From that day forward, he no longer concerns himself with the myriad of qualms that an observant Pharisee would have with the way Gentiles ordered their societies.

Does he stop believing that moral purity matters? Hardly! No one can read his treatises on taking off the old way of being human and putting on the new way and come away with any doubts about his dedication to radical holiness.

Does he stop believing that equality matters? By no means! He surrounds himself with fellow teachers and deacons and apostles, both male and female, slave and free, Jew and Gentile.

What changes, then? How does he go from being a brilliant Pharisee, zealously defending the Law of Moses, to a man in prison, preaching the kingdom of God?

1 Corinthians 1:21-25 NET

For since in the wisdom of God the world by its wisdom did not know God, God was pleased to save those who believe by the foolishness of preaching. For Jews demand miraculous signs and Greeks ask for wisdom, but we preach about a crucified Christ, a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles. But to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ is the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength.

Most people believe they’re living life as wisely as they know how. Paul says they’re wrong — that not all things called “wisdom” are truly wise — but recognizes that if you attack them head-on, (if you try to get them to choke down what you value before they understand its worth) you will drive them to devour you rather than appreciate what you value. Fighting fire with fire only keeps firemen employed, and Satan is more than willing to sell ammunition to both sides of the culture war.

Where did Paul learn all that? From the one about whom it was written:

Isaiah 42:1-4 ESV

Behold my servant, whom I uphold,
my chosen, in whom my soul delights;
I have put my Spirit upon him;
he will bring forth justice to the nations.
He will not cry aloud or lift up his voice,
or make it heard in the street;
a bruised reed he will not break,
and a faintly burning wick he will not quench
;

he will faithfully bring forth justice.
He will not grow faint or be discouraged
till he has established justice in the earth;
and the coastlands wait for his law.

Lord, forgive us, and grant us the focus of Paul.

Twelfth Day Reading

Interesting reading today – I missed my reading in the Hebrew Scriptures yesterday, so I got to experience one of the great hinge passages in the Bible today… The frustration of Genesis 11 that becomes the determined blessing of Genesis 12. The Garden, the Flood, the Tower – no matter what the Creator God does, humanity continues to resist the grace of God and seeks to glorify themselves. Three times, God moves in a sort of holding action, using his power to thwart the advance of chaos and evil. Though He is frustrated at every turn, he will not give up on this project. Finally, as we turn the page from Chapter 11 to Chapter 12, he begins his great advance!

He chooses one man out of the pagans of Ur, and promises to bless him and, more importantly, to bless the whole creation through him. Abram is not a perfect man by any stretch of the imagination (despite centuries of hagiography that would grow up around him), but his god does not require that. He requires, instead, that Abram trust that He is a different sort of god from the spiritual powers of the Chaldeans. He is not a localized power, or a seasonal power, or a fertility power. He is a power that can bless in Ur, in Harran, and in Canaan. He, Abram will learn, is the God of the whole earth – indeed, the one and only being worthy of the label “god.”

We see in the second half of the chapter where his grandson will come by his cunning and guile. The truth is that the great problem lies even within Abram himself. Later in the story, we will be reminded over and over and over that the great problem lies deep within the hearts of the People of the Solution. Psalm 12 reminded me of that today. Eventually, the God of Israel will have to defeat the powers that have arrayed themselves against his creation. He has prepared a people for himself, a people in whom He can come and face down those awful powers and invite them to do their worst to him. But I am a long way from that point in this reading.

Focus 2013

Well, THAT was fun! We will miss you, 2012!

I’m watching reruns of The Newsroom instead of hanging out with some fantastic kids from my youth group. Headaches and insomnia have me in a place where I’m doing some reflection, and that’s what I think will be my theme for this year.

Focus.

I’ve got more self-created chaos in my world than I should. I’ve become ineffective in roles that I value. The answer to this ineffectiveness is focus.

In the beginning, creation was formless and void – chaos ran rampant and the Spirit of God brooded over the waters of that chaos. Chaos is meaninglessly destructive to life, to beauty, to meaning. I’m tired of fostering situations where chaos is hindering the creative, life-affirming work of God’s Spirit in my life and my surroundings.

I want my life to reflect the power that transformed utter chaos into the mind-boggling beauty of the cosmos, the power that became flesh and dwelt among us, the power that remade my life and world.

What that will take, on my end, is Focus.

in HIS love,
nick

Is “The Work” Ever Done?

ImageI have lots of minister-type friends and acquaintances who bless my life daily with their words and examples of passion and dedication to an iceberg-style calling. Just as 90% of an iceberg floats invisibly underwater, so most of a minister’s work occurs invisibly — in living rooms and coffee shops, at hospitals and funeral homes, on cell phones and late-night emergency calls.

Recent encounters with two of those friends caused a “Light Bulb!” moment in my head.

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Minister One pointed out that my own position is sort of… well, not quite UNIQUE but definitely uncommon. I’m not a professional/vocational/{insert buzzword here} minister, but I know lots of them and we have lots of conversations. I speak their language, shaped by centuries of theological writing and the jargon of different movements within the church rubbing up against each other. But I also speak the language of my friends and neighbors and coworkers whose lives and work are often just as invisible, just as frustrating, but not quite as deceptively fishbowl-esque.

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So… if I ever get back around to blogging, I think one area where I’d like to focus is on encouragement and enlightenment between the two groups between whom I live. There seems to be a disconnect somewhere that hurts both ministers and their fellow believers, and if I’ve been blessed with an opportunity to help close a bit of that, I want to grasp it with both hands!

And that’s where Minister Two (remember my light-bulb moment?) stirred me up. He asked:

“Do you ever have a time when you can sit back and feel like you have finished for the day/week?”

His question was mostly directed towards other ministers, who wrestle constantly with the ever-changing demands of their work. Rarely do they have one of those beautiful things we employees call a “job description.” Often they’re ground up amid conflicting expectations — whether those expectations come from church leaders, church members, or the haunting voice between their ears.

  • Why’s there no paper in the copier? What does that minister do, anyway?
  • The Apostle Paul never took a vacation! What does that minister do, anyway?
  • Why wasn’t he in the office when I called? What does that minister do,anyway?

Meanwhile, in the minister’s head…

  • How do I build a sermon that will encourage 200 different people in all different situations?
  • How on earth will I make all the visits I need to make this week?
  • Do my kids even remember what I look like except when I’m in the pulpit?

Obviously, this is just a thumbnail sketch blended with a bit (a tiny bit, truly) of hyperbole to make the disconnect stand out. Most people share these same frustrations about time and availability and time management, in diverse ways that fit our own walks of life. So here’s the little bit of wisdom I was able to share:

The refusal to sacrifice family time for non-essential work business will pay great dividends in the long run, not just in your own family life but also in the lives of those around you. Your example refuses to let them live in the mindset of “Well, isn’t that someone else’s job?” I get Elijah-style frantic sometimes… I work a full-time secular job, teach classes, occasionally preach and counsel and write, etc. Some of the wisdom that has been shared with me is:

  • I’m not called to *accomplish* the mission, but to *participate in* the mission
  • If it is *truly* more blessed to give than to receive, being a workaholic is in effect stealing blessings from other people in that I’m gobbling up opportunities for others to give.
  • “Who am I to judge another’s servant?” That’s my response to the voice in my head that accuses me of laziness any time I take a deep breath and stretch out for a little while. I can only act on the wisdom revealed to me, take honest self-evaluations every once in a while, and trust in the Righteous Judge who is my Father.

So no, the work is never done, but Sabbath existed as a blessing to the Creation long before it became a religious/legal obligation. Honor it, and let it honor you.

in HIS love,

nick

Furious Longings and Skeptical Souls (1)

Song of Solomon 2:10-13
“Arise, my darling;
My beautiful one, come away with me!
Look! The winter has passed,
the winter rains are over and gone.
The pomegranates have appeared in the land,
the time for pruning and singing has come;
the voice of the turtledove is heard in our land.
The fig tree has budded,
the vines have blossomed and give off their fragrance.
Arise, come away my darling;
my beautiful one, come away with me!”

I can wrap my head far more easily around the idea that God loves me than I can imagine Him crooning these words over me.

springtime is lovetime and viva sweet love

My faith has been twisting and turning in the violent wake of a paradigm shift, and my mentor recommends that I reawaken my sense of Jesus as a person. Prayerfully. Meditatively. Reach out my ears and listen.

It is Jesus the person who saves.
Not Jesus the collection of verses.
Not Jesus the idea.
Not Jesus the Icon.

It is Jesus of Nazareth, the one Paul describes in the first verses of his letter to the Christians in Rome, the one John meets on Patmos in the Revelation – the Was One, the Being One, the Coming One – that fascinates me. I want to know Him. I want to be known by Him.

There’s a rumor going around that he has a furious longing for me, too – but I don’t really know about that.

nick

Why Was Jesus Baptized?

I came across this question today, along with the pat answer (given in the COMMENTS section – not in the body of the blog, which answers a different question from today’s topic here) that Christians tend to give, as if it solves the whole problem. I did a bit of writing there to answer it, as much of a challenge to myself to focus my thinking about it as an attempt to answer the question itself. But time is limited, and since I’m in the midst of trying to get back to writing, I thought I’d share my response here and look for answers. First, though: the passage!

In those days John the Baptist came preaching in the wilderness of Judea, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” For this is he who was spoken of by the prophet Isaiah when he said,

“The voice of one crying in the wilderness:
‘Prepare the way of the Lord;
make his paths straight.’”

Now John wore a garment of camel’s hair and a leather belt around his waist, and his food was locusts and wild honey. Then Jerusalem and all Judea and all the region about the Jordan were going out to him, and they were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins… Then Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan to John, to be baptized by him. John would have prevented him, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?” But Jesus answered him, “Let it be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.” Then he consented. And when Jesus was baptized, immediately he went up from the water, and behold, the heavens were opened to him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and coming to rest on him; and behold, a voice from heaven said, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.” (Matt 3:1-6; 13-17 ESV)

So… why was Jesus baptized? Yesyes – he was baptized “to fulfill all righteousness.” I know what it says – I just typed it! But why – or maybe better… how – does the immersion of Jesus “fulfill all righteousness?”

If you know your Bible very well at all, you know that there is a TON of meaning packed into those four little words – meaning that was clear to the 1st Century Jewish worldview, but is nowhere near as clear to us today. Just reciting those words at someone who is asking, “Why was Jesus baptized?” is hardly going to get the job done.

We tend to read Jesus’ words as a recitation of a parental evasion – you know, a “Because Dad said so” kind of thing. Perhaps that is an accurate interpretation, but it is hardly the only option.

Another way we read those words is to make “righteousness” synonymous with “goodness.” That way, we read this verse as Jesus saying, “Go ahead and do this, because it is another thing on a long list of good things that I need to do.” There’s some merit to that interpretation as well, but by itself, it falls short.

A far more fulfilling option to me is presented by Tom Wright. He proposes, across a VAST library of writings with a ridiculous amount of supporting evidence, that words like “righteousness” and its verb form “justify” refer to God’s entire salvation plan. He translates Matthew 3:17 as, “This is how it’s got to be right now. This is the right way for us to complete God’s whole saving plan.” This meaning has the benefit of encompassing all the implications of the above two ideas, while going further by connecting it to God’s purposes in a way we can actually wrap our heads around. It is something “Dad” said to do, and it is a good thing – but this interpretation explains WHY.

Let’s think about ritual for a little while – but try to eliminate the negative connotations and cling to the positive. Ritual is more than just something we do over and over because we have to – that’s OCD, not worship. Ritual connects you to a larger community – a community spread across time and space! Think about the Passover ritual (as well as many of the other high feast day rituals in Israel) – in re-enacting the Exodus by wearing traveling clothes, eating traveling food, and re-telling the ancient story, worshippers years and years later became the Exodus people again. Paul makes this pretty explicit in his “participation” theology in 1 Corinthians 10.

So what, you say? What does this have to do with John’s baptism?

Well, WHY did John preach and practice a baptism of repentance into the remission of sins (Mark 1:4) *on the far side of the Jordan*? Why there, when (if the location doesn’t matter) he could just as easily have done it in the Temple mikvehs, in the Mediterranean, or anywhere else where running water could consistently be found?

Israel stopped wandering and became a nation when they crossed through the Jordan River into Canaan, leaving Egypt and idolatry and fear of the Canaanites on the other side. Okay – so they didn’t do so well at that once they were ON the other side, but just as eaters of the Passover participated in the Exodus again, those who came across to the far side of the Jordan to submit to John’s baptism were, in effect, confessing Isaiah’s confession (“woe is me, for I am a man of unclean lips and I dwell among a people of unclean lips”) and participating in the renewal – not just or even primarily of themselves – but of GOD’S PEOPLE, the vehicle by which God’s salvation was *always* intended to be conveyed to the whole world.

John calls the people to the far side of the Jordan to say, “God wants us to start over from the beginning, to pledge our loyalty to Him again (a la Joshua 1), to renew our potential to convey the blessing of Abraham to all the world.”

When you think about it that way… OF COURSE Jesus needed to be baptized. If ALL ISRAEL needed to be baptized into the forgiveness of sins and the righteousness of God, then OF COURSE Jesus, the representative Israelite needed to be baptized. John, overwhelmed by both the goodness of his cousin and the shocking idea that the Messiah would take onto himself the sins of the people, misunderstands the kingdom agenda and – like Peter will do in Matthew 16 – tries to prevent Jesus from fulfilling his calling.

Jesus says, “No – it must be like this – I must take on the sins of the nation – your immersion is about confessing that Israel is broken and in desperate need of God’s salvation. I *am* Israel, so I must do this in order for Israel – and thus the world – to be saved.” *THAT* is what it means to fulfill all righteousness – to do everything it takes to bring every aspect of God’s saving plan into reality.

All that in four little words. Thank you, Lord.

in HIS love,

nick

Yesterday’s Communion Meditation

Before yesterday, it had been months and months since the last time I was blessed with the opportunity to offer a communion meditation for our congregation at HH. I think it may have ended up being more meaningful for me than for anyone else – for which I apologize – but it has been on my mind ever since, so here it is. Feel free to share your thoughts!

Why Do We Eat and Drink?

We eat and drink in the presence of our Father, to remember how He sacrificed His son to save us, and the world.

We gather around the table to eat and drink with brothers and sisters – not just in this room, but around the community, around the state, around the world – eating and drinking to remember the One whose love unites us into one body.

We eat and drink to remember that night long ago, when the disciples gathered around the table in the upper room, fearful and confused, and ate and drank with their friend who also happened to be God’s Anointed One.

And we eat and drink to remember into the future, when all God’s children will gather and share in the great Wedding Feast of the Lamb, and enjoy His presence forever and forever.

But why do we eat and drink? When God considered how we would come together to establish, remember, and incarnate all these things from Pentecost to today, why did He choose eating and drinking as the activity that would best carry forth his purposes?

The Apostle Paul writes:

I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call— 5one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all… he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.

We eat and drink because our life together is one of continual maturation. What happens to someone who stops eating and drinking? They wither away and die. We eat and drink in order to grow up, to grow up into the One whose flesh and blood we remember.

in HIS love,
nick

Uh-oh… Two Days In A Row!

Yeah, but this one isn’t that serious. I just wanted to mention something I see a lot of lately that is kind of annoying. Fake statistics based on ridiculous polls. I could make up a poll like this, for example:

What would you rather eat?

  • hot gravel
  • a handful of live fire ants
  • brussels sprouts

With such a poll, I bet I could “prove” that the vast majority of people LOVE brussels sprouts! When the other options are so skewed, you’ve created a poll specifically to return the result you’re looking for.

There’s another interesting, more devious arrangement that I saw today on (*blush* Guilty Pleasure alert!) my People’s Choice Polls daily email. The question of the day was, “What’s your favorite Meryl Streep movie?”

The clear winner, according to their poll, was Mamma Mia – which, if you know anything about movies, musicals, or Meryl Streep, you quickly realized that this performance was coaxed out of her by holding her dear and beloved friend Robert Redford at gunpoint until principal photography wrapped.

You know *why* Mamma Mia is winning?

Because the other choices are:

  • Julie & Julia
  • Out of Africa
  • Sophie’s Choice

THIS poll was crafted specifically to split the vote of the actual Meryl Streep fanbase, maybe to allow the Amanda Seyfried fanbase to win, to boost hits from their core demographic… who knows?

All I’m saying is that polls like these are why the old phrase remains true: “There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics.” So, take a moment today to look at what you read!

Oh yeah, and since I mentioned it: