Winter Sends You Its Bleak "Hello"

This week I received via email the lamest holiday card ever produced: it was a government-issued, obligatory holiday card designed to not offend in the slightest way any of the residents of this community. The card features this picture - 

Nothing says "joy" like this lonely picture of a snow-covered bench. 

Nothing says "joy" like this lonely picture of a snow-covered bench. 

... and a generic Season's Greetings in green-colored Comic Sans. And that's it. Carefully absent in this picture is anything religious: no menorah, no Christmas tree, no egg nog or light-up sweaters.  

Now, I want to be clear: I'm not one who advocates for forcing businesses to say "Merry Christmas." In fact, I'm against it - read more about that here. I am no fan of farming out our evangelical witness to Wal-Mart. It is the job of the church to worship Christ at Christmas and to tell our neighbors about him in love. And in light of that, if you have a neighbor who does not celebrate Christmas, it might in fact be quite unloving to open with "Merry Christmas." 

But I am also not a fan of efforts to avoid offending so much that we end up with this holiday card: a drab, uncommitted expression of merriment that says "I know we should say something, people are buzzing about for some reason... so let's acknowledge that there are things going on here without making any judgment or comment on them." But what we're left with is a lifeless lack of love and fear that we cannot get on together because we disagree. 

And to be fair, this isn't an indictment on the ones who sent the card: it's just indicative of a fuller observation that is quite broad. Our neighbors (no matter who they are) have deeply held commitments, even if they are "non-religious" in nature. We do best to give dignity to those beliefs with listening ears and compassionate hearts, knowing as Christians do, that these are matters of life-and-death, not just commercialized preferences. We acknowledge that all people both reflect the image of God and the brokenness of the world in our very beings. And that's a messy reality but it's one that finds in comfort in the light of Christmas. And even when we engage with those who don't believe there is love to be found in the risk that it is to put yourself in their shoes, to listen to their stories, to share life and to share our homes. They know that kind of risk, too. We all take those kinds of risks all the time, putting our trust in others and giving of ourselves to loved ones. Faith is risky: but everyone around you is living out faith commitments that are deeply rooted, (even if by faith I have concluded that there is no God, or that there is no way to know anything about God, should he be there). Why not have those discussions with others in tremendous love and respect? Who knows what we might find?!

The whole Christmas story is rooted in the idea that God entered into this messiness. He sought not just to offend, but to bring the truth in love. That is offensive, of course, as it requires a response - either a big embrace or a big rejection - but he does so in love. He does so in embodied love, the kind of love that says, to quote Sufjan Stevens - 

When you wear your clothes/ I wear them too/ I wear your shoes/ and your jacket, too. 

Love came down at Christmas to take on a life - a hard life, just like your life. He now knows us, our temptations, our pains, and was willing despite his moral perfection, to suffer the penalty for sins on our behalf, so that we can be forgiven and so we could have life eternal, experiencing what we were made for all along: peace on earth & joy everlasting. 

 

A Reason to Sing: The Hymns of Christmas

Advent and Christmas hymns are some of the best songs in the history of the church. This is why many of the same ones are used year after year, because they are not only exciting musically, but contain some of the richest lyrical expressions of the Christian faith. There is much to distract us during the holidays, but these hymns serve as a reminder to the beautiful other-worldliness of Christmas. Hymns at Christmas can be sung by young and old, and the wonder of Christmas can be articulated musically by children and by adults.  The “Little Drummer Boy” shows us that we are worthy to sing to him, no matter our age or status. I have no gifts to bring, but I can go pa-rumpa-pumpum. At Christmas, we get to sing words like these:

 

Silent night, Holy night

Son of God, love's pure light

Radiant beams from thy holy face

With the dawn of redeeming grace,

Jesus, Lord at thy birth

Jesus, Lord at thy birth.

 

And is there anything more powerfully than the juxtaposition of your voice lifted high with power while singing the refrain “Fall on your knees!”? This illustrates our position so well as those who are at his feet in worship and yet we know his appearance means we will be exalted in glory. For -

 

Long lay the world in sin and error pining,

'til He appeared and the soul felt its worth.  

A thrill of hope the weary world rejoices

For yonder breaks a new and

Glorious morn.

 

The rescuer has come, and so we sing –

 

O come, O come, Emmanuel

And ransom captive Israel

That mourns in lonely exile here

Until the Son of God appear

Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel

Shall come to thee, O Israel.

 

Sing loud this Christmas; go caroling, sit around a fireplace and belt until you can’t anymore: sing in worship and know that the light has truly come into the world. 

When We Pull Stuff Out of the Ground

It was my first semester of seminary, and I found myself on a group tour of the small museum of archaeology on campus. I stood there amongst my peers holding a bowl that was 3,000 years old. This was a generous and trusting museum, allowing me to hold the bowl with my own hands. In that moment wasn't what I would call "a revelation" but certainly an "oh, so there were people there - actual people. They ate food out of this, and talked politics while they ate, and got annoyed when their kid was being picky." I was holding a bowl that had been discovered in a tell (which is a small parcel of land in which you are allowed to dig) owned by the seminary in modern-day Syria. 

Archaeology fascinates me. We find ourselves connected to ancient worlds because they left their stuff around too. Archaeology is a field that grows because technology improves and methods for discovering artifacts have greatly improved. Finding one thing leads to another, and before you know it, a city is found - a city that lived in existence in an ancient time, and only in the present on paper. We should not be surprised when we pull stuff out of the ground that corroborates the biblical account of a place and what that place was like. If we believe in the reliability of the Scriptures, it is expected. We believe what God's Word tells us because it is God's Word - but it is not a witness to truth that retreats from historical inquiry - in fact, God's Word invites it. 

Have you noticed how in the Bible at the beginning of a book of prophecy, or in the Gospels, references are made to who was in power at the time and what events run parallel to the time of authorship? Have you noticed how frequently genealogies are used, that give us both a historical and instructional account of how a person came to be? This use of historical figures in and outside of God's people is much like other books of history, that too, invited historical inquiry. The events of the Bible, whether it be a massive flood or the death of our Savior, were not just witnessed in a dream. They happened in front of real people in real places, and so we should expect a real agreement between Word and historical record. Notice that I am not claiming agreement between historical event and naturalistic explanation, because that is not what the Bible claims at all. The Bible and Christ-followers believe that God has intervened in the world, acted supernaturally in a historical time and place. The plagues of Egypt happened because God made them happen, and they happened in Egypt under the rule of an oppressive pharaoh who used the Hebrews as slave labor in that place. 

Just last year the gate of the city of Gath was found, a gate that is referenced in 1 Samuel 21. It has been discovered over the years, (it's been a dig site since 1899) that Gath was perhaps the largest city of the Philistines. Archaeologists have found a Philistine temple, pottery, outdoor hearths for feasting, and a large iron developing area just behind the city gate. Gath is the home of Goliath, the great Philistine champion, who was killed by David. The story adds up, and not just because of artifacts, but because both the method of fighting one-on-one champion vs. champion was common in the ancient world, but so was the practice of stone-slinging as a method of war. God fought on David's behalf, and behalf of his people Israel, making the victory possible, but it isn't done outside of this world, but in a context that makes sense, making use of contemporary weapons of war and the special Spirit-backed equipping of individuals. 

When the apostle Paul was questioned about the life and resurrection of Jesus before Festus and Agrippa in Acts 26, he declares famously, "That these things have not escaped your notice, because they did not happen in a corner." If you deny the historical account of Jesus in the Bible, you must come up with a historically defensible for the rise of the Christian church following Paul and the other apostles. The artifacts from the time of Christ and the time of David have footprints, and they walk us all the way to where we are, and that is a globe where followers of Jesus reside in every part of the world. And we did not end up that way speculatively or by believing in the independent, unverifiable revelations of another. We believe in it is true because the account of God's story from Adam to the return of Christ is a reliable story, given to us by the Holy Spirit in real places by real people who tell the tale of a God become man, a baby born in a real town - a real town called Bethlehem. 

What The Olympics Can Teach Us

My two daughters enjoyed watching The Olympics immensely this summer, particularly the events of gymnastics and swimming. When they were completed, my six-year-old asked, 'Can we watch them again next year?' Sadly, the summer games are every four years, I explained, but that does make them pretty special. The somewhat-less-exciting winter Olympics will happen in another 18 months, but does not offer quite the same excitement of sport, in my opinion. 

It is frequently argued that the Olympic Games offers us something more than just the world's best athletes competing at the highest level. This truth in itself makes it appealing, to be sure, but there is a far more important window that is opened for us. When we watch The Olympics, we are hopeful that we will see Peace on Earth. 

When the American swimmer had some disparaging things to say about that Russian swimmer who had formerly been caught doping, we kind of hated it. We love justice, want there to be fairness, so we balk at either cheating (by the Russian), or hatred (by the American); what we want is their love and justice. What we want to see is people of all tribe, tongue, and nation walking into a giant stadium loving each other, celebrating their common humanity displayed in fantastic feats of athleticism. And then we want to watch their common humanity displayed in peaceful acts of courage, sportsmanship, and love. We loved that Michael Phelps won more gold medals than there are lanes in the pool, but when he sat on that rope and waved his hands toward himself, inviting applause at his awesomeness, we said, no, don't do that. Pride is ugly, and humility is cherished. Just win the race, give credit to others who have made you who you are, and move on. We want to celebrate with you because humans are capable of remarkable things. And you have done something remarkable. 

When Simone Manuel made Olympic history by becoming the first African-American swimmer to win an individual swimming medal, we cheered with her, because of the horrific (recent) history the United States has with African-Americans and swimming pools. We rally behind her because oppression is sick and makes us less human; her victory is a victory for all of us, because in it we see ignorance exposed and peace exalted. 

There are many other stories that come from the Olympics which show our clear desire for peace and celebration of culture and people, but we know too, that it is just a faux kind of peace. The Olympics shows us what could be, but is not. There is still a civil war in Syria that takes the lives of innocent civilians daily; hatred and violence plagues our world; distrust and fear are everywhere. 

All approaches to find this peace that we see for a few weeks every four summers have proved to be unsuccessful from a worldly standpoint. Despite our wisdom and clear desire for peace, we can't do it. Sin gets in the way. There is a story that makes sense of both this desire and our inability to achieve it in any earthly way: the Christian story. Only in this story do we recognize man's sinfulness and the possibility of peace on earth, including people of all tribes and tongues. No philosophy or public policy will ever set the captives free in the way that we all want: if we could, it would have been done by now. And yet, it is a reality that exists for those who trust in Christ - peace on earth, a reverse of the curse, only found in Jesus.

 

More Than You Can Handle

On one of the last days of the Olympics last week, the US Women's 4x100 team incurred an awful gaffe at the hands of an opponent. A runner from another lane bumped into a US runner during the all-important hand-off. The US team was initially disqualified because of the bad pass, and had to wait all day for the results of an appeal. After they found the appeal had been heard and the disqualification overturned, allowing them to run independently and qualify with their time, a reporter from NBC asked the runners about their anxious wait. 

"I know that God never gives us more than we can handle," said the runner, "so I was confident that it would be overturned." 

The call from the judges had been an easy one after seeing the video replay, so it makes sense that they would be given their opportunity, not because God withheld giving them some troublesome news. This idea that "God will not give me more than I can handle" comes from a bad interpretation of this verse: 

1 Corinthians 10:13 No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.

Also commonly quoted is Romans 8:28, "that all things work out for good for those who were called according to his purpose." Notice first that the 1 Corinthians passage is about temptation, and about temptation solely, so that we know that when we are tempted, by the help of the Holy Spirit, we can resist. There is always a way out, so we have no excuse for sin. The Romans passage is in the context of our greater salvation, in fact one the best chapters on salvation and assurance of perseverance, so that in the Lord even death can result in life eternal with God. That is good, that does work out for good. 

But let's not miss all the times in God's Word that people were given far more than they could handle emotionally. Joseph is an example, Job is an example - David chased by his own son and by Saul; David grieving his Son's death - Abraham was asked to kill his own Son - that is too much, far too much. They are called to faithfulness while enduring "this momentary affliction, preparing us for an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison" (2 Cor.4:17). Trusting in God amidst the storms that swirl o'er our heads is part of the Christian life, in fact, we need not forget that by following Christ we are called to suffer for him (Phil. 1; 1 Peter 3; Mt. 10:38). 

There will be moments of pain beyond comprehension in this world, but it is not only helpful to know, but necessary to know, what awaits the believer who trusts in the Lord. We do not have empty suffering without ultimate answers, but weighty suffering, where we acknowledge that the very pains we feel he felt also; he suffered for our sake. It is helpful to be clear about this "more than you can handle" stuff when we sit with someone who is suffering greatly: because of the loss of a loved on, a frightening diagnosis, or a trial that threatens all that they know. We should cry with them, be a shoulder to lean on, without answer or cliche. Why did this happen? I don't know. I do know it isn't because he doesn't love you. He loves you so much he would send his own Son to incur his mighty wrath in your place. That sin and that punishment was far more than I could handle - so he took it for me.  

Use Your Words

This is a popular refrain amongst parents: "Use Your Words." We are asking our children to do the thing that is most biologically distinctive about us: we're asking you to put your thoughts into creative expression. As creatures made in the image of God, we not only are capable of an abundant love of one another, we are made capable of expressing ourselves and those abstract emotions in words. God's Word is not negligent of this idea, but instead makes the subject of good speech of primary importance. The book of Proverbs speaks of speech more than anything else, marking the tongue as a weapon that can build up and destroy. 

There is one whose rash words are like sword thrusts,
    but the tongue of the wise brings healing. Proverbs 12:18

Like any good thing, it can be used for ill. We can use words to propel children into a confident trust in their God and the potential to tackle the world, or we can make them feel that they are nothing, a hidden poison from which they will likely never recover. Our speech reflects our hearts, as those who have a massive capacity for hate and for flourishing:

But what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this defiles a person. Matthew 15:18

Jesus' words are convicting. Our speech not only mirrors what we have truly in our hearts, but is also a muscle worth shaping towards the will of our Creator. It is alarming that in our national discourse words have been handled as if they don't matter. We have in our midst an "I'm just sayin'" attitude which seeks to eliminate personal responsibility and the truth that the Bible speaks to here: that our speech reflects our hearts. 

It's a reminder to Christians to seek pure speech (Eph. 4:25-5:2), but also that we see in others real heart orientations based on how they speak. Now, don't get me wrong, we humans are great at covering all sorts of things with false speech and flattery (Proverbs warns against flattery too), but ultimately, it doesn't hold, talk is a measure of one's character and it does have wide-ranging impact. 

Remember that when God made the Earth, in that great quiet of creativity there is also speech. It is decreed, and it is described. Then we humans, made in his image, with our dominion over the creation, are given words to describe it, restrain it, to make it flourish. Add beauty to the earth today: use your words. 

O Savior Hear Our Cry

Heal us, Emmanuel, here we are

We long to feel thy touch

Deep wounded souls to thee we fly

O Savior Hear Our Cry. 

What a week it has been. It began on the heels of terror attacks in Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Bangladesh, and Turkey. It has ended with men killed in Louisiana, Minnesota, and Texas. Today another officer was shot in Ballwin, Missouri. I do want us to resist our all-too-common first inclination: to have an answer. Your Facebook feed and your news outlet of choice may be full of people with explanations, criticisms, and directions, Be not idle or apathetic, but do be slow to speak. Stillness before God is not idleness, but humility regarding your own influence and submission to a God who can bring healing.

"Let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger, for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness that God requires.' James 1:19-20

My quick answers do not admit my own failure to listen to people who are in pain. I speak as a white man who doesn't know what it is like to experience racism. I do not know what it is like to be held in suspicion by others because of the color of my skin. I have always been part of the privileged class. I do know others who have seen the world so differently from me, and what I can do, what ability I possess, is to be a listener. Black friends of ours, after the news a few days ago, confessed that they could not sleep. Why do their hearts ache like this? I want to sit with you and listen. Let's cry together. 

Take the time to weep with those who weep, and there are many who weep this week all over our world. Go know someone who is different from you and just listen, not so that you can respond, in all your wisdom, but just to listen. Remember that when Jesus encountered the woman at the well in John 4, it was because he had to go through Samaria. He could have gone around Samaria, like everyone else did, to avoid those people, but he went there to sit and be with those people. 

Oh, and yes, let us not forget, that you, no matter who you are, are those people. He sat with you in all your self-inflicted misery, in your sin, in all those ways they hate you, and heard your heart. He has given you a picture of a glory that is to come that is not yours by having all the answers, but by being a little crying baby in the arms of a great and mighty king. What do we do now? Go and do likewise. 

 

This Liturgical Dance

John 4:23, "The hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and in truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him. God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth." 

Hebrews 12:28-29, "Therefore let us be grateful for receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, and thus let us offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe, for our God is a consuming fire." 

Watching good ballroom dance is mesmerizing. And perhaps the key (if I knew the key to dancing, you would think it would be more self-evident in my so-called “dancing”) is tension between two parties. Marriage has been described as a dance, not as one party rolling over the other in a mosh pit, but two loving participants pushing gently against the other, not out of self-interest, but in leaning in to be braced against the other, supporting the other, and not relying just on self.

 

In our worship service we do a bit of a dance. In this space we explore the vertical relationship between God and man, in the context of our horizontal fellowship, us together. And while in this space, fueled by the Holy Spirit, we hear from God in Word and in sacrament, and we respond. We dance. This is not quite the same as two people dancing, two who are equal, but in this dance we are invited by one who is in every way greater. He leans down to us and asks us to dance. And in his grace we should respond, not only in our words, but with our whole selves.

 

As we then prepare worship services, we do want the service to be a drama, incorporating the whole story of our sin and our redemption, acknowledging our weakness in confession and celebrating our liberation. We also incorporate the Old and New Testaments, showing that God has spoken as part of one story his very character in Scripture, revealing himself to us and inviting us into his family. We are directed in worship by The Bible itself, God revealing to us how we should worship him. This means that our worship will make sense, it (we hope) will not feel arbitrary, but will invite you instead to participate in this dance. As a function of this reality we will be incorporating more responsive readings in our worship, allow more time for freedom of response in worship, and be even more bodily engaged. God’s Word instructs us as to the elements of worship that are absolutely crucial, but the way they are expressed in local vernaculars will vary, and should vary, depending on where they are implemented. In other words, the Argentine tango may not fly in Poland, but there is still dance in Poland. God’s Word is the same yesterday, today, and forever, and some will preach truth in Spanish and others in Mandarin.  Further, to be open in this way is an expression of love, of invitation, to learn how to dance like our neighbors have been dancing for years. 

 

It was pointed out yesterday in a seminar I attended that it is too often the case that those who want to just celebrate in worship are reluctant to get on their knees in humble submission to God, and those who are willing to be introspective are reluctant to shout for joy. Both of these attitudes are integral in worship, that we are quiet before our God, and exuberant before the grace that he has shown. I will be a better leader in this area as we continue to grow as a worshiping body. But I do invite you too to stretch yourself (not physically stretch before worship, that would be weird), but do be ready to be engaged in worship. Get ready for the dance. 

The Long View

In Jeremiah 32, the Lord instructed the prophet Jeremiah to buy a field at a fair price. But how could this be! Jeremiah had also been told of the destruction that was to come to Jerusalem, and how God's people would be given into the hand of Nebuchadnezzar in Babylon. What, then, is the purpose? Jeremiah prays for clarification: I don't see it, God, what's the logic here? 

It's a matter of trust. God's Word is always true; and what he says did come to pass. The exile in Babylon would last 70 years, a lifetime. What would that look like for us if we were told, your prosperity will end, your control will end, and you will given into the care of those who are enemies of God. That is chaos! 

Our feathers become ruffled when the slightest of antagonisms come our way. We want to be culture shapers, and hate when are not. We want to be respected, and hate when we are not. We are not fans of taking the long view. 

Violence is real and ever present, hatred still exists among people from every corner of the globe. And in our nation there is little hope in these political figures to be able to make changes for good. There is so much that is just messy. And we are to pursue righteousness, justice, and truth in these times (Micah 6:8; Jeremiah 29); they are not lost as a phantom in the wind, but they concern people made in God's image and a world that he created in splendor! Love it, care for it, love your neighbor, and when they reject you, do not despair! They rejected our Lord, do you recall? 

We, like Jeremiah, can pray for understanding, and yet may be kept in the dark as to what's going on. We are called to faithfulness, despite external circumstances: in fact, dying to self and our comforts is as prevalent a New Testament theme as anything else. And it isn't just, see through the rainy day and making something good of it: it's rather, always take the long view. God is doing something, and is in control. Our need to explain it may be assuming prophetic knowledge that isn't ours, while our need to smooth it over may reflect a need for comfort that isn't ours either. Instead, o believer, rise from the dead. And know that's God promises are never null and void, but that you too, have been redeemed, and he is gathering his people to live in that heavenly city whose king is the Lord forever. 

Jeremiah went and bought that field, put the deed in an earthenware vessel, and buried it. He would never see its fruits, and didn't need to, but he knew that someone would, by the absolute grace of God. For God had promised this concerning his people sent into exile: 

"I will bring them back to this place, and I will make them dwell in safety. And they shall be my people, and I will be their God. I will give them one heart and one way, that they may fear me forever, for their own good and the good of their children after them. I will make with them an everlasting covenant, that I will not turn away from doing good to them. And I will put the fear of me in their hearts, that they may not turn from me. I will rejoice in doing them good, and I will plant them in this land in faithfulness, with all my heart and soul." Jeremiah 32:37-41

 

From Death to Life

In the famous Greek drama The Odyssey, Achilleus, who has been doomed to the Underworld, makes this stark statement: 

By god, I’d rather slave on earth for another man . . . 
than rule down here over all the breathless dead.

I think this points to a couple of things that are really true: we're made for life (that sounds like the most obvious statement ever made, but follow me on this one). So often we conceive of Heaven as being lifeless: souls floating around in some sort of primordial ether that will be so foreign that it can't possibly be enjoyable. But the description of our glorified bodies, perfected ethics, and worship of God in community are so so human. Not fallen human, but human. We were made in the image of God, we're told, why would not our glory be expressive in ways that we really do understand? Like the prodigal son who returns home, we, as Achilleus too recognizes, life is what we're searching for - and in Christ, life we have. Continual, unending life that will not only echo in eternity, but we will fulfill all hopes in life that we share in present reality. 

Our ambitions will be clear of all death as well - we won't say, "I wish I could just be invisible so that I could take whatever I want, or do dastardly things." Because if you've done them, you know even experientially in the present, they end in death, in emptiness. 

In Ephesians 2:1-10, we find a kind of before and after. We were once dead, even those who believe - our condition is dire! Not only are we dead in our sins, but we in the least metaphorical way possible, do actually die. Centuries past got this far better than we do now, look at the gravestones: skulls and crossbones - you're dead, that's it. You either have life in God or you are still dead in your sins - and that means punishment, eternally separated from God. 

And yet, the story for the Christian finds a different end, not because of our own worthiness (vss. 8-10), but because of Christ's righteousness: we're given life.  What we aren't proclaiming here is a new way to live - do this, and you'll feel better. But rather we saying something far more dramatic but far more accurate: you're a flatliner without God. And in Adam we're flatliners, all mankind. We share this in common. But there is a way to life: and it's by the one who gave his life for us.

I had someone say to me recently, "I should go to church more, because I could learn more about what kind of morals I should have, and I want my kids to know about morals too." I assured him, you most likely won't hear something morally you don't already know. Don't cheat, don't steal, don't murder. You know that somehow. Come and receive life in his name.  

One Great Big Story

I don't know why it is that we miss the continuity of the Old and New Testaments; we tend to apply different attribute to Gods, neglect God's people pre-Christ, and pretend as if God's plan has been altered due to worldly circumstances. But one crucial truth remains; it has always been God's plan to rescue sinners by the blood of Jesus. Even from within the pain of the Fall, we see a promise (Gen. 3:15), and then shortly a plan to bless the world, to grow a great big church through one man Abraham (Gen. 12). The book of Galatians, and Romans, and Hebrews, and everywhere else, shows that we are part of Abraham's family, not a new family because Plan A didn't work out. The seed of Isaac would bring the Messiah Jesus, and at his coming the Gentiles are included into that people, now the family we call the church. 

Further, now that all barriers have been broken down, just as we saw in the curtain being removed, we have God the Spirit amongst us in the church, just as God dwelt with his people in the tabernacle, then the temple. But we have full access to him as now, at the great pinnacle of the story, the Son of God paid the price for us and was raised from the dead, promising that we will follow after him in glory. Our sin (the great seperator between God and man) has been eliminated as a chasm; we're accepted, all God's people, because of the righteousness of Christ and his once-for-all offering of himself as a sacrifice for us.  In some ways, this isn't new: God has always desired to be amongst his people, he's allows made a way for sacrifices as atonement, which meant God could dwell there - but now we have a greater sacrifice (Hebrews), and one that can permanently pay for sins. 

We see the remembrance of Passover in the Old, God's passing over of sinners in destruction by the blood of the Lamb, and the Lord's Supper in the New, the meal where re remember God's passing over us in judgment because of the blood of the Lamb, Jesus. We have circumcision in the Old, God's covenant sign with his people in the Old, baptism in the New: and prayer, worship of him, meditating on God's law, looking forward to the redeemer in the Old, looking back on him in the New. 

You fit somewhere in this story, in fact, all people do, believers or unbelievers, whether those who will inherit life eternal, or those who will face judgment, still bearing the guilt of their sin. We celebrate this great mission of God, and his grace to us that while we are still sinners, Christ died for us (Romans 5:8). He knew you would sin, he knew you would be lost, and he put you in his sights anyway, that you would be brought into his family. And that is a tale we could tell again and again before we drift off to sleep, and it would never get old. 

I Will Praise Him Still

When the morning falls on the farthest hill
I will sing His name, I will praise Him, still.
When dark trials come and my heart is filled
With the weight of doubt, I will praise Him, still.

For the Lord, our God, He is strong to save
From the arms of death, from the deepest grave,
And He gave us life in His perfect will,
And by His good grace, I will praise Him, still. - Fernando Ortega

The Joy of Singing

I was singing along to a hymn today - one of my favorites, and I was reminded of something my mother said to me a few years ago: your voice has really improved, she said, after we sang together in church. Now this is not tooting my own horn here - her compliment takes me from singing walrus to less-offensive singing walrus. I can carry a tune, but nobody's shelling out cash to hear me flex the golden pipes. 

But it is true that if you sing a lot - meaning you sing regularly in worship, at home as a family, or in your car, you do get better at it. My voice will sound better in ten years, but how will it sound after 100 years in glory? It will probably sound pretty nice. And if that's true - what about my ability to love my neighbor, or feel joy? Oh, glory, glory - come soon, Lord Jesus. We do a fine job today of minimizing both sin and glory - we like staying in the cold, grey middle, where we're not so offensive, but we strive for a bar that is more like less-offensive singing walrus. This is not good - our perfected selves and the community that we inherit because of our union with Christ - it is in a simple word, heavenly. But oh how non-Precious Moments that will be. On Jordan's stormy banks I do stand, and cast a wishful eye; To Canaan's fair and happy land - where my possessions lie. 

The Handbook

We at Heights Pres. understand that the family is the first place a child must learn about Christ. The family is part of the church, the wider body of Christ, but parents have been given that responsibility of raising up their children in the fear of the Lord. The parents' connection to the wider body of Christ and to the Holy Spirit are then the necessary fuel in order to communicate the truths of the gospel to our children.

We as the church, then, are helping with this. We give you... The Handbook: Five Ways to Disciple our Children at Home. There are five categories to think through, recommendations, and biblical help. Use it any way you like and click on the 'We're In This Together' link to receive additional help or to provide your own suggestions to others. Check it out! 

View from the Top

Marci and I got to spend a splendid few days in Castle Rock, Colorado with Stephen and Karen Baldwin. Stephen will be helping me along in this church planting journey and we were quite thankful for our introductory time with them and what better place to begin than in beautiful Colorado.

I am thankful for the way God calls us into relationship with others, that we might always be learning, growing, sharpening, and humbly addressing our weaknesses. Thanks be to God for his glorious provision! 

Precious Remedies Against Satan's Devices

"Lest Satan should get an advantage of us - for we are not ignorant of his devices" - 2 Corinthians 2:11

Puritan writer Thomas Brooks penned this classic book, Precious Remedies Against Satan's Devices, in the middle of the 17th century. Satan is the father of lies, so the Word tells us, and this is one of those schemes of his - to lie and plant seeds of doubt, like God doesn't really care, he doesn't value you, he doesn't truly love you. 

Satan would love to plant the doubting thought in our minds so that we might further rest in our accomplishments, and seek pleasure as a salve for pain when our own designs do not satisfy (a common condition). 

But this morning I woke to birds singing and a sun that is shining. And I know that I am not my own, but I was bought with a price, and further, that I can boast in nothing but Christ alone. Faithfulness is the goal here - even if it looks small and fragile; even though my name be rather small (and certainly feels small), we are more than conquerors through him who loved us (Rom. 8:37). I thank you Lord for music to my ears, sun to my face, and the whispered kindness of my loving wife. Oh how he loves you and me! 

The Long Silence

Matthew 26:60-63, ...many false witnesses came forward. At last two came forward and said, "this man said, 'I am able to destroy the temple of God, and to rebuild it in three days.'" And the high priest stood up and said, "Have you no answer to make? What is it that these men testify against you?" But Jesus remained silent. And the high priest said to him, "I adjure you by the living God, tell us if you are the Christ, the Son of God." 

Jesus' apparent blasphemy in response at this final question from the high priest Caiaphas caused the priest to tear his robe in anger. His responses, though short and almost always referential to the questioner, only incite the people further, and his long, slow, silence deafening in retrospect, as the eternal Son of God withstood injustice, mockery, and the pain of the cross. 

How quickly we mere humans are to correct a wrong about us: perhaps it's the thing that best exemplifies our self-centeredness. We find no more emotional pain than when we have been falsely accused, misunderstood, or shown to be in any negative light. We expend nuclear amounts of energy to correct these misapprehensions. This is Peter's sin, when confronted with the possibility of his connection to the criminal, he says, no not me. I will save face here, and save my life. Never could I stand, say I, for you to think less of me. And yet, we are so much less than we think, while we have a God who is perfect, and willing to be thrown to the wolves, so that we less-thans can be eternal everythings in the great family of God.

He would say, I will follow the will of my Father, and on doing so, will be reduced to a nothing. Yet by doing this, they will live; their voices will continue, their great clamor of praise to God in all their mighty churches will continue if I just be silent. You can imagine the leaders on the scene: the high priest, Pilate, and the like, thinking, careful, Jesus, you're going to get yourself killed. Only Jesus was thinking, they will be set free.

They said, 'crucify.' And he never said a mumblin' word.

The Roman soldiers played games with him. They joked about his ability to prophecy, about his royalty, and as would happen in us, he would know this injustice and want to destroy them. The difference is two-fold: he could have, and he didn't.  

He kept silent.

And yet then there is another silence that is deafening as we reflect on this Good Friday. We would have to endure the long, slow silence from the Father. Jesus carried with him our sins, and by doing so, separated himself from the Father, as was God's plan, taking the wrath of God on himself, which included a Father, whose intimacy with Son far outshines any relationship imaginable, who would not answer. There was that long and loud, painful silence. 

And on that third day, as he had predicted, the women and the disciples who would see that tomb, their silent paces turned to a thundering herd of joyful noise. And now we run, not as those escaping, but as children who run with noise, without a care in the world.