Brennan Manning once wrote,
“Mystery is spoiled by a word.” 1
Father Brennan was speaking of the daunting task of trying to use our human adjectives to try to describe the love of God the Father. On a smaller scale, I can think of how true this quote is when my frustration and anxiety level rise as I begin to run out of Hallmark card options to give my wife on a special occasion to express my love and appreciation. How is it captured in the generic language of one who hasn’t shared our experience, intimacy, and unique journey together? Continue reading →
The sanctuary was darker than usual this morning. The sun was not yet beaming through the vivid stain glass that typically characterizes the room. There were no vestments or other things to add “color” apart from the minimal candles upon the altar table behind the bowls of ashes. As we sat quietly and vulnerably before the Word of God, Rev. Brian Dale drew our attention to Psalm 51…verse…zero? Continue reading →
(A spoken word for 11:07 Christmas Eve service, Shalimar UMC)
In the beginning.
In the beginning, God.
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was God and the Word was with God.
In the beginning God created.
Nothing was created that wasn’t created through the Word.
God spoke: “Let there be.” BANG…BIG BANG!
Let there be light, heavens, earth, creatures, and the crowning creatures, humans, with whom He would share His crowns. And He saw that it was good. Continue reading →
We named our daughter for that garden paradise where we once walked blamelessly and blissfully with our Maker and for the hope of returning to a garden city where we will do the same forevermore. Eden. One of my Old Testament professors in seminary wrote a book entitled The Epic of Eden. Her premise was that God’s entire plot in The Great Story of scripture is to get Adam and Eve back into the Garden – the people of God in the place of God with the presence of God. Continue reading →
Have you ever heard Handel’s Messiah, can you recall the music of this classical masterpiece? “KING . . . OF . . . KINGS . . . (Hallelujah, Hallelujah) and LORD . . . OF . . . LORDS . . . (Hallelujah, Hallelujah)” One thing I love about it (besides the breathtaking genius of the music itself) is that it truly tells the whole story of Messiah, the promised one for the people of God. It includes Old Testament prophecy, Christmas, Easter, the Book of Revelation and the final picture, the whole thing! This week, as we approach our final Advent message before Christmas we look at the greatest message of Revelation, that Jesus is Lord. That IS the “revelation.” The heavenly vision of John that involves past, present, and future is that Jesus is the victorious King.
We can see how this is quite relevant to the season we are in. There is a picture that has been floating around the internet for some time now. It is a wooden manger filled with hay indented where a baby might lie. The caption at the bottom reads: “The first king-size bed.” As gimmicky as this might sound it’s true, isn’t it! Of all the kings of the earth history has witnessed, when that king was delivered in a feeding trough He was the only King born to the earth whose rule and reign would endure forever. Revelation 4-5 is an incredible sneak peek not simply of a future reality, but of the present heavenly reality we can’t yet see.
What a vision! If I’m not careful, the overwhelming “other-worldliness” will simply leave me with a crinkled brow and a puzzled expression. When I allow myself to take in what I may not even fully understand my response is like the hosts around the throne – I fall down in worship. Around the throne we see a rainbow, the sign of God’s covenant mercy from the story of Noah and the flood. Twenty-four elders represent the twelve tribes of Israel and the twelve apostles of Jesus, together a perfected image of God’s holy people, clothed in white representing purity, and crowned in gold representing the “kingdom of priests” all His people are called to be. So we see in this great vision that this King is reigning now even as other worldly powers seem to be in control; and His power is a different kind of power – love, mercy, and self-sacrifice over physical might and brute force – and His power ultimately prevails over the wicked evil powers that would threaten this world and human life. Those who have already been ushered into His presence are reigning with Him, which the New Testament affirms in places like Ephesians and 2 Timothy.
I want to invite you into a meditation as we prepare to celebrate the coming of the King. Let us join John in the Throne Room. He is one of a few blessed select individuals in scripture who have been invited there, and we with him. As you allow yourself to envision what you cannot actually see, pray that God would give you the faith to trust in this unseen reality. Let it redefine our seen reality of terrorism, fear, racism, hatred, persecution, selfishness, and desperate power struggles that leave wakes of victimized innocents. How might believing that the first Christmas brought the inauguration of the eternal King produce in us comfort, joy, peace, and celebration even in a world where these things may seem scarce? Are you waiting to have these things? What are you waiting for? Jesus is Lord. Hallelujah!
Growing up I remember one of the most moving experiences in Christian environments: the personal testimony. I must confess while this was one of the most exciting things to hear or witness, it always left me a little self-conscious or insecure. I just never thought my story would tell as well as those who “gave their testimony.” The Apostle Paul’s story is so remarkable and such an integral part of the earliest Church history that it comprises at least half the Book of Acts. The story of this once-Christian-killer teaches us that God really can turn us into a radically different person. Saul’s transformation was not just a Damascus Road experience. The road to Damascus was the starting point where Saul encountered the Risen Christ, but his transformation story took his whole life. Some of us sell ourselves short because of our age, our past, or our lack of what we think is a “good testimony.” When we look at the man who held the coats for Stephen’s murderers and then the man who got beaten, shipwrecked, and survived a viper bite all to preach the Gospel to the most powerful emperor in the world, we realize God can do anything with any life, even mine.
I have thought about this day for four and a half years. I waited until my last semester of seminary to take Dr. Ellsworth Kalas’s Theology and Practice of Preaching course. As I sat under this man, I knew I was interacting with someone who would have a lifelong impact on me spiritually, personally, and as an exemplar in the vocation to which I was called. Dr. Kalas was 88 at the time I was his student. He taught me to preach “from the soul” and that being a preacher is not just about being a student of the Bible; it’s also about being a student of life and humanity.
While every day of life is an uncertain gift (which Dr. Kalas reminded us every time he preached), his age made me especially appreciative that my ability to learn from him, study with him, and correspond with him even after graduation was a precious gift. I have thought about this day and knew it would come. Today, he has joined the “great cloud of witnesses” that now cheer us on from glory. I thank God for the gift of sadness sometimes. It lets us know we have felt, loved, been thankful, and in fact are human. For if we did not mourn, how would God comfort us? If we did not feel sorrow, how would we find great hope in the Resurrection? And if we did not know the blessings and how precious and sometimes time-sensitive they are, how would we give thanks? Today, I grieve with those who grieve, especially Dr. Kalas’s family. I am sad as the world feels different now that one more saint has gone on. But I rejoice and give thanks, because the earth is forever better for having had Ellsworth Kalas. Thanks be to God.
The prophets are amazing books and unique to scripture. They are not for the most part the books you want to read if you’re looking for the warm fuzzies of the Bible. However, I am reminded of something wonderful about the nature of God. Jeremiah’s book begins with a bleak picture of Israel. The nation has (yet again) turned from her God, and Jeremiah’s opening chapters are, well, pretty graphic. The warnings are scary. Political and military ramifications are promised, and one biblical word comes to mind – judgment. I seem to hear this word a lot today, too. When we see patterns in our nation and the world for which there was judgment in scripture, we warn of the same judgment today. Here’s where the hope comes in.
A refrain appears at the beginning of Jeremiah 4 that I seem to recall in virtually all the Prophets – “If you, Israel, will return…” God’s judgment, even in the sternest chapters of Old Testament history, was always paired with an offer of mercy and restoration. God has never been limited or restrained in His desire to extend mercy, grace, restoration, and offer a chance to start again His way. (This is certainly a lesson the prophet Jonah learned the hard way.) We learn in Romans that it’s God’s kindness that leads us to repentance (Romans 2:4), not His wrath. This is our chance to participate in God’s activity, model His nature, and have an impact on our community, nation, and world. Our job is twofold: first, begin with ourselves. Are we finding fault with God that we would stray and get distracted by other things (Jeremiah 2:5)? Are we confessing and repenting that we might live in the obedience of faith? Second, are we influencing those around us with our witness and prayers? I thank God for His mercy today, and that He can even use a handful of people in remote parts of the world to wake others up to the reality of His presence and love.