Tuesday, April 15, 2014

PASTOR’S POINT: The Logic of the Resurrection

Easter is upon us.  And here we are, some 2000 years after the roll out of God’s Big Idea, and we’re still preaching the resurrection of Christ as the unique and central core of our Christian faith.  If Jesus is not undead, He may have left behind some cool teachings and a good example, but He possessed no real unique power to affect us…in this life or the one to come.  And since He claimed, on several occasions, that He would die and come back from the dead, well, if He is still dead, why make such a big deal over Him?  Why follow Him?  But, in fact, His coming back from the dead established once and for all that “He is” who He said He is—both God and Lord.  C.S. Lewis said it best in Mere Christianity:
I am trying here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about [Jesus]: "I'm ready to accept [Him] as a great moral teacher, but I don't accept His claim to be God." That is the one thing we must not say. A man who said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic--on a level with the man who says he is a poached egg--or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God: or else a madman or something worse. You can shut Him up for a fool, you can spit at Him and kill Him as a demon; or you can fall at His feet and call Him Lord and God. But let us not come with any patronizing nonsense about His being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to.” 
At times, I think it takes more faith to believe that Christianity got its start from a lie.  Imagine a bunch of defeated loyalists spreading a made up story about how the guy they thought was the real deal got nailed to a cross in utter humiliation, then actually got UP three days later, and then flew up to heaven so they could start a new religion.  Seriously?  How about a more logical explanation?  These guys were actually eyewitnesses to something miraculous that happened.  It radically changed them and they, in turn, turned the world upside down.  Need more evidence that Jesus is undead? 
In his treatise Seven Proofs of the Resurrection, author Jack Zavada lays out the evidence that demands a verdict:
Resurrection Proof #1: The Empty Tomb of Jesus—The empty tomb may be the strongest proof Jesus Christ rose from the dead. Two major theories have been advanced by unbelievers: someone stole Jesus' body or the women and disciples went to the wrong tomb. The Jews and Romans had no motive to steal the body. Christ's apostles were too cowardly and would have had to overcome the Roman guards. The women who found the tomb empty had earlier watched Jesus being laid away; they knew where the correct tomb was. Even if they had gone to the wrong tomb, the Sanhedrin could have produced the body from the right tomb to stop the resurrection stories. Jesus' burial cloths were left neatly folded inside, hardly the act of hurrying grave robbers. Angels said Jesus had risen from the dead.
Resurrection Proof #2: The Women Eyewitnesses—The women eyewitnesses are further proof that the Gospels are accurate historical records. If the accounts had been made up, no ancient author would have used women for witnesses to Christ's resurrection. Women were second class citizens in Bible times; their testimony was not even allowed in court. Yet the Bible says the risen Christ first appeared to Mary Magdalene and other holy women. Even the apostles did not believe Mary when she told them the tomb was empty. Jesus, who always had special respect for these women, honored them as the first eyewitnesses to his resurrection. The male Gospel writers had no choice but to report this embarrassing act of God's favor, because that was how it happened.
Resurrection Proof #3: Jesus' Apostles' New-Found Courage—After the crucifixion, Jesus' apostles hid behind locked doors, terrified they would be executed next. But something changed them from cowards to bold preachers. Anyone who understands human character knows people do not change that much without some major influence. That influence was seeing their Master, bodily risen from the dead. Christ appeared to them in the locked room, on the shore of the Sea of Galilee, and on the Mount of Olives. After seeing Jesus alive, Peter and the others left the locked room and preached the risen Christ, unafraid of what would happen to them. They quit hiding because they knew the truth. They finally understood that Jesus is God incarnate, who saves people from sin.
Resurrection Proof #4: The Changed Lives of James and Others—Changed lives are yet another proof of the resurrection. James, the brother of Jesus, was openly skeptical that Jesus was the Messiah. Later James became a courageous leader of the Jerusalem church, even being stoned to death for his faith. Why? The Bible says the risen Christ appeared to him. What a shock to see your own brother, alive again, after you knew he was dead. James and the apostles were effective missionaries because people could tell these men had touched and seen the risen Christ. With such zealous eyewitnesses, the early church exploded in growth, spreading west from Jerusalem to Rome and beyond. For 2,000 years, encounters with the resurrected Jesus have changed lives.
Resurrection Proof #5: The Large Crowd of Eyewitnesses—A large crowd of more than 500 eyewitnesses saw the risen Jesus Christ at the same time. The Apostle Paul records this event in 1 Corinthians 15:6. He states that most of these men and women were still alive when he wrote this letter, about 55 A.D. Undoubtedly they told others about this miracle. Today, psychologists say it would be impossible for a large crowd of people to have had the same hallucination at once. Smaller groups also saw the risen Christ, such as the apostles, and Cleopas and his companion. They all saw the same thing, and in the case of the apostles, they touched Jesus and watched him eat food. The hallucination theory is further debunked because after the ascension of Jesus into heaven, sightings of him stopped.
Resurrection Proof #6: The Conversion of Paul—The conversion of Paul records the most drastically changed life in the Bible. As Saul of Tarsus, he was an aggressive persecutor of the early church. When the risen Christ appeared to Paul on the Damascus Road, Paul became Christianity's most determined missionary. He endured five floggings, three beatings, three shipwrecks, a stoning, poverty, and years of ridicule. Finally the Roman emperor Nero had Paul beheaded because the apostle refused to deny his faith in Jesus. What could make a person willingly accept—even welcome—such hardships? Christians believe the conversion of Paul came about because he encountered Jesus Christ who had risen from the dead.
Resurrection Proof #7: They Died for Jesus—Countless people have died for Jesus, absolutely certain that the resurrection of Christ is an historical fact. Tradition says ten of the original apostles died as martyrs for Christ, as did the Apostle Paul. Hundreds, perhaps thousands of early Christians died in the Roman arena and in prisons for their faith. Down through the centuries, thousands more have died for Jesus because they believed the resurrection is true. Even today, people suffer persecution because they have faith that Christ rose from the dead. An isolated group may give up their lives for a cult leader who was later revealed to be a fraud, but no one willingly dies (much less violently) for someone they know to be a liar.  For 2,000 years Christians have died in many lands, believing Jesus conquered death to give them eternal life.
The apostle Paul believed the resurrection to be not only logical but critical to our faith.  He wrote in 1 Corinthians 15:  “…if Christ has not been raised, then your faith is useless and you are still guilty of your sins. In that case, all who have died believing in Christ are lost!  And if our hope in Christ is only for this life, we are more to be pitied than anyone in the world. But in fact, Christ has been raised from the dead. He is the first of a great harvest of all who have died.”  Now that’s something to celebrate!  The even better news is that Jesus has promised to come back and take us to where He is: 

 And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me
 that you also may be where I am.” (John 14:3)

Let’s have a fantastic Easter in anticipation of that even greater Resurrection Morn to come!  To me, it just seems reasonable.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Pastor’s Point: The Man in the Middle

As we approach Holy Week, we’ve spent much of our preparation talking and singing about the cross.  After hearing the passion story so many times, it is easy to almost grow numb to the incredible drama that was actually playing out in the life of Jesus and those within earshot of him that final week.  Perhaps no other scene grips my attention or imagination quite like the one which involves his encounter with the two thieves on the cross.  It was one of his last acts of ministry before His death.  One of the songs we will sing at our Good Friday service, Blessed Redeemer, really attempts to visualize that moment—
Blessed Redeemer, precious Redeemer
 Seems like I see Him on Calvary’s tree; 
Wounded and bleeding for sinners pleading 
blind and unheeding… dying for me.

The scripture version is brief and to the point:
Two other men, both criminals, were also led out with him to be executed.  When they came to the place called the Skull, they crucified him there, along with the criminals—one on his right, the other on his left.  One of the criminals who hung there hurled insults at him: “Aren’t you the Messiah? Save yourself and us!”
But the other criminal rebuked him. “Don’t you fear God,” he said, “since you are under the same sentence? We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve. But this man has done nothing wrong.”  Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” Jesus answered him, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise.”

Literally and figuratively, Jesus was the man in the middle.  That is how he died, between two others, two needy ones…like you and me.  Died right where he belonged, in a sense—at the center.  I don’t think it’s coincidental that the gospel writer pays attention to Jesus’ position in relationship to them. One was on his right, the other on his left. Both sensed that this Jesus was no ordinary criminal.  The one says, if you are the Messiah…”  The other one suspects Jesus’s kingdom lies just ahead. “Remember me” then, he pleads.  And what could these two guys offer him in exchange? Absolutely nothing.  Or more specifically, their lives of brokenness and squandered opportunities. They are meeting The Man empty-handed, and would face Him, their Maker, again—in a few short hours.

What does this encounter have to do with you and me?  Everything.  If we don’t see ourselves beside Jesus on that cross, just as desperate for His salvation as those thieves, then we don’t understand Calvary at all.  The “place of the scull” was not just a place for the really bad guys…it was the destiny of Everyman apart from Christ.  On our best days, we fall short of the glory of God and deserve His wrath and punishment.  At one time, we were all “blind and unheeding,” and even now as followers we can choose to stray.  That’s why we need to hear “dying for me” over and over again.  I believe this scene is a kind of template for all of humankind, when we stand before The Man someday to be judged.  The hymnwriter, Augustus Toplady, wrote these words in 1763:

Not the labor of my hands can fulfill Thy law's demands;
Could my zeal no respite know, could my tears forever flow,
All for sin could not atone; Thou must save, and Thou alone.

Nothing in my hand I bring, simply to Thy cross I cling;
Naked, come to Thee for dress; helpless, look to Thee for grace;
Foul, I to the fountain fly; wash me, Savior, or I die.

These were the very sentiments of the humble thief on the cross, bringing nothing to the table: like you and me, he came naked, helpless, foul.  The solution to his desperate situation was the same as yours and mine. 

As we near Holy week, I urge you to take time to position yourself before Christ—willingly, not reluctantly. Agree with the thief who found the Man in the middle to be His savior and king.  Admit your desperate need, and savor the grace that follows.  It’s what makes Good Friday so good.


Monday, April 7, 2014

Pastor’s Point: To read or not to read... that is the question

(Part 2 of Soapboxes and other rickety platforms)

[Two weeks ago I spoke of inappropriately using a “soapbox” approach to address an issue about which I feel strongly.  In that article, I basically apologized for that ‘bully pulpit’ tactic and promised to clarify the actual issue in a subsequent installment.  Here it is.]

The Issue:  It is my observation that those leading worship and music in the contemporary church have, as a rule, less and less formal musical training, and worship and music departments, by default, are more and more limited in the style and diversity of their musical offerings.  This does not, of course, call into question their spirituality, love for God, or even their effectiveness to lead, for a season, a worship ministry.

But under such musically limited leadership, the use of actual musical scores and printed music is giving way to simple lead sheets and chord charts, often with not so much as a note of music, but rather simply lyrics with accompanying guitar chords.  In fact, what is now the generally accepted practice in many large, contemporary churches is learning music almost exclusively by rote. For the vocalists, this is mainly done by merely listening to professional music samples and imitating those vocal and instrumental parts after much repetition.

Those playing in most contemporary bands do so using “scores” with no written melody, no written rhythms, not an actual musical score or “roadmap” (containing such things as measure numbers, repeat signs, dynamics, tags, codas, etc).  One of the reasons I find this so frustrating is because of what it ignores; namely, the way we all learn language of any kind.  As children, before we can read (interpret letters, symbols, punctuation, etc.) we are forced to learn only through repetition.  If you tell me a story enough times, eventually I can repeat it back to you in a fairly close proximity to the original.  That is where many contemporary music ministries are parking.  But how much more freeing (and unifying) it is when signs and symbols begin to be understood, and we are free to let our eyes as well as our ears tell us what the music is saying.  And just like reading a book yourself, as opposed to having the book read to you over and over till you remember it, learning a musical language SAVES TIME.

But at the end of the day…hear this.  Musical knowledge alone does not a minister make.  Knowing the science of our craft does not change our hearts.  It’s a tool, a mechanism that is readily available to us if we will take advantage of it.  To ignore it means less people, not more, can be employed to use their artistic gifts.  “The speed of the leader, speed of the team” axiom often fits here.  If I can’t read a musical score, I can’t be of much assistance in teaching you how to, so you must adapt to my method of learning or limitations.  But what qualifies you and me to stand (sit) before God’s people and lead worship is, first and foremost, that we know HIM, not music.  Churches all over the country are filled with music ministries today led by consummate musicians who don’t know the Lord.  It’s just a place to practice their craft.

But for those leaders who love the Lord and are called or commissioned to lead such ministries, I challenge you not to dumb down the process of learning music by simply adapting a rote learning method.  I propose that all of us who desire to give God our best and lead with skill and excellence, be willing to grow in this area and take advantage of any method which helps our team learn quickly, skillfully, and effectively.  One of our core values in this ministry is “Excellence in all things and all things to God’s glory.” They are two sides to the same coin.  Excellence—not perfection.  It involves pursuit, growth, improvement (within limits), and assessment.  But only as it serves to help us better reflect and illustrate our amazing Creator.

Quoting from “Sweet Sixteen”:
“If the arts are considered a language through which we can communicate the gospel, that language must be clear, precise, and relevant to the culture around it.  In every area of this ministry, we can be moving toward higher ground.  Spiritually, we must agree with Paul that we “have [not] already attained [spiritual] perfection, but I press on to make it my own because Christ has made me his own.” (Phil. 3:12)  Artistically, we are entrusted with certain gifts which can always be improved upon, sharpened, and honed (Parable of the talents—Matthew 25:15ff). “

I would love to invite your input to this “discussion” and would ask each of you to pray about what your next step would be toward greater effectiveness as a music minister or worship leader.  The same God who loves a joyful noise inspired David to write: “Play skillfully, with a shout of joy!” (Ps. 33)  Can I get an Amen?! 


Monday, March 31, 2014

Pastor’s Point: God Is Not a Morning Person

One of the things I have learned about myself at this season of my life is that I am not a morning person. That’s not to say I don’t have to get up early to spend some time with God, fulfill all my familial/household duties, and get to work on time.  But let me have a day off or a time of vacation, and you won’t find me, naturally bounding out of bed before the sun rises. One can conclude that since I am not a morning person, I must be a night person, and one would conclude correctly.  I love to stay up late.  It’s hard to slow my rpm’s down much before midnight on any night, and that goes back as far as I can remember. 

Maybe, I postulate, it all started in early childhood with a simple four line prayer my mom taught me.  It may be familiar to some of you.  

                                                    Now I lay me down to sleep,
                                                  I pray the Lord my soul to keep,
                                                    If I should die before I wake,
                                                  I pray the Lord my soul to take.

I began praying that prayer sometime in early childhood years, you know, when most data predicts I would live 75 or even 80 years as an American male.  But here I am—three, four years old—every night, tacitly anticipating my imminent demise.  “If I should die before I wake” kind of jumps out at you as a preschooler.  So if death is a real possibility every single night of my little life, I best stay awake as long as I can. I am aware that other (probably early) childhood educators softened this prayer a bit in later years to go something like this:

Now I lay me down to sleep,
I pray the Lord my soul to keep.
Angels watch me through the night,
And wake me with the morning light.

A little less threatening, I agree, but had that been the version my parents used, I still would have been wondering why the Lord had to “keep my soul.” After all, I did have this neurotic fear of jungle animals getting into my bedroom at night to the point where I always insisted on sleeping on the top bunk!  True story.  How pathetic.  So the notion of entering unconsciousness at the end of every day was something to be avoided or at least delayed until the very last moment.

Sadly, it was this very anxiety which I believe my parents were seeking to relieve by teaching me this prayer. The God they loved and taught me to love had me on His radar—even when I wasn’t awake or aware of it. His love was a very individual, up all night care for me as I lay sleeping.  I guess you could say that I learned very early on that God is not a morning person, nor an evening person.  He’s 24-7.  Up all night and up all day.  His word clearly teaches this.  Psalm 121 describes it this way:

He who watches over you will not slumber;
indeed, he who watches over Israel will neither slumber nor sleep.
The Lord watches over you—the Lord is your shade at your right hand;
the sun will not harm you by day,
 nor the moon by night.  (3b-6)

And better yet, God is not just some security guard drearily checking his watch every 15 minutes for his next break.  He doesn’t just provide general oversight and protection.  Rather, He is ministering to us while we sleep, loving us in quiet ways that perhaps we may never even know until we are with Him in heaven.  The prophet Zephaniah wrote this:

For the Lord your God is living among you.  He is a mighty savior.
He will take delight in you with gladness.  With his love, he will calm all your fears.
He will rejoice over you with joyful songs.” (NLT)

Taken together, these two references (Psalm 121 and Zephaniah 3) remind us that God is always concerned for our well-being, our peace of mind, even when we are not consciously aware of it.  He never leaves us alone. He is never asleep on the job.  In another psalm, David lifts a prayer of praise to this 24-7 God of ours:

How precious are your thoughts about me, O God. They cannot be numbered!
I can’t even count them; they outnumber the grains of sand! 
And when I wake up, You are still with me!
(Ps. 139:17,18)

Why not thank Him right now for such amazing care. I know He’s still up.


Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Pastor’s Point: Soapboxes…and other rickety platforms

My SoapboxAt some point in our lives, most of us have gathered enough observations about something that we feel very passionate about (and which we fear has escaped other people’s notice or equal passion), that we just have to let the world know about it. Some take the time to listen, while others may just roll their eyes and tell you to “get off your soap box.” Given today’s technology, we might shout, “Can someone mute this guy!?!”

Last week was one such occasion for me as I spoke to the choir off the cuff, even prefacing my comments with some casual aside like, “I’m going to get up on my soapbox now.”  [Being the curious fellow that I am, I later reflected on the origin of that concept, and naturally, Google came to my rescue.  Apparently, there really is no exact origin of the phrase, “get up on my soapbox.” It is an idiom that came into our culture and just stuck. The soap box itself does, however, have a history. In the early 1900s soap was delivered to retailers in large wooden crates. After the soap was unloaded, the boxes were discarded in the alleyway. The construction of the box was very sturdy.]

While the soapbox made a wonderfully supportive platform for street corner entertainers and public speakers, the fact that this phrase is rarely greeted with enthusiasm from the listener would suggest that it was a pretty rickety device for actually influencing thought.  Why?  Because it was mainly one-way communication.  The elevated one talked.  Those lower down listened.  Who knows, this might have even been the origin of the much loved phrase, “blah, blah, blah!”

This is a lesson I learned (once again) this week. Monday morning, in fact. I received a special gift in the form of a personal visit from a choir member.  I say gift, because though her words and observations were a bit hard to receive, they came from a loving heart and a desire for us to stay united.  Every leader should be so blessed. She came, not to talk about what I had said, necessarily, from my soapbox, but rather what she had heard.  After listening, I couldn’t help but marvel at what kind of gap (a chasm really) there appeared to be between what (I thought) I said and what she received. 

This, in a nutshell, is the problem with soapboxes and other rickety forms of communication.  There is no dialogue—only a monologue.  And, after reflection, I realized that even if I had thrown open the door for discussion, many, if not most, probably would not have felt the freedom to voice their questions or challenges to my opinions.

So what was the big issue anyway? Well, for more on that you’ll just have to wait ‘til next week, when I actually address what I was trying to say in greater detail.  (For those who were there, I’m sure you are just dying to hear it all over again. I see your eyes glazing over.)  Specifically, I was addressing the topic of reading music.  I was trying to state it as a principle, a value, a goal, if you will, that all of us can and should be pursuing, but particularly those in leadership in the church.  What was received, however, is that this principle or standard should be the universal measuring stick or litmus test for any and all participating in this ministry. 

Though the issue was about learning to read a musical score, I could have been addressing being punctual.  Or more consistent in attendance.  Or better prepared each week.  Or more loving to one another.  Or dressing appropriately at all times.  Smelling better.  Whatever.  It doesn’t matter.  All are areas in which we, as Christ followers and God’s image-bearers, can assess, grow, improve.  What I sought to say was “let’s keep learning, let’s keep moving.”  As a team, let’s outdo each other in finding ways to honor God and one another. 
But because I chose the soapbox instead of the town meeting approach, I was left to hope you got what I meant, and you were left to wonder if you were still needed or wanted on the team.  Thanks to one brave soul among you, I was able to hear the truth in love and keep a short account with you.  Please forgive me if you left that rehearsal or have left any rehearsal with the feeling that you’re not welcome.  You’re not good enough.  That only a few music specialists belong here.  Under my watch, there will never be such litmus tests.  There will never be such a pecking order or musical food chain.  Each one of you is precious to me and exactly where you belong—leaders, learners, followers, stragglers.

What I can say is that just like you and I face challenges daily to keep up with technology and artistic expressions thought unheard of in our lifetimes, we must resist the temptation to settle in the area of how it is we do our ministry. It is because God loves us just as we are that He must be worthy of nothing less than our very best.  It’s supposed to be a sacrifice of praise, remember?

In the meantime, as your leader I commit to doing more consensus building and less bloviating.  OK, you may have to Google that one. 


Monday, March 10, 2014

Pastor’s Point: Welcome, all ye Bravehearts!!!

 Welcome to all of you who are joining us this evening for the Easter Choir!  We know it took a bit of courage to step out of the bleachers, so to speak, and to be willing to join a somewhat, at least, unfamiliar group of people.  Who knows what we might ask you to do?  Shave your head, take a music IQ test, provide a background check, offer your firstborn or maybe a treasured pet as proof of your commitment.  Or worse, sing alone for an audition…in front of the choir. 

Well, before you make a beeline for the exits, let me reassure you, you are in a safe place, and we will do our best to make you feel welcome and NOT embarrassed.  So, fret not any of the aforementioned hypotheticals, sit back (or should I say sit UP), and relax!  We think you’ll enjoy this ride! Who knows, after six weeks with us, you may just want to sign up for a contract extension.  (Sorry, no signing bonuses!)

Also, welcome, everyone, to that great time of the year when we begin anticipating and preparing for the most “game-changing” week in all of recorded history…Holy Week.  It’s called “holy” week for just that reason…it is set apart from all others.  In last Sunday’s sermon, Pastor Brian mentioned that one way we renew our minds is by observing or keeping certain “patterns” in our life, and in the church these are sometimes referred to as seasons or days of the church year.   For some, this term or concept may be completely foreign to you, especially if your church background is not from a liturgical tradition, such as Roman Catholic, Episcopalian, Lutheran, etc.

In those cultures, the Christian church has marked certain seasons and dates as worth honoring and repeating every year.  So they have made their way into what is universally called The Church Year.  Such terms as Advent, Christmas, Lent, Good Friday, Easter, Pentecost, etc. are all meant to refer to those events and commemorations which represent the core of our faith. 

Those not making the “Church Year?”  Well, Groundhog Day, Valentine’s Day, July 4th, Halloween (go 
figure), even Thanksgiving, to name a few.  They may get you a day off work, but as part of an overarching outline of our faith, not so critical.  And none of those dates was born out of a biblical event.  As an evangelical church, most people would not consider Hope traditional, perhaps, but we do have and try to honor certain traditions which we find meaningful.  

In our values statements, referred to as our Sweet Sixteen (available on our welcome table), we actually address this issue in Value 11.  Here are a few excerpts:

“The tension among different generations or cultures when it comes to honoring tradition isn’t so much about having traditions, but what makes them meaningful?  So it is with the family of faith when we seek to pass on what experiences should be universally treasured, as opposed to what is valued by certain individuals. 

“Coming from a very traditional, ritualistic even, church background, I understand this concern.  There is a commonly held axiom in communication that to the extent that something is familiar, it loses its impact.  Said another way, the more we know what’s coming, the less intently or expectantly we receive or anticipate it.  So traditions and rituals can have their downside.

“But let’s not throw the proverbial ‘baby out with the bath water.’  While Jesus warns us against vain repetition (Matthew 6:7), he does not advocate never repeating anything.  Indeed, that is what traditions are: determining those events, occurrences, and corporate experiences which are repeated, whether it is weekly, monthly, annually or otherwise.  This is suggested in the Old Testament in the book of Numbers: “Also at your times of rejoicing—your appointed feasts and New Moon festivals—you are to sound the trumpets over your burnt offerings and fellowship offerings, and they will be a memorial for you before your God.” (Numbers 10:10)  This wasn’t just a Hebrew thing, it was a people of God thing, suggesting that part of trusting God for our future was remembering our past.  And part of retaining the identity as a unique work of God’s hand was to replay, occasionally, our unique story.”

As we begin again this exciting and sobering season, let’s realize the incredible continuum on which we find ourselves, and do our part to faithfully declare God’s goodness to this generation and the next.  We are, after all, part of God’s ongoing story.  Through the use of the arts and particularly through our music, let us collectively savor each step on our journey to Jerusalem, to the upper room, the Garden of Gethsemane, to Calvary and ultimately to the sight of the gloriously empty tomb.  He Is Risen, yes, but let’s not be quick to skip over the parts that are a bit more uncomfortable for us.

Again, welcome, all you newbies and returnees!  We are so glad you have made this choice.  We trust you won’t be disappointed.   Let us know if there is anything we can do to make the journey more enjoyable.


Monday, March 3, 2014

Pastor’s Point: In or Out of Hot Water

A familiar metaphor in our culture today is the “frog in the kettle” syndrome. Briefly stated, its premise is that if a frog is placed in boiling water, it will jump out, but if it is placed in cold water that is slowly heated, it will not perceive the danger and will be cooked to death. The story is often used to describe the inability or unwillingness of people to react to significant changes that occur gradually.  (According to contemporary biologists the premise of the story is not literally true; a frog submerged and gradually heated will jump out. However, some 19th-century experiments suggested that the underlying premise is true, provided the heating is sufficiently gradual.)

The boiling frog story is often used as a warning that people should make themselves aware of gradual change, however small and incremental, lest they suffer eventual undesirable consequences. This may be in support of a ‘slippery slope argument.  The psalmist Asaph described it like this in Psalm 73:

Surely God is good to Israel, to those who are pure in heart.  
But as for me, my feet had almost slipped;
I had nearly lost my foothold,
 for I envied the arrogant when I saw the prosperity of the wicked.
They say, “How would God know?  Does the Most High know anything?”
This is what the wicked are like—always free of care, they go on amassing wealth.
Surely in vain I have kept my heart pure and have washed my hands in innocence.

When I tried to understand all this, it troubled me deeply till I entered the sanctuary of God;
    then I understood their final destiny.
Surely you place them on slippery ground; you cast them down to ruin.
How suddenly are they destroyed,
 completely swept away by terrors!

When my heart was grieved and my spirit embittered,
I was senseless and ignorant; I was a brute beast before you.

Whom have I in heaven but you?  And earth has nothing I desire besides you.
My flesh and my heart may fail,
 but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.

The world and all its pleasures were a pretty intoxicating mixture for Asaph to deal with…its value system was in direct contrast to what He believed about God and His values.  Asaph’s reaction was to despair and to question God. “I was a brute beast before You.” Eventually, though, he came to his senses; he changed the way he was thinking.

This week as we look at Romans 12:2, we are faced with two other alternatives from despair or blaming God, when we sense the pull or appeal of the world and its Godless agenda.  We can cave and become like it, (“go along to get along”, so to speak) or we can have a complete change of mind.  Here’s the text for this week:

“Do not conform to the pattern of this world,
but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.
Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—
his good, pleasing and perfect will.”

So what’ll it be?  Become like the world, albeit slowly and often times without even noticing, like the frog in the kettle? OR…get a mind makeover?  Start thinking differently.  If it sounds easier said than done, it is…and it isn’t. First, do what Paul reminds us to do in verse one:
Reflect (on the mercies of God),
Present (yourselves to God as an offering), and
Die (to doing what comes naturally, and open yourself to “Jesus in you.”) 

And then be alert and sober to the ways the world seeks to influence and direct you on a path which is completely counter to the life and revealed will of God.  As good as God is to give us His Holy Spirit to help discern these ways, He has not limited us to the Spirit, but has also given us His precious Word.  

As those who bear the name of Christ, let’s keep offering ourselves to God, recognizing the deceitful ways of this world, and letting the Spirit transform us with a new mind.  And as those who lead others in the offering of song to the Lord as expressions of worship, let us follow Paul’s challenge to the Church at Colossae:

“Let the Word of Christ dwell in you richly 
as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom,
and as you sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs 
with gratitude in your hearts to God.”  Colossians 3:16

At the end of the day, whether the frog would be smart enough to jump out of the kettle or not, let’s agree that to be in hot water is never a good thing.