Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Sermon Texts

Lou asked me if I would publish a list of my sermon texts for upcoming sermons. I think this is a great idea-- that way, as you are preparing your hearts and minds for worship in the days prior to Sunday, you might read through the text I'll be preaching on.

Here is a brief list of what I'll preach through in December:
12/2-- Luke 1:39-56
12/9-- Luke 1:57-80
12/16-- Luke 2:1-7
12/23-- Luke 2:8-20
12/23 (evening)-- Matthew 2:1-12
12/30-- Luke 2:21-40

Monday, November 26, 2007

Song from Sunday's worship

One of our members asked that I post the lyrics to the song I sang as my opening illustration in Sunday's sermon. Here they are.

Show the Way by David Wilcox

You say you see no hope, you say you see no reason we should dream
That the world could ever change, you're saying love is foolish to believe
Because there'll always be some crazy with an army or a knife
To wake you from your daydream, and put the fear back in your life.

Look, if someone wrote a play just to glorify what's stronger than hate
Would they not arrange the stage to look as if the hero came too late?
He's almost in defeat, it's looking like the evil side will win
So on the edge of every seat, from the moment that the whole thing begins.

It is love who makes the mortar, and it's love that set these stones
And it's love who made the stage here, although it looks like we're alone.
In this scene set in shadows like the night is here to stay
There is evil cast around us, but it's love that wrote the play
And in this darkness, love can show the way.

So now the stage is set, you feel your own heart beating in your chest
This life's not over yet, so we get up on our feet and do our best
We play against the fear, we play against the reasons not to try
Playing for the tear that is burning in the happy angel's eye.


Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Haiku #3

Thanksgiving again
turning my heart to God in
prayer and gratitude

Saturday, November 17, 2007

A daily confession

John the Baptist offers a strong and healthy confession of faith in John chapter 1: when asked who he is, he answers, "I am not the Christ!"

We would all do well to adopt John's confession as our daily affirmation of how much we desperately need a Savior. While it is often tempting to believe that we can earn our way to God's favor, we must realize that it is not so. Instead, we might join John in affirming that, indeed, I-- and we-- are not the Christ.

And give thanks that God has sent us One who is.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Haiku #2

Traveling today
I am bound for St. Louis
gasoline's costly!

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Haiku #1

I'm fascinated by the Haiku, a form of Japanese poetry that is structured by a pattern of syllables in each line: 5, 7, 5. Periodically, I will take a moment to construct a Haiku as both an expression of what I'm thinking or feeling and a brief exercise in writing. Here is the first:

studying Bible
sermon is for this Sunday
will it be worthy?

Monday, November 12, 2007

Loving each other

Part of yesterday's Sunday School class on Donald MacNair's The Practices of a Healthy Church included discussion about the spiritual growth of others in our church. Specifically, Dr. MacNair asks, "are many in our church evidencing spiritual growth?"

As we talked about that, we realized that we can't answer this question unless we are involved in each other's lives. How can I know if others are growing spiritually unless I am around them regularly, unless I know them well enough to see the growth in their lives? I have to be invested-- as we all do-- to recognize spiritual growth in others in the church.

Do you know your fellow church members this way? What are some ways that you could get to know them better?

How about any of the following as "starter" ideas for getting to know each other better: speak to someone you don't know very well after worship; invite someone to have supper with you; offer to meet them for lunch or breakfast; find out their birthday and send them a card or note; call them on the phone for no particular reason; ask if they could help you with a project around your house (or offer to help with one of theirs); sit with someone new at the pot-luck dinners (or other events).

These are just a few ideas. What ways do you know of to get to know someone better?

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

A ministry of prayer

The other day I was with a group of people who were talking about an especially legalistic environment that some of them had been a part of as teenagers-- a place where they were literally told what to believe, and that if they disagreed they would go to Hell. The leaders in this environment were, clearly, abusing their authority and making claims that no one person or group has a right to make.

One person commented on the fact that I should get a lot of sermon illustrations from these stories! (He was right...) That got me to thinking about what the real applications really were. I’d like to reflect on two broad applications here, over two posts.

At one point I asked the question of this group: how did your parents (who were all Christians) continue to believe that it was good for you to be a part of this? After all, I said, you would surely come home and tell them all about it.

Their first response demonstrated how powerful the authoritarian environment was:

No, we were told that if we reported on them we would go to Hell.

[Note, by the way, the similar nature of this environment to a classic abusive relationship-- where the victim is told that THEY (the victim) would get in trouble if they told.]

But as they went on, something else became clear. One of them said:

I was glad to be there. I needed a place where I could belong, and this place felt safe-- partly because of the rules.

And there I saw my first sermon illustration: when it comes down to it, we all gravitate toward legalism. We are all legalists.

When we’re offered an environment where the rules are known, it becomes very easy to settle into that. We know where we stand in the pecking order; we are then able to proclaim with confidence precisely why we have merited the favor of God and men.

I think this is what makes grace so threatening, so terrifying to all of us. If the work that earns us favor isn’t our work (through legalism) but Christ’s work imputed to us (by grace), we are actually dependent on something (grace) and someone (Christ) other than ourselves.

This also illustrates why even communities that are defined by Christ’s grace (namely, churches) quickly return to legalism. Dependence is very uncomfortable. Dependence is often humbling, sometimes awkward, and frequently at odds with pride. Someone who is dependent has just reason to lose some confidence in themselves.

Here’s the irony in it all: we are always dependent. Even when we think we have every reason for confidence (as with the group of teenagers who knew exactly their place in the social order of that legalistic community), we are still dependent on something: for the legalist, it is the rules and laws that we subscribe to, and the authority who creates and enforces them.

Legalism-- that idea that “I can earn merit/favor/righteousness through obedience, and take confidence and pride in myself”-- is a lie.