Tuesday, July 31, 2007
All ministers know the feeling that rises like flood waters through the body as they stand in the foyer after a sermon and are approached by someone who wants to do an autopsy on their theology. We can hear it in their voices, trembling with adrenaline. We can see it in their body language, restrained and aggressive all at the same time (that is where the sensory party ends, I cannot smell, taste, or touch this phenomenon).
On Sunday a visitor to Grandview approached me with the above signs. I did what I always try to do. I put on a dumb smile and made solid eye contact.
"I'm from the north, so I guess I can get away with this. I'm just going to come right out and ask."
"Great," says the slightly too accommodating minister, "ask away."
"What do you teach about salvation? Do you add works to it?" Her lips tightened around the question mark, somehow squeezing it into an exclamation. This statement was only wearing the cloak of a question.
"We try to teach what Scripture says," replied the minister. "In Scripture when people respond to the Gospel they tend to believe, repent, confess, be baptized, and receive the Holy Spirit. We try to encourage all of those things."
"When do you teach that the Holy Spirit comes? Do you teach that the Holy Spirit comes the second the person believes?"
"The problem with being too definite about the exact moment of the arrival of the Holy Spirit is that in Scripture the Holy Spirit seems to arrive at different times for different people, sometimes after baptism, sometimes before. That's why we just try to encourage people to do all of things scripture calls us to do."
We talked a little more after that, but the conversation was really over. I failed her test. The interchange made me sad. To think that a nice, dedicated Christian person had just sat through an entire worship service worried about whether or not baptism is a work in my theology--well, it's a waste of energy. We were worshiping God, which is one of our highest callings in life, but she wasn't able to worship fully with us because of the question of baptism.
There is a wing of the Church that has gotten into peoples' heads and made them jittery as police scanners over this question. My own wing of the church has been guilty in the past of getting the same jitters on the other side of the issue, so we have our own culpability here. I would understand their fears if there was anything about baptism that could be considered a work.
When we look at the verbs that describe conversion, we see active and passive verbs. Believe, confess, and repent are all active verbs (e.g. something a person does). The other command? Be baptized. It's a passive verb. Nobody in Scripture (including Jesus) baptizes himself. Nobody. It's not a work, it's a thing done to us. It's part of the grace, mercy, and action of God.
Is the problem with the modern Church that we require too many works? Is this the scourge of the American church? In a country where churches offer every service under the sun and require nothing of the people showing up to worship, is this the issue that will divide us? Works?
I wanted to hug the woman in the foyer. I wanted to tell her it's okay. I wanted to tell her that if she believed baptism was a work I could still worship with her. I wanted to tell her that God wants her camp and my camp to be joined together in community.
Instead, she smiled a tense smile, thanked me, and left.
Saturday, July 28, 2007
Tomorrow is a big day for us. We have a fine young man who will be baptized in the first service. As I write I am struck by the intensity of life that takes place in a church building. We celebrate such highs and we mourn such lows in that sanctuary--it's no wonder people get attached to rooms and places.
The text tomorrow is the one you sang about as a kid (if you grew up in the church). "The rains came down and the floods came up . . .".
Here is the prayer for tomorrow. We won't say the Lord's Prayer at the end of the prayer because select members of the Swain family will be gracing us by singing it for us.
Don't expect another blog entry anytime soon. I've received the first edits on my dissertation and I need to make the changes by Monday. It's going to be a tedious weekend in my head!
Hope to see you tomorrow.
Prayers of the Church for
July 29, 2007
Mighty God, unshakeable foundation of all that is, seen and unseen, look favorably upon us as come before you. The whole universe sits squarely and solidly upon your shoulders.
And so we come to you. You know our circumstances better than we ourselves. You know the pain and the joy of our lives. You know the temptations and the triumphs. You know what storms people have you endured. You’ve watched when the rains came down, when the streams rose, when the winds blew and beat against the house.
But we have not fallen. We have not fallen because you are our ground and our foundation. Stable, strong, and steady are you Lord. You are our rock, our crag, our sure place to stand.
Forgive us for choosing the quicksand, then, when you have been so gracious. Forgive us for choosing anger, lust, hatred, violence, blame, anxiety, playacting, and death when you have offered love, purity, kindness, forgiveness, peace, and joy through the life and example of your Son, Jesus of Nazareth.
May the light of your teaching, through your Son, shine in us and through us. Help us to be squeezed into the shape of Jesus, even when that shape is cruciform; with arms wide and nailed to a tree. You have promised that if we lift up your Son, you will draw all people unto you. We lift him up, Lord, through our lives—with your help. Give us the purity of heart to do this for the sake of the world, not for our own sakes. Help us, then, to be a blessing to our neighbors, to the whole world.
In the silence, we listen to you, Lord. If you are willing, show us where we have built our lives on shifting sand instead of upon the Word of Life.
Lord, our prayer list seems to change so little. This can be discouraging for us. You know each need. Please grant healing to the sick, your joyful Spirit to those who are discouraged, resources for the poor, the challenge of your cross to those who have grown apathetic, protection for those who stand between our nation and our nation’s enemies, hope for those who see only darkness in their future, release for the oppressed, and a peaceful death for those whose time to die has come.
Lord, let the words of the prayer that your Son taught us in the Sermon on the Mount fill our hearts . . .
Thursday, July 26, 2007
I like this picture. It's not bad for a camera/phone. This is a little creek we crossed over on our way to the top of the mountain.
Wednesday, July 25, 2007
For your convenience I've copied the first couple of paragraphs into this blog. The reason the article is interesting is because Warren Mason is my grandpa.
Warren Mason gets his meals where he can.
The article goes on to decry the elderly population's difficulty in accessing food. I didn't know these things about my grandfather. He always seems to be surrounded by food and people when I'm up there. He has 24 hour care. My uncle, his son, regularly spends the night after working at his job all day.
The IndyStar website allows people to comment on their articles. You can find those by following this link. Apparently my family has offended "Bob," who wrote:
"The family must be real scum to leave this guy on his own. I'm sure they just want the taxpayers to do what they should be doing. Selfish, self centered trash."
Gee, Bob. Thanks.
My Grandfather is a good man. He never has to go without food, or family for that matter. He has 12 grandchildren (15 if you count a family that isn't blood related, but that is part of the family anyway). I'm thinking the reporter took some shortcuts for this story. If the reporter had gone to my Grandfather's house he would have seen a different story. So, worry not, dear reader. If the rest of my family fails (very unlikely), then Grandpa is welcome at my house. He won't go hungry or homeless.
I've included some pictures from the 90th birthday party at Chapel Rock Christian Church last fall. My aunt put the party together. My family and I traveled 4 hours to be there. There were about 40 or 50 adults there. It was a good day. I think there were 14 grandchildren there and I'm not sure how many great-grandchildren (maybe 20?).
Sunday, July 22, 2007
In case you haven't guessed, today was my birthday; my 40th birthday.
I keep wondering how I feel about it. I'm against aging without grace, as a rule. It's just so distasteful to pretend to be younger than we are. On the other hand, there are some trappings with age that we could probably do without.
The other day I was coming out of the grocery store and I thought twice about my habit of giving the cart a good push and then hopping on for a ride. It's great fun; me, my milk, eggs, and bread flying through the parking lot, wind in my hai....on my scalp. But then I thought about how ridiculous it looks for a 40-year-old man to be doing that.
It's increasingly hard for me to tell what befits my age and what doesn't. There is an age where everybody thinks you're young. There is an age where everybody thinks you're old. 40 isn't either of those things.
I've heard people say that 40 is the new 30. That's just silly. That's the result of letting Baby Boomers get away with pretending they aren't aging. I won't be surprised when I start hearing Baby Boomers say, "The wheelchair is the new Ferrari." That's just how they are. Sorry if you're one. I'm sure you you aren't like that.
In some ways I have more focus and drive than I did I was 30. Yesterday I swam a mile, ran about 5 miles, worked in the yard, finished my sermon preparation and saw a disturbing beat down in the Wal-Mart parking lot (that included a guy getting hit with a car and then beat with a 2 x 4).
Well, I'm rambling now. It must be my age.
I'm not sad that I'm 40. I never want to take for granted the gift of growing older. I have two friends who died when they were 39, leaving wives and children in their wake. They were both in good shape. They were both supposed to grow older as their kids were turning into adults, and then as their kids were turning into parents themselves. I thought of Greg and Charles more this week than I expected. I wish they were still with us.
I'm very aware, this week, how I've been blessed. Why has God blessed me? I don't know. These things are mysteries to me. I've been given a great family. I've been allowed to serve Grandview for almost a decade now. I've been given good health and many other things besides. And so today I celebrate God's kindness; undeserved as it is.
So, I rejoice at this birthday. Sing This With Me, This Is 40.
Saturday, July 21, 2007
Tomorrow we will be focusing on Matthew 7:13-23: the narrow gate, good trees bear good fruit, don' t think you're good with God just because you say "Lord, Lord."
I can't read this text without hearing the voice of a Jamaican/Bronx preacher who preached this text at a funeral I attended. His sermon was so powerful that Jesus' words now echo in my mind with a Jamaican accent (this Jamaican Jesus is no-nonsense, let me tell you!). So I'm opening the sermon with the story of hearing him preach.
That means I'll have to try to do the accent. Accents are fun when they work; painful when they fail. We'll just have to see how this goes!
The Prayers of the Church for
July 22, 2007
God of wide grace and the narrow gate, who flooded the world with life through a small crack in a mountainside where your son was buried and left for dead; accept our feeble attempts to put words together in ways that honor you. You know our hearts. You know whether we are praying for your ends or ours. You know whether we are singing, listening, gathering, offering, and communing out of a desire to be faithful to you; or whether we’re just play acting.
Some days we are able to offer you ourselves out of the overflow of our joy. Some days we do so only because we believe we’re supposed to. Some days we can’t muster the praise at all. On those days, surrounded by people at every stage of willingness, we rely on each other and on you.
Thank you for calling together a group of people who have your name upon their lips. Thank you for forming your people
Having done all of this for us, having made us and kept us going, we desire to respond to your grace with selfless devotion to you and your causes. Thank you for Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount. It’s a hard sermon for us. When we see what selfless devotion really looks like, we aren’t sure we like it. And so now we ask for the grace to take you at your Word.
As always we hold before you those who are on our prayer list this morning. For healing, strength, peace, protection, and company we pray. And not only for the sick, the weak, the dying, those in harm’s way, and the lonely do we pray. We pray also for those of us you have called to minister in these circumstances. May we be worthy ambassadors of your kingdom.
Lord, we have all come to this room from different places, harboring different fears and sins, triumphs and joys. Together in the silence we share with you from the depths of our being:
Remember your missionaries. Remember the Coleys, Freelands, Headens, McDades, Nyadors, Veals, and the Bruens and the Jacksons as they prepare to go into the field. Give them your blessing. Give them joy as they serve you on the razor’s edge.
We pray together as you have taught us:
Friday, July 20, 2007
1. IHOP buys Applebees
Well now, that's not a good sign for American cuisine. Talk about Hell's Kitchen. Do you suppose Chef Bland has found a way to make food even more ordinary? "Excuse me, sir, would you like mayonnaise on your bologna blintzes?"
2. Chinese Execute State Food and Drug Administration Head, Zheng XiaoyuThe lesson here is that you really shouldn't take bribes in China--especially if the bribes wind up allowing additives into food that kills American pets. Apparently China isn't interested in using their muscle to stop the suffering in North Korea, but if American pets start dying then heads are going to roll.
3. Sunnis Fear American Pullout of Iraq
I should pay more attention to the war in Iraq. The problem has always been, though, who do we believe? The media? The military? The president of Iraq? The president of America? None of these four has a great track record for giving us a full and reliable version of events.
Perhaps the best test of the value of our presence in Iraq, though, is that the minority Sunnis fear our leaving. They fear they would be slaughtered without the protection America provides. At the very least, that means that we aren't slaughtering them right now. Apparently we our using our brute force to cultivate something like peace. If the Sunnis really want peace, maybe they should work harder at figuring out how to cooperate with the new government there.
Sadly, we're discovering too late (although there were plenty of warnings) that Saddam Hussein had to use brute force to keep violence down. He did it for his ends. We're doing it for our ends. I hate it when we become so much like our enemies. I think Jesus warned us of that (well . . . Jesus AND Bono warned us).
Thursday, July 19, 2007
One of the youth sponsors was a young lady named Anastasia--her grandparents used to be members of Grandview and were the ones who gave the money for the first set of stained glass windows.Gene led the edging crew along University Parkway.
Tuesday, July 17, 2007
Here is Ryan now. I'm guessing he's itching to get home, so I'll we'll leave him alone for a little while. Maybe that will give him time to get to know his newest young'n.
It sounds like they all had a great trip. Meghan commented on how good it was to do it in conjunction with other youth groups. I commented on how good it was to have my daughter home.
Saturday, July 14, 2007
In this week's sermon I'll open by taking a trip down memory lane, back to my life as a ten-year-old. Hopefully it will be at least mildly entertaining as I attempt to make the point that the things we used to worry about have changed dramatically in the past 30 years (goodness . . . I turn 40 later this month). Tomorrow's sermon comes out of Matthew 6 and Jesus' words about not worrying, preferring that we seek first the kingdom of God and God's righteousness.
I usually write out an entire manuscript and then break it down into sermon notes. This week I skipped the manuscript step. I'm tempted to worry about that . . . but . . . well . . . I'm trying to practice what I'm about to preach.
I like tomorrow's prayer because I stole phrases from my mentor-by-proxy, A.E. Whitham. If a phrase in the following prayer strikes you as especially poetic it is probably from Whitham's work.
O God, who penciled in the lily and put fire in the heart of a rose; who set the rainbow against the storm rack and gave sweet laughter to humanity. You create beauty so magnificent that we find ourselves celebrating before you—awestruck. What can a human say when staring over the edge of the great canyons in the west, when nestled in the bosom of the plush Appalachian Mountains, when the beach thumps and rumbles beneath the collapsing waves, when the fields dance in unison to the rhythms of the wind, when the stars fill up the skies, and when we turn to the affirming embrace of a loved one? What can we say, but “Great is our God and worthy of praise.”
As the delicate sparrow survives the fierce storm, so too, O God, protect us in our most difficult hours. Shield us. Give us our daily bread. Breathe your Spirit into us. Clothe us with righteousness.
Forgive us for staring at the miracle of life for so long that we, at last, miss it completely. Forgive us for being dull creatures, unaware of the wonder of the universe, unaware of the wonder outside or doors, unaware of the wonder you have placed within each of us.
With a God like you, what shall we fear? Shall we fear tomorrow when you hold it in your hand? Shall we fear our enemy when you are our shield and protector? Shall we fear death when you have conquered it by the resurrection of Jesus?
We come before you humbled by your great works, but emboldened by your Son’s promises, to ask that you would heal our sick, that you would give a peaceful death to those whose time it is to die, give comfort to those who grieve great losses, strengthen those who are called to difficult tasks in this life, protect those who, like Eric Hull, are going through such difficult hours, days, months—years—in order to protect us. Also, we continue to pray for our enemies, because you told us to. Please bless them.
Up against these things and more we are tempted to worry; to be anxious; to reduce life to fear. As we sit quietly before you, please show us the things we worry about that we should just let go:
Take these worries, O God, and exchange them for abundant life, pressed down and overflowing, as we pray together according to the example of Jesus the Christ:
The Lord’s Prayer
Friday, July 13, 2007
So here she is in front of the student body as we all await the opening assembly yesterday morning.Even though Cora is starting at a totally new school, there were already kids she knows. Seth looks pleased to be back at school, but maybe just a little apprehensive!
Thursday, July 12, 2007
Apparently it isn't the first recorded instance of this phenomenon. Scientists have determined that sharks can become pregnant in captivity under extreme stress. I like this discovery for a couple of reasons. I like it because it was thought to be impossible. Can you imagine what your eighth grade science teacher would have told you if you stood up and claimed that female sharks can become pregnant without the aid of male sharks? Rube.
Here is the second thing I like about the discovery, and this is where science can be so daggum arrogant. They assume that parthenogenesis only happens "in captivity under extreme conditions". Huh? Have they seen the size of the ocean lately? Is it remotely possible that something happens out there that scientist don't know about?
This is simply the limitation of science. Science is a wonderful tool . . . but it will never be omniscient. Never. All knowledge can't be tested and reproduced. Almost everything taught in scientific textbooks today will someday be revised. It's kind of exciting, really. All I ask, in the meantime, is that science entertain the possibility that they haven't cornered the market on knowledge.
Wednesday, July 11, 2007
In the Summer? Our leaders are prancing around Europe (this isn't a criticism . . . if I could, I would be prancing around Europe with them). Our youth are at camp, or in New Orleans, or at another camp. Our CAT Team is in Mississippi. Our worries are about the dip in giving, which isn't a dip as much as it is a failure of giving to rise with the COBC (cost of being church--I'm going to write a book making that phrase popular. Millions of leaders who are into "cute church" will buy the book and we'll be able to pay down the church mortgage).
I wonder if you know how much your presence means in worship in the Summer? I think we tend to view the question of "to worship or not to worship" with an eye toward what it does for us as individuals. We tend not to realize that our presence is an encouragement to others. This past Sunday we had a surprising number of visitors. I was glad that so many of our regulars were around.
I think of a young couple who were visiting Grandview this past Sunday for the second or third time. As I chatted with them I discovered that they moved to the area to attend ETSU, where the husband is pursuing a Masters in Counseling. While I was introducing them to the Sunday school class that I thought they would enjoy, John walked into the classroom. John happens to be in the same program at ETSU (only a year ahead). I was able to introduce them and let them begin chatting. It would have been easy for John to have stayed home Sunday. He's had a rough enough month that nobody (least of all me) would have blamed him for not wanting to face the wave of well-wishers and questions about how he and Heather are doing. But John was there. And his presence was a connection point for people who are new to the area and wanting Johnson City to begin feeling like home.
I believe this Fall is going to be special. I believe that we're getting ready to start what will be remembered as a formative time in the life of Grandview. God has given us all the instruments we need. Part of me looks forward to the future, then I remember that we don't live in the future. We live in the today. We serve God today. The Fall? The Fall is months away.
So I'll dance now, rhythm or no rhythm. After all, I'm from the suburbs. I'm used to dancing like this. Where ever you are this Sunday (be it Johnson City or Europe) join the dance.
Monday, July 09, 2007
Sunday, July 08, 2007
Fifteen of us invaded the restaurant, including my nieces and nephews.
There were about five or six churches going together, so the lower parking lot was good and full by 7am. It's great to see youth groups from Christian churches, Presbyterian, and Episcopal churches working together. Kudos to Ryan and the other youth ministers!
Here is today's prayer:
July 8, 2007
When your passion became flesh, O God, we got to see what life really looks like in your kingdom. We got to see true Life when Jesus encountered the blind, the lame, the weak, the grieving, and the sinning. In Jesus we saw how your passion made flesh loved those around him with a pure and spotless love, undamaged by human circumstances—both his and ours.
Help us to love each other out of that same passion. Help us to love those who see themselves as only marginally part of our family. Help us to love those aren’t the least bit interested in church and worship and prayer and giving and fasting. Help us to love those who work against your purposes—even as we realize that we all fit that category in our own time and in our own ways.
Forgive us for playing the part of Christians, for showing up on the stage, dressed for our roles, having memorized nice-sounding lines, but not caring about the author’s intentions. Forgive us for looking the part while nurturing soiled hearts.
Our prayers, as every week, are for the sick, the dying, the discouraged, and for those in harm’s way. Give them healing, peace, fresh strength, and safety.
Breathe your peace into the many wars that rage. Some of the wars are well-known to us, such as
Give strength, encouragement, and joy to our friends who have left their homes for your sake as they serve the cause of the kingdom around the world. We remember the Coleys, Freelands, Headens, McDades, Nyadors, Veals, and the Bruens as they prepare to go.
And finally, Lord, we bring ourselves to you in the silence. We expose our most tender needs and failings to you
Friday, July 06, 2007
I'm leaving for Indiana this morning so I can collect our young'ns. It hasn't been the same without them around the past two weeks. It's not a quick trip to Indiana. We got spoiled by 3 1/2 hour trips when we were in Wilmore--now it's back to 7 1/2. The good thing is that I can use some alone time in the car to think. I enjoy a good 8 hour drive by myself, as long as I don't have to do it too often.
The sermon is coming along nicely. This week's text from Matthew 6 is much more accessible than the past two weeks on lust and retaliation.
If you're a Grandview person with access to our prayer list, I would like to remind you to pray. Sometimes we intend to pray for people but we get busy, or we just forget. Let us never give up praying. Prayer is not busy work.
Thursday, July 05, 2007
One of my videos passed 1000 views this week. That's amazing to me. Below you can see my top three videos (as judged by the number of times they were viewed on YouTube). The number of views is, of course, as of July 5.
Number 3 (202 views):
Number 2 (207 views) This one BAFFLES me:
And the Number 1 Video by FAR (1078 views) is:
Wednesday, July 04, 2007
The Atlanta Gator Club is petitioning the DMV for a Gator license plate to be added to the list of specialty plate offerings by the state (similar to the Tennessee Gator plate above).
Apparently Senate pro tem Eric Johnson (a Republican--don't Republicans want to get government out of our lives?) is going to fight the tag. Below you will find his letter to Bart Graham, the guy who is in charge of such things in Jawja.
Dear Commissioner Graham:
This is absolutely unacceptable for our state!
A Gator tag will cause accidents. Gator fans cannot drive or read traffic signs. A car up on blocks cannot move. And it will lower our quality of life. In fact, my children used to have nightmares because we lived dangerously close to the state of Florida.
If state law allows this to occur then we need to change the law. Please delay any approval until the next session when we can amend the law to ban any tag for a university with more national championships than the average IQ of their alumni. A delay in processing their application should not require much of an effort since they cannot write either.
If it takes 1,000 signatures to create a tag, can we have a regulation that 1,000 e-mails AGAINST a proposed tag kills it? If you agree, please count this as e-mail No. 1.
Cute . . . wrong-headed and misguided . . . but cute.
I'm trying to learn to appreciate each day. Never wish a day away. That said, I'm anxious for football season to arrive!