Mile Markers and Memorials for the Pioneer

Scripture:  Genesis 13: 14 – 18

Over and over Abram sees the presence of God is with him as he journeys toward the Promise. Despite his migratory lifestyle he sees by faith that God is with him. Over and over he builds altars to memorialize the steps along the way. It is these markers and memorials that give Abram a sense of meaning to his endless travels. It is by faith that we also see the hand of God in our journey.  Abram had to take the short end of the deal in separating from Lot.  But there is no complaint from Abram.  Just the opposite, he builds an alter and has a conversation with God.

The perennial and eternal truth pictured here is that God is always leading us forward. Sometimes that forward step is not so pleasant. There are droughts and famine.  There is the unknown.  There are rough spots in the road.  But to give up on the journey is to give up on life. We give up the quest for being better, stronger, of being a blessing rather than a curse.  We trade in our climbing shoes, our walking sticks, our rappelling gear for a permanent address and life begins to be about what is good for “me”.  But in this journey we are called to be pioneers, not settlers.

Peter’s favorite nickname for Jesus is pioneer.

A Journey of Faith and Responsibility

Everyone’s life is a story. It is impossible  to tell someone about yourself without telling it as a narrative. Even the simple dating of our experiences gives texture and context to our autobiography.  Some will say, “I was born in the Depression.”  Or “I was born just after 9/11.” The fact that we even pin our birth date to an event is evidence that we understand our own existence as a story.

You might try, but you can’t tell your temporal story and your spiritual story as though they are separate books. Your spiritual self is a core reality that cannot be separated from the rich and complex explanation of who you are and how you got to the place where you now reside. At ground level you are a spiritual person created in the image of God.

We cannot tell our story in any depth without talking about our interaction with God. And God refuses to tell His story without telling of His interaction with us.

To acknowledge God in a posture of faith, to see Him as a protagonist in our story, is to give purpose to tragedy and meaning to calamity.

To see the footprints of God criss crossing our circuitous path is His gift of grace. We then bare responsibility to get up from our most recent fall and take the next step in the direction He is leading.

It is no wonder that the great examples of faith are stories about real people on a journey. Let’s look at Abram’s story.  It begins like this: “Get  up, Abram. Let’s get going.”

Scripture:   Genesis 12: 1 – 9

What Is Really Real

It is fairly easy for most of us to determine what is real and conversely, what is not real. We have learned to trust our sense and believe that reality is what it appears to us to be. What is real is what “is”. It is the way things are. Even one important step in the scientific method is to observe. In the quantum world the observing even takes on a more critical role in identifying what is real.

Not too long after Jesus went back to be with our Father, people began to discuss what had happened when Jesus was among them. Among them were some people who had a tough time believing that the Divine could ever be flesh and blood because it appeared to them that flesh and blood was pretty tainted and discolored. Fleshly things, temporal beings, physical reality was too lowly for  a god to ever become a real human. So their answer was to say that Jesus was not real in the sense that we are real. He was simply a ghostly apparition with no physical content. He just looked real.

So one of Jesus’ best friends felt compelled to jot a note to some people he loved to tell them what was really real. It is in a letter we have labeled I John. Right from the get-go John urgently makes his case that Jesus was most certainly real. He draws on his own experience to vociferously declare, “I am telling you that I saw him with my own eyes. I touched him with my own hands. I heard him talk with my own eyes.” And later, “If anyone says that he didn’t come in the flesh they are just flat wrong”.

It was critical for John to declare to his friends what is real. It is equally important in our times to come to know Jesus as real. It is the way we can make our way through a media/cultural climate in which we have to bob and weave not to be flattened by what are often flat out lies. Not only is it important to survive but it is important to thrive. John says the reason I am telling you this is not just so you won’t be knocked down but that the reality of Jesus is the source of great joy.

In a Lewis Carroll wonderland it is important to know up from down. Right from wrong. Good from bad. Truth from lie. But most of all to know a real God who became flesh and pitched his tent among us. To know Jesus is to know reality and that reality will set you free.

Follow Me

On your marks.  Get set.  Follow Jesus!

Maybe that best defines the theme, the reason, and the intent of the Chilipalooza this year. Soul Cafe’s 5K Fun Run and lunch event has become one of our favorite times together. You’ve got to make every effort to be here this year.

The 5K begins for walkers and runners at 9:30 a.m.  The starting line is 426 Prospect Road, right in front of the church. If it dries up enough, we will start worship outdoors under the trees at 11:00 am. After the service you’ll be able to taste some of the best chili in Texas.

If you can’t make it for the Fun Run or for worship, please try and make it for the lunch. This is not a fund raising event.  It is a relationship building event and if you are present that is the best contribution you can make.  If you are a regular at Soul Cafe, think hard on Saturday about someone you could invite to join us.  We have always intended for this to be an event that brings our community together.  You can’t invite too many guests.  There will always be enough.

Our theme verse for the day is from John 21:22  , “and Jesus said…. ‘Follow Me’ “.

Bring a lawn chair and I’ll see you on Sunday,

Doug

What Really Makes Life Sweet?

During His last visit to Bethany Jesus had attended a “resurrection” celebration party for Lazarus.  Many friends of Mary, Martha and Lazarus had come to participate.  Perhaps some who had not been there when Lazarus had been raised to life by Jesus came to see for themselves.  There he was, reclining at the table, eating, laughing, enjoying the company.  Many (it could be that John actually meant all) believed and put their faith in Jesus.

The next day the party went to Jerusalem to continue at the Feast.  The enthusiasm was so robust that on the rutted, dirt path that led to Jerusalem they laid down palm fronds for the donkey to step on.  They cried out in cheers of, ” Hosanna!  Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord, even the King of Israel!”  Even some outlier Greeks came and asked friends if they could also meet Jesus.

Details leave some things to the imagination.  However, Jesus felt He needed to say something. What he had to say seemed almost out of place in the celebrative climate.  He seemed to want to tell the multitudes that had gathered about the kind of life to which Lazarus had been raised. Jesus is seeing that resurrection is a call to serve God.  It is a way to show who God is and what he is like.  Isn’t that really what glorifying God is all about, showing who He is?

“Unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains by itself alone.  But if it dies it bears much fruit.”  Whose life is He talking about?  His own?  Mine?  Both? The crowd leans back to put a bit of distance from words that don’t quite fit the party ambiance.
“He who loves his life will lose it.  But he who loses his life in this world will have it into all eternity.” ……. I think it’s both.

In the end, what really makes life sweet?  What makes our heart sing with joy any more than hearing the invitation of Jesus, “Follow me.”?

Truer Than True

By the time John tells the story of the death of Lazarus in John, chapter 11, it is apparent that it has required layers of plots and subplots, themes and counter themes to accurately express the depth of meaning and significance of Jesus’ life.  It is true of the story of anyone’s life.  No one would contend that the discovery of electrical current tells everything there is to know about Edison’s life. There are as many characters in Jesus’ story as a Tolstoy novel.  Every paragraph introduces us to a new character and a story line that could stand alone. We tell the stories over and over as though complete in themselves.  When we stand back, however, we see each story as another pearl on a necklace, more beautiful as a whole than any one pearl alone.

Here is an idea of the thematic layers that could be helpful in understanding John’s good news story. First, in no order of importance, there are the individual stories. John and the Jordon. Andrew, Cephas, Philip, Nathanael, and Mary at a wedding reception. The temple, Nicodemus, and a Samaritan woman coming for water. Wait a minute. She was Samaritan? An official’s son, a lame man by a cistern, and a boy with a sack lunch. There is a storm on the lake and there are people who just don’t get it. Spit in a blind man’s eye on Sunday. The death of a friend.

The stories leap off the page into reality.  In verbal staccato they incite our imagination, our admiration, and our hope. Can it be true? Can this really be Him? So, we read them again. This time without putting the book down. There it is. This time it doesn’t get past us. In every word and in every story,  we see the plot more clearly now. These are stories that have no intention of standing on their own. Each one reaching back a hand to join the firm grip of the one before. The story is bigger than we could have ever hoped. Our fragmented pieces of the particular become melded together by something that seems more galactic, even cosmic.

He told us.  Right up front, John told us what this account was about.  It is the unveiling of the universal. The eternal.  It was about things we had never seen before.  It is the story of what is truer than true. The Word had become flesh.  It is the story of a God who has an address. The post office box is next to mine.  Our farms share a fence line. The Eternal One is here and now. I can see it now.  In every particular story it is as though I am touching forever.  I can hear for myself the cosmic resonance in the heartbeat of one who is now standing among us.

There is, however, also a coarse cord that introduces another subplot to the story. Not everyone, it seems, is euphoric about hearing from this “Source of Light” iconoclast. He tampers with the chain of command and income streams and with judgements about who is in and who is out. This coarse cord doesn’t just create a light abrasion but could be used in a potential lethal hanging of long established traditions (translated: privilege, prosperity, and power.)

It is now obvious that several plots and subplots are at work in telling the story of Jesus. The story of Lazarus now becomes pivotal in understanding the tensions between the lines.

Prelude: Jesus had healed a man who had been born blind. On several accounts the moral majority had been offended. One, He did it on Sunday. “You can’t do that. We have laws.” This led to a deeper sense of offense by the tight fisted religious crowd. They accused Him of saying that they were blind. This had to be dealt with.  A stoning seemed to be in order. They grasped, but “the darkness could not apprehend Him”.  He alludes them.

You might think that the response of Jesus and friends would be more ecstatic over their escape. But that doesn’t seem to be Jesus’ emotional reaction. For the religious tightwads they could no longer see God at work in the miraculous. Their mortal rage was now set on insuring the survival of the system. It was that violent and willful blindness that pushed Jesus “back across the Jordon where John had been baptizing in the early days”.

Does it make any sense that Jesus went back to the place on the Jordon where he had been before? Where he had gotten sopping wet? Sated by the immersive presence of His Father? Was this trip a longing to relieve some corrosive effects of rejection?  Perhaps Jesus waded into water where he had once before stepped off the bank. Could the unspoken words of a troubled psyche be, “Father, please say it again.”?

This time, nothing. That we know of.

What is left unspoken, however, is a silent courage to be who He knew himself to be. There had been a wilderness before. “If you are….”. The most damaging temptation of any of us is to forget or deny who we are. To be confused about who we are is to be forever confused about what we are to do. So much of our muddling through life is because we have hidden from the reality of who we really are: children of our Father.  Recovery of identity is always expressed in a new resoluteness in doing what we must. We don’t know exactly how Jesus received the word on His river retreat. But we do know what follows. “Guys, we’re going back.”  His friends knew what might be in store. The people who had threatened him back in Jerusalem still had the rocks in their pockets.

The message had come that Lazarus was dead. Jesus loved these people, Lazarus and his two sisters. His grief was palpable. He wept openly. No danger would now forbid Him to do what he knew he must do. And what was it he had to do?  To resurrect life out of its deathly stench. To free up what had been bound. To affirm the plot.  Listen to the vibrato that still moves molecules at the edge of the universe, “Lazarus. Come out!!!!!”

Let’s meet again Sunday morning and re-hear some of Jesus’ best words, “I AM the resurrection and the LIFE.”

The Story Behind Christmas

Each of us is moved toward finding the reason for our existence. The perennial question is the “why” of why we are here at all. We rightly seek meaning and purpose. The remembrance of Christmas is a part of answering that question and finding the meaning we need.

The Jesus of Nazareth story begins to connect us to the source of our own meaning. For once we hear the story OF Christmas we begin a process of understanding that there is a story BEHIND Christmas. This time-bound story of a PARTICULAR child born in the PARTICULAR backwoods town of Bethlehem is actually the story of the eternal God on a cosmic mission to restore relationship to EVERY child in EVERY town.

How did God choose to accomplish this monumental mission? How would the eternal and unseen God choose to interface with the likes of us? Well, there in the story of mangers and shepherds and cow cookies, God chooses to join us in our humanity by becoming flesh and blood with us. All of a sudden “the fullness of time” has a specific date, a specific place and the full and sated Word of what he is really like is first heard in the cry of a newborn baby.

This is the Christmas paradigm that brings the extremes of the divine/human, universal/specific, and eternal/dated and brings one into the other. The Eternal became human. The unseen God now has a face and leaves footprints in the desert sand. His embrace heals our fragile and broken limbs.

Now, back to what the Christmas story has to do with our purpose and meaning. It is exactly this, that the specific act of God in Jesus has now become the universal paradigm for making himself known again and again and again. The universal Christ is once again born in every compassionate touch and every act of love of one space/time individual to another. God continues to become flesh and live among us through our hands and feet. Our words. Our lives. We are not the Christ. But in a manner beyond our comprehension, our purpose goes beyond enjoying God forever, to loving him and serving his children right now and right here in this wonderful little town of Ledbetter, Texas. You will never find a higher calling.

Christmas Eve

DEC24PM

Candlelight Christmas Eve Service

As we gather as a community on the evening of Dec. 24, please join us at 7:00 p.m. for candlelight, communion, music, and worship.  Take time to breathe a few moments of peace, and focus on the miracle of Christmas.  Come alone or bring your family and friends.