The Christmas Paradigm

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 Grace and Peace,

Doug Tipps

With Thankful Hearts

Sometimes it is a question of what name we call God when we say our prayers of gratitude. There are grand-sounding Hebrew words that are names for God: Yahweh, Elohim, Jehovah. Those names give us a sense of the magnitude and greatness of God. They express so much about who God is. They describe His character.  When Jesus taught us to pray, however, he showed us a preference for a name — a way of addressing God that brought God very near to us. “When you pray,” he said, “Say, ‘Our Father’.” What a transforming idea.  He is our Father.  We are His children.  And He has come close enough that he hears every word, feels every heartbeat, knows every concern.  To praise God means that we acknowledge what is most true about God.

We reserve our greatest thanks for what we most desperately need, a Heavenly Father. For that we will praise His name forever.

Join us for worship tomorrow morning as our Praise Team, along with narrator Kathy Gordon, lead us in a musical celebration of Thanksgiving.  Together, we will take the Lord’s Supper as part of our worship.  All are welcome.

Walking Out of the Chaos Alive

Matthew 6: 25 – 34;  7: 24 – 25

This paragraph is from the most important talk Jesus would ever give. In Matthew it is described as being given on the side of a hill. Some people refer to it as the “sermon on the mountain.”  It was, with little doubt, given many other times in all kinds of settings; by the lake, from a boat, in a wheat field. Jesus spoke these words so often that his closest friends had memorized them without even trying.

This paragraph may be said to be a central injunction to the most revolutionary ethical document ever written or spoken. Here is the core: Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness and everything else will be added to your life. Everything else will take care of itself. Everything else will fall into place.

I want to attach this astonishing promise to one of the starkest realities of our existence.  That reality is that everyone of us, either by a choice or by circumstances beyond our control, often find ourselves in the pain and anxiety of just being alive. Life tilts too far to one side and we fall onto the granular pavement. Someone leaves and we sink into despair. The doctor delivers the test results in quiet whispers. In an instant we are in chaos not even knowing where we are, or worse, who we are.

So we ask, “Jesus, what good is it that after spending all this time seeking the highest order of good that we can imagine that we still end  up as the protagonist in a tragedy?”  It is a gut-wrenching question but appropriate to a life of faith. And Jesus has an answer that is so real, so staggeringly hopeful that we sob in gratitude. “Those who hear these words and do what I have asked will become like a man who built his house upon a rock. And the rains came. The tidal waters rose to beat upon the house. The winds blew furiously against it.  But guess what? The house did not fall. It did not fall because it was built upon a rock.”

If you want to walk out of the chaos alive then you’ll want to listen intently to the counsel of Jesus, and then do it.  It’s a rock-solid place to stand.

Come Home

To say that God is Holy is more than saying that he doesn’t do bad things. To be holy is to be whole, complete, and full. God is “Wholy” in that nothing can be added that will make him more God than he already is.

Among the first ascriptions made about who God is comes in the creation story. In grand narrative God says, “Let us make man in our own image. In his own image created he them.  Female and male created he them.” Whatever it means to be male comes to us out of fullness of who God is. Likewise, whatever it means to be female comes to us out of the fullness of who God is. Maleness and femaleness are both part of the “wholyness” of God.

So it no stretch to imagine that God uses both femaleness and maleness to do  his  transformative, creative, redemptive work in the world. In the early morning light that dawned on the “gathered” followers of Jesus, Peter preached a sermon about  “wholyness”.  It had to do with  the fullness that the Spirit would bring and what that fullness would do. “And it shall come to pass in the last days, says God, that I will pour out of my Spirit on all flesh. Your sons and your daughters will prophesy. Your young men shall see visions. Your old men shall dream dreams. And on My menservants and on My maidservants I will pour out My Spirit in those days and they shall prophesy.” The word prophesy is meant to declare or proclaim the will and message of God. We understand it when we use the word “preach”.

That is the picture of the community of faith when it is full of the Spirit, when it is “wholy”.  In half full churches only the males get to do the “important” jobs.  In churches full to the overflow all people created in his image share in the tasks.

All that as a preface to saying, Beth Moore, you are welcome at Soul Cafe Church. We acknowledge you as a faithful minister of God’s word.  You would be welcomed with open arms. Please catch the nuanced difference in the resentful words “go home” and the respectful words “come home”.  You have greatly blessed us with your prophetic words.

Our Dreams Live On Beyond Our Grief

Genesis 23:1-12

This most tender of stories gets its pathos from Abraham’s love for Sarah. His love is beautifully expressed at the moment of Sarah’s death.  Abraham and Sarah have lived as sojourners and foreigners just outside the promised land.  Even though Sarah was 120 years old, Abraham is unprepared for her death. Through the tears, some hasty arrangements must be made for her burial.  At this moment of grief, Abraham, the one called upon to be a blessing to every nation of the world, finds that he is the one who is blessed.  This remarkable story pictures how living as a blessing to others, even as strangers in a distant land, circles back as blessing in return.  We do harvest the produce of the exact seeds that we have sown.  Now the owners of the country in which Abraham sojourned give him the burial place for his wife, Sarah, as a response to the way he had lived among them.  How is it that we live as a part of our world?  Our community?  Do we live as a blessing or as a curse?  The enormous consideration for the people of faith in every community is whether we live among people in such a way that God’s vision and promise can carry on into the future.  Do we live in such a way that our hopes and dreams of the future live on beyond our grief and loss?  Hard times, disappointments, and train wrecks are going to happen for all of us.  But God’s vision does not come to an end even when the most tragic events come our way.  Calamity is not the end of the line in this journey of faith. The dream goes on.

The Faithfulness In Living As Though There Is a Future

What does it take to live like there is a future? What risk is there in believing that God has all things in his loving hands? What are the challenges of believing  that God will faithfully guide us as we take the next steps into a future that has been promised?

However, living conversely with no future in sight is sure to be filled with fear, anxiety, and a paralyzing preoccupation with safety. Nihilism has its inevitable consequences.

The story of Abraham is saturated with the story of God’s faithfulness to him. But it is also filled with Abraham’s faithful response to the challenges that could easily end any hope of a future. That is especially true in the story of the instruction to sacrifice his son Isaac. Isaac’s death would be the end of the line for Abraham’s hope of a future – at least the one that God had promised. What is it like to trust God with your future when that promise presses up against incredible odds that are just not going to happen?

Living full of faith in God’s faithfulness is our only hope.

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