God Is In Control

What do we mean when we say “God is in control”?

As the ten year old says to his mom, “If God doesn’t like the devil, why doesn’t he just pinch his head off?”

It is a perennial question. And this is not an answer to that question. There is a kind of maturing faith that lives in mystery without defaulting to unbelief. There is a certain arrogance that believes we can understand everything.

What we can say is that there is great comfort in hearing those words even when we don’t completely understand them. Perhaps because we are well aware that we are not in control. Our hearts can hardly tolerate the idea that we live in a world of total chaos and randomness.

I have found immense comfort in the understanding that God being in control is to say that there is no circumstance in which God is unable to work. It doesn’t mean that God causes everything that happens. It means that when life happens, and it rips our insides out and leaves us in the ditch to die that God is still at work to mend brokenness and heal wounds. It means that no depth of sin can utterly destroy us. It means that no calamity, however bad, can shape us into a bitter and mean person. Jesus died under the weight of the sins of the whole world. But God was the real victor in that brutal ordeal. On the third day Jesus rose from the grave defeating one of our greatest terrors.

It may be that in the face of this vicious plague God is going to show up among us and demonstrate some of the best things we have ever seen him do. God is at work among us.

So let’s follow his lead and begin work with him. We  need about ten or twelve of  you who would take four or five church families’ names and keep in touch with them during the next few weeks to know if there are any needs we might be able to meet.  Email Lorri at ledbettersoulcafe@gmail.com and she will send you some contact information that we have.

Remember:  God loves you like the dickens and he is in control.

~Doug

We Need One Another

Our wonderful, generous, caring church family,

I may be at the top of the list of those who are deeply missing the fellowship with the Soul Cafe family. I suspect, however, that there are others of you who are feeling the same way. Our relationships with one another are like sustenance. Our best friends are nourishment for our soul. If you think going without food is uncomfortable try going without your friends. Bottom line is: We joyously need one another. Especially right now.

I want to send out this brief message as the first of many that has behind it the hope that it helps us connect up with one another in a safe but sustaining way.

First, let’s get on the same page. None of us has the complete picture of what is going on right now. There is an overload of information about this virus, much of which is partial and incorrect, so much so, that we don’t know what to believe or where to turn for the truth. That uncertainty is a place where panic and fear can begin to manipulate our decision making. We just don’t make our best decisions there.

At a practical level, here are some decisions that we are making for our Soul Cafe family. We are going to postpone Sunday worship services until the greatest danger of contagion is over. God will give us the wisdom to know when that will be. There will be no Wednesday evening services. Our encouragement is that we err on the side of caution for the sake of others. Now some of you brave hearts would charge hell with a water gun. And you’re not afraid of getting the virus at all. However, I’ll bet you feel differently about giving the virus to someone else. It would break your heart. So just know we are not canceling services to protect you brave ones, we are canceling services to protect everyone else. (My real desire would be to get a bunch of us he-men together so, in solidarity, we could shake out fists in the face of the old devil.)

So if there is any objective in this first of a series of communications it is that we listen to what God wishes to say to us. I encourage you to amplify and expand. Here is what Jesus says God is like:

God is LOVE. In hundreds of ways Jesus reminds us that God is like a Father who longs for a wayward son to come home. Or like a good shepherd with ninety nine sheep safely in the corral, risk life and limb to claw through the darkness of night to look for the one that is lost. That is what God is like. Even in pandemics God is still in love with you.

God is at Work. There is no moment in which God is not working on your behalf. “For we know that in all things God is at work for the good of those who love him and called to be a part of his purpose.” (Romans 8: 28)

God calls us to participate in extending his love. That is where we are right now. I can’t think of a time in which there is more need to express God’s love to others than right now.

God’s love wins. If there is an absolute power and ultimate power, it is the stamina of God’s love. There is a confidence stirring in me that assures me we are going to make it through this. Together.

So even at some “social distance” I want many of you to help keep us in helping us lovingly connect up with one another in meeting whatever needs arise. Already your creativity is rising up out of the confusion in ways that amaze me.

The next communication will start putting us together in ways that will sustain us.

This is my Father’s world. We are in His loving hands.

Grace and Peace,

Doug

Jesus Knows

Scripture Reading:  Matthew 27:46; Psalms 22: 1-19

It is a gut wrenching emptiness to be utterly abandoned.  Every one of us know something of that devastating loneliness.  We can remember what the emotional pain was like.

These agonizing words spoken by Jesus from the cross are recalled by both Matthew and Mark. They allow us to find in Jesus someone who is kin to us.  He knows. He knows exactly.

What is recollected by Matthew and Mark are the opening verses of Psalms 22.  Except for the excruciating depth of his pain, Jesus may have quoted aloud the whole Psalm. He knew it by heart.  It is a Psalm that foreshadows the very event Jesus is now going through.

There is part of Jesus’ death that we can understand as Jesus dying for us.  As in our stead.  We can treasure that expression of his love for us.  However, it may only be half the fullness of what happened when Jesus died.  There is another sense in which Jesus dies not just for us, but with us.  He dies in the same way we die when the bottom falls out of life and there seems to be no one to whom we can turn.  No one there to hear us.  It is the way we die when we cry out loud and ask for help and the heavens seem silent.  In that way Jesus dies with us.  He knows.  He knows exactly.

It may be true that our most profound steps forward in our faith are preceded by just this kind of pathos.  Even in the silence, however, God is at His work of redemption.  For in the silence God is saying that there is no sin for which you are culpable that he cannot forgive.  And there is no sin done to you by others that cannot be healed.

You know what it is to be forsaken.  So does He.  He knows exactly.

Service Updates

This is a very difficult call. However, in being on the better side of careful, I have made the decision to cancel Sunday worship service for March 15 and all activities for Wednesday, March 18.
Most of us, I realize, are not overly worried about the virus. But if prudence saves just one person the great discomfort of this malicious virus then it will be a wise decision to cancel services this Sunday and Wednesday.
I encourage everyone to stay at home this Sunday.  By Saturday evening, via email and the church’s Facebook page and website, Lorri and I will send out a Scripture reading and my thoughts leading us into the Easter season that you can use at home as a family or for personal worship.
Use your most trusted source to take whatever precautions you follow.
I don’t want to send a mixed or confusing message. If you can stay home this Sunday, that may be the wisest thing you can do. I will, however, be at the church on Sunday morning to tell all those, including potential guests, that services at the church have been canceled. I will stay there until 11:15. At that time I will begin a time of prayer for our community in coping with this situation that has caused so much fear all over the world. If anyone wishes to join me for the brief time until 11:30, that would be fine. We will bump elbows, pray, and return home.
Here are the words to a great hymn of comfort:

This Is My Father’s World

This is my Father’s world, and to my list’ning ears,

All nature sings and round me rings
The music of the spheres
This is my Father’s world, the birds their carols raise
The morning light, the lily white
Declare their Maker’s praise.
This is my Father’s world!  I rest me in the thought
Of rocks and trees, of skies and seas;
His hand the wonders wrought.
This is my Father’s world, O let me ne’er forget
That though the wrong seems oft so strong
God is the ruler yet.

This is my Father’s world!  Why should my heart be sad?

The Lord is King, let the heavens ring;
God reigns, let the earth be glad.
This is my Father’s world!  He shines in all that’s fair;
In the rustling grass I hear Him pass,
He speaks to me everywhere.
In the rustling grass I hear Him pass
He speaks to me everywhere.
Grace and Peace,
Doug Tipps

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.