Sunday, November 27, 2016

 

Advent 2016: The Hope of Christmas

Today marks the first Sunday of Advent, the time when Christians the world over begin the celebration of the Incarnation, when God became human and made his dwelling among us in the form of Jesus, the Messiah. The first Sunday of Advent is typically dedicated to the idea of "hope", and the focus is on the expectation of the completion of the rescue of humanity from sin and death. Jesus' sacrificial death and miraculous resurrection are the means by which this rescue is effected for us, but it all began with the expectation and hope of a Redeemer, a Messiah who would come to the aid of God's people.

Some of the passages associated with this first Sunday of Advent include Isaiah 2:1-5 and Romans 13:11-14. Here they are from the HCSB translation:
Isaiah 2:1-5 "The vision that Isaiah son of Amoz saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem: In the last days the mountain of the LORD's house will be established at the top of the mountains and will be raised above the hills. All nations will stream to it, and many peoples will come and say, 'Come, let us go up to the mountain of the LORD, to the house of the God of Jacob. He will teach us about His ways so that we may walk in His paths.' For instruction will go out of Zion and the word of the LORD from Jerusalem. He will settle disputes among the nations and provide arbitration for many peoples. They will turn their swords into plows and their spears into pruning knives. Nations will not take up the sword against other nations, and they will never again train for war. House of Jacob, come and let us walk in the LORD's light." 
 Romans 13:11-14 "Besides this, knowing the time, it is already the hour for you to wake up from sleep, for now our salvation is nearer than when we first believed. The night is nearly over, and the daylight is near, so let us discard the deeds of darkness and put on the armor of light. Let us walk with decency, as in the daylight: not in carousing and drunkenness; not in sexual impurity and promiscuity; not in quarreling and jealousy. But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no plans to satisfy the fleshly desires."
Both of these passages remind us that God's invasion into his creation in the form of his Incarnation not only began the rescue so desperately needed and expected, it also provided the means by which humanity could live in the manner God intended them. Some might call that the "magic" of Christmas or "the Christmas Spirit". The idea is that this season of remembrance of that Child who was born to die and to rise and to redeem creates a kind of opportunity for humanity to imitate the humble service and sacrifice of Jesus in everyday life. The very atmosphere seems charged with the energy of Christ; an energy that helps humans act in ways that God intended. 

As we embrace the idea of God becoming human, as we recognize the humility of Jesus (who being God chose to humble himself to serve us all to the point of death), we find in these actions a pattern for life. We find that humility and service is our proper end, and we also find that as we serve others we introduce the possibility of "hope" for all humanity. In fact, sometimes the very spirit of Christmas can cause people to act better and with more grace. It reminds me of a poem by Edgar A. Guest. 

In the poem below Guest elaborates on how a person responds to the "Christmas spirit" and how it can cause a change in a person's life.  The poem puts into my mind the image of a reformed Scrooge, fresh off his encounters with the ghost of Christmas, now engaging faithfully to live a less self-focused life.

I know that times have changed, and I realize that people do not always have "Christmas cheer" at this time of year.  Nonetheless, my prayer for all of us is that we become the people God intended us to be, especially now as we celebrate the Advent of our Lord Jesus.  May we live in such a way as to create "hope" in others. May our humble service lead to changed lives and a more hopeful future. May the Hope of Advent cause you to emulate the life of Jesus. I hope this poem blesses you!

Thanks for reading!

Labels: , , , , , , ,


Monday, October 31, 2016

 

Exposed--John 8:1-11

On September 18, I had the honor of preaching at Gospel Community Church in Lynchburg, Va. My sermon was on John 8:1-11 and the woman caught in adultery. I entitled the sermon "Exposed". You can find a link to watch the sermon here: Exposed--John 8:1-11. The notes from the sermon are below (and I should note that I read several sermons and commentaries in preparing this material. I am grateful for their wisdom and help). Thanks for reading!

Exposed 
John 8:1-11

Technical Issues: If you have a modern translation of the Bible (i.e., after the KJV), then you will likely find this account in a footnote or in brackets. Many scholars feel that it has been inserted into the Gospel of John at this point. In many ancient manuscripts it is found in different places. Some place it at the end of the Gospel of John (or in other locations in John); some place it after Luke 21; and some omit it entirely. As a result, there is some question as to whether this account really occurred at the time we find it in John's gospel. Scholars generally agree, however, that this event did actually occur, and that it was part of our Lord's ministry. It may be put here in John because it illustrates so well the statement of Jesus in Chapter 7, "Stop judging according to outward appearances; rather judge according to righteous judgment." (John 7:24 HCSB). Suffice it to say, even though John may not have written this story, the consensus of scholarship and the early church is that this location is best. So we will deal with this passage as an inspired text that provides some kind of insight into how John presents Jesus in this Gospel.

Introduction—Numbers 32:23 “. . .  behold, you have sinned against the LORD, and be sure your sin will find you out.”

Luke 12:2-3: “There is nothing covered that won't be uncovered, nothing hidden that won't be made known. Therefore whatever you have said in the dark will be heard in the light, and what you have whispered in an ear in private rooms will be proclaimed on the housetops.”

Proverbs 28:13 “The one who conceals his sins will not prosper, but whoever confesses and renounces them will find mercy.”

A story of someone being unexpectedly “exposed” as a fraud. Sam Hurd: “He seemed like a great guy, quoting the bible and always friendly,” said an official with the Chicago Bears—the last team to which the former wide receiver Sam Hurd was signed. Hailing from San Antonio, Texas, Sam Hurd was a state football star in high school and a standout at Northern Illinois University, placing in the top five in many of the categories in their receiving records. In 2006, he signed as an undrafted free agent with the Dallas Cowboys. He was released five years later and signed as a free agent with the Chicago Bears in July 2011. In December 2011, Hurd sent shockwaves through the NFL when he was arrested after purchasing cocaine from an undercover agent, set up by his friend and an informant at a Chicago steakhouse. Hurd was a man with bible scriptures tattooed on his torso and a drug baron who made an alleged $700,000 per week. According to the official affidavit, a man connected to Hurd’s drug trafficking referred to as “T.L.” set up many deals with and for Hurd. Police found $88,000 cash and marijuana in a car T.L. was operating during a routine traffic stop. T.L. said that the car and money were not his and that it all belonged to Hurd, claiming that he performed routine maintenance on his cars. The authorities seized the money and released T.L., who later tried to broker a deal with an informant on Hurd’s behalf to traffic 5-10 kilograms (11-12 lb) of cocaine and 450 kilograms (1,000 lb) of marijuana per week. Authorities met Hurd at the steakhouse, where Hurd told the undercover agents that he currently trafficked 4 kilograms (9 lb) per week in Chicago. The undercover agent provided Hurd with a kilogram (2 lb) of cocaine and left the steakhouse. Hurd was arrested once he left the restaurant. He was sentenced to 15 years in prison in 2013. (from http://listverse.com/2014/10/29/10-people-who-lived-shocking-and-conflicting-double-lives/)

“Be sure your sin will find you out . . .” God reminds us in his word that taking a path opposite of what he wants will result in exposure at some point in our lives. When we least expect it, the things we’ve tried to keep hidden will spring up and be revealed. There is an old saying that “If our thoughts were broadcast on our foreheads, we’d never remove our hats.” Many of us here this morning would probably agree with that. So, what is it we hope will NOT be exposed? What is it we hope no one finds out? Our passage today shows the experience of some folks who were exposed, and the end results were not always pretty. Let’s see what happens when the things that were covered become uncovered in John 8.

Read John 8:1-11

This passage reveals to us three kinds of exposure. Sure, there is the exposure of the woman caught in adultery, but she isn’t the only one exposed here. In fact, during preparation for this sermon, I concluded that there are three kinds of exposure here:

Unrighteous Exposure—(John 8:1-6) 
Righteous Exposure—(John 8:6-9) 
Redemptive Exposure—(John 8:10-11)

Let’s explore these a bit to see what hidden things are exposed.

Unrighteous Exposure—(8:1-6)—the Pharisees—the first exposure we see here is the sin of the woman. Jesus is going about his usual day of teaching in the Temple. Nothing hidden and nothing exposed. He is simply behaving like a Rabbi teaching those who will listen. During one of his class sessions, the Pharisees interrupt to bring a woman in who they say they caught in the act of adultery. They demand a verdict from Jesus on the woman. Should she be stoned for her offense?

Let’s be honest about the situation. This woman is guilty of adultery. Now, adultery is a terrible sin, but it is no worse than any other sin (cf. James 2:10). In fact, none of us in this room can claim innocence of sin, we are all guilty (Rom. 3:10; 3:23; Gal. 3:22). Like this woman, we are deserving of condemnation and death. We have sinned, even if our sin has not been exposed like hers. Nobody gets away with sin! (see Rom. 6:23; Eze. 18:4) For all who sin, there will come a payday someday!

In his book Mere Christianity, C. S. Lewis says, “If anyone thinks that Christians regard unchastity (sexual sin) as the supreme vice, he is quite wrong. The sins of the flesh are bad, but they are the least bad of all sins. All the worst pleasures are purely spiritual. The pleasure of putting other people in the wrong, of bossing and patronizing and spoiling sport, and backbiting; the pleasures of power, of hatred. For there are two things inside me...they are the animal self and the diabolical self; and the diabolical self is the worst of the two. That is why a cold self-righteous prig who goes regularly to church may be far nearer to hell than a prostitute. But of course it is better to be neither!”

The reason we call this exposure “unrighteous”, however, has little to do with the nature of the woman’s sin. It has to do with the attitude of the scribes and Pharisees. They brought this woman to Jesus not to find out about righteousness, but to try to trap Jesus in saying something they could use against him. Did they think he’d let her go? If so, then they could say “See, he doesn’t keep the law!” Did they think he’d offer to kill her? Maybe then they would talk about his insensitivity and his lack of compassion. Knowing that Jesus hung out with people like this woman, however, the leaders probably wanted him to let her go. The problem is this: the people trying to spring a trap by exposing this woman’s sin, will end up exposed themselves. "Be sure, your sin will find you out . . . "

But we get ahead of ourselves. Here we simply want to see that these leaders wanted to use this woman’s failure to further their own cause. They exposed her to shame and condemnation in order to trap Jesus and get him in trouble. They were unrighteous in their exposure. They wanted to make the woman look bad, to make Jesus look bad, so that they could in turn make themselves look good. This is why this is unrighteous exposure. They do not want to help anyone become right before God, they want to look like they are right while everyone else looks wrong. Unrighteous exposure looks to reveal the failures of others simply to make ourselves look good in contrast. Sin may be exposed, but at what price? We see the results in the next section when Jesus shows us what righteous exposure looks like. "Be sure, your sin will find you out . . . "

Righteous Exposure—(vv. 6-9)—Jesus and the Pharisees. The second exposure is a contrast to the first. The scribes and the Pharisees think that they have an advantage over Jesus because of the woman’s sin. They think they’ve exposed Jesus to a problem--one that he will not be able to work out. The problem is that they have also exposed themselves by their unrighteous exposure of the woman. Those who wanted to trap someone now find themselves in a trap. They who wanted to expose another’s wrong find themselves uncomfortably exposed. "Be sure, your sins will find you out . . ."

After they set a trap for Jesus, he responded by stooping down and writing on the ground. What did he write? Wouldn’t we love to know? Maybe he wrote out the 10 commandments, or Lev 20:10/Deut 22:22 (which deals with the sin of adultery), or the names of the girlfriends of the leaders. He may have written Jer. 17:13 (“LORD, the hope of Israel, all who abandon You will be put to shame. All who turn away from Me will be written in the dirt, for they have abandoned the fountain of living water, the LORD”). We don’t know what he wrote, but the impatience of the leaders is clear as they pressed him for a decision: “We’ve exposed the sin of this woman, what should we do with her?”

Jesus never answers their question. He exposes their own sin. He stood up, and he challenged them: “The one without sin among you should be the first to throw a stone at her." He isn’t advocating that one has to be sinless to judge. No, Jesus is pointing out the failure of the scribes and the Pharisees to follow the law they seem so zealous to enforce. You see, Deut 22 reminds us that in cases of adultery, two people are to be judged and then condemned if the charge is true. But here the leaders bring only ONE person—the woman! Where is the man with whom she was caught in the act of adultery? Was he one of the leaders? Did they allow him to escape? We may never know, but we know that they are genuinely guilty here of failing to keep the law. 

They want to condemn the woman (without her lover) and to use that condemnation to trap Jesus. Jesus turns the trap on them. These sanctimonious prosecutors were themselves in stark violation of the law. Had Jesus been under a commission to render a civil judgment in this case, he could not have countenanced this “kangaroo” procedure. The thrust of Christ’s statement—“He that is without sin . . .”—was this: “None of you is in a position to stone this woman, for you have disregarded the very law you profess to honor. It is a travesty.” The Pharisees’ inconsistency had been laid bare. Jesus exposes them. They were breaking the very law that they claimed to uphold when they did not include the man to be stoned. They are guilty of sin, they are trapped, they are exposed! Proverbs 16:2: “All a man's ways seem right in his own eyes, but the LORD weighs the motives.”

What happened then? The exposed leaders, caught now in their own trap, begin to leave one at a time. As they realize that they have been exposed, they decide that the better part of valor is to leave. Turning away from Jesus (who they wanted to trap) and the woman (who they wanted to expose), they walked away defeated, done, exposed for their own unrighteousness. Let's at least give them credit for the fact that when they saw themselves as they really were, they stopped calling for the death of this woman. "Be sure, your sin will find you out . . . "

Seeing ourselves as we really are is one of the hardest things we can face! However, when we see ourselves in our sinful state, then we can do something about it. When we are convicted of our sins, then is the time to come to Jesus. After all, He is the only One who can deal with our sin problem! The guilt of the Pharisees is exposed in their failure to bring the man and their intention to “trap” Jesus instead of pursuing justice and righteousness. When you are intent on “trapping” someone, you will often find yourself snared. Selfishness and self-righteousness may lead to exposure and ensnarement. This poem by Elton Higgs illustrates the predicament of the Pharisees well:
"Convicted" 
We slink away, heads hung in shame,
With tongues and hands disarmed
By flash of sin reversed;
Not one of us had conscience clear
Enough to start the slaughter.
We came to trap him in his words,
Yet our words became our snare.
He turned on us the double-cutting sword
Of Law-based righteousness,
And bleeding now we leave the field,
Our cleverness in ashes.
Jesus showed righteous exposure here when he revealed the true nature of the Pharisee’s actions. Jesus exposed them to their own sin, and they walked away. Righteous exposure reveals sin for what it is—a falling short of God’s glory, a turning away from God’s expectations and plans. But if we respond to that exposure by turning away from Jesus, we have missed the third kind of exposure: Redemptive exposure. This is what we find in the end of our text. "Be sure, your sin will find you out . . . " 

Redemptive Exposure—(vv. 10-11)—Jesus and the Woman. The end of our story today is the end that many of us have encountered. We look up and there is no one there but Jesus alone. The woman’s accusers have left, they are not there to condemn her. She is left alone with Jesus. 

Jesus asks her if there are any witnesses against her. Is there anyone left to condemn? She responds with “No one, Lord.” Maybe at that moment she realizes that the only one who could condemn her was standing in front of her. As Paul notes in Romans 8:33-34: “Who can bring an accusation against God's elect? God is the One who justifies. Who is the one who condemns? Christ Jesus is the One who died, but even more, has been raised; He also is at the right hand of God and intercedes for us.” We may never know what the woman thought, but we know that Jesus looks at this sinful, guilty, and rightfully condemned woman and says, “If there are no witnesses to condemn you, then neither do I.” Jesus isn’t overlooking her sin, he is acknowledging the law--if there are no witnesses, she cannot be stoned. Jesus didn’t see her commit this sin, and none of those who claimed to do so are there, so Jesus acknowledges the redemptive truth that no witnesses means no condemnation. (cf. Rev. 12)

The Greek word for “condemn” is a strong one and suggests handing down a judgment, passing sentence. The Lord was informing the woman that she was not judicially sentenced. As Bloomfield observed, Jesus was simply making “a declaration that, since his kingdom was not of this world, so he would not assume the office of a temporal magistracy.” He was not sanctioning adultery, nor minimizing the woman’s wickedness—quite the contrary. Christ was commenting upon the legal aspect of the situation. With the accusers gone, there was no case left! The witnesses were required to throw the first stones (Deut 17:7); without them the matter simply could proceed no further.

The woman had reached a place in her life where it was just her and Jesus. It always comes down to that! Eventually, somewhere, someday you are going to have to face Jesus. Eventually, somewhere, someday you are going to have to bow to Jesus! The beauty of the woman’s situation is that she is now face-to-face with the one who can redeem her. She is alone with Jesus, and he tells her to “Go, and sin no more.” Jesus addresses her sin, and then addresses her need. This is redemptive exposure. Jesus will not command us to do something he will not give us the ability to do. So when he commands her to sin no more, he intends to provide her what she needs to accomplish that. By coming to Jesus alone, by recognizing him as Lord, she could walk away not condemned but redeemed! We don’t know the rest of her story, but we can be sure she was never the same. Here is another poem by Elton Higgs to explain the woman's situation: 

"Reprieve"   
Only when He spoke did I meet His eyes,
Full of beautiful severity.
As ugly the sin as it was before,
But condemnation gone!
Reproach was swallowed up
In “Go, and sin no more.”
 No backup plan for being stoned,
I walk toward home to find my way again.
Old way of life must now be buried,
As--rising from forgiveness—
His love replaces carnal lust.
Unjust escape from penalty say those
Who hide behind the Law,
But blissful boon to her who heard
The quieter voice
Replacing heartless rage.

What about us? Are we being exposed? Is someone taking advantage of our failure or sin to trap us or to further a selfish agenda? Has the Holy Spirit exposed sin today that needs to be addressed? Will we respond like the Pharisees and walk away, or like the woman and receive redemption? "Be sure, your sin will find you out . . ."

This beautiful story brings us to that place this morning. We understand that when our sins are forgiven, it is to free us that we might begin to live a different lifestyle and never to go back to the things that we have left behind. Sometimes we may. Sometimes we are weak, and need again the forgiving grace of God. But forgiveness is always designed to set us free. That is why it is given. When our Lord forgave this woman that is what he did: He set her free to be a different kind of person than she ever was before.

Conclusion/Application

How do we respond? Here is what we need to do:

1)    Take inventory. What is being exposed in our lives? Where are we trapped? Where do we need Christ to free us? Today do real business with God and the Holy Spirit. Do not walk out of here without dealing with the exposure God’s Word has brought today.
2)  Take heart. No matter what your situation, Jesus can bring redemption.
3)  Take note. Are we looking to Jesus alone, or are we looking for ways to justify ourselves? We cannot find redemption without Jesus, and he alone will not only expose our sin but give us the means to walk in freedom. Remember, we are not destined to lives of condemnation but to lives of freedom. How we respond to exposure is as important as the recognition that exposure is a possibility.

As we leave here today, let us commit ourselves to living in the light of redemptive exposure. Let us deal with each other as Jesus dealt with this woman. He did not use her sin to his own benefit, nor did he hold it against her in a way to keep her from progressing to holiness. We need to learn redemptive exposure today—to expose the sin in our lives in a way that leads us to embrace Christ and each other. This week, look for opportunities to expose truth and to be people of redemption. No sin is too big for Jesus.

Where are you exposed? Jesus is there—cling to him alone. 

Labels: , , , , , , , , ,


Friday, September 30, 2016

 

The Great American Novel: A Song by Larry Norman

Tonight as I have been hanging out with my family, I have had a song running through my head.  The song is by Larry Norman, something of a pioneer in Christian music.  Norman wasn't afraid to take on controversial topics in his songs, and in many ways he was a bold man.  I dearly loved his music, and I own several of his albums on actual vinyl records.  In some ways Larry Norman (along with DeGarmo and Key, Petra, Keith Green, Randy Stonehill, Bob Bennett, Sweet Comfort Band, Chuck Girard, Rich Mullins, and others) wrote the background music to my Christian life as a young man.  Nonetheless, there was one song that sticks with me.  That song is entitled "The Great American Novel."  Here are the lyrics:

i was born and raised an orphan
in a land that once was free
in a land that poured its love out on the moon
and i grew up in the shadows
of your silos filled with grain
but you never helped to fill my empty spoon

and when i was ten you murdered law
with courtroom politics
and you learned to make a lie sound just like truth
but i know you better now
and i don't fall for all your tricks
and you've lost the one advantage of my youth

you kill a black man at midnight
just for talking to your daughter
then you make his wife your mistress
and you leave her without water
and the sheet you wear upon your face
is the sheet your children sleep on
at every meal you say a prayer
you don't believe but still you keep on

and your money says in God we trust
but it's against the law to pray in school
you say we beat the russians to the moon
and i say you starved your children to do it

you are far across the ocean
but the war is not your own
and while you're winning theirs
you're gonna lose the one at home
do you really think the only way
to bring about the peace
is to sacrifice your children
and kill all your enemies

the politicians all make speeches
while the news men all take note
and they exaggerate the issues
as they shove them down our throats
is it really up to them
whether this country sinks or floats
well i wonder who would lead us
if none of us would vote

well my phone is tapped and my lips are chapped
from whispering through the fence
you know every move i make
or is that just coincidence
well you try to make my way of life
a little less like jail
if i promise to make tapes and slides
and send them through the mail

and your money says in God we trust
but it's against the law to pray in school
you say we beat the russians to the moon
and i say you starved your children to do it
you say all men are equal all men are brothers
then why are the rich more equal than others
don't ask me for the answer i've only got one
that a man leaves his darkness when he follows the Son
Although the issues he addresses in this song are predominantly issues of the 60s and 70s, the song still has a lot of relevance for today.  How often do we (as Christians, or even as Americans) think of our own needs first, putting our needs before the needs and suffering of others?  As Norman sings, our silos are full of grain, but we don't make a move to fill another person's empty spoon.  As Christians, we are called to feed the hungry, and yet so often we fail to do so (or we write a check or expect the government to do it because "we pay taxes").  Love for others should require us to consider the concerns of others as more important than our own (see Philippians 2).

And that is only ONE issue Norman addresses.  He addresses corrupt politics, racism, war, and a multitude of other issues, many of which still linger in our society.

I can almost see him, looking a bit prophetic in his long hair and faded jeans, singing his words of truth into my soul.  I remember seeing him in concert, and I remember wondering how he was able to read my heart and address my concerns so clearly.

I was young, I was idealistic.  And Larry Norman fed my soul things it needed to hear.  I needed to be reminded that the kingdom of God is more important than presidential elections.  I needed to be reminded that how I treat my neighbor says a lot more about my faith in God than how often I read my Bible.  I needed to be reminded that how I spend my money shows my real concerns and my true convictions.  I needed to be reminded that what I think of God often says more about me than it does about God.

I needed someone like Larry Norman to remind me--Christianity isn't necessarily a panacea for the world's problems.  It is a relationship with a living Lord who invades our lives with His amazing kindness and expects us to spread that love to others.  Christianity should be an ongoing journey into the Light, into the Truth, and a continuous connection and growing into the image of the One who made me and who laid down His life to save mine.

I needed to be reminded that Christianity isn't simply about creeds, belief systems, or doctrinal statements.  It is action.  God loved, and He acted.  How can we who follow Him expect to do anything less?  If we love as He loves, we will (indeed, we MUST) act.

Larry Norman wasn't perfect, but he was a good reminder for me at just the right time.  God used Norman to shore up my conscience, to remind me that in all my gaining of knowledge I needed to also gain wisdom to live life as God intended.  In some of his music, Norman shared that wisdom.

As he reminds us in the song above:  "you say all men are equal all men are brothers/then why are the rich more equal than others/don't ask me for the answer i've only got one/that a man leaves his darkness when he follows the Son."

How are we doing?  Are we walking out of darkness into God's great Light?  Are we moving in God's direction?  Where else can we go, Jesus alone holds the Words of Life . . .

Thanks, Larry Norman, for sticking in my head.  May your tribe increase!

Thanks for reading!

Labels: , , , , , ,


Sunday, July 31, 2016

 

"Beautiful Letdown" (Switchfoot) and Dual Citizenship

This morning our pastor preached a sermon on "Dual Citizenship" to remind us Christians that we are NOT citizens of this world. Our citizenship in Christ and in his kingdom must take priority in how we live out our lives as citizens here on earth. Before he started his sermon, he mentioned the lyrics of the Switchfoot song "Beautiful Letdown". Since it is one of my favorites, I wanted to share it in its entirety here:

It was a beautiful letdown
When I crashed and burned
When I found myself alone
Unknown and hurt 
It was a beautiful letdown
The day I knew
That all the riches this world had to offer me
Would never do 
In a world full of bitter pain
And bitter doubts
I was trying so hard to fit in, fit in
Until I found out 
That I don't belong here
I don't belong here
I will carry a cross and a song
Where I don't belong, I don't belong 
It was a beautiful letdown
When you found me here
Yeah, for once in a rare blue moon
I see everything clear 
I'll be a beautiful letdown
That's what I'll forever be
And though it may cost my soul
I'll sing for free 
We're still chasing our tails in the rising sun
In our dark water planet still spinning
In a direction no one wins, no one's won 
See, I don't belong here
Well, I don't belong here
I will carry across with a song
Where I don't belong, I don't belong
I don't belong here 
Well, I don't belong here
I'm gonna set sight and set sail
For the kingdom come, kingdom come
Your kingdom come 
Won't you let me down, yeah
Let my foolish proud
Forever let me down 
Ah, easy living you're not much like the name
Easy dying, you look just about the same
Would you please take me off your list?
Easy living, please c'mon and let me down 
We are a beautiful letdown
Painfully uncool
The church of the dropouts
And losers and sinners and failures and the fools 
What a beautiful let down
Are we salt in the wound?
Hey, let us sing one true tune, hey yeah 
I don't belong here
No, I don't belong here
No, I don't belong here
It feels like I don't belong here, yeah
No, I don't belong here
It goes like I don't belong here
Yo, I don't belong 
Won't you let me down?
C'mon and let me down
You always let me down
So glad that I'm letdown, hey
C'mon and let me down
'Cause I don't belong here
Please, won't you let me down
The sermon focused on John 17 and Jesus' prayer for his followers to have unity. One of the things Jesus mentions is that his followers are in this world, but they are also not of this world. He prays for God to protect them, to help them be unified, and to show them how to love as God loves.

No, I don't belong here . . . the story doesn't seem complete. This world is missing something . . . it is incomplete. Would be messiahs will tell us that they can fix what's wrong with this world, but ultimately it will take the return of the One who created it to make it right. The story isn't over yet, and even though the current chapter is less than happy for many, the truth is that it will not remain that way forever.

I don't belong here . . . every fiber of my being reminds me that there is something better that comes because of Someone by whose humble love I can learn to be truly alive.

May we all learn to be good citizens to that kingdom that will come! May we learn to be more like our King!

Thank you for reading!

Labels: , , , ,


Thursday, June 30, 2016

 

In Honor of the Fourth of July--Happy Birthday America!

Well, the USA is about to celebrate yet another birthday, and although some people think that the brightness has worn off this "city on a hill," I'm not ready to read her obituary yet. I went back into the archives to find some quotes for today. The first one comes from John Wayne. On the internet you can find a lot of fun stuff about the Duke, but this audio of him speaking about his country is priceless to me. Click here to listen: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AuteyiYN6js.

I wanted to add another one from my favorite actor. In the movie "The Alamo," Duke plays Davey Crockett, leader to the Tennessee volunteers. At one point in the movie he gives a speech about the USA and the idea of a "republic." Here is the excerpt I liked the best:

"Republic. I like the sound of the word. It means people can live free, talk free, go or come, buy or sell, be drunk or sober, however they choose. Some words give you a feeling. Republic is one of those words that makes me tight in the throat - the same tightness a man gets when his baby takes his first step or his first baby shaves and makes his first sound as a man. Some words can give you a feeling that makes your heart warm. Republic is one of those words."

Finally, I wanted to share a poem with you all. About 8 years ago I discovered the poetry of Edgar Guest. The first poem I ran into was his "It Couldn't Be Done" in which he describes an optimist who wouldn't say "it couldn't be done" until he tried, and in trying the optimist accomplished the thing. At any rate, Guest is the author of dozens of patriotic poems, and I wanted to share this one in honor of the men and women who serve the USA in the various branches of our military and reserves. As you read this poem, why not say a short prayer of thanks for their service and ask God to protect them as they serve? Here's the poem, "The Things that Make a Soldier Great," by Edgar Guest:

The things that make a soldier great and send him out to die,
To face the flaming cannon's mouth nor ever question why,
Are lilacs by a little porch, the row of tulips red,
The peonies and pansies, too, the old petunia bed,
The grass plot where his children play, the roses on the wall:
'Tis these that make a soldier great.
He's fighting for them all. 
'Tis not the pomp and pride of kings that make a soldier brave;
'Tis not allegiance to the flag that over him may wave;
For soldiers never fight so well on land or on the foam
As when behind the cause they see the little place called home.
Endanger but that humble street whereon his children run,
You make a soldier of the man who never bore a gun. 
What is it through the battle smoke the valiant solider sees?
The little garden far away, the budding apple trees,
The little patch of ground back there, the children at their play,
Perhaps a tiny mound behind the simple church of gray.
The golden thread of courage isn't linked to castle dome
But to the spot, where'er it be --the humblest spot called home. 
And now the lilacs bud again and all is lovely there
And homesick soldiers far away know spring is in the air;
The tulips come to bloom again, the grass once more is green,
And every man can see the spot where all his joys have been.
He sees his children smile at him, he hears the bugle call,
And only death can stop him now --he's fighting for them all.
On this fourth of July weekend, as you give thanks for the freedoms and opportunities God has given you in this land, please remember to pray for those who defend our way of life and for the families of those whose loved ones paid the ultimate price so that we can enjoy our great republic. Remember, it may be a cliche, but it is true that "Freedom isn't free."

Thanks for reading!

Labels: , , ,


Monday, May 30, 2016

 

Memorial Day Speech from Ronald Reagan, 1982

Typically on the weekend of Memorial Day I post a famous poem by Edgar Guest.  This year I decided to share a different message.  Below is a speech by Ronald Reagan in 1982.  I think a lot of what he says sums up my opinions on the observance of this day in honor of our military and those who gave their lives in defense of freedom.  I hope you enjoy it!

Speech: Remarks at Memorial Day Ceremonies at Arlington National Cemetery, May 31, 1982 

In America's cities and towns today, flags will be placed on graves in cemeteries; public officials will speak of the sacrifice and the valor of those whose memory we honor. 

In 1863, when Abraham Lincoln dedicated a small cemetery in Pennsylvania marking a terrible collision between the armies of North and South, he noted the swift obscurity of such speeches. Well, we know now that Lincoln was wrong about that particular occasion. His remarks commemorating those who gave their "last full measure of devotion'' were long remembered. But since that moment at Gettysburg, few other such addresses have become part of our national heritage -- not because of the inadequacy of the speakers, but because of the inadequacy of words. 

I have no illusions about what little I can add now to the silent testimony of those who gave their lives willingly for their country. Words are even more feeble on this Memorial Day, for the sight before us is that of a strong and good nation that stands in silence and remembers those who were loved and who, in return, loved their countrymen enough to die for them. 

Yet, we must try to honor them -- not for their sakes alone, but for our own. And if words cannot repay the debt we owe these men, surely with our actions we must strive to keep faith with them and with the vision that led them to battle and to final sacrifice. 

Our first obligation to them and ourselves is plain enough: The United States and the freedom for which it stands, the freedom for which they died, must endure and prosper. Their lives remind us that freedom is not bought cheaply. It has a cost; it imposes a burden. And just as they whom we commemorate were willing to sacrifice, so too must we -- in a less final, less heroic way -- be willing to give of ourselves. 

It is this, beyond the controversy and the congressional debate, beyond the blizzard of budget numbers and the complexity of modern weapons systems, that motivates us in our search for security and peace. War will not come again, other young men will not have to die, if we will speak honestly of the dangers that confront us and remain strong enough to meet those dangers. 

It's not just strength or courage that we need, but understanding and a measure of wisdom as well. We must understand enough about our world to see the value of our alliances. We must be wise enough about ourselves to listen to our allies, to work with them, to build and strengthen the bonds between us. 

Our understanding must also extend to potential adversaries. We must strive to speak of them not belligerently, but firmly and frankly. And that's why we must never fail to note, as frequently as necessary, the wide gulf between our codes of morality. And that's why we must never hesitate to acknowledge the irrefutable difference between our view of man as master of the state and their view of man as servant of the state. Nor must we ever underestimate the seriousness of their aspirations to global expansion. The risk is the very freedom that has been so dearly won. 

It is this honesty of mind that can open paths to peace, that can lead to fruitful negotiation, that can build a foundation upon which treaties between our nations can stand and last -- treaties that can someday bring about a reduction in the terrible arms of destruction, arms that threaten us with war even more terrible than those that have taken the lives of the Americans we honor today. 

Our goal is peace. We can gain that peace by strengthening our alliances, by speaking candidly of the dangers before us, by assuring potential adversaries of our seriousness, by actively pursuing every chance of honest and fruitful negotiation. 

It is with these goals in mind that I will depart Wednesday for Europe, and it's altogether fitting that we have this moment to reflect on the price of freedom and those who have so willingly paid it. For however important the matters of state before us this next week, they must not disturb the solemnity of this occasion. Nor must they dilute our sense of reverence and the silent gratitude we hold for those who are buried here. 

The willingness of some to give their lives so that others might live never fails to evoke in us a sense of wonder and mystery. One gets that feeling here on this hallowed ground, and I have known that same poignant feeling as I looked out across the rows of white crosses and Stars of David in Europe, in the Philippines, and the military cemeteries here in our own land. Each one marks the resting place of an American hero and, in my lifetime, the heroes of World War I, the Doughboys, the GI's of World War II or Korea or Vietnam. They span several generations of young Americans, all different and yet all alike, like the markers above their resting places, all alike in a truly meaningful way. 

Winston Churchill said of those he knew in World War II they seemed to be the only young men who could laugh and fight at the same time. A great general in that war called them our secret weapon, "just the best darn kids in the world.'' Each died for a cause he considered more important than his own life. Well, they didn't volunteer to die; they volunteered to defend values for which men have always been willing to die if need be, the values which make up what we call civilization. And how they must have wished, in all the ugliness that war brings, that no other generation of young men to follow would have to undergo that same experience. 

As we honor their memory today, let us pledge that their lives, their sacrifices, their valor shall be justified and remembered for as long as God gives life to this nation. And let us also pledge to do our utmost to carry out what must have been their wish: that no other generation of young men will every have to share their experiences and repeat their sacrifice. 

Earlier today, with the music that we have heard and that of our National Anthem -- I can't claim to know the words of all the national anthems in the world, but I don't know of any other that ends with a question and a challenge as ours does: Does that flag still wave o'er the land of the free and the home of the brave? That is what we must all ask.
Thank you for reading!  And special thanks to all those families whose loved ones paid the greatest price to ensure our freedom. "Greater love has no man than this . . . " May God bless you all!

Labels: , , , ,


Saturday, April 30, 2016

 

A Sad Anniversary and a Reminder--The Holocaust

Recently we remembered a sad page in the history of humanity, we recalled the liberation of prison camps and the people in them from the nightmare of Nazi oppression and tyranny. Annually I try to remind myself of the depth of depravity to which humanity can slip, especially humanity that justifies its inhumanity and brutality by science. The Nazis showed the dark beastial side of humanity, the side we all possess to some degree (although most of us will never admit it). The Nazis were more than thugs or brutes or even barbarians, they were humans that (in C. S. Lewis' words from The Abolition of Man) were humans without magnanimity, they were "men without chests." Here are Lewis' own words about such people:

"They are not distinguished from other men by any unusual skill in finding truth nor any virginal ardour to pursue her. Indeed, it would be strange if they were: a perservering devotion to truth, a nice of intellectual honour, cannot be long maintained without the aid of sentiment . . . It is not excess of thought but defect of fertile and generous emotion that marks them out. Their heads are no bigger than the ordinary: it is the atrophy of the chest beneath that makes them seem so." (C. S. Lewis, The Abolition of Man, New York, NY: HarperCollins Publishers, 2001, p. 25).

These oppressors were not less human than the rest of us, they just acted as people without that emotion that makes our "better angels" show up instead of the "brutes" in each of us. They became the "elites" who judged other races in humanity as mere brutish nature to be studied. They were Social Darwinists who wanted to keep their race pure, and who ultimately participated in that which Lewis deems "the abolition of man." They were people like us. In many ways we hate to admit, they were us. As one survivor records the event of his liberation:

"The full record of the pseudo-medical experimentations came to light. Prisoners had been used as laboratory animals, without the humane restrictions placed on vivisection. Hannah Arendt suggested that `the camp was itself a vast laboratory in which the Nazis proved that there is no limit to human depravity.' For it was remembered that these experiments were not planned or conducted by identifiable psychopaths. They were performed or supervised by professional scientists, trained in what had been once considered peerless universities and medical schools. Reverend Franklin Littell called them `technically competent barbarians.' Indeed the procedures had the full approval and cooperation of Berlin's Institute of Hygiene." (Sachar, Abram L. The Redemption of the Unwanted. New York: St. Martin's/Marek, 1983, pp. 8-10)

Let us remember with sadness the number of innocents lost and the reality of our own potentially brutish nature. Let us never forget that without grace, we are all irredeemably lost. Could Dachau or Auschwitz (or the others) happen again? Only if humans let it, only if we deny once again our own humanity and treat our fellow humans as mere animals. Yes, it can happen again. Let's pray that it doesn't. Let's make sure it doesn't.

This topic is heavy and sad. I don't apologize for that, but I do want to put the weight down now. Thanks for reading.

Labels: , , , , ,


This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?