This Memorial Day weekend will be like no other for the residents of Moore, Oklahoma and the other areas affected by the EF5 tornado. My heart breaks for all the residents who lost literally everything they owned, but even more so for those who are wrestling with the bitter reality of never seeing their little boy or girl again. Having dropped them off at school in the morning, like many of us parents do, they never realized it would be the last time they would be able to see them, hold them, or speak to them.
There seems to be a desire to offer some explanation as to why things like this happen. Sometimes folks offer reasons that baffle the mind, and more to point attempt to understand the mind of God. One recent example was provided for us by John Piper, a popular Reformed theologian and pastor. In the moments after the Moore tornado, he offered tweets which shall we say, weren’t received too well. Not that every tweet has to be popular, but his comments weren’t too sympathetic to the victims of this twister. As anticipated, he later retracted his comments much like he has done on other occasions when devastation was involved.
He’s not the only person who seeks to speak for God in times of loss and tragedy, but as a pastor myself I received his remarks as a cautionary tale about using twitter and the danger of appearing trite and pithy. I don’t have a satisfactory explanation for the Oklahoma tornadoes, but there is a passage of scripture I found gone to time and again. I have used these verses as a helpful guide to interpret devastating circumstances. It comes from Luke 13:
Now there were some present at that time who told Jesus about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mixed with their sacrifices. Jesus answered, “Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans because they suffered this way? I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish. Or those eighteen who died when the tower of Siloam fell on them–do you think they were more guilty than all the others living in Jerusalem? I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish.”
The application of the story here about the deaths of 18 because a tower fell on them can be useful in viewing 21st century situations. I cannot imagine God being vindictive towards parents and children and send a tornado to punish them in some way. But, there are terribly painful circumstances which happen in life and they cannot be explained from a theodicy perspective. There is a mystery to the Divine that we will never understand, and while it may be helpful to try to do so, our primary efforts need to be one of helping those who have been affected by this twister. Our own repentance should involve an examination of our relationship to God and also to those around us.
Another helpful passage that many believers hang on to is Romans 8.28: “ And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” God is the one who does the working, not the circumstances. So, let us continue to pray and give and seek to be kinder to the people who are around us. And while we are it, let’s allow the Holy Spirit to examine our own lives to root out any attitudes that aren’t pleasing to Him.
Despite being criticized for any number of things, faith-based communities can really step in and offer relief and comfort in times like these. Our missions partners, the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship and the American Baptist Churches (USA), are learning what their churches can do to offer aid. The need will be present for a long time to come.
I’m telling our people to wear red this Sunday. It’s not quite the same emphasis as “get your red on” for the Springfield Cardinals but the end result mind be very similar. The color is a way of remembering the “tongues of fire” that rested on each of the believers’ heads (Acts 2).
Jesus had already assured them they would “receive power, when the Holy Spirit comes upon you” which would enable them to be witnesses beginning close to home in Jerusalem and then spreading out with those concentric circles to the outer limits of the known world. That was quite a challenge. And it still is.
Amy Butler wrote a wonderful open letter to persons who are “spiritual but not religious (SBNR).” She talks about how often and how much the institutional church has lamented the loss of persons who are no longer interested in participating, and how often the conversation shifts to what can the church “do” to change this reality. Her contention is that this discussion has been a predominant one for a while, and that perhaps it is better to shift the emphasis from the church doing something to the church “being” something.
From its inception, the church as a body of believers has been called out to bear witness to the truth of Jesus Christ. This involves his accomplished death, burial and resurrection, and making sure the message of salvation is presented not only in deeds but words too. The Great Commission comes to mind. One of the great challenges I believe the church is facing is a changing culture and the realization that some forms and methods are not as effective as they used to be. However, I am also of the opinion (similar to Amy’s) that the church will become a minority in our society by virtue of our message. We still live in the Bible belt, as there are church buildings are every corner. So, in that regard you might say the spread of the gospel has been “successful.” Sadly, however, many millennials do not find comfort in models of ministry that were once used decades ago and have made that clear. With that in mind, we ought to accept that and find meaningful ways to express our faith that our consistent with the story of Christ. This won’t appeal to everyone.
My focal point this week in particular will not be on what I can do but rather what the Holy Spirit continues to do and what He enables the church to do in our community and world. There is a dynamic quality to life in Christ that should be evidenced by the people of God, not only as we gather for worship and study but also as we scatter to be salt and light to our culture.
The coming of the Holy Spirit gives us power to share our faith and live out our faith in a changing, challenging context. I’m constantly being reminded of my need for prayer and dependence upon the Holy Spirit to bring about the change in a person’s life. I’m grateful that spiritual formation is an ongoing process and that the Lord never gives up on his people. Without the presence and power of the Holy Spirit, the church would be just another organization that does (hopefully most of the time) good things. He gives the church what we need to carry out our mission in the world.
The church in 2013 won’t be like the church fifty years ago, and that’s not all bad. We need to be more mindful of our role in the Kingdom and how the Holy Spirit fills us and gives us the means to point people to Christ. I pray that seeing people come to Christ and have meaningful change occur in their lives never becomes routine to the church. And we “walk in the Spirit” and trust Him with the results of our obedience.
I admire distance runners. I appreciate their stamina and perseverence. The very thought of running 23 miles is enough to get me tired. I have run 23 miles before, but only in cumulative manner over a period of days and weeks.
The latest marathon in Boston was supposed to be a celebration of endurance and the human spirit. Runners from all over the world came to the city to compete with each other and themselves, many simply wanting to say that they finished the race. This would have been a huge accomplishment in and of itself.
Of course, this year’s marathon is known for something else much more disturbing. It did turn out to be, however, another kind of test in endurance and the human spirit. Complete strangers prior to this event rushed to one another’s aid in a time of crisis. Police and other first responders pulled together to care for the victims and attempt to create a sense of calm in a scene of complete chaos and panic.
I’ve been thinking about that 8 year old boy who was killed, and how much grief his family must be going through. They must have all gone out to enjoy the weather and cheer on the runners, and I’ve heard that this little one had just gone to get some ice cream. No one knew what was coming. It was horrible. I have an 8 year old boy, and I cannot fathom the grief and anger and conflicting emotions that must come pouring in after such an unspeakable loss.
Watching all this on television, like many others, has gotten to thinking about how often we tend to get upset over things that aren’t that important after all. I’ve also observed that resentment and bitterness can creep in whenever we feel like we haven’t gotten what we think we have coming to us or when things don’t happen in a way that goes our way. I doubt very seriously that this family has given any thought to some of their previous problems in light of the unbelievable pain created by a cowardly and evil action.
John Claypool told a story about something that happened when he was a little boy. It was during the War, and a soldier needed a place to store his belongings and asked if he could leave them with John’s family. The Claypools obliged, and the soldier was grateful and said they were free to use anything he was leaving them. One item that they enjoyed using was a Bendex washing machine. They didn’t have a washing machine, and this appliance made their lives much more enjoyable and the chore of cleaning easier.
The war eventually ended, and the soldier came for his things, including the washing machine. Upon his taking the machine, John expressed his anger at having “his” washing machine taken away. His mother rebuked him and told him that the machine wasn’t theirs to begin with, and the very act of being able to have it at all was a gift. As such, they should be grateful for being able to use it at all.
There are a number of vices that are to be avoided, but I think one of the most dangerous ones of all is ingratitude. Far too often we think about what we don’t have rather than what we do have. We complain more than we express thanks. We can be jealous of each other rather than thankful for the blessings we have received. And we can take our time and days for granted.
The Boston Marathon will be forever changed as a result of these bombings. I hope that is some small way each one of us can be changed too, for the better. Let us remember the words of the Psalmist: “I will extol the Lord at all times. His praise will forever be on my lips” (Psalm 34.1).
The Apostle Paul had to deal with a challenge to the purity of the gospel, and voiced his surprise and disappointment to the Galatian church. He said, “I am astonished that so many of you are so quickly deserting the one who called you by the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel–which is really no gospel at all” (Galatians 1.6-7a).
Apparently, Paul’s message of God’s graciousness and mercy through Christ had been well-received, but after his departure others came in proclaiming “a different gospel.” Judaizers were insisting that acquiring a right standing before God required some degree of works. Keeping the law and maintaining the practice of circumcision, among other things. This would, in essence, make the gospel message faith in Christ plus ___________ in order to be justified before God. Paul had received criticism for making salvation too simple, for surely some works were necessary in order to be right before God.
It’s hard to imagine what it must have been like for the Jews who were converting to Christianity to deal with the former expectations of their previous religion. They were dealing with the question of whether to remain Jewish in their practice along with being a follower of Christ, or whether their new found faith liberated them from their “bondage to the law.” There were those who were doing their best to impose the requirements of Judaism upon these new converts, which made Paul respond with such passion to their desertion of the faith.
This question of the gospel is still a relevant one. I don’t deal with that many persons coming out of Judaism, but do respond to those who by practice or by expectation think that works are required for salvation. It’s a natural question to ask about individuals who indicate they are Christians but have lives that are not consistent with the teachings of Christ. If works aren’t required, some would say, what relationship do they have with faith? This is an ancient topic, one that Paul dealt with as he instructed those Galatian churches.
I’m so thankful for what Christ has done in my life and in the church body. None of us are good enough on our own, no matter how much we try to appear pious before others.This issue of God’s grace and sufficiency in Christ should remove legalism and pride from our thinking. One reason for keeping legalism in our understanding of salvation is the fact that it leaves room for pride. In this approach, persons can compare themselves to others and feel better about themselves.
On the other hand, this newfound freedom is Christ comes with the responsibility of following Jesus and learning from him on a daily basis. Martin Luther responded this way, “Faith must of course be sincere. It must be a faith that does good works through love. If faith lacks love it is not true faith” (Luther, Galatians commentary).
Salvation by grace through faith has been a signature trait of Baptists through the centuries. I am grateful for this distinctive, and more importantly the dynamic nature of salvation because of what Christ has done. It is his righteousness, not my own, that makes possible a right standing before God. Paul summarized his approach later in his letter: ”It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery” (Galatians 5.1)
I’ve been to the Smithsonian once as a teenager. I hope I get to make it back again. My brief visit didn’t allow for the time necessary to see everything. Plus the fact that at that age I have to admit I didn’t fully appreciate the historical significance of what I was seeing.
I’m glad to read about a few artifacts getting out into the public domain, most significantly the Bible that was used by Thomas Jefferson. Here is an article about it’s stay in Colorado. Jefferson didn’t allow for the supernatural in his thinking, so he literally cut out those parts which did not line up with reason. It seems he made the effort to correlate those parts of the New Testament that he did like, and sought to put together his own version of the sacred text.
This is not a critique of whether or not he was a Christian or about the issues of separating church and state. This “wall of separation” did come about from some of Jefferson’s writings, and a free church in a free state is where I want to be. However, I did want to mention that what Jefferson did is what many people do. It could be argued what all of us do, and that is we make our own “canon within the canon” in order to prioritize those parts of Scripture we pay more particular attention to as it impacts how we live.
These past few weeks I have been associated with being a liberal on the one hand because I have been watching the History channel’s mini-series on the Bible, and also a fundamentalist because I like Chik-fil-a and some time ago came out it came out in favor of traditional marriage. This interesting polarity has caused me to think more about those areas of Scripture that are most formative for faith and practice.
One of the disciplines I’ve been practicing is reading through the Bible. Not a major shocker for a pastor to say that, but to reassure those who might wonder. It’s the one year chronological Bible and thus far I’ve made it to the promised land with Joshua, and have been reading through all the requirements for the people of Israel in order to maintain God’s favor. I haven’t spend a great deal of time in these areas through the years, but do appreciate the stories of faith and how God delivered his people out of Egypt with a deliverer named Moses.
The calendar indicates we have one week until Easter. Yesterday our church recreated the Triumphal entry of Jesus into Jerusalem and talked about the significance of Palm Sunday. It is hard to imagine what Jesus went through in order to stay true to his mission of setting us free from our sins. The cross was necessary for this to happen, and this shameful death provided atonement for all who believe the resurrection of Jesus. It’s a fantastic claim to believe the Jesus rose from the dead after three days, but this truth is the centerpiece of the Christian faith. And I have chosen to accept this truth and allow it to shape my life and thinking.
The Apostle Paul had to deal with those who were skeptical of the resurrection. He wrote, “If there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith. . . And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins. Then those who have fallen asleep in Christ are lost. If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are to be pitied more than all people” (I Corinthians 15:13-19).
Jefferson accepted the ethical and moral teachings of Jesus. Many people do. But the supernatural element of Jesus’ life and work cannot be dismissed without eliminating what Jesus came to do in the first place. There are those who can make the reasoned argument for the resurrection too, and the work of apologetics is important. I am choosing to affirm the story of Christ’s death, burial, and resurrection, grateful for what it means for me when my life on this side is over.
Easter is coming, and with that people who don’t usually enter church buildings on Sunday but acknowledge there is something extra special about this day. I will tell everyone that every Sunday is Resurrection Sunday, hoping that it will resonate and make a difference in someone’s life so that they might also believe the resurrection too.
It’s not even summer yet, but there’ already talk around our church about VBS in July. This year’s theme is “Kingdom Rock” as provided by Group Publishers.
It takes a lot of effort to plan and pull off a successful VBS. You have to start really early in recruiting teachers and other workers, and you have to make sure that particular week is set apart as far as other work related commitments go. I’m always amazed at the energy and effort people put in to make sure we are ready.
I’ve always been around VBS in one form or the other, but was reminded recently of its importance at a meeting the other day. In the conversation I was having with this person, he indicated that the reason he’d gotten connected with the church was through VBS. His children had been welcomed and through that experience he and his family had found a church home.
A lot of times there is a sentiment about filling the positions on the boards and committees of the church, and the need to have good teachers in Sunday School. However, it is good to be reminded that there a reasons for all this effort with the main goal of reaching people for Christ. Especially children.
Many parents treat VBS as a chance to drop off their kids for a few hours, and I’ve known of some who build their summer plans around taking their children to every VBS in town. That’s just part of it I guess. Regardless of where they come or how they here, these children have a chance to hear about Jesus and learn more about the Bible in that week of concentrated attention and energy.
I’m already praying for this moment coming up in our church, and hope you’d pause for a moment and do the same. A child’s life could be changed for eternity.