Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Not a "Walk" in the Park


I needed to share a few closing words after chapel this morning. First, you have all made Angie and me feel so welcome. There is nothing lacking in the way you have reached out and blessed us. Most of you know, when you move, it just takes time to “find your place.” You need to learn the routines and rhythms of where you are, and there is no way to speed up the process. Angie and I are amazingly resilient and patient but we are simply in the Lord’s waiting room. Thanks so much for the love you have expressed just upon us!

Second, when I preach, I usually have about two hours of material that needs to be edited down to a reasonable length sermon. There are just a few things that I would like to express to you that have become recently real to me. When I was talking about the “Way” that Jesus wants you to follow, you know that Jesus is talking specifically about the way of the Cross, the way to Jerusalem, the way of humility. Now, this may seem a but disconcerting and almost frightening. But discovering the “Way” is not like jumping into icy cold water. Rarely is it a jump right in and take a class here at Bethany in Martyrdom 101.  Jesus has this wonderful plan that is usually reveled to His followers in baby steps.  He simply asks you to stretch just a bit and lean into the direction His voice. And before you know it, you find yourself standing right next to Him and He has taken you from where you are tonight right into a “table set before me in the presence of my enemies (Psalm 23). And to your utter surprise, faithfulness in the little things places you in leadership over many.

Someone was asking me this afternoon about finding His will. “Precisely how do I find the Lord’s way?” was the question. For me the easiest answer is found in Romans 12:1-2, where Paul writes,

“I urge you, brothers [and if Paul was writing today, he would most certainly include “and sisters”] in view of God's mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God-- this is your spiritual act of worship. Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God's will is-- his good, pleasing and perfect will.”

Did you read carefully the cause-and-effect relationship in the passage? When we make a decision in advance to offer ourselves to God then we will know what His will is! Our real problem is that our decision-making process usually functions in the reverse. We tell God to reveal His will then we decide if we will obey. In honesty, if we are pondering whether or not to obey God, we are already in serious trouble. Liking or disliking God's will is not the question. Faith is always the correct response. Just say, "YES" in advance of knowing where we are going. To walk in the Kingdom “way”, we must order our lives (and decisions) according to His Kingdom values. And being a Christ-follower means that we will do so even before we know His will...maybe the reality is that saying "YES" is actually the forerunner of discovering His will!

So, if you want to know His way, just follow Him…go wherever He goes…make every turn and every course adjustment. And make that promise in advance of even knowing where you are going. There is no better way to life than a “road-trip” with the Lord. And I promise you something in advance...He will transform your heart to love the journey you are on. Angie and I are on an adventure of a lifetime. Yes, some days I am uncomfortable and often somewhat unnerved...but I would not trade this trip with Jesus for all the silver and gold in the world. Just thought I would share that with you this evening, cause you all are on the same train with us!

Now, Go with God!

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

A Blessed Start

My new Bethany friends and fellow travelers on the path of faith (especially all you students),
As the time of preparation recedes and the reality of the new academic year comes to the forefront…would you let me expound just a bit on the profound power of a “blessing?”
Then he (Jesus) led them out as far as Bethany, and lifting up his hands he blessed them. 51 While he blessed them, he parted from them and was carried up into heaven. 52 And they worshiped him and returned to Jerusalem with great joy, 53 and were continually in the temple blessing God. (Luke 24:50-53)

What you just read are the closing words in Luke’s Gospel. Some might call them at best transitional verses; as you move from teaching and action Jesus in the Book of Luke (Volume 1) to the on-going teaching of Peter and Paul in the Acts of the Apostles (Volume 2). However, I find it quite interesting that the final act of Jesus on earth was to lift up his hands and to bless his followers. I wonder what the actual blessing consisted of. Was it done principally in words, like a pastoral benedictory prayer at the end of a worship service…or do you think Jesus’ final blessing was more physical in nature, taking on the form of a first century “Holy Kiss.” This might translate into our culture as a warm and endearing hug. You know the kind I mean. Not a mere handshake but an encounter that stays with you for a while. I have to imagine that the final “
blessing” which Jesus gave to His disciples was perfectly chosen for each one of them; unique to meet each personal need. Moreover, I trust that this blessing lingered in the air as a sweet-smelling fragrance, propelling them forward to worship Him and then to offer in the Temple their own blessing.
In actuality, let me try to demonstrate how this action of Jesus serves as God’s wondrous climax to the book of Luke as a whole. Think with me how the Gospel of Luke opens. You find yourself temporally located not in the days of Jesus but Luke describes the times as; “In the time of Herod king of Judea there was a priest named Zechariah” (Luke 1:5). Zechariah is entering the Temple to offer an incense offering; with all of Israel just outside; praying as they are waiting to hear that God has accepted Zechariah’s sacrifice on their behalf (Luke 1:10). But (and I should put “BUT” in all caps), as the angel Gabriel comes and delivers to Zechariah a message of hope (his wife’s shame will be removed by the birth of their son John the Baptist); Zechariah shows no faith to the words from God’s messenger (Luke 1:18). So, the result of Zechariah’s faithlessness is that he is struck speechless. A pastor unable to speak!
Let me relate the consequences of Zechariah’s faithlessness and how it impacts Israel. The role of the priest as he exits the Temple is to hold his hands up and pass on the Lord’s blessing to the people. The traditional words would be the priestly benediction which comes from Numbers 6:23-26;
This is how you are to bless the Israelites. Say to them:
The LORD bless you and keep you;
The LORD make his face shine upon you and be gracious to you;
The LORD turn his face toward you and give you peace.
Can you now see how Jesus’ blessing at the end of Luke’s Gospel is nothing short of a divine answer to a human problem? What Zechariah could not do for Israel because of his lack of faith (bless them); Jesus performs after his demonstration of perfect faith in trusting God with his life on the cross. What the priests of Israel could not do, Jesus fully blesses His followers.
How does this relate to us here and now on the eve of a new semester? Well, one example is cemented in my mind. God’s Son has fully prepared you for this next step in your journey.
·     Some of you are first semester freshmen, concerned if you have the “right stuff” to make it at BBC. Please, sense the call of God on your life and know that the very blessing of our Savior is being bestowed upon you, even as you read this note...or maybe tomorrow in class…or in Chapel on Thursday as President Gorveatte speaks and we share together in Holy Communion.
·     Some of you are returning students and you know all too well the routine of the days and weeks of the semester. But will you take a serious personal inventory and ask the Lord of the Harvest to make you fully aware of the needs of others right around you. May you please extend a hand of blessing into the hearts and lives of the BBC community who are less comfortable in our surroundings?
·     Finally now, you seniors. You are entering into your final months among us. We will soon entrust you in a six-month internship in which you will be expected to pass on the blessing of God to others. Please do not attempt to do this on your own. Allow the blessing to originate with Christ and merely allow Him to use you as a broken vessel filled with His love. Maybe this semester, this first week, this very moment; you will sense His hands upon you and the blessing of God to infuse you in a whole new way. Remember, preparation for ministry is not only academic knowledge and practical training but it consists of the Hand of God reaching down to us in
Now, remember, the end of Luke is really the end of the beginning; for the entire Book of Acts follows. In the same way, please sense Jesus’ blessing on your life this very first day of the Fall 2010 semester.
Today, as we go about our regular daily tasks;
May we sense Your divine blessing.
May it be found in our classes, and in our hallway and in our dorm room conversations;
May during our meals, may we break bread and may our eyes be opened to who you are.
May Your blessing be heard in our service to others or in the reception of grace from a friend.
In all we do, may we sense your blessing.
Most of all Lord, if there is an absence of Your blessing;
May You call us back to Yourself, to the place where Your voice and touch is most clear.

today, and forevermoreGo With God.