March 31, 2008

My buddy Idaho Paul put me on to this site. I've just skimmed the surface but it looks to be a place full of interesting brain food. addresses numerous questions about God, culture, science, other religions, and spirituality. Why not take a few moments and bookmark this site for future reference?

Monday Morning Message - Jesus Is Better

Consider this a "catch up" post for the Monday Morning Message. I have been preaching a series through the book of Hebrews leading up to and following Easter. The intent of the series was to focus our collective attention on Christ and the work He accomplished. This has not been a verse-by-verse exposition of the entire book but rather a visit to the mountain tops.

As I have studied, read, prayed, and preached through this magnificent missive I have been personally struck by two things. First, and foremost, the unflinching and single minded focus of the author on the person and work of Jesus is stirring. The writer of Hebrews purposefully and powerfully grapples with the questions of who is Jesus and what did He accomplish. Second, I am humbled by the grand and repeated presentation of the finished/completed/concluded/wrapped up work of Jesus. When Jesus cried out from the cross, "It is finished," He meant it was finished. There was not, and is not, anything remaining which needs to be done to achieve salvation. There is only the gracious gift to be received and a life of gratitude to be lived.

The "mountain tops" we visited on this too brief tour of Hebrews are outlined with the references for your consideration.

Jesus is a better word - Hebrews 1:1-4. He is both the revealer of God and the redeemer of humanity.

Jesus is a better builder - Hebrews 3:1-6. The question the Hebrew Christians were asking in the midst of their lives was, "Can Jesus be trusted?" The compelling question of our lives is, "Will I trust Him?" Jesus is building His church, will we be part of what He's doing?

Jesus is a better priest - Hebrews 7:20-27. The Old Testament priest was always busy offering sacrifices, both for others and for himself. In the New Testament our better priest, Jesus, is able to offer one sacrifice "once and for all" (Heb. 7:27) for us. He had no personal need to offer the sacrifice because He was perfect before God. He offered the sacrifice for us and there was need for another to be offered ever again!

Jesus is a better sacrifice - Hebrews 10:1-25. The Greek verb tenses in this passage leave no room for doubt about the finished work of the cross. These verbs all speak of the completed and finished work of Christ's sacrifice and the continuing effect and reality of that sacrifice. Verse 14 may be the pinnacle of the entire missive for me, "For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified."

Jesus offers us a better kingdom - Hebrews 12:18-29. In uncertain times it is wonderful to know that there is a "kingdom that cannot be shaken."

Now to Him, who has once and for all secured the blessing of salvation for all who believe and who even now is interceding on our behalf before the Father, be offered the worship of our lives lived in gratitude to Him.

March 28, 2008

About the Goat...

Since I discovered how to add a photo to the header of the blog I hope to change it every month or so. After you've all had a chance to enjoy the image and imagine the story that goes with it I will tell you a little about it.

This old billy lives in North Eastern Venezuela and is the de facto guard at a crossroads there. Our missionary friend told us to have our camera ready because this old guy is always there. Sure enough, as we came to the crossing and greeted the guys with the machine guns my beloved rolls down the window and gets this great photo! If you're ever on the road between Maturin and Puerta la Cruz be sure to look for him, I'm sure he's still keeping the intersection neatly trimmed!

March 26, 2008

Anybody Need a Reason to Believe?

"The following probabilities are taken from Peter Stoner in Science Speaks (Moody Press, 1963) to show that coincidence is ruled out by the science of probability. Stoner says that by using the modern science of probability in reference to eight prophecies, "we find that the chance that any man might have lived down to the present time and fulfilled all eight prophecies is 1 in 1017." That would be 1 in 100,000,000,000,000,000. In order to help us comprehend this staggering probability, Stoner illustrates it by supposing that "we take 1017 silver dollars and lay them on the face of Texas. They will cover all of the state two feet deep.

"Now mark one of these silver dollars and stir the whole mass thoroughly, all over the state. Blindfold a man and tell him that he can travel as far as he wishes, but he must pick up one silver dollar and say that this is the right one. What chance would he have of getting the right one? Just the same chance that the prophets would have had of writing these eight prophecies and having them all come true in any one man."

Stoner considers 48 prophecies and says, "we find the chance that any one man fulfilled all 48 prophecies to be 1 in 10157, or 1 in

000,000,000,000, 000, 000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000.

The estimated number of electrons in the universe is around 1079. It should be quite evident that Jesus did not fulfill the prophecies by accident."

From Evidence that Demands a Verdict, Josh McDowell

March 25, 2008

I Had a Blogoversary!

It passed right by and I didn't even notice! I just happened to glance at the little widget and realize that it was now counting down from the 300's again which could only mean one thing, my blogoversary had passed! I felt a little guilty. I didn't even send myself a card, much less throw a blogoversary worthy party. There wasn't even a simple, "Woo-hoo!" offered up on this auspicious (maybe suspicious?) day.

So, what's happened in a year? Upon reflection it is clear that quite a lot has happened with the vast majority of it being quite good!
  • I learned (and continue to learn) how to layout, publish, manage, and maintain my blog. This is no small feat for one who still prefers pen and paper to keyboard.
  • I have posted on topics from abortion to war (got to post something about zoology soon...), politics to religion (and the relationship thereof), things that make me laugh to things that make me boil, and a wide range of other interesting (at least to me) thoughts.
  • I have been exposed to some marvelous and memorable art work and have even been so foolhardy as to put my Philistine opinions forward as if they meant something.
  • A quick count reveals 119 posts published and 12 or 13 in the waiting room (many will never see the light of the internet). This means I have probably written as much or more this year than ever before and I'm a pretty regular user of the journal. What is unique about this format for me is that it is much less personal (what I feel, experience, encounter) and much more cerebral. I am working out thoughts about the world in which I live through this format.
  • Far and away the most wonderful benefit of this exercise has been the people I've been privileged to encounter and engage. Here's a brief list of a few of my personal faves (in no particular order)...
    • Idaho Paul who drives a school bus, pastors a church, and has written a novel this year. What a joy to know I have a brother in Idaho!
    • Paul the Dutchman has opened a window on the church in Europe for me and has regularly inspired me with his love of life and family. Paul has unwittingly introduced me to people from South Africa, Hong Kong, and Iceland (to name a few).
    • Carol, my art teacher, has engaged me with her thoughtfulness. Her willingness to introduce me to some great art has enriched my life and the lives of many others I have shared these works with through this year. (BTW Carol, I have great story to tell you about Chagall's White Crucifixtion!)
    • Mike makes me think every time I visit with him in the Upper Room. Wounded but healing, he's being used by God to bring healing to others.
    • Brother Maynard's Subversive Influence is always good for a mental, and sometimes, spiritual, shakeup. I don't see how this man generates the volume of material he produces. When I grow up and become a real blogger I want to be like him!
    • Lucy has to be my favorite new blog-friend. I disagree, sometimes to the point of needing to take a few calming breaths, with her viewpoints (and, in fairness, she with mine) but I am so grateful for the opportunity to carry on a civil and fair discussion with someone who doesn't think like me. It has been so refreshing to discover that such a thing can actually happen. I always look forward to her posts and I sometimes scold her (gently) about her use of language unbecoming of one of her intelligence.
So, one year of blogging down and another year ahead. I've got plenty of unfinished projects lying about.
  1. Who knows Mike, maybe, just maybe, A Shepherd's Tale will find a continuation.
  2. Brother Maynard, maybe I'll get that Reader's Digest Bible review done.
  3. Carol, The White Crucifixtion is huge. We should have tackled it before Easter, but a look at the cross is good anytime. Don't you agree?
  4. Lucy, there's a post on funeral's for strangers in the slow cooker. I'll let you know when the table is set.
Even with the unfinished projects piling up there are all the new possibilities and adventures out ahead of us that will certainly find some time in this space. To all who have become regulars (both of you :-)!) I look forward to continuing bump into you. To all who have just dropped by, come again soon and introduce yourself. To all who may accidentally find your way here, I don't believe it to be an accident. Who knows what may come of the few moments our lives intersect?

Let me go blow out the candles on my blogoversary cake now! Hasta pronto!

March 24, 2008

Dead for 3 days. Alive for 2000+ years!

"As surely as Pontius Pilate was a real historical figure, so was Jesus of Nazareth. As surely as the cross really happened, so did the resurrection become it joyous outcome...In contrasting the importance of the cross and the resurrection, we need to remind ourselves that Christ was dead for only 3 days, but he has now been alive for tow thousand years. We need to recall to consciousness that his return from the grave is the all-important victory that has kept Christianity out of the graveyard of other lofty philosophies and religions.

"The risen Christ, made alive again by his Father's power, is the only reason we have for remembering the cross. So we must forget the "Messiah of the media,: who talses so much film to die and so little to rise again. The resurrection is too important to be shelved as an "incidental" area of Jesus' existence and teaching.

"The resurrection is the glorious crown of triubph on the exalted head of tragedy. The despair of Good Friday has been superseded by Christ's return to life. The outcome of the cross is that he has overcome death."

Calvin Miller, Once Upon a Tree

March 22, 2008

He is Risen! He is Risen Indeed!

This day the wondrous, marvelous, still mysterious news is proclaimed anew. He is risen! He is risen today! To you who believe and know, rejoice! To you who know and do not believe, reconsider. He is risen!

March 19, 2008

The Audacity to Hope

Barack Obama's pastor Jeremiah Wright (and Sen. Obama) have taken a lot of heat lately over this sermon. As a pastor I was interested to see what was causing all the noise so I tracked it down and read it for myself. I post it here for your consideration. As in all things, rather than let someone else form your opinion for you, take some time and think for yourself. Radical, I know.

The Audacity to Hope

Several years ago while I was in Richmond, the Lord allowed me to be in that city during the week of the annual convocation at Virginia Union University School of Theology. There I heard the preaching and teaching of Reverend Frederick G. Sampson of Detroit, Michigan. In one of his lectures, Dr. Sampson spoke of a painting I remembered studying in humanities courses back in the late '50s. In Dr. Sampson's powerful description of the picture, he spoke of it being a study in contradictions, because the title and the details on the canvas seem to be in direct opposition.

The painting's title is "Hope." It shows a woman sitting on top of the world, playing a harp. What more enviable position could one ever hope to achieve than being on top of the world with everyone dancing to your music?

As you look closer, the illusion of power gives way to the reality of pain. The world on which this woman sits, our world, is torn by war, destroyed by hate, decimated by despair, and devastated by distrust. The world on which she sits seems on the brink of destruction. Famine ravages millions of inhabitants in one hemisphere, while feasting and gluttony are enjoyed by inhabitants of another hemisphere. This world is a ticking time bomb, with apartheid in one hemisphere and apathy in the other. Scientists tell us there are enough nuclear warheads to wipe out all forms of life except cockroaches. That is the world on which the woman sits in Watt's painting.

Our world cares more about bombs for the enemy than about bread for the hungry. This world is still more concerned about the color of skin than it is about the content of character—a world more finicky about what's on the outside of your head than about the quality of your education or what's inside your head. That is the world on which this woman sits.

You and I think of being on top of the world as being in heaven. When you look at the woman in Watt's painting, you discover this woman is in hell. She is wearing rags. Her tattered clothes look as if the woman herself has come through Hiroshima or Nagasaki. Her head is bandaged, and blood seeps through the bandages. Scars and cuts are visible on her face, her arms, and her legs.

I. Illusion of Power vs. Reality of Pain

A closer look reveals all the harp strings but one are broken or ripped out. Even the instrument has been damaged by what she has been through, and she is the classic example of quiet despair. Yet the artist dares to entitle the painting Hope. The illusion of power—sitting on top of the world—gives way to the reality of pain.

And isn't it that way with many of us? We give the illusion of being in an enviable position on top of the world. Look closer, and our lives reveal the reality of pain too deep for the tongue to tell. For the woman in the painting, what looks like being in heaven is actually an existence in a quiet hell.

I've been a pastor for seventeen years. I've seen too many of these cases not to know what I'm talking about. I've seen married couples where the husband has a girlfriend in addition to his wife. It's something nobody talks about. The wife smiles and pretends not to hear the whispers and the gossip. She has the legal papers but knows he would rather try to buy Fort Knox than divorce her. That's a living hell.

I've seen married couples where the wife had discovered that somebody else cares for her as a person and not just as cook, maid jitney service, and call girl all wrapped into one. But there's the scandal: What would folks say? What about the children? That's a living hell.

I've seen divorcees whose dreams have been blown to bits, families broken up beyond repair, and lives somehow slipping through their fingers. They've lost control. That's a living hell.

I've seen college students who give the illusion of being on top of the world—designer clothes, all the sex that they want, all the cocaine or marijuana or drugs, all the trappings of having it all together on the outside—but empty and shallow and hurting and lonely and afraid on the inside. Many times what looks good on the outside—the illusion of being in power, of sitting on top of the world—with a closer look is actually existence in a quiet hell.

That is exactly where Hannah is in 1 Samuel 1 :1-18. Hannah is top dog in this three-way relationship between herself, Elkanah, and Peninnah. Her husband loves Hannah more than he loves his other wife and their children. Elkanah tells Hannah he loves her. A lot of husbands don't do that. He shows Hannah that he loves her, and many husbands never get around to doing that. In fact, it is his attention and devotion to Hannah that causes Peninnah to be so angry and to stay on Hannah's case constantly. Jealous! Jealousy will get hold of you, and you can't let it go because it won't let you go. Peninnah stayed on Hannah, like we say, "as white on rice." She constantly picked at Hannah, making her cry, taking her appetite away.

At first glance Hannah's position seems enviable. She had all the rights and none of the responsibilities—no diapers to change, no beds to sit beside at night, no noses to wipe, nothing else to wipe either, no babies draining you of your milk and demanding feeding. Hannah was top dog. No baby portions to fix at meal times. Her man loved her; everybody knew he loved her. He loved her more than anything or anybody. That's why Peninnah hated her so much.

Now, except for the second-wife bit, which was legal back then, Hannah was sitting on top of the world, until you look closer. When you look closer, what looked like being in heaven was actually existing in a quiet hell.

Hannah had the pain of a bitter woman to contend with, for verse 7 says that nonstop, Peninnah stayed with her. Hannah suffered the pain of living with a bitter woman. And she suffered another pain—the pain of a barren womb. You will remember the story of the widow in 2 Kings 4 who had no child. The story of a woman with no children was a story of deep pathos and despair in biblical days.

Do you remember the story of Sarah and what she did in Genesis 16 because of her barren womb—before the three heavenly visitors stopped by their tent? Do you remember the story of Elizabeth and her husband in Luke I? Back in Bible days, the story of a woman with a barren womb was a story of deep pathos. And Hannah was afflicted with the pain of a bitter woman on the one hand and the pain of a barren womb on the other.

Hannah's world was flawed, flaky. Her garments of respectability were tattered and torn, and her heart was bruised and bleeding from the constant attacks of a jealous woman. The scars and scratches on her psyche are almost visible as you look at this passage, where she cries, refusing to eat anything. Just like the woman in Watt's painting, what looks like being in heaven is actually existence in a quiet hell.

Now I want to share briefly with you about Hannah—the lady and the Lord. While I do so, I want you to be thinking about where you live and your own particular pain predicament. Think about it for a moment.

Dr. Sampson said he wanted to quarrel with the artist for having the gall to name that painting Hope when all he could see in the picture was hell—a quiet desperation. But then Dr. Sampson said he noticed that he had been looking only at the horizontal dimensions and relationships and how this woman was hooked up with that world on which she sat. He had failed to take into account her vertical relationships. He had not looked above her head. And when he looked over her head, he found some small notes of music moving joyfully and playfully toward heaven.

II. The Audacity to Hope

Then, Dr. Sampson began to understand why the artist titled the painting "Hope." In spite of being in a world torn by war, in spite of being on a world destroyed by hate and decimated by distrust, in spite of being on a world where famine and greed are uneasy bed partners, in spite of being on a world where apartheid and apathy feed the fires of racism and hatred, in spite of being on a world where nuclear nightmare draws closer with each second, in spite of being on a ticking time bomb, with her clothes in rags, her body scarred and bruised and bleeding, her harp all but destroyed and with only one string left, she had the audacity to make music and praise God. The vertical dimension balanced out what was going on in the horizontal dimension.

And that is what the audacity to hope will do for you. The apostle Paul said the same thing. "You have troubles? Glory in your trouble. We glory in tribulation." That's the horizontal dimension. We glory in tribulation because, he says, "Tribulation works patience. And patience works experience. And experience works hope. (That's the vertical dimension.) And hope makes us not ashamed." The vertical dimension balances out what is going on in the horizontal dimension. That is the real story here in the first chapter of 1 Samuel. Not the condition of Hannah's body, but the condition of Hannah's soul—her vertical dimension. She had the audacity to keep on hoping and praying when there was no visible sign on the horizontal level that what she was praying for, hoping for, and waiting for would ever be answered in the affirmative.

What Hannah wanted most out of life had been denied to her. Think about that. Yet in spite of that, she kept on hoping. The gloating of Peninnah did not make her bitter. She kept on hoping. When the family made its pilgrimage to the sanctuary at Shiloh, she renewed her petition there, pouring out her heart to God. She may have been barren, but that's a horizontal dimension. She was fertile in her spirit, her vertical dimension. She prayed and she prayed and she prayed and she kept on praying year after year. With no answer, she kept on praying. She prayed so fervently in this passage that Eli thought she had to be drunk. There was no visible sign on the horizontal level to indicate to Hannah that her praying would ever be answered. Yet, she kept on praying.

And Paul said something about that, too. No visible sign? He says, "Hope is what saves us, for we are saved by hope. But hope that is seen is not hope. For what a man sees, why does he have hope for it? But if we hope for that which we see not (no visible sign), then do we with patience wait for it."

That's almost an echo of what the prophet Isaiah said: "They that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength." The vertical dimension balances out what is going on in the horizontal dimension.

There may not be any visible sign of a change in your individual situation, whatever your private hell is. But that's just the horizontal level. Keep the vertical level intact, like Hannah. You may, like the African slaves, be able to sing, "Over my head I hear music in the air. Over my head I hear music in the air. Over my head I hear music in the air. There must be a God somewhere."

Keep the vertical dimension intact like Hannah. Have the audacity to hope for that child of yours. Have the audacity to hope for that home of yours. Have the audacity to hope for that church of yours. Whatever it is you've been praying for, keep on praying, and you may find, like my grandmother sings, "There's a bright side somewhere; there is a bright side somewhere. Don't you rest until you find it, for there is a bright side somewhere."

III. Persistence of Hope

The real lesson Hannah gives us from this chapter—the most important word God would have us hear—is how to hope when the love of God is not plainly evident. It's easy to hope when there are evidences all around of how good God is. But to have the audacity to hope when that love is not evident—you don't know where that somewhere is that my grandmother sang about, or if there will ever be that brighter day—that is a true test of a Hannah-type faith. To take the one string you have left and to have the audacity to hope—make music and praise God on and with whatever it is you've got left, even though you can't see what God is going to do—that's the real word God will have us hear from this passage and from Watt's painting.

There's a true-life illustration that demonstrates the principles portrayed so powerfully in this periscope. And I close with it. My mom and my dad used to sing a song that I've not been able to find in any of the published hymnals. It's an old song out of the black religious tradition called "Thank you, Jesus." It's a very simple song. Some of you have heard it. It's simply goes, "Thank you Jesus. I thank you Jesus. I thank you Jesus. I thank you Lord." To me they always sang that song at the strangest times—when the money got low, or when the food was running out. When I was getting in trouble, they would start singing that song. And I never understood it, because as a child it seemed to me they were thanking God that we didn't have any money, or thanking God that we had no food, or thanking God that I was making a fool out of myself as a kid.

Conclusion: Hope is What Saves Us

But I was only looking at the horizontal level. I did not understand nor could I see back then the vertical hookup that my mother and my father had. I did not know then that they were thanking him in advance for all they dared to hope he would do one day to their son, in their son, and through their son. That's why they prayed. That's why they hoped. That's why they kept on praying with no visible sign on the horizon. And I thank God I had praying parents, because now some thirty-five years later, when I look at what God has done in my life, I understand clearly why Hannah had the audacity to hope. Why my parents had the audacity to hope.

And that's why I say to you, hope is what saves us. Keep on hoping; keep on praying. God does hear and answer prayer.

Jeremiah Wright is pastor of Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago.

March 12, 2008

Powerful Words

This story is wonderful. I pray that more "little old ladies" like this one will take advantage of opportunities, both easy and difficult, to share the hope of the gospel. Enjoy the story...