August 20, 2009

Find It Here

Looking for hope in a seemingly hopeless world? Find it here. Looking for peace in a world torn with strife? Find it here. Looking for life where things seem to be sucking life out of you? Find it here. Looking for purpose in a world that seems to have lost its way? Find it here.

The e-book is available free of charge. Enjoy, share, respond.

August 18, 2009

The Meeting House

Marlboro, VermontImage via Wikipedia

Credit where credit is due. My blog buddy Idaho Paul reminded me of that good puritan phrase, "the meeting house," recently and it was the very phrase for which I had been looking. I shared it with our late service crowd on Sunday and will share it with our church family at every opportunity over the next several months as we process this change of vocabulary.

When people speak of gathering together as the body of Christ they most often use the phrase (or one very similar), "We're going to church." They usually mean by this that they are going to the edifice designated as the meeting place for the church. Not a bad thing in and of itself except that over time the edifice comes to represent the embodiment of the church when nothing could be further from the truth. My own children are victims of this notion as they often speak of going "to the church."

A brief theology lesson is in order here. In the New Testament the term translated "church" is the Greek word, eklessia. It is important to note that this term never refers to a building; it always refers to the people who make up the body of Christ. The point being that when we say we are "going to church" it's not the building but the body, it's not the place but the people.

Why is this important? You see if we equate "the church" with a particular place made of sticks and stones then that is the only place "the church" exisits. As I write these words I look out my office window and see our particular place and it occurs to me that at this moment it is simply an empty building, it is not the church. The church is at this very moment teaching class at the school, running a piece of machinery at the local factory, dealing with issues of governance for our town and county, writing loan applications, cutting a neighbor's grass, washing another load of clothes, shopping for groceries, and a whole host of other activities which may seem anything but "churchy." But it is in these day-by-day activities God is at work through His body, the church, to bring reconciliation to this world.

So, in the coming days you'll not hear me say, "I'm going to the church." Rather you can expect to hear, "I'm going to the meeting house." Instead of "I hope to see you at church" you'll hear, "I hope to see you at the meeting house!" You see, the church gathers and scatters and gathers again. The meeting house stays put. Church family, be the church right where you are and let's gather together at the meeting house to celebrate all the marvelous things God is doing! I'll see you there.
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August 7, 2009

Lo Siento

For those who stopped by late on Aug. 6, I mistakenly hit the "Publish" button instead of the "Save now" button. The completed version of Coffee and Friends is now available for your perusal.

Coffee and Friends

Italian roasted coffee beansImage via Wikipedia

My esteem of the blessed bean is well known. I fairly gush when people bless me with a bag of these marvels of creation as I relish the enjoyment that is to come my way for days to come. Darkly delicious brews every morning to awaken the senses of sight, smell, and sound (my FAVORITE morning sound is that final "gurgle" of the coffee maker!) make getting out of bed a joy. Combine that with regularly scheduled moments of quietness before my Maker and mornings are something to which I look forward.

Imagine my pleasant surprise in discovering that Lee Gross, a young man I had the privilege of ministering to during his high school days, is working on his masters degree from the University of Vermont and is spending the summer in the Dominican Republic, get this, working with coffee farmers! Yes, I immediately contacted him and asked about coffee. I didn't ask him how he was doing, or if life was treating him well, or even how his mother was doing. No, I dispensed with all the social niceties and cut directly to the chase. Would it be possible for him to procure for me a few bags of those beautiful beans? After all, this was coffee we were dealing with and the summer is growing long in the tooth. Time was of the essence. We could visit later about family, life, and love - maybe even over a cup of the marvelous mud.

After securing his promise of procuring the goods for me I dug a little deeper and discovered an opportunity for people like me to make a difference. There are coffee cooperatives springing to life in poor countries and they simply need customers. It occurs to me that I am one. Granted, I will not be able to afford these premium coffees all the time, after all I have kid starting college and two more to follow soon, but I can treat myself and a few others to some wonderful coffee every now and then and in so doing offer hope to some folks in some desperate places in our world one cup of coffee at a time.

Here are a couple of links for you coffee bean counters out there. Wooden Bike Coffee brings coffee to your door from the volcanic soils of Rwanda and is helping rebuild lives and communities in that devastated nation. The cooperative Lee is working with is Cafe' Alta Gracia. I have enjoyed a shipment from Wooden Bike earlier this year and will eagerly await the arrival of the coffee from the Cafe' Alta Gracia. Perhaps I will let you know about its brew soon.

If you have a moment stop by Lee's place and find out a little about what he's doing down there in the Dominican.

I've got to find a master's program like this!
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August 4, 2009

It's A Wedding!

When we think of weddings pictures like this one (yes, that is My Beloved and me on our Wedding Day) come to mind with all of the attached images of wedding cake, birdseed being thrown, flowers, candles, and the long awaited "I now pronounce you man and wife!" This is only natural as this is what we have come to know as a wedding.

A conversation several years ago with a member of the flock here led me on a journey of discovery concerning what came to mind when the Jewish people thought of weddings. It was arresting to realize the differences and stunning to consider the implications of the ancient Jewish wedding ceremony. As I learned more about the process of the ancient Jewish wedding (which is still practiced to this day) I was awe-struck by the fact that God had placed into the social fabric of the Jewish people a vivid picture of what He was doing in salvation.

Before I proceed here a couple of disclaimers are in order. First, I am no expert on Jewish wedding customs. I consulted several sources including The Everything Jewish Wedding Book (I get comments on that one when it is spotted on my shelf - so far no requests to perform a Jewish wedding ;-)) and The Ancient Jewish Wedding by Neil and Jamie Lash. Secondly, what follows is a synopsis of 9 weeks of preaching. These are just the high points. I believe you will readily see the meaning filled significance of each of these "steps" in the ancient Jewish wedding.

The steps in the ancient Jewish wedding (somewhat simplified):
  1. A Bride is chosen.
  2. A price is paid.
  3. Promises are made by the husband to the Bride.
  4. The Bride must agree.
  5. A cup of covenant is shared.
  6. Gifts are given.
  7. The Bridegroom departs.
  8. The Bride makes preparations for the Bridegroom's return.
  9. The Bridegroom returns.
  10. The Bride is taken to the place prepared for her.
  11. The marriage feast takes place.

A Bride is Chosen - Jesus told his disciples, "You did not choose me, but I chose you..." (John 15:16). It is an humbling thought that He has chosen us as the ones He loves!

A Price is Paid - Scripture affirms the great worth of women. "An excellent wife, who can find? She is far more precious than jewels." (Proverbs 31:10). This is quite astounding in view of the ancient world these wedding practices were instituted where women had no rights. For those of us who are in Christ we remember the price paid for us every time we celebrate Communion, recalling His body broken for us and His blood shed for us - simply because we were, and are, the objects of His love.

Promises are Made - Interestingly the bride doesn't make any promises. This portion of the Jewish wedding ceremony is decidedly one sided. The husband makes it clear all that he promises to do for the bride. Here enters a marvelous opportunity for discussing the issue of salvation! It's not based on anything we do - it is simply our acceptance of what our heavenly Bridegroom has promised!

The Bride Must Agree - I call this the "Yes Factor." The Bride has been chosen, a price agreed upon, and promises have been made, all initiated by the Bridegroom. Yet for the wedding to proceed the Bride must say "Yes." In similar fashion, God initiates the relationship but we must respond to His most marvelous offer. After all, a gift not received is worthless to the recipient.

A Cup of Covenant is Shared - We re-enact this moment every time we celebrate Communion. It was stunning to consider the fact the Jesus' disciples understood His words "Take and drink, all of you, for this cup is my blood of the new covenant which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins." in the context of the Jewish wedding. I was amazed to learn that many Jewish rabbi's still teach that the Passover in terms of God wedding His people.

One other note of interest here is that Jesus is waiting to drink this cup again with his Bride. Matthew's gospel records these words from Jesus concerning the cup, "I tell you I will not drink again of this fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new with you in my Fahter's kingdom." (Matthew 26:29) What a moment that will be at the Wedding Feast of the Lamb!

Gifts are Given - Usually the Bridegroom would give gifts to his bride to remind her of his love for her and to help her remember that he would soon be returning for her. As believers we recognize the "promised Holy Spirit, who is the guarantee of our inheritance" (Ephesians 1:13-14) as the gift that our Bridegroom gave us upon His departure.

The Bridegroom Departs - This really struck me as an oddity in the wedding ceremony. How many weddings have you been to where the 'I do's' are said and then the Bridegroom leaves? Well it's part of the Jewish ceremony and it has a wonderfully practical purpose. The Bridegroom has to get a few things ready for his Bride. Sound familiar? Jesus told his friends, "I go to prepare a place for you...And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also." (John 14:2-3)

The Bride Gets Ready - Her preparation is a gift given by the bride to the one she loves. There is a time when it is too late to prepare. Are we ready for our Bridegroom's return.

The Bridegroom Returns - This would often happen in the middle of the night. His return would be announced by a blast from the shofar and a loud shout, "Behold, the Bridegroom comes!" Amazingly, this is paralleled in the descriptions of the return of Jesus, "For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God." (I Thes. 4:16)

The Bride is Taken to the Place Prepared for Her - For a mental picture of the place being prepared for the Bride of Christ take a look at Revelation 21 and 22. Our Bridegroom has outdone Himself!

The Marriage Feast Takes Place - Jewish weddings are not quiet and reserved events. They are exuberantly joyful. Simcha describes one such feast like this, "The amazing all-out joy at such a wedding is hard to describe. It can, in fact, be quite wild, with people juggling fire, dancing in big hora circles, the bride and groom up on chairs in the middle, and so much more. The entire atmosphere is one of extreme joy, all done in fulfillment of the instruction to give joy to the bride and groom."

Here's how Revelation 19 describes it...
"Then I heard what seemed to be the voice of a great multitude, like the roar of many waters and like the sound of mighty peals of thunder, crying out,
For the Lord our God the Almight reigns.
Let us rejoice and exult and give him the glory, for the marriage of the Lamb has come, and his Bride has made herself ready!...

And the angel said to me, "Write this: Blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb."

How about it? Have you been invited and have you accepted the invitation? If not, why not?