Sunday, December 24, 2017

My power is made perfect in weakness - Jesus

In Luke’s account of the birth of Jesus, he includes the story of John the Baptizer’s birth in some detail.  In particular, he shares that John’s parents had been childless and were too old to hope for any change in their condition …That they [Zechariah and Elizabeth] had no child, because Elizabeth was barren, and both were advanced in years... (Luke 1.7)

Consider the reality of Elizabeth’s life. When we meet her, she was beyond the natural age to bear children. She had grown up and grown old watching other women bear children and grandchildren; she never had her own. She didn’t have her own sons or daughters or grandsons or granddaughters to hold and feed and teach and train. She was “very old” and had lost the chance to have kids. She was “left out” of that precious experience, and probably felt like she was on the fringes of her culture. 

But God did not see it that way. God was doing something “behind the scenes” of Elizabeth and Zechariah’s life. When it was too late and life had passed them by, God showed up with his plan unfolding in his perfect timing.

You know the story, right? Zechariah was doing his regular priestly duties, in the Temple, as he would regularly have done throughout his regular life’s routine. But…And there appeared to him an angel of the Lord standing on the right side of the altar of incense. 12 And Zechariah was troubled when he saw him, and fear fell upon him. 13 But the angel said to him, “Do not be afraid, Zechariah, for your prayer has been heard, and your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you shall call his name John…” (Luke 1.11-13)

“…your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son…”  Um, what? When it seemed impossible – well, when it was impossible – God was announcing a new work. A new life. This was totally impossible and totally had to be something of God’s doing.

Monday, November 27, 2017

A Family Thanksgiving Psalm

A Thanksgiving Psalm
from Rick & Carol Wallis’ Thanksgiving Table
Written by family members sharing thanksgivings for God’s gifts
To be said or sung antiphonally; loosely based on Psalm 136

Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good,
            for his steadfast love endures forever

Give thanks to the Lord of lords,
            for his steadfast love endures forever

to him who provided a new rental house
            for his steadfast love endures forever

and a job with friends as team members
            for his steadfast love endures forever

to him who has given us local friends and family
            for his steadfast love endures forever

and a new season for pursuing college plans
            for his steadfast love endures forever

to him who provides important work to do
            for his steadfast love endures forever

Monday, November 20, 2017

"Bear one another's burdens..."

Since October 9th, we have experienced “community” through a wide variety of gifts and helps. It was in meals brought to our house, or errands run by neighbors; it was through the gift of friends taking time to “house sit” with our son, and family taking time away from work or school to visit and help in practical ways. In these and in other ways, we were gifted with real expressions of community.

Why? When you’re sent to a hospital with a medical emergency, and then you’re in ICU for two weeks, you are in real need of practical “community!”

In the upcoming weeks on this blog, we’ll share some stories about what we've experienced and learned about Christ-centered “community” that will hopefully encourage you to be an active part of each other’s lives. 

We believe that each of us is already part of someone’s community, and that Christ wants to show each of us how to share his life and his love in community with others.

This week, some thoughts about how community comes with a cost.

Every gift or help we received during my hospital stay had one thing in common – each gift was not convenient for the giver. In fact, caring for one another is not “convenient,” by definition. You must give up something in order to care for some one.

Time is limited. Money is limited. And our personal energy is limited. So, in order to “be” a Christ focused community, it will cost; and that means we will usually be inconvenienced.

That’s why we are called to “Bear one another's burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.” (Galatians 6.2)  We can help shoulder a burden, and that involves a certain amount of sacrifice and effort to pick up and carry a “burden.”

But being a community in Christ is not a legalistic work; it is a spiritual expression of love for each other. The love or empathy we feel for others will make the giving sweet and holy.

This is expressed by the apostle John when he wrote: “By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers. But if anyone has the world's goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God's love abide in him? Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth.” (1 John 3.16-18)

Friday, October 6, 2017

“In the real world of pain, how could one worship a God who was immune to it?”

(This is part 1 of a series of reflections on current crises and Christian faith)

“In the real world of pain, how could one worship a God who was immune to it?” (John R.W. Stott)

Jesus was “a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief” (Isaiah 53.3)

“Keep your heart with all vigilance, for from it flow the springs of life.” (Proverbs 4.23)

There is much to grieve in our world.

We’ve been living through a time-line of events that seem to be increasing in violence and trauma. Hurricanes. Shootings. Earthquakes. Riots. It’s difficult to recall everything that’s been streaming across our TV screens in just the past six months, but we shouldn’t forget how…

…in May, there was a bombing at a teen concert in Manchester, England, killing 23, injuring 250. …in June a shooter tried to murder a group of US Congressmen during a Congressional Baseball practice, seriously injuring Congressman Steve Scalise; and how in that same month a terror attack on the London Bridge in England, killed 11, injuring 48. …in July, North Korea began a series of ICBMs test launches, raising the specter of nuclear war with the US. …in August, riots erupted in Charlottesville, Virginia during a nationalist rally, ending in an auto homicide of a peaceful protestor.

Then there are the hurricanes – Harvey floods Houston and south Texas; Irma rakes Florida, bringing floodwaters into Jacksonville; and Maria devastates Puerto Rico.

And now this month, a Las Vegas shooter kills 58, wounds over 500 at an outdoor country music festival. The more that investigators dig into the shooter’s life, the scarier the story becomes. He stockpiled weapons for months; he had a cache of explosives; he had planned to attack Chicago’s “Lollapalooza” music festival, or Boston’s Fenway Park, but those plans mysteriously failed. Such insanity. Such sorrow.

How do we avoid losing heart, when our hearts are breaking?  How do we live as followers of Jesus in this land infected with trauma and tension?

As followers of Christ, we need to guard our hearts, to guard our minds, and keep our daily walk with God vibrant.

Monday, September 18, 2017

"It will be good to worship today."

Monday morning, September 11th 2017

5.00 am
Hurricane Irma was battering Jacksonville with gale force winds, flooding an already swollen St Johns River with a foot of rain.

Our house was dark. The electricity was out. I walked downstairs. No use trying to sleep. It felt like we were under attack, and I wanted to be at my post to pray and watch.

I lay on the couch in the family room, dozing, listening, praying while repeating Psalm 121, among other warfare verses that I have put to memory. The storm was at its peak, and it felt like I was engaged in a battle of prayer.

The sound of a hurricane is raw unrelenting power and rage: rain pelting against windows, wind wailing through the trees, myriad mysterious and unidentifiable sounds outside.

But laying there, in the midst of that assault of nature, a peace-giving and joy-filled thought “came to me” – it wasn’t my own brain bringing this up because my brain was overwhelmed with sound and battling to recite scriptures. Yet, there it was: “This afternoon, be ready to lead in some music and song. It will be good to worship today.”

Yes, I thought. That is definitely something to look forward to.  Will do.

10.00 am
The worst of the winds and rain had pulled north. But the ruin and the pain of this storm were just becoming evident.

The National Weather Service used the word “epic” to describe the flooding and damage in Jacksonville. I prefer the word “hellish.” According to John 10.10, we have an enemy who comes to “kill, steal, and destroy.” These are Jesus’ words; he knew something about battling the devil, and winning.

“Kill, steal, and destroy” describe what thousands experienced in Jacksonville as well as in south Florida and the Caribbean. But note this: Jesus also said, “I have come to bring you life, and life in abundance…” In the mud and sorrow that Irma left behind, we saw Jesus’ life in some rather surprising and personal ways…

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Knowing, and not knowing

Today, September 6, 2017, we know a storm is coming. Hurricane Irma. It’s a “Category 5” storm, and is the most powerful Atlantic hurricane on record, according to Hurricane experts.

Thanks to Smartphones, and high speed internet connections, we can watch real time radar images, live video links, and the latest predictions and assessments about Irma. So much information and data, all meant to warn us and help us prepare.

As I write this at home here in Jacksonville, we aren’t sure what this storm will bring to us, or when. But we do know it’s coming, and that it has the potential of bringing wide spread damage, and even death.

Thankfully, we are being warned about this; hopefully, lives will therefore be saved. And, in just a few days, we’ll know what this storm will mean.

We seem to be in a strange vortex of “knowing, and not knowing.”

We know this: a storm is working its way towards us, and that it’s big and dangerous.

But we don’t know this: will this hurt us, or pass us by, or miraculously dissolve? For those of us who experienced Hurricane Matthew last year, here it is again: an all too familiar stress of knowing, but not knowing.

This is a dramatic picture of the “knowing, and not knowing” of our journey as Christ followers. Another way to put it, we live in the “already, and not yet.”

Sunday, July 16, 2017

"Please stand and repeat after me"

Twenty-six individuals stood up, from twenty-two separate countries, to take the oath of citizenship.  Different languages, different colors, different stories – but one oath to become citizens of the United States. 

"I hereby declare, on oath, that I absolutely and entirely renounce and abjure all allegiance and fidelity to any foreign prince, potentate, state, or sovereignty, of whom or which I have heretofore been a subject or citizen…”

My wife and I recently attended a Naturalization ceremony for Global Refugee Day. We were gathered in a large conference room in the downtown library, sitting with a hundred or so other friends and family of those non-citizens who were ready to become citizens. 

There wasn’t any hype in the air – more a mixture of subdued happiness and awe, as they declared, “I will support and defend the Constitution and laws of the United States of America against all enemies, foreign and domestic…”

This is not seeker-sensitive vocabulary. This is cutting, final, and “demands my all,” to quote an ancient hymn.

Let’s consider what is required to make this sort of choice:

These people were burning bridges to settle in a new land. This was a solemn but celebrative event. They had left families, land, and loved ones.  And there they all stood, agreeing to be adopted by a new country. Afterwards, my wife and I marveled at the words these new citizens recited. There was no turning back. They were breaking all loyalty and severing all allegiance to their country of origin. There was no wiggle room for moderation. No way out. No compromise. Either they were to become Americans, or not. No middle way.