Resurrected Living
"What are you going to do with your new resurrected life? This is the heroic question." Richard Rohr

Sep
03

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Those who trust in the Lord are like Mount Zion,
    which cannot be moved, but abides forever.
As the mountains surround Jerusalem,
    so the Lord surrounds his people,
    from this time forth and forevermore.
For the scepter of wickedness shall not rest
    on the land allotted to the righteous,
lest the righteous stretch out
    their hands to do wrong.
Do good, O Lord, to those who are good,
    and to those who are upright in their hearts!
But those who turn aside to their crooked ways
    the Lord will lead away with evildoers!
    Peace be upon Israel!

Psalm 125 is an interesting psalm. It is a good psalm to meditate on. It is only comprised of five verses and easily be read multiple times in one setting. It begins by encouraging people to fully trust in God (vs. 1). Those who do “cannot be moved”. This is because God surrounds his people just as mountains surround Jerusalem (vs. 2). This promise is not limited. It is not just for a moment. God promises to surround his people forever.

The psalm ends by dividing humanity into two groups, the good and the evil. This is common in wisdom literature. Psalm 1 introduces the book of Psalms by describing two ways, the way of the wicked and the way of the righteous. It is clear there are two ways to live. There is a right way and a wrong way, but it would be difficult to divide all humanity into these categories. Why? Paul tells us “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Rom. 3:23). Each of us has spent time on the wrong path, and the temptation to meddle in evil is always present.

The most interesting verse in Psalm 125 is verse 3. It describes the continual presence of evil in the land of the righteous and the constant temptation for the righteous to do what is wrong. Walker Percy described this temptation in his novel The Last Gentleman with this line, “War is better than Monday morning.” As we go about our ordinary and everyday lives we are tempted by pride, envy, lust, greed, and other things that create conflict in our lives and the lives of others. Boredom may get the best of us. As the old saying goes, “Idle hands are the devil’s workshop.” It could be that these evil ways seem more intriguing at the moment. We are tired of monotony and desire something new. Whatever it is, we need to be aware that even in the land of the righteous, evil is always present.

Thankfully, Psalm 125 is only part of the story. This psalm is a great reminder to be faithful. It offers an important warning to always be aware of the evil in our midst, but it does not tell us all there is to know about sin and evil in the lives of human beings. Paul reminds us that we are all guilty (Rom. 3:23), but he also tells us that we have forgiveness through Jesus. The sacrifice of Jesus on the cross makes forgiveness of sins possible, but more than that the life of Jesus shows us in human flesh what the way of the righteous looks like. The temptation to meddle in evil will always exist, but now we have the extraordinary promise of forgiveness and the incredible example of what our lives should be.

May we fully trust in God by living as people who have been forgiven and who now strive to follow in the footsteps of Jesus every day.

Aug
31

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Last week I watched Two Days, One Night, and it reminded me once again of the lack of depth in mainstream American cinema. Don’t get me wrong, I love a good action thriller like Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation, but the films that are widely popular often do not challenge us like many smaller independent and foreign films. I don’t think we can place all the blame on the major movie studios, even though they handle the content that is released. I think they often give us what they think we will want. Most of us want entertainment, not art. We want to be distracted, not asked to contemplate the deeper things of life.

Two Days, One Night is a foreign film with little action. For viewers accustomed to constantly shifting camera angles and multiple explosions, this film will feel dreadfully slow. However, if our criteria for judging a film is how many explosions it has and if it can keep our attention, then we may need to reconsider our expectations for what is good and what is not. Two Days, One Night demands our patience, but the payoff is well worth it.

The story the film tells is rather simple. Sandra (Marion Cotillard) has been off work for some time. When she decides to go back, she discovers the boss has made the employees choose between her or a significant bonus. The small company cannot afford both, and so a vote is going to be held on Monday to determine the outcome. Sandra spends the weekend visiting her co-workers to ask them to vote for her.

The film can feel monotonous at times. The same situation is repeated multiple times. Sandra goes to a door, rings the bell, and then explains why she is there. What is interesting is that even though these situations throughout the film resemble one another they are each different because Sandra is speaking to different people. It is a fascinating character study. Some people are eager to help. Some people only care about the money. Some people really want to help Sandra, but they also desperately need the money. They need the money to pay their bills or put their kids through school.

Toward the end of the film, Sandra visits a man who is a new employee. When she presents her dilemma to him, he begins to contemplate his situation. He could use the money to help provide for his family. If he votes for Sandra, then he will be persecuted at work by those who want the bonus. His life will be made more difficult by voting for Sandra, but he also says, “This is what God wants me to do.” The dilemma that he and others are facing is bigger than the needs and wants of two individuals. It is about what is right and wrong.

In Two Days, One Night the name of Jesus is never mentioned. God is only mentioned once. I don’t think the Dardenne brothers set out to make a Christian film, but that is exactly what they have given us. It is a film that asks us to consider how much we would sacrifice to help our neighbor. Jesus says the second greatest command is to love our neighbor as ourself. We know this. We talk about it, but what does it look like? Two Days, One Night shows us what it looks like and what it doesn’t. It is an exploration of what it means to love our neighbor as ourself.

Aug
10

summerblogtour

This is a guest post by John Dobbs. 

Disappointment is an experience that everyone faces … and often in many varieties and shades. Sometimes disappointment comes at the hands of others, and sometimes we create it all on our own.

You know, that weight you were going to lose by now. The degree you were going to earn has somehow eluded you. The order you were hoping to establish in your daily routine escapes in the trap of too many late nights and way too early mornings. The books you wanted to write that once started remain unfinished. The commitment to write for someone else that has found you looking at an empty document, fingers stalled on the keyboard. The preacher who thought he would have been able to lead his church to greater heights.

Oh, excuse me… didn’t mean to spill MY disappointments in myself all over the place. But I bet I’m in good company.

“Life is a long preparation for something that never happens.” ~W.B. Yeats

Age has a way of sneaking up on us. Health issues slow us down when we thought before that we could be active any time we wanted to. Like the addict who swears he has no problems, we blind ourselves to reality until one day when the stark reality of who we are doesn’t leave us any way out. We realize that all the things we thought we might be, well, they aren’t likely to happen.

After the crucifixion of Jesus some disciples grappled with their own disappointment. As they tried to sift through the information … he died … the women said they saw an angel who said he was alive … but we haven’t seen him … he must be dead.

But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel.” ~ Cleopas and another Discouraged Disciple on the road to Emmaus.

How can there be any power in a disappointing story? You get to the end of the book only to find out the main character has died. Powerful? Not really. You watch all the episodes of a show that has you hooked, but in the end they just ruined the whole thing. Disappointment. Well, we may not be able to rescue fictional works that turn sour in the end, but your life is different. It’s nonfiction, no matter how crazy the details. Disappointments – great or small – can actually turn out to be a pretty powerful experience.

Sometimes out of the rubble of disappointment is a new reality you couldn’t have designed or pictured if you tried.

Thankfully, our disappointments matter to God, and He has a way of taking even some of the bitterest moments we go through and making them into something of great significance in our life. It’s hard to understand it at the time. Not one of us wants that thread when it is being woven in. Not one of us says, ‘I can hardly wait to see where this is going to fit.’ We all say at that moment, ‘This is not the pattern I want.” ~Ravi Zacharias, The Grand Weaver

When Jesus revealed himself to the disappointed disciples on the road to Emmaus, new light was given to their faith.

Luke 24:32-33 They said to each other, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he was talking to us on the road, while he was opening the scriptures to us?”

Instead of continuing toward Emmaus they went to Jerusalem to join the other formerly disappointed but now ecstatic disciples.

Maybe your disappointments seem irreversible. Divorce. Financial ruin. Accused. Arrested. Abandoned. Abused. Mourning the loss of a person or even a pet … disappointment is one gut-punch we don’t just walk away from.

The one thing that never disappoints us is hope. Hope that is certain of what lies ahead. While our knowledge of God’s promises is secure, the road that we travel between here and there can be rugged. The reason hope never disappoints us is that we carry it with us through the dark streets of shame and uncertainty.

When God saved you He poured hope into your heart. Not just a little, but filled your heart up because He knew that there were going to be some real struggles along the way. If you’re disappointed, just clear out all the troubling thoughts and focus intently here:

Therefore, since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have obtained access to this grace in which we stand; and we boast in our hope of sharing the glory of God. And not only that, but we also boast in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us. ~ Romans 5:1-5

If you didn’t feel some disappointment lift, read it again. See the friendship with God expressed there? The assurances just pour out of this passage.

We are justified by faith.

We have peace with God through Jesus.

We have access to grace in which we stand.

We boast in our hope of sharing the glory of God.

We … boast … in … our … sufferings (disappointing, isn’t it, that sufferings have to enter into this passage).

People who suffer endure. Character is produced. Hope, the kind that can never disappoint us, has been given to us. Because God loves us. All in the face of suffering.

So, dear friend, when you’ve felt the pangs of disappointment, remember that your story isn’t finished yet. The hopes you had might be eclipsed by a more glorious plan that God has for you – even when it’s hard to understand.

Here’s a Prayer for the Disappointed
God so often my eyes are clouded and I can’t see the Powerful Risen Savior because the ‘facts’ of the day are staring me in my face. I am disappointed because I thought maybe You would provide for me in a different way. But in faith I affirm that You know much more about my tomorrows than I do. I know you’ll walk with me through days of glory and days of gloom. Would you bring healing and serenity to my hurting heart today? I don’t have to know all the answers. I just want to know You more. Father please remind me of the power of a disappointing story and how Your hope never disappoints. This hope, found only in your son Jesus, my Brother. Amen.

John Dobbs is the minister for the Forsythe Church of Christ in Monroe, Louisiana. He is married to the former Margaret Willingham. He has two children. Nicole, who has provided two beautiful grandchildren. John Robert, who is deceased. John has blogged for many years and was recently listed as a Church of Christ “Top Blog” by the Charis Website. Here are some ways to connect with him:
Aug
06

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“One thing have I asked of the LORD, that will I seek after: that I may dwell in the house of the LORD all the days of my life, to gaze upon the beauty of the LORD and to inquire in his temple.” (Psalm 27:4)

God is beautiful, and it should be our desire to “gaze upon the beauty of the Lord.” What is beauty? It is difficult to define. We know beauty when we see it. Beauty is powerful. It draws people in. When we speak to people about God and the Christian faith, then we should point them to the beauty of it all. Some beauty is easy to recognize. I have never met a person who has denied the beauty of a sunset. Its beauty is obvious to everyone who sees it. However, there are others forms of beauty that are not as apparent. They demand training and focus. Not everyone appreciates art or poetry, but this does not mean it lacks beauty. It simply means that some people are not able to recognize the beauty of a piece of art or a poem because they have not devoted themselves to studying the form.

The beauty of God is both obvious and deep. This should not be surprising. There are elements of the Bible that are easy to understand, and there are parts of the Bible that demand years of study and reflection. The beauty of God’s creation should be apparent to all (Rom. 1:19-20), but the beauty of the poetry of the Psalms demands some training and focus. If we are going to “gaze upon the beauty of the Lord”, then we must prepare ourselves to recognize and appreciate all of God’s beauty. How do we do this?

Focus – God’s beauty demands our focus whether it is obvious or not. The word “gaze” in Psalm 27:4 is a word that means we set aside time to concentrate on God’s beauty. We are to “be still and know that I am God” (Psalm 46:10). Many people will completely miss the beauty of God because they fail to focus. They are so busy that they do not take the time to stop and appreciate beauty. Technology is wonderful. It makes our life easier in many ways, but it can also distract us from the things that truly matter. How many times have you seen a child vying for their parent’s attention while the parent is staring at a phone? If our desire is to “gaze upon the beauty of the Lord”, then we must create space in our lives to focus on God’s beauty.

Learning – There are some things we must learn to appreciate. There is a tendency in our culture to want things easy and simple. We like teachers and politicians who tell funny stories that make a simple point everyone can understand. Some even believe this is the way Jesus taught. Yes, Jesus told stories but often people were confused by them. They were not as simple as some people like to believe. The writer of Hebrews chides the church for keeping it simple and encourages them to go deeper (Heb. 5:12-6:2). There are aspects of God’s beauty that demand learning. We are not born with the ability to appreciate Hebrew poetry the first time we read it. We must spend some time looking at it and studying it. The beauty is there, but it is going to take some work on our part to recognize it.

Beauty is mysterious. It is difficult for us to put it into words, but beauty is something we never grow tired of. We never complain about too much beauty. It is something that captivates us. When we see beauty, we don’t want to take our eyes off of it. This is why we need to prepare ourselves “to gaze upon the beauty of the Lord.”

Aug
06

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This is a guest post by John Mark Hicks.

Bible stories.

Many of us have heard them since we were children.

  • Daniel and the Lion’s Den.
  • Noah’s Ark.
  • Three Angels Visiting Abraham.
  • Moses and the Burning Bush.
  • David and Goliath.

And many more!

Bible stories are important.  They do more than tweak the emotions or offer a moralism, as important as those dimensions are. Their power arises from something (even Someone) much deeper than human morality or emotion.

What is the power of a biblical story?

The power of a biblical story is what it reveals about God. Even when a biblical story does not name God (as in the case of Esther), it is still about God. As such, God is the subject of every biblical story, and that story says something about God’s identity and character.

Biblical stories reveal God’s goodness as well as God’s holiness. We see God’s faithfulness, a divine commitment to the divine goal among God’s people. We see God’s transcendence but also God’s immanence; we see God’s holy otherness but also God’s deep involvement in the world.

Reading a biblical narrative, we ask:  what does this story tell us about who God is and what God is doing in the world?

The power of a biblical story is what it reveals about the human condition. We locate ourselves in the human condition; we find ourselves in the story. We see our own frailty, weakness, and unbelief in the story. We also see courage, strength, and faith in the story.

Biblical stories reveal both the depravity and the dignity of human beings. As we hear these stories, we recognize how evil human beings can behave but also the heights to which their faith draws them. We see both the absurdity of life with all its brokenness, woundedness, and death, but we also see the good gifts of relationships, community, and family within God’s good creation. Biblical stories tell both sides of the human story.

Reading a biblical narrative, we ask:  what does this story tell us about who we are, what we have become, and the heights to which God is calling us?

The power of a biblical story is how it invites us to participate in the theodrama. As we read the stories in the Bible, we are invited to see ourselves in the story. This is not simply a matter of locating ourselves there. Rather, we engage the story as part of the larger theodrama, the dramatic history of God at work within creation and human history. We are participants. This story is our story.

Biblical stories are not isolated moral plays; they are part of a larger narrative, a metanarrative. The stories themselves participate in God’s mission within the world. Each story is an expression of the larger story, and we are invited to participate in that larger story even as we see ourselves in any particular story.

Reading a biblical narrative, we ask:  how does this story invite us to participate in God’s larger metanarrative?

So, what do we do with that?

If we know who God is, and we know what our condition is, then we are able to discern how a story summons us to play our role in God’s grand redemptive drama.

The God of the burning bush is both redeemer and holy. The holy God encounters Moses, and invites Moses to participate in God’s redemptive movement within the world. We see in Moses our own reticence, fear, and inadequacies, but we also see God’s enabling power and summons. God includes Moses in the redemptive drama such that Moses partners with God in liberating Israel from Egyptian bondage. What Moses becomes is rooted in what God does.

Who is God? The Holy Redeemer.

What is humanity? Weak and fearful, yes.  But also God affirms human dignity by inviting Moses to participate in the divine mission.

What is our summons? To participate in God’s redemptive agenda in the world, pursuing God’s mission in dependence on God’s power. We are still on the same mission as Moses, as the redemption of Israel is part of the grand narrative of God’s redemptive work for all peoples.

Biblical stories have something to tell.  They inform, moralize, and motivate.

But, more importantly, through them we also encounter Someone. We encounter the God who invites us into God’s own story, God’s theodrama.

At bottom, biblical stories are callings. God calls us.

John Mark Hicks is Professor of Theology at Lipscomb University in Nashville. He has taught theology since 1982, including nine years at Harding University Graduate School of Religion (1991-2000). He has been at Lipscomb since 2000. He has ministered with churches in Virginia, Pennsylvania, Alabama, and Tennessee. He has published nine books and thirteen journal articles as well as contributed to nineteen other books. He has spoken in thirty-eight states and nineteen countries.  His most recent book discusses baptism and the Lord’s Supper, “Enter the Water, Come to the Table”.

Aug
04

summerblogtour

This is a guest post by Peter Horne.

Our Bibles contain four gospels. Each gospel author includes different details, different wording and sometimes different events in telling the story. As early as the second-century Christian leaders began the quest to harmonize the four gospels.

Scholars often undertook this project to defend the Bible against claims of contradictions. Others sought to harmonize the gospel accounts as an attempt to identify “what really happened”. Like a jigsaw, if each gospel contributes a unique detail, then by assembling all four details we can get a complete story that we’ll never see by reading each gospel individually. Or so the thinking goes.

Many people go through life with a similar approach to the world we live in. We each tell our life stories based on our knowledge of the truth. At the core of this quest is a belief that a factual event occurred. If we can accurately gather all the facts then we can communicate the exact details of that event. In this way, truth will be revealed.

This approach has merit. If carried out precisely we can answer a wide variety of How, What, When, and Who questions. However, this methodology cannot answer the Why questions that are so essential to storytelling. It’s a fact that my grandparents emigrated from Scotland to Australia in the 1950’s. But immigration records will never explain why they made the decision to relocate to the other side of the world. And that Why is key to the story. In the case of Gospel harmonies, our quest for factual truth may even distract us from more significant heart truths.

Let’s think about those Why’s using a predictable, routine event: Sunday morning worship.

Why did an event take place? We can easily answer the How, What, When and Who questions of Sunday worship through observation and record keeping. When we turn to consider why people assemble in that place, at that time, there’s suddenly no single accurate answer. Any attempt to harmonize the motivations of the people present each Sunday morning is a generalization at best and at worst woefully inaccurate.

Why did an individual act that way? We might think it’s easier to define the motivation of a particular individual, but if you’re anything like me, that may even change from week to week. Sometimes I attend Sunday worship to worship God. Sometimes I attend because I’m a minister and paid to be there. Sometimes I’m there because I have a responsibility, and sometimes I just long to see friends. Most Sundays I find myself motivated by a complex mix of all these thoughts.

When we tell our stories, the ‘Why’s of motivation’ provide vital insights as we interpret our world. We also need to deal with the ‘Why’s of interpretation’.

Why is this event significant? We can all agree that Neil Armstrong setting foot on the moon was a significant event. It’s highly unlikely that we will all agree on the cause of that significance. Was it because it symbolized American (or human) ingenuity? Was it because it opened the door to further space travel? Was it because it inspired a nation? Was it because of the technological advances it represented? Was it all of the above?

Why does this story need to be told? Stories are summaries. We summarize our lives. We summarize events. We summarize history. Because we summarize, we naturally editorialize. We make decisions about what information to include and omit.

We omit things on purpose. We omit some stories because they contain shame. We gloss over some events because we deem them trivial. We leave out details because we want to portray ourselves in a particular light. Sometimes we shorten our stories simply because of time constraints.

In a similar fashion, we tell stories for a purpose. We seek to inspire others. We long to preserve our legacy within our family or maybe in a broader sphere. We tell stories to persuade others to agree with us. We tell stories to warn of dangers. We sometimes tell a story to honor a friend or to humiliate a rival.

Whatever our motivation in telling a story, the act of storytelling is actually a ‘Why of interpretation’. We tell our stories because they explain the way we see the world.

A collection of facts can’t explain the Why.

Most of us have a story that we live. We’re politically conservative or liberal because we see the world a certain way. We emphasize certain values and downplay others. We value education or we don’t. We avoid debt, or we don’t. We hold these values because somewhere in our life we were taught or experienced things that formed those values. So the values arise out of our life story, not simply from making judgments within an intellectual vacuum.

In our stories, we believe that particular actions will usually result in predetermined results.

In our stories, we see an illegal immigrant working a minimum wage job and complain that he’s stolen an American’s job.

In our stories, we see single mothers and complain about a system that encourages them to have kids.

In our stories, we believe that college education will lead to employment and a happy life.

There’s power in the story of another person: a person with a story different to mine.

That illegal immigrant has a story that tells Why they’re here. Perhaps it’s a story of tragedy. Often it’s a story of poverty. And when we learn the storytellers name… we’re no longer talking about illegal immigrants. We’re talking about specific people. People who need Jesus. People we’re called to love. People who can open our eyes to another story.

The single mother you pointed at actually isn’t the Samaritan woman at the well. She didn’t have 6 kids with 5 dads just so she could collect welfare checks. Her Why is more complicated than that. Her husband of 15 years walked out on her one day. Now her kids are rowdy in the restaurant because he used to discipline the other end of the table and he’s no longer there. Her story isn’t the one we’ve written for her.

Perhaps there was a day when a college education automatically landed a good job. But education costs increase and expectations of a graduate degree, not just a Bachelors also increase. So the debt load rises and the “good job” barely pays the rent and student loans with no hope of owning a house. At the same time, there are more college graduates competing for the same jobs. So the story is rewritten and the college grad takes whatever job she can because some income is better than none. Someday she’ll have a career… maybe.

And we realize that facts don’t tell a story because they can’t answer the Why’s.

And we realize that our story is just one side of a story, one facet of a jewel, and we need the stories of others to reveal a reality bigger than we can see or imagine.

And we realize that we need to listen before we speak. To learn before we teach. We realise that other races, other genders, other ages, other nations have stories that add value to our own.

And we realize that God gave us four gospels for a reason.

Peter Horne moved from Australia to the United States in 1999. Having filled the roles of children’s minister, youth minister, and college minister in various locations around Australia and the US, he now happily serves as the preacher at the Lawson Rd Church of Christ in Rochester, NY.

Check out more by Peter Horne on:

Peter’s Patter: Discussion of the weekly sermon.

God Meets Ball: Viewing God through Sport

Cultural Mosaic: Resources for Multi-Ethnic Churches

Jul
30

summerblogtour

This is a guest post by Tyler Jarvis.

One of the things I like the most about the Bible is that it doesn’t pull any punches. I mean, there are lots of guys who are generally “good” guys but who do really crappy things. Generally, when you read a story, the main character is presented in the most likable light possible.

Not in the Bible. Or at least, not always.

In the Bible, you hear about guys like David, who was famously described as a man after God’s own heart, but who also impregnated a woman who was married to another guy, and then carried out a plan to kill the woman’s husband so he wouldn’t be caught.

In the Bible, you hear about guys like Samson, who served as a Judge of Israel and was supposed to rescue the Israelites from the Philistines, but he actually just winds up breaking all the vows he made to God, and even when he does kill a few Philistines, it’s too little too late, and he dies without having done what he was called to do.

In the Bible, you hear about guys like Peter who was the rock on which the Church was built, but who was portrayed as incredibly dim-witted all throughout the Gospels. And even after the resurrection, when Peter is supposed to be super awesome all the time, Paul still has to get onto Peter for being a racist.

I think it’s important that these stories are included in the Bible, because the writers understood the importance of a villain story.  It’s important to have stories about people who screw things up. It’s important to tell the stories of the guys who weren’t always good at following God.

Because really, that’s our story. I can relate to a guy who does good and bad things. I’m familiar with seeking after God’s heart, but also trying to make myself look good. I know what it’s like to know what God has called me too, and to ignore it because there were other, better things to do. I know how it is to want to follow Christ, but to make stupid mistakes.

The Bible includes all these stories to show us that being a follower of God isn’t just something for the elite. David wasn’t bred to be a holy King. He was a shepherd boy who accidentally found himself anointed to be King, and he screwed up along the way. Samson had strength, but lacked the discipline and desire to follow God. Peter was self-absorbed, and only followed Jesus because he thought Jesus was going to lead a violent rebellion against the Romans, but he wound up leading Christ’s Church.

This is important to note, because, like Peter, Samson, and David, we’re not always going to be the good guy. We are going to do things that are stupid, shameful, and Un-Christlike. At some point in our lives, we are going to do things that hurt the cause of the Kingdom of God. And God can use us anyway.

Because the Christian story isn’t a hero story. It’s not a fairy tale. It’s a real story about real people who seek after God and who screw up. It’s a story about people who are constantly being transformed, but who sometimes resist that transformation.  It’s a story about people who don’t always look more like God today than they did yesterday.

And that’s encouraging. Because I take steps back. I have days like David, where if people knew what I’d done, they would probably think I wasn’t a Christian. I have days like Peter, where even though I work as a leader in a Church, I exclude people that I’m supposed to include. I have days like Samson, where God gives me everything I need to follow him, and I do my own thing anyway. And it’s on those days that I need these reminders that God’s not finished with me yet. Even on the days that I’m the villain of the story, God works in and through me.

We should strive to be followers of God. We should strive to be after God’s own heart. We should strive to be perfect as God is perfect. But we should also rest in the comfort that God uses us when we screw up. Some of the greatest heroes of the faith were bigger screw-ups than you and me.

Sometimes, the villains make the best heroes.

Tyler Jarvis is the youth minister at the Oak Ridge Church of Christ in Willow Park, TX. He’s married to his wonderful wife Andrea and they have zero kids. He enjoys playing guitar, rock climbing, and writing about himself in the third person. You can check out his blog at tylerjarvis.wordpress.com or follow him on Twitter at @Tyler_Jarvis.

Jul
25

OT37RD9KJN

What is Christianity? It is what is good, true, and beautiful. These are the three virtues that describe our faith. God is good. God is true. God is beautiful. God embodies these virtues perfectly, but these virtues do not stop with God. What he creates is good, true, and beautiful. As Christians, we should strive for goodness, truth, and beauty in our own lives. We should reflect the virtues of God. We are shaped by a story that is good, true, and beautiful. The Bible is God’s grand narrative, and we are invited to be a part of it.

Of the three virtues, beauty is the one that is most neglected by Christians these days. We are great at standing up for doctrinal truths. We have no problem doing good in the communities in which we live and around the world. Beauty is another animal. It is not that we are against it, but I think most Christians do not know what is meant by beauty in its purest form. Beauty has been hijacked. The so-called beauty that is pimped on magazine covers and billboards is not the kind of beauty we are talking about. What is beauty? The psalmist wrote,

“One thing have I asked of the Lord, that will I seek after: that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to gaze upon the beauty of the Lord and to inquire in his temple.” (Psalm 27:4)

Our standard for beauty is God. Everything about God is beautiful. His work, word, and ways define beauty for us. The beauty we see in creation is a reflection of the beauty of the Father. The beauty of a painting, film, or poem is a glimpse of the eternal Artist, who created all things. The beauty of humanity at its finest is a reminder of the greatest human being that walked this earth, Jesus of Nazareth.

We must be careful not to neglect beauty. It has the power to win people over. Often Christians are guilty of shouting truths at a secular world that desperately needs to see the beauty of God. We must never neglect the truth of the Christian faith, but the first thing the world needs to see and hear from us is the beauty of what it means to be a Christian.

God’s beauty is broad. It is many things. At one point in his ministry, Paul pointed to the beauty of the words of a pagan poet to win people to Christ. God’s beauty can even be found in things that deny him or do not know him. The longing for something beautiful is a desire every human has. We may have a difficult time defining beauty, but when we see something beautiful, we cannot take our eyes off of it. Beauty is a necessity, just as story is a necessity. Without stories, our lives do not make sense. Everyone has a story. Everyone is living into a story. Every human being on this planet has been shaped by the stories they have grown up with. Without beauty and story, life is meaningless.

It is important to understand how foundational beauty and story are because Christians have a beautiful story that the world needs to hear. Everyone agrees that there is something wrong with the world. How do we address this brokenness? We address it by telling a beautiful story, a story that is truly good news to the people who hear it. We live into this story, so much so that people recognize that our lives are strangely different. We embody this beautiful story that we are now a part of it, and we proclaim it with every aspect of our lives.

What is this story of beauty? It is a love story. It is a story about sacrifice and what it means to be truly human. It is a story that will bless our lives in more ways than we can imagine. It is a story that recognizes this world is not what it should be. This problem leads us to the heart of the story. Humanity cannot solve the problems of this world, although we continue to try. God alone can make things right, and he did so by taking on flesh and coming to this earth.

Our world recognizes beauty each year at Christmas when it celebrates the incarnation. People are mesmerized and filled with awe because of this mysterious event. Beauty and mystery are close cousins. They go hand in hand. If you explain every detail about something, it is no longer a mystery. We are intrigued by mystery because we do not understand everything about it. The same is true of beauty. Part of the allure of things that are beautiful lies in our inability to fully explain them. We can try to describe the beauty of a sunset, but our words do not do it justice. Our explanations of what is beautiful always fall short. What is beautiful in the Bible are things we profess but do not fully comprehend. Incarnation, Trinity, atonement, resurrection, etc. are all elements of our beautiful story. They are foundational to who we are and what we believe but they are also shrouded in mystery and beauty.

We have a beautiful story to tell and we must not fail to share it with the world. Often, we are guilty of sharing facts from the Bible as if it is no different from a science textbook. When we do this we are missing out on the wonders God has revealed to us. We are called to woo the world with the beauty of a story. It is the beauty of a God who created all things and said, “It is good.” It is the beauty of a God who is one and three at the same time, a God who dwells in perfect community. It is the beauty of a God who left heaven and came to earth. It is the beauty of a God who took on flesh and ministered to the least of society. It is the beauty of a God who forgave his killers and willingly went to the cross to show us what love is. It is the beauty of new creation springing up from the grave.

This is our story, but it is just part of all there is to tell. When God invests himself in creation, the result is beauty. God has been present in the lives of the patriarchs, Israel, and the early church, and he continues to invest himself in the lives of Christians today. Many Christians have personal stories of how God has worked in our lives. In a world that is longing for beauty and a story to make sense of their lives, we hold the key. We have been called to tell a beautiful story.

Jul
24

summerblogtour

This is a guest post by Les Ferguson Jr.

I don’t watch a lot of TV. Consequently, I often miss things that are culturally relevant. I hear about TV shows and have no clue about them at all. People talk about movies and actors and I just kind of nod my head because more often than not, I have no idea who or what they are talking about.

Even when a movie comes along that grabs my attention, I rarely make the time to see it. In fact, I cannot at this moment remember the last movie I saw.

The truth is, I am a nerd and would rather read a good book.
That I can talk about with ease.

So while my grasp of popular culture is fairly tenuous, I am somewhat aware of a Discovery channel program called Dirty Jobs. Instead of trying to explain something I have never really watched, the following comes directly from the show’s website…

Welcome to Dirty Jobs, the new Discovery Channel series that profiles the unsung American laborers who make their living in the most unthinkable – yet vital – ways. Our brave host and apprentice Mike Rowe will introduce you to a hardworking group of men and women who overcome fear, danger and sometimes stench and overall ickiness to accomplish their daily tasks.

Not one to just stand by, each week, Rowe will assume the duties of the jobs he’s profiling, working alongside rattlesnake catchers, fish processors, bee removers, septic-tank technicians and other professionals: average folks tackling extraordinary tasks that simply must get done.

But you’ll walk away from Dirty Jobs with more than just a glimpse into unfamiliar occupational duties…

If you’re like us, you’ll also gain a new understanding and appreciation for all the often-unpleasant functions someone is shouldering to make your everyday life easier, safer – and often cleaner.

Dirty Jobs.
Nasty jobs.
Disgusting jobs.

I know there are plenty of jobs out there I wouldn’t want to do.
Not today.
Not tomorrow.
Not ever.

But, I’d like to suggest maybe the nastiest, dirtiest job of all is one done by God…

The job is grace.

We typically define grace as unmerited favor.
The definition itself ought to tell us ahead of time that grace is a dirty and rough business. Giving grace means giving people what they need not necessarily what they deserve.

Speaking of movies I have seen, remember Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ? Like the movie tried to convey, the Crucifixion wasn’t a death penalty punishment meant to impart death from a “let’s-try-and-spare-the-punished-any-overt-pain” kind of experience. To the contrary, far from humane, it was intended to inflict massive emotional, mental, and physical suffering—a total annihilation of body, soul, and spirit. For those who had to watch one live and in person, it must have been a spiritual gut-punch.

Hopefully you are managing a visceral grasp on the ugliness Jesus endured, because there was nothing rougher or more difficult than the grace procured by the Cross…

Did I mention it was a dirty job?

It is always a dirty job.
Grace means getting down into the filth and ugliness of our world.
Worse, grace means there are no rubber gloves and boots to protect you from the showers and splatters of filth that will come.

That’s what Jesus did.
That’s what we are called to do.

I wish I lived in a sterile, clean, antiseptic environment, but I don’t.
Sometimes I whine, complain, and get all twisted up.
Sometimes I act ugly, mean, or spiteful.
Sometimes I am selfish and heartless.
Sometimes I experience/ endure heartache.

And because I am fundamentally flawed and broken, I need grace.
I need grace from God.
I need grace from you.

Yes, grace is a dirty job.
But it’s grace that takes away our guilt and shame.
It’s grace that says, “I love you.”
It’s grace that says, “I forgive you.”

It’s grace that takes broken stories and breathes into them the new life of redemption.
It’s grace that takes our pain and humiliation and turns it inside out.
It’s grace that redeems our story and makes it into something different, something useful, and something of service.

It’s grace that wipes away our tears.
It’s grace that empowers our own acts of forgiveness.

In the heartache of brokenness, I am thankful for the God who could not be pushed away by my anger and pain.

I am thankful for the grace of God.
It’s a dirty job, but it is the power of my redemption.

Grace.
It’s a dirty job but it’s my story…

Les Ferguson, Jr.
Madison/ Ridgeland, MS.

After the double murder of his wife and disabled son in October 2011, Les stepped down from a full time preaching ministry to focus on holding his family together and building a new life. He has since married his childhood sweetheart, Becki. Together they are raising four boys, Conner (18), Michael (17), Max (14), and Casey (9). His oldest son, Kyle (29) is married and lives in Memphis, TN.

Les eventually re-entered the ministry and began working with the Lake Harbor Drive Church of Christ in Ridgeland, Mississippi as their Senior Preaching Minister in April 2014.

Since the end of January 2013, Les has been writing a widely read blog, Desperately Wanting To Believe Again that explores faith, questions, doubt, and pain from a Biblical/ real world perspective.

He is currently writing a book while building a speaking career to encourage and help all who struggle with faith and doubt.

Jul
23

This is a guest post by Jennifer Rundlett.

How do you most frequently see Jesus in your mind’s eye? When you pray, do you think of a well-worn prayer card that someone gave you as a child? Perhaps you might think of a beautifully carved crucifix that adorns the altarpiece of your church sanctuary?

Good_Shepherd_Holding_Lamb

Still others of us might think of the images evoked by a favorite hymn or a quote of a particular passage of inspiration that holds personal meaning. We all have personal and private ways of calling Jesus to mind and so to generalize might seem intrusive.

However, unpacking these thoughts and impressions can open our hearts to a new flowering of growth in our imitation of Christ. To live as Christians who fully love one another we must be willing to keep developing our picture of Jesus.

Since God has spoken “to us by his Son” (Hebrews 1:1-3), picturing Jesus then is how we are meant to hear and understand the message of God’s voice in our lives. He is our life force and our connection to our powerful creator and by his presence in our lives we are fitted with his likeness so that we may become divine.

Knowing this we will pause then and cleanse our hearts by lingering over the painting of Jesus Washing Peter’s Feet by Ford Madox Brown (1821-1893) and using it as a launch pad for our greater reflections.

Ford_madox_brown

Madox Brown was a British artist famous for his association with the Pre-Raphaelite brotherhood who by their use of vibrant colors and finely detailed realism these artists were “committed to the idea of art’s potential to change society” says art historian Alison Smith “by picking themes that told stories that challenged prevailing attitudes.”

Madox Brown has composed this painting in such away that it tells the story in a new and refreshing way. If we learn to look closely it can work as a starting point to stimulate the mind into greater thought. Just as we can use a word study as the center of our bible devotion, paintings such as this can provide rich spiritual food as they lead us deeper into the scene allowing it to work as the fulcrum turning our thoughts.

A lifetime of knowing this story and yet I had not taken the time to linger with their different perspectives. As I fully considered each disciple’s reaction to Jesus’ simple yet profound action, it carried me away from the painting and allowed me to tap into various personal memories that then lead me into a deeper connection with the painting and in turn the story and ultimately — Jesus.

Devotional Prayer

Dear Heavenly Father,
We pause and rest now… fully breathing in the details of your last supper with your disciples. Help us to realize more deeply the profound meaning of this exchange between you and our brother Peter. Because we are separated by time and space, we struggle with our understanding of this tradition. Be with each of us, guiding our hearts so that we may hear this story, through the use of this painting. Help us to personally experience the power of your forgiveness so that it will purify our hearts.

“When he had finished washing their feet, he put on his clothes and returned to his place. “Do you understand what I have done for you?” he asked them. “You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord’ and rightly so, for that is what I am. Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet you also should wash one another’s feet. I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you. I tell you the truth, no servant is greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. Now that you know these things you will be blessed if you do them.” (John 13: 12-17, NIV).

04 - Rundlett - jesus-washing-peter-s-feet

Begin by noticing how Madox Brown paints Jesus from a unique camera angle. From this lower perspective we must mentally kneel to properly consider each disciples reaction as it is played out in a very intimate compressed space.

Viewing this then becomes mysteriously “iconic” as it simultaneously seers our mind with a vision of humility while filling our heart with admiration for a new kind of King—one who is tenderly serving us. With this act, Jesus becomes our “host” and we begin to understand the partaking of this meal as sharing in a new kind of hospitality from God. As we look on with the disciples, we can place ourselves among them… preparing ourselves for the meal…. and for God’s mind-shattering display of love with Christ’s death on the cross.

Rest your eyes now on how Madox Brown has portrayed Peter in this painting. Surprisingly, Peter is cast as an older man here and this causes me to think about how he must have remembered this as a sacred moment over the years. The act of Jesus washing his feet must have been a memory that kept returning like a reoccurring theme coloring the backdrop of his life. I can sympathize with his look of discomfort as it suggests he might be just humoring Jesus in letting him wash his feet. In this way, he gently reminds me of the arch of Peter’s journey and the thought of how often he was broken to begin again, touches me.

Observing the honest way Madox Brown portrays Peter’s relationship with Jesus helps me to know this brokenness is part of the process that unfolds over a lifetime. I can see pieces of myself in Peter’s reaction to Jesus here and I can hear my voice say, “ No, you will never wash my feet!” Viewing this painting helps me to realize that as much as I love and adore Jesus, I can still resist his control in my life. And I can feel a type of brotherly love for Peter as I look once again to the painting.

While I am still thinking about all this, I allow myself to consider the feelings of the entire group as they lean in and look on, some are awe struck and others are horrified and I think about Jesus question: Do you understand what I have done?

This time, as I look again to the painting, I see the disciple on the left who is leaning in and untying his sandal. He is eagerly anticipating the moment when Jesus will wash his feet. While the others are still unsure this one is coming forward without hesitation.

As I fully appreciate this disciple, I begin to think about being personally cleansed by Jesus. The idea of allowing myself to be renewed by his touch of grace so that his forgiveness will transform my life begins to powerfully move my heart towards Jesus.

I can see with new eyes that we must first allow him to cleanse our hearts from our misconceptions before we can humbly serve others. We can desire to serve others because we have confessed our sins and allowed Jesus to heal our wounds. Knowing and experiencing his grace causes us to feel a greater compassion and brotherhood with those around us.

I begin to feel myself in motion, no longer resisting Jesus’ call and as I am turning, I begin to hear deep down in my soul the call of the song Down to the River to Pray. The repetitive nature of the words become meditative and so they begin to fill my mind now with a vision of a slowly increasing crowd gathering at the river to be cleansed and renewed in their baptism.

Armed with the vision of this beautiful hymn, I return to the yet again. Now I can see and hear Jesus say to me “Do you understand what I have done for you?” And I stand in silence…then with tears in my eyes I shake my head and say, “No, Jesus, I really don’t understand the fullness of your love.”

Feeling my brokenness, I look at all the faces in the room and consider how the road to the cross will personally challenge each of these men. One of them will betray Jesus…another will deny him and all but one will abandon him and my heart melts at the sight of Jesus, kneeling there and reverently washing Peter’s feet.

When I allowed myself to gaze deeply into the story through this painting, I realized that I have a Lord and King who has washed me, though I don’t fully understand it. He is willing to kneel at my feet and this thought opens and humbles me. …and I am refreshed to begin again.

Jennifer Rundlett, M.M. from Peabody Conservatory/ Johns Hopkins University and Post Graduate diploma from The Royal Northern College of Music in Manchester England, is the author of My Dancing Day: Reflections of the Incarnation in Art and Music. Her ministry of connecting with God thru the Arts is a new kind of reflective experience that leads you through a gallery of masterful art and music into the beauty and joy of a life in Jesus.

Jennifer currently lives in Frederick Maryland and has been an active musician in the Mid Atlantic region for over 15 years. She has been the pre-concert lecturer for the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra and Choral Arts Society of Frederick and has also been a speaker at the Pepperdine University Bible Lectures, Tulsa Bible Workshop, Lipscomb University’s “Summer Celebration” and Rochester College’s “Streaming.”

Website: www.godthruthearts.com
Blog: http://jrundlett.wordpress.com
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/mydancingday?ref=bookmarks
My Dancing Day on Kindle: http://www.amazon.com/My-Dancing-Day-Reflections-Incarnation-ebook/dp/B00NKQP4ZC/ref=tmm_kin_swatch_0?_encoding=UTF8&sr=8-2&qid=1435419868

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