Thursday, February 26, 2015

"I am not"

Last Sunday we began a sermon series that will walk through Jesus’s seven “I Am” statements in the gospel of John. These seven statements give us a robust picture of who Jesus is in our world and who he desires to be in our lives.
I am the Bread of Life.
I am the Light of the World.
I am the Door.
I am the Good Shepherd.
I am the Resurrection and the Life.
I am the True Vine.
I am the Way and the Truth and the Life.
Each phrase echoes God’s self-disclosure to Moses at the burning bush: I AM who I AM. Each phrase adds a beautiful layer of color to our understanding of Jesus Christ as LORD.

There is an eighth “I am” statement in John’s gospel that gets less attention. In part, because this eighth phrase is uttered by someone other than Jesus. This eighth “I am” is no less important, because it paves the way for understanding Jesus as the great “I AM.” It’s found in the very first chapter of John’s gospel when some folks asked John the Baptist if he was the Messiah. He responded plainly:
I am not.
The eighth “I am” statement reminds us that we can only acknowledge Jesus as Lord when we lay down our own claims to the throne. To know Jesus as the Bread of Life requires acknowledging that I cannot sustain myself. Without his grace we will starve both physically and spiritually. To know Jesus as the light of the world requires acknowledging that we walk in darkness without his presence. To know the Way the Truth and the Life requires admitting that we are flat lost without his guiding care.

Jesus is the great I Am. Thankfully, blessedly, we are not. The sooner we admit that, the better off we will be.

For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.” – Luke 14:11

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Good reads from the internet this week

  1. Why People Don’t Leave Your Church – Plenty of articles explore why people leave churches, but have you ever wondered why people stay? George Bullard explores ten reasons why people stick with their church.
  2. Chicken and Fries – Jen Hatmaker explores the damage that can happen when we refuse to entertain other options in our life and our thoughts and how humility can keep us from hurting others and making fools of ourselves.

Thursday, February 12, 2015

"Friendship is a sheltering tree"

This week, Southland celebrates the life of two wonderful men, Lonny Whitehorn and Dwain Dodson. Sitting with both of these families this week, I’ve been reminded once again that more than anything else, life is about relationships. Family, friendship, community these are gifts from God. They’re what make life worthwhile.

When we search the scriptures, what we learn from the very beginning, is that life was meant to be lived together. Creation itself speaks to this great truth. For what good is a creation, thought God, without someone to share it with. Remember the story. After each day of creation God would look at it and say, “It is good.” But after creating man and woman on that sixth day, after creating someone who could share in the wonders of what had been made, only then did God look at it and declare, “It was very good.”

Relationships are what constantly transform things from being good, to being very good. We’ve all seen it. A joke, that’s pretty funny on its own becomes hysterical when shared with the right set of friends. A story that’s decent enough, all the sudden becomes a classic when shared among the right companions. Friendship makes meals taste better, conversations richer, and vacations more memorable. Friendship makes our days a little brighter.

Friends do more than make life a little sweeter. They make trials more bearable. The book of Proverbs tells us “A friend loveth at all times and a brother is born for adversity” (17:17). It doesn’t take very much living in this life to recognize that adversity comes to each one of us. God has never promised us a life without trouble – but in our friends and family and church – he’s promised to give us everything we need to persevere. I think of Jesus in the Garden. On the eve before his death, even there, especially there, the Son of God chose not to be alone but to be among his friends.

Samuel Coleridge wrote a poem titled “Youth and Age” with the line, “Friendship is a sheltering tree.” What a great image. Friends are those people in our lives who provide shade from life’s heat, refuge from life’s winds. You can find comfort in their arms, strength in their faith. Their words, like sweet fruit can bring encouragement to your soul.

Both Lonny and Dwain blessed our faith community through friendships they developed. We are grateful to have called them our friends.

I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends. – Jesus, in John 15:15

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Good reads from the internet this week
  1. Brian Williams and the Ugly Allure of Embellishing the Truth – Brian Kammerzelt resists the urge to pile on the hate towards Brian Williams. Instead, he turns the attention back on our own hearts and the lessons we can learn from another’s mistake.
  2. MySpace? My friend, Pastor Katie McKown, writes about the sacredness of relationships and the space that makes those relationships possible. A beautiful essay that will move anyone who has a treasured space in a church building.
  3. Lenten People and Easter People – Another friend, Craig Nash explores the ways different people can embody the already and the not yet of the Christian faith. He encourages us to learn to love and to learn from each other in the mist of our differences.

Thursday, February 5, 2015

Of Baseball and Beggars

We Have Passed the Baseball EquinoxNow that the Super Bowl is over, my family is turning our attention to baseball season. One of my favorite baseball memories involves a couple of trips to watch the Texas Rangers play with Mission Waco, a ministry to the down and out. Each year, a few volunteers from this ministry would load up a bus with a bunch of homeless guys and head to the game. The years I went proved to be an enormous amount of fun.

I always laughed as they entered the stadium because the first thing many of the guys would do is head to the tent that was offering free t-shirts for filling out a credit-card application. Somehow I didn’t think they would qualify. 

I also got a chuckle as the beer vendors came around hawking their ware. “Ice cold beer, six dollars” they’d say in their practiced cadence. Several of the guys began to mimic their sales pitch with their own street-smart perspective, “Ice-cold relapse, six dollars.”

On one occasion, my laughter turned to concern when one of the guys got into a heated argument with a lady sitting in front of us after she made a rude comment about the way he smelled. At first, I was furious with the woman for being so unkind. Then, as the guys quickly put on display their poor people skills, I found myself embarrassed by my own company. 

There’s nothing romantic about being homeless. These guys could be as crude and rude as you can imagine. I found myself wanting to say to the lady and to anyone else who was watching, “I’m not with these guys. Well, I’m with them, but only because I’m trying to help them out. I’m not actually one of them. In fact, I’m a ministerial student.” 

I realized then, and try to remember now, that my desire to distance myself from those literal beggars, meant I still had much to learn about the gospel of Jesus Christ. Most of us don’t want to be known as beggars. We want to be known as hard workers, as people who make a contribution. In contemporary political discourse we want to be makers and not takers. And yet, over and over again, the Bible makes clear that the kingdom of God can’t be earned, only received. That makes all of us in the church, as C.S. Lewis once put it, nothing more than jolly beggars.

Brothers and sisters, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. . . Therefore, as it is written: “Let the one who boasts boast in the Lord.” – 1 Corinthians 1:26-27, 31

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Good Reads from the Internet this Week
  • 4 Bible Verses That Are Constantly Used out of Context – It’s easy to make Bible verses say what we want them to say. Author Thomas Turner takes a look at for verses that are frequently taken out of context and helps us understand what they may have meant to the original hearers of those words.
  • Four Lessons From the Super Bowl Losers – Jim Denison draws some insights from the team that lost the super bowl including this gem: “A score is not a soul. We are human ‘beings,’ not human ‘doings.’ We are more than our achievements and failures, no matter what the world thinks of them.”
  • Right or Wrong? Morning Prayer – The Baptist Standard recently published an article of mine on morning prayer. If you’re a Southland Member you’ve heard something similar from me before, but it might be a good refresher, nonetheless.