Just a Closer Walk with Thee

We begin the story with God walking with Adam in the cool of the day in the Garden of Eden.  We end the story with the New Jerusalem descending to the New Earth and God being with us for eternity.

In between we see pictures of God’s ultimate desire of sharing Creation with His Ultimate Creation – Humanity:

1. God speaking to such as Cain, Noah, Abraham, Moses and Joshua.

2. God’s pillar of cloud by day and fire by night to lead the nation of Israel from Egypt and through the Wilderness.

3. The Mercy Seat on the Ark of the Covenant which “tabernacled” among the nation of Israel.

4. God’s naming of His Son as Immanuel – God With Us.

5. Jesus living among us, being tempted as we are tempted.  Knowing our weakness, yet not succumbing to them.

6. The Holy Spirit dwelling within the believer.

7. In the midst of where two or three are gathered.

8. In the carrying out of ministry to those who are in need of water, clothing or visitation being done “unto Him”.

Righteousness is not God’s desire for humanity.  It is a required means of God’s presence with us.

Living a holy life is not trying to please God.  It is rather our saying to Him, “I want you in my life more than these”.  When we sin we are not only disappointing God, we are saying, “I don’t want you around”.  Sin is the ultimate story of unrequited love, of the willing suitor and the spurning object of His love.  Sin is not ultimately disobedience, but relational distance.

If God is feeling far off, be sure that sin is nearby.  It is only when Christ took upon himself the sins of the world that he cried out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?!”

God desires to walk with you.  What do you desire?

Be sure of this if you choose sin, He will leave.  He finally left the mercy seat and his beloved, Israel after all.  This is Hell – the absence of God.  Choose to be holy, for without holiness “no one will see God.”

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Our Great, High Priest

When I was a little boy, the one thing I wanted most in the world was to be a big, strong man.  While there are many reasons one has for such a desire, the premiere one was that I could then do what I wanted to do.

The thing I hated most about school was the constant reminder that I was not a man.  Nothing did this more poignantly than the need to request permission to go to the bathroom.  Oh, the granduer of just being able to rise from one’s seat and go relieve himself without first abasing himself before an adult in two significant ways: 1.  I have to pee.  My body requires of me this obedience, and should I not respond correctly, I will eventually be covered in my own waste.  2.  You can tell me “no”.

Are you serious?!

Weakness is the antithesis of greatness.  There are no grand statues of our leaders throughout history holding themselves while dancing due to their need to pee.  It, in fact, seems disrespectful to even mention it.  Greatness is strength.  Greatness is not asking permission.  Greatness is doing, not submitting.

…and yet, Jesus is our Great, High Priest precisely because of his choosing our weaknesses, limitations and position.  In fact, he didn’t just choose to be a human but to serve to the ultimate extent of the expression of our limitations – he died…naked…in front of everyone…until his own weakness meant he couldn’t breathe anymore, and so he strangled to death due to his own body’s frailty.  Remember the pleading of Jesus for a drink?  Remember those in power telling him “no” in so many ways?  No, you aren’t worthy of the title Son of Man.  No, you are not our long-awaited Messiah.  No, you aren’t in control, and we’ll prove it by killing you after torturing and humiliating you.

And this is what makes Him great.  No, I am not lessening his perpetual divinity, nor his miraculous healing of others, nor any of the other “great” things he said/did.

What makes Him great is that Jesus understands our pain, our suffering, our weakness, our temptations.  He gets it.

He also defeated them.  Not in physical prowess, but in spiritual submission to the Father.  Nothing could make Him deny the Father’s will for His life, nothing!  The Apostle Paul knew this same truth when he said, “For me to live is Christ and to die is gain.”

We often pray for God to make our lives easier.  Oh, that the Church would begin again to pray “Thy will be done on Earth as it is in heaven”, and in this, show Christ’s victory to the world.  The indomitable will of the submitted servant.  “You can kill me, but you can’t make me deny my LORD!!!!”  May my brothers and sisters in the Middle East, Asia and Africa be strong in the midst of their weakness, and may we be inspired by their example of following Jesus.

That’ll Preach! The three components of a good sermon

ImageWe’ve all been there.  Trying to listen, wanting to learn, yearning for inspiration…but mind-numbingly bored as the preacher drones on.  We try to “screw our courage to the sticking place” and press on.  We pray for God to reveal to us what He wants us to hear despite the messenger.  We remind ourselves that God uses the “foolishness of preaching” to transform lives; but oh, to be somewhere else…anywhere else.

Sometimes we are the ones preaching these sermons.

A mentor/friend of mine once gave me the two best pieces of advice I ever received on the art of preaching.  Mike Hilson said, “You have to tell them what they need to know, and what they need to do about it.”  He also said to quit making up your own outlines, that God’s outlines in the text will always be better.  I concur.  I would also add one extra little piece: bridging Information and Application must be the Illustration.

Information:

The first rule of preaching is to preach no heresy!  No matter how well your sermon is crafted, or how artfully it is delivered; if it is heresy – you fail!  The content must be understood within its context (both textual and historical), and its content must  be the very words of God.

Application:

Information without application is mere vanity.  We have far too many informed spectators and too few obedient disciples.  Without application, sermons are nothing other than truth innocculations.  The people hear the truth, do nothing with it, and have built up their immunity to that truth.  They are worse for having heard.  Never leave them without some direction in which to walk with Jesus.

Illustration:

We preachers often preach on the parables of Jesus without realizing that we should be preaching like Jesus preached (not just what he preached).  His parables on agriculture, master/servant relationships and Samaritans were powerful because they resonated with the innate cultural understanding of his hearers…they connected.  This is the purpose and the power of the illustration.  Less than 1% of the American population are now farmers, slavery is not only abolished but abhorred and the term “samaritan” brings its corollary of good deeds to mind (not to mention hospitals and charitable organizations), not a hated ethnicity that we would rather cross the street to avoid than walk near.

St. Augustine said it well when he said to “Make the truth plain, pleasing and moving”.

Put as much effort into finding the illustration that fits the message as you spend understanding the content and deriving action steps.  The message will come alive – and so will your hearers!  After all, the goal is not only accuracy but also efficacy.  Build a powerful bridge between the Information and the Application and the result will be the inspiration of the body of Christ and the world through them.

How to Be at Peace

Peaceful lakeview1024

Peaceful lakeview1024 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Peace and Joy are probably the two most sought after commodities (if we can call them that) on the face of the earth.  We might call them significance, being respected, self-esteem or having “made it”, but the reality that is sought after is Peace and Joy.

The following are 10 ways that I have found to increase my peace.  Feel free to add your own.

1. Learn the art of saying “no” graciously.

You can never truly say “yes” without saying “no”.  We all are limited to 24 hours a day, 7 days a week and 365 days a year.  We cannot do everything, but we must do something.  The key to peace is doing the right thing with our lives.  When we know what we are supposed to say “yes” to, the “no” becomes easier.

2. Don’t wait for a vacation.

Don’t live your life so frenetically that a vacation is required to bring peace.  Our daily lives should be filled and overflowing with peace.  We were created to work 6 days and rest 1.  A vacation should be about focused time with family, not a needed to break in order to keep going.

3. Integrity.  Always be who you are.

Peace in some ways can be defined as a lack of war.  Seems obvious, I know, but let’s follow that thought through: Integrity is all about being whole/one/complete (comes from the same root word as integer – shout out to all the math fans out there).  If you are someone different at work than you are at home, than you are at church – who are you really?

4. Improvement.  Get better daily.

Perfection is impossible, but improvement is essential.  If you are not growing you are dying.  Not only should our existence in the world make it a better place, but we ourselves should be better for having lived the day before.  Do not accept that status quo.  Know where you are, where you are going…and keep walking.

5. Systems.  Systematize areas of weakness so they cease to be worrisome.

We all have weaknesses.  Blindspots.  Systems have the potential to remove that nagging worry from the back of your mind that you are forgetting something…that you have left something undone…that you are about to fail.  This could be as simple as sharing a calendar on google with your spouse or as complex as an annual checklist of facilities maintenance items.  Whatever troubles you – create a system (with accountability) that will handle it.

6. Clean your desk.

For those who work at a desk this is literal.  For those who do not, it is figurative.  My day off is Friday, so by the end of every Thursday I work to leaving my desk clean.  I don’t mean dust free (though I should probably do that as well), but everything that came to my desk has been dealt with, and therefore doesn’t have to live on in my mind over my “weekend”.

7. Reduce debt…reduce stress.

No explanation necessary.  Just get it done.

8. Communicate with your spouse.

This person shares your life.  Stop abusing them by leaving them in the dark, and you will no longer feel at odds with them and guilty for causing the problem.  Share calendars, checkbooks and constantly update each other on both.

9. Finish things.

Unfinished projects are a necessity in order to prioritize your family over your work, but they should remain at the top of your to-do-list until they are completely done.  They will nag, worry and frustrate you until you close the file on them, so break down big projects into achievable steps so that “progress” and “on schedule” are the way you view them.

10. Be centered on the center of the universe.

Try throwing a clay vessel without centering the clay first.  It can’t be done.  The vessel will pull itself apart as the wheel speeds up.  God is the only healthy center, every other focus of life will tear you apart as life speeds up.  Start on your knees, in His Word and the rest of the day will fit instead of fight.

How to Perform a Funeral pt.8

Matane cemetery

Matane cemetery (Photo credit: Bête à Bon-Dieu)

1. Meet With the Family.

2. Distill to One Best Trait/Quality.

3. Include Phsychological Cues.

4. Lead People to Christ/Hope.

5. Select a Text That Ties Best Trait to Christ and Eternal Life.

6. Teach About the New Heaven and New Earth.

7. Know the Basics.

8. Committal – Body and Breath.  Christ on the Cross.

When it comes to the final part of the Funeral service, the Committal can occur at the same place and time as the funeral, just at the end of the service, or it can occur at the graveside.  The basics remain the same, though the nuances will obviously change based upon location.

Keept it brief.  Texts should include the Fall, the Crucifixion and/or Paul’s discussion of Resurrection in 1 Corinthians 15.  Psalm 23 should be used here if not in the Funeral service itself.  Spend no more than 5 minutes discussing the text that was chosen, and close with the Lord’s Prayer and/or Amazing Grace.  It is a nice touch to have each of the family members select a flower from the casket arrangement as they prepare to leave.  Through all of this part of the service, weave in the main concepts of the Committal.

The theology of the Committal comes down to the foundations of our faith: Creation, Fall, Salvation, Resurrection.  You will have already expounded upon these issues as you have felt appropriate in the Funeral service itself, however, it is helpful to view this part as a physical application of these truths.

A) Creation – God formed man from the dust of the earth, and breathed his breath of life into Adam’s nostrils.  Body + Breath = Life.  The corporeal and the incorporeal, the physical and the spiritual.  The rest of the universe was created by the spoken word of God, but for humanity, he paused, shaped and breathed.  These two parts were made whole.

B) Fall – Sin enters the picture and defiles the image of God.  Death comes as God’s means of separating our spirits from our bodies, that we might be re-embodied at the last day.  This unnatural division of humanity is at once the great tragedy of life as we know it, and also the answer to our great tragedy.

C) Salvation – Christ on the Cross.  Jesus took on human flesh, and died on our behalf, saying, “into your hands, I commit my spirit.”  “Ashes to ashes and dust to dust.” covers the half of us that will remain in the ground – committed to the earth from whence it came.  Our spirits however are separated and are likewise committed into the Father’s hands, awaiting his good pleasure.

D) Resurrection – Death is an ending of the imperfect, and a waiting for the perfection that is to come.  Death is a victory for the believer who has finished the race, fought the fight and remained faithful to their Lord and Savior.  We mourn the passing of our loved ones, but not without hope.

Paul Harvey was famous for his two-part reporting, with the second half beginning with, “And now for the rest of the story.”  The Committal is all about awaiting the rest of The Story.

How to Perform a Funeral pt.6

Matane cemetery

Matane cemetery (Photo credit: Bête à Bon-Dieu)

1. Meet with the Family.

2. Distill to One Best Trait/Quality.

3. Include Psychological Cues.

4. Lead People to Christ/Hope.

5. Select a Text that Ties Best Trait to Christ and Eternal Life.

6. Teach About the New Heaven and New Earth.

You remember the Tom and Jerry cartoons where one or the other of them (or maybe Spike) would get hit a little too hard, and they would bite the big one.  The next thing you would see would be an ethereal version of them floating up out of their body with a white robe, a set of wings, a harp and a halo.  They would then make their way to heaven floating in the clouds strumming said harp.

Laughable, right?  Unfortunately, Tom & Jerry did a better job of consistently teaching the American culture what heaven is going to be like than the Church did…and they screwed it up!

One of my pet peaves is to hear someone say that “God needed another angel” in an attempt to give someone comfort over the loss of a loved one.

#1. God doesn’t need.

#2. He certainly doesn’t need any more angels.

#3. Humans will NEVER be angels.  We will in fact one day rule with Christ over even the angels.

We also won’t be inhabiting some other-worldly environ, flitting about playing harps.  The Scriptures are abundantly clear that Humanity was created a physical creature, and that we will be physical creatures for all eternity.  The place we will dwell will be the New Earth (think Eden revisited), and the capital city will be the New Jerusalem which will descend to the New Earth, and God will dwell with us here.

We are body and breath, when we die, the breath leaves the body awaiting a new body.  In this in-between stage of waiting, we are seen as “sleeping” or awaiting the last day (in the case of the martyrs, crying out for justice).  Our bodies now are perishing, our bodies then will never perish…but still bodies.

When performing a funeral, don’t get teachy, and certainly don’t co-opt the service to jump up and down on your soap box about their bad theology; but weave into the service the Christian teaching about the next life.  Funerals are one of the few opportunities we have to speak to as wide a population base as Tom & Jerry got (the other being weddings).  take advantage of the opportunity to speak about our hope of eternal life, not eternal floating and harp-playing.

How to Perform a Funeral pt.5

Matane cemetery

Matane cemetery (Photo credit: Bête à Bon-Dieu)

1. Meet with the Family.

2. Distill to One Best Trait/Quality.

3. Include Psychological Cues.

4. Lead People to Christ/Hope.

5. Select a Text that Ties Best Trait to Christ and Eternal Life.

I recently preached a funeral, in which the best trait was the person’s willingness to be the one to help someone, anyone, in need.  I need to reitirate here that the perspective of the family is the key, not our interpretation – but their truth of the person. No, I am not postmodern in perspective, but it is hearing their beliefs about their loved one tied to Christ that will most dramatically impact them – not our interpretation of the individual’s life based upon a 45 minute meeting.  This trait came up over and over again in the mouths of the family.  It was this trait that I went searching the text for.

The Parable of the Good Samaritan was the passage that best tied this trait to Christ and to eternal life.  At first you would think this would have little to do with eternity, but the framing of the parable is an expert in the Law’s question of Jesus, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”  Jesus responds with two questions, “What is written in the Law?” and “How do you read it?”  The expert responds with the formula of loving God and neighbor – and Jesus tells him that he is correct.  The expert trying to save face ask Jesus who his neighbor is…and the parable of the Good Samaritan ensues.

Here we have Christ, himself, speaking about eternal life within the context of helping someone (esp. a culturally despised someone) in a time of need.  Perfect!

The beauty of this approach to preaching funerals is manifold:

A) the whole of the Scriptures is opened as possibility;

B) the uniqueness of the individual can be fully reflected in a God-honoring funeral;

C) a call to action is perfectly at home at the end of the funeral service, based upon the person’s life and the Life of Christ;

D) the memory of the deceased will be inextricably tied to the message of Christ for all who attend the funeral service.