March 12th, 2013
Isaiah 52: 1-15
“The Grand Procession”
Isaiah’s prophecy is at times dramatic. It is difficult to read it as a set of propositions or merely as a legal document God has served to his sinful people – full of dry legalese and archaic language. The words leap off the page! As the prophecy unfolds, it is not unlike watching a play performed, but it is more like the actors in the play inviting us, even imploring us to join them on stage, to enter into the drama. In Isaiah 52, it is difficult for us to think, “God is rousting Judah out of her slumber and sin.” Rather, we hear God calling us, speaking to us, his voice ushering from these ancient scrolls, piercing through time and culture gaps, ringing in our ears as if he were speaking directly to us.
This chapter is structured around two rousing cries. God commands, “Awake, awake!” in (1) and then in (11) he commands, “Depart, depart!” God is rousing his people to join a parade led by Messiah, leaving the gates of Jerusalem in grand procession sprinkling the nations of the world with divine grace. This is the pilgrimage of a lifetime! This is the final and grandest of all of God’s missions to gather the nations to his Son. This is a description of the whole of these last days, from the passion of Christ to the Final Day of Judgment. “Awake, awake! Depart, depart!” Don’t miss the parade; fall in line behind the Son and go out into the world and into the new heavens and new earth. Read the rest of this entry »
February 7th, 2013
We sit in the art gallery, silent yet full of beauty. The guest artist has promised to make an appearance. The doors open admitting a socially awkward entourage of irreverent natural scientists who use a bullhorn to tell us that they are hiring lab rats to help them find the God particle. Any of us in the gallery who wishes to work for a handsome hourly wage is part of the research team. The lead scientist demonstrates our task. With a blade he scrapes a bit of paint from the canvas of one of the masterpieces. He deposits the paint flakes into a glass dish, adds thinner, mixes to an even consistency then smears it on a slide. “Take your time; prepare small smears; We are looking for something quite small; and you are being paid by the hour.”
The lead scientist tells us to start with those parts of the paintings that most likely would represent God - the light rays filtering through the fir grove, the artist’s signature, or the gilded dome on the distant horizon. A pantheistic looking girl ignores him and starts to scrape some mossy rocks along the banks of a stream. A materialist scrapes gold leaf from the dome, and while the natural scientists peer into their microscopes, he deposits the gold into a baggy stashing it in his pants. Most of the scrapers dutifully smear slides stacking them beside the microscopes, filling out their tedious forms, a grave sense of historical importance on their faces.
I sit on the viewing bench, my scalpel in hand unable to join the others at the canvases. I slide around to face the opposite wall to gaze at the unscathed paintings. I imagine the curator storming into the gallery ordering the guards to escort the desecrators to her office. In time she enters, smiles and chats with the lead scientist, taking her turn at his microscope. I learn later that the natural scientists and the museum have been rewarded an impressive grant to conduct this research together.
The painting directly before me depicts a horizon. The sky is orange and vast. The earth is yellow. The line between is thin and straight. I can see for miles. I wonder how it is that the artist can capture with the variation of two colors and one black line the immensity of nature. I find myself drawn into the painting walking rapidly away from the scraping pigment and the clicking of slides. The minimalist’s world of yellow and orange is focused upon the distant horizon stirring an expectation for some cataclysmic event or an eschatological figure arising from the thin, straight line. From where do these images and longings arise? They are certainly not painted. Are they figments of my imagination? I decide to wait for the artist who will answer the question for me. The artist will explain to me what is not painted but seems to be powerfully present.
On the bench beside me is a brochure, a guide to the exhibit. I read the section describing the painting before me. The artist quotes, “Do you believe because you have seen? Blessed are those who have not seen but believe.” It is as if the artist anticipated the scraping behind me. While his quote doesn’t completely answer my question, it does make sense as I observe the painting. My strong desire is to walk to the end of the yellow, rise above the line and explore the orange. But then, orange is my favorite color.
January 14th, 2013
God Gathers Jew and Gentile
In our day, we highly value beachfront property. What do you prefer for your holiday? A walk along the beach or a retreat in the mountains? In Isaiah’s day, the most valued real estate was Mt. Zion, the holy city, Jerusalem with God’s temple at its center. What is of utmost value in Isaiah 41 is God gathering his people into a covenant dwelling with him. God is gathering his children from the ends of the earth and so the imagery of Isaiah 41 reflects this in terms of geography. The closer one is to God’s holy mountain, the better. The coastlands in Isaiah’s prophecy refer to those on the fringe, those far away from God’s mountain. God’s redemption and restoration of his creation has not stopped with the gathering of Israel to Mt. Zion. He continues to gather some from every tongue, tribe and nation, from the ends of the earth. In our text, God addresses the coastlands, those people who have yet to stream into the holy city on Mt. Zion.
From Isaiah 41 we learn about how God gathers people into his covenant love. Read the rest of this entry »
December 14th, 2012
Our entire nation is mourning the evil deaths of the children and teachers in Newtown Ct. and the two beautiful adults in the Clackamas Town Mall in Oregon. These gunmen did not merely exercise their free wills to do their evil. Truthfully, their wills were not as free as we would think, influenced by countless failures, sins, wounds, delusions, and perhaps, illness. As we pray for God’s comfort to rest upon the families and neighbors of the dead and as we mourn the disruption of our communal peace, we are also wondering, “Is there anything that we can do to prevent such tragedies in the future?” I have been making a list and though incomplete I submit for your consideration:
1) Live by the gospel and encourage others to do the same - people who actually apply the gospel to their behavior do not kill their neighbors.
2) Curb the amount of violence your children/family/friends watch.
3) Put a severe limit on the amount of time your children/family/friends play violent video games.
4) Put a limit on the amount of time your children/family/friends spend in alternate/parallel worlds. Read fantasy and SciFi, but also read other genre and balance it with nonfiction.
5) Instill in your children a work ethic.
6) Do not pressure family members to pursue merely one course in life - college isn’t for everyone; some high school graduates benefit from a gap year to do a service oriented project; other children should enter the work force earlier than they have been; if there is a closed job market, then volunteer, go on a mission -work for the good of others.
7) Join a church fellowship where relationships are being forged and where the whole counsel of God’s word is preached regularly.
8) Encourage regular conversation with friends and family, especially children. Ironically, a typical American parent allows his/her child to watch illicit behavior on the screen but will never talk to the child about illicit behavior. It is better to engage in regular conversations about sex, violence, evil, habits, relationships, God, human nature, genocide, famine….than it is to watch it on TV or in a movie without any wise analysis and evaluation in conversation.
9) Reach out to people on the fringe of your communities - developmentally disabled, mentally ill, socially awkward, underemployed, unemployed, people going through divorce, abuse, addiction…Reach out in love - do not retract in fear.
10) Do not resist going to counseling. If anyone you love thinks that you should see a psychologist, then do it. If anyone you know seems to need psychiatric help, then do everything you can to move him in that direction. If you have subscribed medication - take it - take the doses your doctor has suggested.
11) And…promote the inestimable value of each and every individual human life.
12) Put off divorce if at all possible; it is devastating for children - actually for all family members.
13) Pray regularly for repentance in our nation and neighborhoods - a daily personal repentance.
14) If you own guns and keep them in your home (especially if you have children) then invest in a gun safe and keep your guns secure.
October 29th, 2012
“The Servant Brings Comfort and Glory”
The narratives of the life of King Hezekiah have ended in Chapter 39 with God’s message of judgment: Babylon will soon invade and destroy Jerusalem with its temple relocating most of Judah to Babylon. The God of infinite justice has delivered his verdict: Guilty! Judah is guilty of syncretism, idolatry, civil war, oppression, selfishness and greed. God has delivered his sentence: the destruction of Jerusalem; the destruction of the temple; 70 years of captivity in Babylon. What more must the God of infinite justice say? The prophecy of Isaiah is a series of cycles – the same message of God delivered to Judah during the reign of four kings – Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah. Each cycle announces God’s judgment against disobedient Judah, as well as the pagan nations surrounding her. But these prophetic cycles are not merely announcements of judgment; these cycles also include messianic promises – the foretelling of redemption, reconciliation and restoration. And so, it is no surprise to us as we begin to read Isaiah 40 discovering these sublime poetic lines of God’s comfort, and better yet, God’s revelation of his glory. Read the rest of this entry »
October 14th, 2012
“Let me tell you - when I was standing there on top of the world, you become so humble. You don’t think about breaking records anymore, you don’t think about gaining scientific data - the only thing that you want is to come back alive.” Felix Baumgartner upon touching ground after jumping 128,000 feet from his balloon.
Watch Felix’s jump
What is a mentor? Felix insisted on hearing only one voice on the radio while he descended toward earth - the voice of his mentor, Col Kittinger, who has held the record since his jump in 1960. BBC Science Correspondent, Jonathan Amos wrote: “Col Kittinger, now an octogenarian, has been an integral part of Baumgartner’s team, and has provided the Austrian with advice and encouragement whenever he has doubted his ability to complete such a daring venture.”
October 7th, 2012
Recently Glenda and I watched the feature documentary, “Happy,” and found it to be supportive of the Christian world view. Apparently only 10% or less of our happiness stems from our circumstances. (Like the apostle Paul wrote of his contentment in all sorts of circumstances, evening suffering.) The larger percentage of our happiness is connected to our genetics while another large percentage is connected to what we do regardless of our circumstances. The documentary showcases the research in the newer field of Positive Psychology. It also takes us on a world tour of happy communities interviewing towards the source of happiness. In our material world where many believe that more money will produce happiness, this documentary claims that once your basic needs are met, then money does not buy happiness. There is a noticeable increase of happiness when a person increases income from $5,000. to $50,000 but there is little increase of happiness from increasing from $50,000 to 50 million. This documentary may remove some of your discontentment and direct you toward an increased happiness. For me, nothing has produced more happiness than the good news that I am no longer an orphan but a child of God.
September 25th, 2012
Several members of the Evergreen Church, where I serve as Pastor, have been slipping into the mists of Alzheimer’s and it is most disconcerting. These are beautiful and effective followers of Jesus who are losing not only memory, but also control over daily details of life. They are saying things that are difficult for loved ones to hear and more often they are talking nonsense. The good news of the gospel is this: No matter how tangled your mind becomes or how thin your memory wears, God’s grace is sufficient for you. Our relationship to God and his eternal love for us does not diminish as we lose our minds. If you think that you are saved only if you can remember the date and time of your conversion, then you may find it difficult to face a loved one, who has walked with Jesus for many years only to lose all present memory of it all.
With one of my dear father’s in the faith, today, languishing in the hospital, jumbled in conversation and out of sorts, I realized that God’s grace is sufficient for him. It’s not particularly what he has done or particularly what he remembers at any given moment that protects his standing as a child of God. This is most encouraging. He will finish well as God gives him the grace to do so.
July 8th, 2012
Isaiah 32: 1-8
“The King Reigns in Righteousness”
Have you ever longed for a new leader, who would reign in righteousness, a leader who would appoint others to rule in justice? Perhaps you have lost hope that such leaders can arise in our present day. Isaiah was a prophet in Judah during the reigns of four kings. Full of pride, King Uzziah forgot the limitations of his office as King. He entered the temple to burn incense on the altar, a duty of the office of priest. Azariah, the priest, along with 80 priests confronted King Uzziah reminding him that such an action did not belong to his office. King Uzziah became angry at this confrontation. As he held the incense censer in his hand, the priests watched in horror as leprosy broke out on the King’s forehead. Such a disease rendered Uzziah unclean and the priests, charged with maintaining the ceremonial purity of the temple quarantined their king in a separate house preventing his entrance into the temple. King Uzziah suffered leprosy until the day of his death, never entering the temple again. Undoubtedly, Isaiah longed for a righteous king, who knew his rightful place as a servant of God. Read the rest of this entry »
June 25th, 2012
In 1911 Eugen Bleuler, a Swiss phychiatrist was the first person to use the term, “autism” to refer to a subset of schizo-phrenia. In the 1940’s American researchers began to us the term to describe children with emotional and social problems. These misconceptions of autism remained with us until the 1960’s. In 1964 Dr. Bernard Rimland linked autism to biological disorder. In 1977 Sir Michael Rutter and Dr. Susan Folstein published the first study revealing a genetic basis for autism. In 1992 the American Psychiatric Association finally refined the diagnostic criteria for autism. From 1991-1997 multiple case reports of individuals with chromosome 15 anomalies observed in children opened the way for precision in identifying the genetic causes and stamps of autism. In the 1960’s and 70’s autistic patients were treated with LSD, electric shock therapy, and behavior change techniques of pain and punishment. In the 1980’s these barbaric techniques were replaced with the arranging of controlled learning environments for children with autism.
Paul, I remember when you were born and I watched you grow in the 1990’s. I remember your parents’ concerns and fears, which many of us shared. We learned to love you and we worked hard to understand you. Because you are autistic, I read about the life and work of Temple Grandin. From her I have learned much about how to value, understand and love you. Temple wrote, “I am a believer in an integrated treatment approach to autism.” And so, we mainstreamed you into our church and school family. Grandin wrote, “I cannot emphasize enough the importance of a good teacher.” At St. Stephen’s you have been given a few fine teachers. Grandin also wrote, “I obtain great satisfaction out of using my intellect. I use my mind to solve problems and to invent things.” Paul, you also, like Temple, have a beautiful mind. In the classes in which I have had the privilege of teaching you, your responses to my questions have been qualitatively different than those of the other students.
Temple Grandin is internationally and particularly known for one simple and profound quote: “I am different, not less.” Paul, you are different not less. In each chapter of life, you will face challenges and trials including your being misunderstood and underappreciated. Don’t foster a victim mentality. You are different not less. Find ways to integrate into the mainstream of society. But also identify the unique ways God has made you and use your strengths and different perspective and gifting to productively contribute.
Tonight I have the privilege of saying publicly how proud I am of you; how grateful to God I am for you; what a privilege it has been to be your Pastor and teacher; how my life is different, not less because of you. To quote Spock: “Live long and prosper.”