The Chair and the Desk, 1/29/16

From the chair:

22 So Joseph remained in Egypt, he and his father’s house. Joseph lived 110 years. 23 And Joseph saw Ephraim’s children of the third generation. The children also of Machir the son of Manasseh were counted as Joseph’s own. 24 And Joseph said to his brothers, “I am about to die, but God will visit you and bring you up out of this land to the land that he swore to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob.” 25 Then Joseph made the sons of Israel swear, saying, “God will surely visit you, and you shall carry up my bones from here.” 26 So Joseph died, being 110 years old. They embalmed him, and he was put in a coffin in Egypt.

-Genesis 50:22-26

Today, our Bible reading plan took us through the end of Genesis, which provided a great opportunity to go back and review my exegesis paper from Dr. Kaminski’s class at Gordon Conwell. I stared at the last paragraph thinking, “I know there’s great stuff here…I just forgot what it is.” Going back to this paper made me appreciate the education I received there and, more importantly, helped me see how profoundly God finishes this first book.

The final paragraph of Genesis picks up three vital themes from Genesis: First, problem persists. The Joseph story started in Egypt, and it ends still in Egypt. Ephraim and Manasseh (and they’re controversial standing in the family) call up the contentious family dynamics of God’s chosen people. Yet, second, grace enters. As Joseph reiterates, God swore to deliver them, and they are still holding onto that promise. He has already multiplied Israel’s family and carved out a place of honor for Joseph. Third, faith abides. Joseph still believes that they will carry his bones up to the Promised Land. Just as God “visited” Sarah–fulfilling hope beyond hope–so Joseph trusts that God will visit his people.

Problem, grace, and faith. It’s a fitting first chapter for humanity, because these are also the central realities of our own day and age. God has shined grace into the human problem, and we are called to faith in the promise that his grace will ultimately defeat problem through Jesus Christ.


From the desk:

“Creativity is the product of experience.” 

-Jana Childers, Performing the Word, p.101

I think this is one of the best insights that Childers pulls from theatre into preaching: That creativity is not ex nihilo. Creativity comes from paying attention to our experiences, exploring them deeply, and pulling them into the creative process.

Paying attention to experience allows John Donne to write:

One short sleep past, we wake eternally
And death shall be no more; Death; thou shalt die.

He knows what it’s like to see death, contemplate death, fear death, face death. Out of that experience, he can create something that’s taps into what we think and feel about death. This attention, this creativity, hold great promise for the preacher.


“The chair” is the one Annie aptly chose for the corner of our living room, and it’s where I am committed to daily hearing from God’s Word–the Word I above all else hope to speak to others. “The desk” is the one by my coffee grounds and spare charger (if I get to the library early enough); it’s where I have the privilege of reading and thinking all day, where I intend to learn for others’ sake.

The Chair and the Desk, 1/28/16

From the chair:

“And on the following day they entered Caesarea. Cornelius was expecting them and had called together his relatives and close friends…And Cornelius said…’I sent for you at Joppa, and you have been kind enough to come. Now therefore we are all here in the presence of God to hear all the you have been commanded by the Lord.”

-Acts 10:24-33

I find the Acts 10 story charming–not because I look down on the Caesareans for their simplicity; instead, because I look up to them for it. It’s actually hard for me to imagine the anticipation, to envision waiting with bated breath for the scoop on this “Jesus” guy. It makes me ask, how can I foster this kind of intrigue over Jesus in my community? How can I nurture this kind of excitement over Jesus in my own heart?


From the desk:

“When people respond positively to my preaching, I often wonder just how much of the credit is attributable to the force of my mother’s prayers.”

-Jana Childers, Performing the Word, p.14

This quote was a no-brainer for the blog. Thank you mom, and all those who contribute to the preaching of the Word of God through your prayers.


“The chair” is the one Annie aptly chose for the corner of our living room, and it’s where I am committed to daily hearing from God’s Word–the Word I above all else hope to speak to others. “The desk” is the one by my coffee grounds and spare charger (if I get to the library early enough); it’s where I have the privilege of reading and thinking all day, where I intend to learn for others’ sake.

 

The Chair and the Desk, 1/27/16

From the chair:

10 And he became hungry and wanted something to eat, but while they were preparing it, he fell into a trance 11 and saw the heavens opened and something like a great sheet descending, being let down by its four corners upon the earth. 12 In it were all kinds of animals and reptiles and birds of the air. 13 And there came a voice to him: ‘Rise, Peter; kill and eat.’ 14 But Peter said, ‘By no means, Lord; for I have never eaten anything that is common or unclean.’ 15 And the voice came to him again a second time, ‘What God has made clean, do not call common.’ 16 This happened three times, and the thing was taken up at once to heaven. “

-Acts 10:10-16

What God has made clean, do not call uncommon. With so much on offer, it’s hard to know what to accept. It’s hard to know what to take in and what to push back. On the one hand, the New Testament talks about new things, surprising things, startling things, like Cornelius the Gentile being welcomed into the people of God through Jesus Christ. On the other, it talks about rejecting false teaching (and false teachers!) and “the things of this world.”

It takes discernment, wisdom, to know when to receive and when to reject. I don’t pretend to have an equation that makes it any easier to decide. Yet, I know why I would do one or there other: I will not shut myself off, because what God has made clean, I hope not to call common. I will not forget good judgment, because God is the one who must redeem.


From the desk:

“Are you preaching because you have something to say or are you preaching because you have to say something?”

-Dr. Cleophus LaRue, in class, this morning

This is a powerful question that we should ask more often, not only at the start of a life, but also in the preparation of each sermon. Have I really waited on the Word, waited for the Holy Spirit? Have I really noticed, attended to, cared about, fostered an urgency for the people who will lend me their attention? Do I have something to say? If not, then it’s time to pray and read and meditate and study and think and write and talk, because God is not silent, and the world is not getting along fine without him.

 

Mark: A Quick Read

“The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God” (Mark 1:1).

“And when he came up out of the water, immediately he saw the heavens being torn open and the Spirit descending on him like a dove. And a voice came from heaven, ‘You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased'” (1:10-11).

Today was supposed to be the first day of class, but the snow stopped everything, so here I am at home, as read up as I can be, with a golden opportunity: Read through the book of Mark. A couple years ago, I was asked to do this for a class at Gordon Conwell, and I was surprised to find how gripping the story can be when you sit down to take it in in one go, rather than reading an excerpt here or there. It’s a “quick read.” Personally, I prefer to read it out loud, but you could really go either way. It takes about the same amount of time as a movie, and it’s a great way to spend a while encountering Jesus Christ.

What really struck me this time was the phrases Mark repeats to hold the arc of the book together, starting with the opening line (above), which comes back in a powerful way on the last page. The repeated lines in the first half emphasize the question that was on everyone’s mind: Who is this “Jesus of Nazareth”? We’ve heard what Mark says God says, but it’s thrilling to watch the people around Jesus unravel this mystery, test this hypothesis.

“And they were all amazed, so that they questioned among themselves, saying, ‘What is this? A new teaching with authority! He commands even the unclean spirits, and they obey him’” (1:27).

And they were filled with great fear and said to one another, ‘Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?’” (4:41).

“King Herod heard of it, for Jesus’ name had become known. Some said, ‘John the Baptist has been raised from the dead. That is why these miraculous powers are at work in him.’ But others said, ‘He is Elijah.” And others said, “He is a prophet, like one of the prophets of old’” (6:14-15).

“And Jesus went on with his disciples to the villages of Caesarea Philippi. And on the way he asked his disciples, ‘Who do people say that I am?’ And they told him, ‘John the Baptist; and others say, Elijah; and others, one of the prophets.’ And he asked them, ‘But who do you say that I am?’ Peter answered him, ‘You are the Christ'” (8:27-29).

As the second act begins, the disciples and readers are faced with the question, If Jesus is the Christ, what does that mean? Jesus himself forces the issue, repeating himself and repeating himself again:

“And he began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and the chief priests and the scribes and be killed, and after three days rise again” (8:30).

(Echoing his baptism, God reaffirms Jesus’ sonship: “And a cloud overshadowed them, and a voice came out of the cloud, ‘This is my beloved Son; listen to him'” [9:7]).

“he was teaching his disciples, saying to them, ‘The Son of Man is going to be delivered into the hands of men, and they will kill him. And when he is killed, after three days he will rise.’ But they did not understand the saying, and were afraid to ask him” (9:31-32).

“And taking the twelve again, he began to tell them what was to happen to him, saying, ‘See, we are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be delivered over to the chief priests and the scribes, and they will condemn him to death and deliver him over to the Gentiles. And they will mock him and spit on him, and flog him and kill him. And after three days he will rise’” (10:32-34).

More over, Jesus knows exactly what his disciples will do when he is seized:

“And Jesus said to them, ‘You will all fall away, for it is written, “I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep will be scattered.” But after I am raised up, I will go before you to Galilee’” (14:27).

This death and resurrection, no one seems to get it. No one can quite wrap their minds around what Jesus is saying: That he is the Christ, that the Christ must suffer, and die…and rise again? They don’t understand, and they don’t react well. In fact, the first person to simply say what God has said is one of the soldiers who overseas his death:

“And when the centurion, who stood facing him, saw that in this way he breathed his last, he said, ‘Truly this man was the Son of God!’” (15:39).

Of course, Mark wrote the book for a reason. He tells the story to leave us with questions. Do you believe that Jesus is God’s Son, as God says? Can you accept that to be the Christ is to both die for the people and to rise from the dead? This one whom everyone left in the garden, will you close the book and leave him, or rise up and follow?

“‘Do not be alarmed. You seek Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has risen; he is not here. See the place where they laid him. But go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going before you to Galilee. There you will see him, just as he told you.’ And they went out and fled from the tomb, for trembling and astonishment had seized them, and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid” (16:6-7).

 

The Chair and the Desk, 1/25/16

From the chair:

“43 There I will meet with the people of Israel, and it shall be sanctified by my glory. 44 I will consecrate the tent of meeting and the altar. Aaron also and his sons I will consecrate to serve me as priests. 45 I will dwell among the people of Israel and will be their God. 46 And they shall know that I am the Lord their God, who brought them out of the land of Egypt that I might dwell among them. I am the Lord their God.”

-Exodus 29:43-46

In my Bible reading plan, I’ve now been reading for days about what Moses and crew are supposed to do to prepare the religious rituals. Yet, God draws this section to a close by reminding them of what God is doing behind their doing. God initiates the meeting. God sanctifies the tent. God consecrates the altar. God sets apart his servants. God dwells with the people, and God is God. Even in ancient times, before we knew about Jesus Christ, worship was not only directed at God but also enabled by God.

That’s an encouraging realization for today. It gives us hope for new things, hope to do more than we could do, hope to become better than we have been, hope that “the gates of hell shall not prevail” against God’s Church.


From the desk:

“A productivity system is a set of methods, habits, and routines that enable you to be most effective in knowing what to do and in actually doing it.”

-Tim Challies, Do More Better, Kindle location 888.

I read this book for a mentoring group I’m a part of, and while there were some new ideas, it mostly reminded me how far I’ve come since college.

I am not a naturally organized person. Yet, organization (i.e., not forgetting tasks, appointments, and information) is essential to do what I am responsible to do. Maybe my brain could have become a good organizer if I had tried a bit harder, but instead I went the cyborg route of Apple Reminders, iCal, and Evernote–and I’m glad I did! This short book (about 100 pages) is a good introduction for anyone who wants to set up a productivity system for the glory of God.


“The chair” is the one Annie aptly chose for the corner of our living room, and it’s where I am committed to daily hearing from God’s Word–the Word I above all else hope to speak to others. “The desk” is the one by my coffee grounds and spare charger (if I get to the library early enough); it’s where I have the privilege of reading and thinking all day, where I intend to learn for others’ sake.

 

The Chair and the Desk, 1/22/16

From the chair:

“And as they were stoning Stephen, he called out, ‘Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.’ And falling to his knees he cried out with a loud voice, ‘Lord, do not hold this sin against them.’ And when he had said this, he fell asleep.”

-Acts 7:59-60

Stephen is the first person we know of dying for Jesus, and his last words make it clear that he wanted to die like Jesus. Luke, who wrote Acts, also wrote the Gospel of Luke, which records Jesus saying “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34) and “Father, into your hands I commit my Spirit!” (Luke 23:46). If we would follow Jesus like Stephen, we must adopt a new relationship with God the Father, one in which we entrust all things to him, even justice, even ourselves.


From the desk:

“When we have got so far, we may begin to suspect that the ‘problem of Unemployment’ is not stubble in the terms in which it is set; and that what we ought to be asking is a totally different set of questions about Work and Money. Why, for example, does the actor so eagerly live to work, while the factory-worker, though often far better pay, reluctantly works to live? How much money would men need, beyond the subsistence that enables them to continue working, if the world (that is, you and I) admired work more than wealth? Does the fact that he is employed fully compensate a man for the fact that his work is trivial, unnecessary, or positively harmful to society: the manufacture of imbecile and ugly ornaments, for instance, or the deliberate throat-cutting between rival manufacturers of the same commodity? Ought we, in fact, to consider whether work is worth doing, before we encourage it for the sake of employment? In deciding whether man should be employed at a high wage in the production of debased and debasing cinema films or at a lower wage in the building of roads and houses, ought we to think at all about the comparative worth and necessity of bad films and good houses?”

-Dorothy Sayers, The Mind of the Maker (HarperOne, 1987 ed.), p.204


“The chair” is the one Annie aptly chose for the corner of our living room, and it’s where I am committed to daily hearing from God’s Word–the Word I above all else hope to speak to others. “The desk” is the one by my coffee grounds and spare charger (if I get to the library early enough); it’s where I have the privilege of reading and thinking all day, where I intend to learn for others’ sake.

 

The Chair and the Desk, 1/21/16

From the chair:

“Yet [God] gave [Abraham] no inheritance in it, not even a foot’s length, but promised to give it to him as a possession and to his offspring after him, though he had no child…

…And the patriarchs, jealous of Joseph, sold him into Egypt; but God was with him…

…[Moses] supposed that his brothers would understand that God was giving them salvation by his hand, but they did not understand.”

-Acts 7:5,9,25

As Stephen tells the story, the history of God’s people is a history of outcasts with promises. Abraham left his people behind and did not see the people that would come from him, but he had faith in the promise. Joseph was sold into slavery by his own brothers, but he stayed faithful to the God of promise. Moses was rejected by those he came to help, but was called back when God was ready to fulfill the promise.

Of course, this all leads up to the ultimate outcast with a promise: “And they killed those who announced beforehand the coming of the Righteous One, whom you have now betrayed and murdered” (v.52). The world cast out Jesus, the Righteous One, to Golgotha, where they killed him.

Yet, like Abraham, Joseph, and Moses–in fact, in place of Abraham, Joseph, and Moses–Jesus brought God’s promises. These promises not only survived his death, they not only vested in his death, they not only vested for him in his death, but the promises of God are now offered to us through the cross on which the world tried to cast out God. He burst forth from the grave , and now those who are in Christ may be cast out, but they are in the Spirit and the people of promise.

It’s frightening to be thrown off a ship, but it’s salvation to be thrown off a sinking ship into the arms of the rescuer. It’s hope to believe that this rescuer can even turn and rescue the ship from the depths, as he did Joseph’s brothers and Moses’ kin.


From the desk:

“The distinction between the artist and the man who is not an artist thus lies in the fact that the artist is living in the ‘way of grace,’ so far as his vocation is concerned. He is not necessarily an artist in handling his personal life, but (since his life is the material of his work) he has at least got thus far, that he is using life to make something new. Because of this, the pains and sorrows of this troublesome world can never, for him, be wholly meaningless and useless, as they are to the man who dumbly endures them and can (as he complains with only too much truth) ‘make nothing of them.’ If, therefore, we are to deal with our ‘problems’ in ‘a creative way,’ we must deal with them along the artist’s lines: not expecting to ‘solve’ them by a detective trick, but to ‘make something of them,’ even when they are, strictly speaking, insoluble.”

-Dorothy Sayers, The Mind of the Maker (HarperOne 1987 ed.), p.193


“The chair” is the one Annie aptly chose for the corner of our living room, and it’s where I am committed to daily hearing from God’s Word–the Word I above all else hope to speak to others. “The desk” is the one by my coffee grounds and spare charger (if I get to the library early enough); it’s where I have the privilege of reading and thinking all day, where I intend to learn for others’ sake.

 

January’s Sermon Tip at ScribblePreach

My friend Nick invited me to write a monthly homiletics piece for his blog, Scribblepreach. Today’s article is about how a good example can do more than most types of illustrations. You can read “Sermon Examples: A Triple Threat” here.

The Chair and the Desk, 1/19/16

From the chair:

29 But Peter and the apostles answered, “We must obey God rather than men. 30 The God of our fathers raised Jesus, whom you killed by hanging him on a tree. 31 God exalted him at his right hand as Leader and Savior, to give repentance to Israel and forgiveness of sins. 32 And we are witnesses to these things, and so is the Holy Spirit, whom God has given to those who obey him.”

-Acts 5:29-32

The Spirit testifies that the Father raised and exalted the Son. This is why we say what we say (“we must obey God rather than men”) and how we are who we are (through “the Holy Spirit, whom God has given to those who obey him”).


From the desk:

“one should be able to argue persuasively on either side of a question…not that we may actually do both (for one should not persuade what is debased) but in order that it may not escape our notice what the real state of the case is and that we ourselves may be able to refute if another person uses speech unjustly.”

-Aristotle, Rhetoric I.1, 1355a, trans. Kennedy

Aristotle says we should be able to make the argument that those we disagree with would make, not only so that we can refute them effectively, but also so that “it may not escape our notice what the real state of the case is”. Not only will fuller understanding help us argue our positions, it may change our positions, or at least how we hold them. Understanding costs time and patience, but it’s worth it for the sake of the truth. We may not yet know the truth; we may know it and not yet know how to share.


“The chair” is the one Annie aptly chose for the corner of our living room, and it’s where I am committed to daily hearing from God’s Word–the Word I above all else hope to speak to others. “The desk” is the one by my coffee grounds and spare charger (if I get to the library early enough); it’s where I have the privilege of reading and thinking all day, where I intend to learn for others’ sake.

 

The Chair and the Desk, 1/18/16

From the chair:

But Peter said, “Ananias, why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit and to keep back for yourself part of the proceeds of the land? While it remained unsold, did it not remain your own? And after it was sold, was it not at your disposal? Why is it that you have contrived this deed in your heart? You have not lied to man but to God.”

-Acts 5:3-4

I hope you know this story. It doesn’t end up on a lot of Christmas cards or Sunday-School-wing bulletin boards, but it’s one the Church should remember. As the Holy Spirit starts building his Church, God’ people start making some amazingly generous gifts; Ananias and Saphirah, wanting to get in on the excitement, sell their property, make a gift, and say that they gave much more than they did (“100% of the proceeds!”). Ananias is struck dead, not because he didn’t give everything he had to the fellowship of Christians, but because he lied to his fellow believers, more so, because he lied to God.

This week, we’ve had the chance to visit and learn about various ministries at our new congregation in our new home. There’s great stuff happening, and I want to get in on the excitement! However, this story reminds me to keep a close watch on my motives and my words. I don’t believe the story is telling me to do less or be nervous or speak in a self-effacing way; this story isn’t necessarily even telling me to do more. It’s just saying be honest with God. Don’t show up to get credit. Don’t jump in because I’m antsy to be recognized, admired, known. Be honest with God, and serve him with a humble, earnest heart.


From the desk:

“For a wish for friendship arises swiftly, but friendship itself does not.”

-Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics VIII.3, 1156b33-34, trans. Barnett and Collins

To all who have been praying for us these last couple weeks, thank you. Over Christmas, as people asked how the fall had been, I finally realized that I really hadn’t been up for the hard work of making new friends by the time we arrived in September. This quote from Aristotle stood out to me this afternoon, because it captures the irony of making friends: Eventually, you’ll end up good friends with some people who wanted to be your friends the whole time too; it just takes time.

These first two weeks of 2016 have gone about as well as I could hope. Thank you for your support and prayers–and visit soon!


“The chair” is the one Annie aptly chose for the corner of our living room, and it’s where I am committed to daily hearing from God’s Word–the Word I above all else hope to speak to others. “The desk” is the one by my coffee grounds and spare charger (if I get to the library early enough); it’s where I have the privilege of reading and thinking all day, where I intend to learn for others’ sake.