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    Wednesday
    Jul272016

    It's Hard to Check Yourself

    This morning I awoke, brewed coffee, cooked eggs, and sat down to read, pray, and journal.

    I often use The Divine Hours to give structure to my time of prayer, to further saturate my mind with the words of Scripture, and to use well-worn words as I pay attention to God.

    This week, there is an appointed prayer which reads:

    Almighty God, the fountain of all wisdom, you know my necessities before I ask and my ignorance in asking: Have compassion on my weakness, and mercifully forgive me those things which for my unworthiness I dare not, and for my blindness I cannot ask; through the worthiness of your Son Jesus Christ my Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

    Those things we need, God knows before we ask. Yet we sometimes fail to present our needs before God either because of pride or ignorance. Knowing ourselves well enough to discern how and why we do not trust God fully is rooted in an evasive impulse that is hard to pin down, though I am quite certain it has something to do with the human condition.

    Prayers like the one above help us humbly acknowledge that we do not always name or know our needs, yet God provides. In prayer we are wise to confess that because of sin we do not always bring our requests to God as we should, and because of our finitude we do not always share with God our deepest needs. The words unworthiness and ignorance, employed so well above, capture this perfectly. We are human.

    Thankfully, that is not held against us, for it is through the worthiness of Jesus Christ that we receive mercy and forgiveness of sin. Our unworthiness and ignorance are overcome by the one who alone is worthy to receive honor, glory, and praise, the one who came to reveal the wisdom of God. We are redeemed through Christ's cross and resurrection.

    When we do not succeed in checking ourselves, God is merciful. God extends mercy in sending the Holy Spirit, who inwardly convicts us of sin and brings to our awareness ways we are called to walk in holiness. While we are held accountable before God as individuals, we have been gathered collectively to the people of God, who exhort us to live as disciples of Jesus and encourage us to live a life of faithfulness. God calls us into a community to refine us. Not only is God merciful when we do not perceive our own shortcomings, God engages us personally and invites us into community to equip us with a deeper knowledge of ourselves. We are then sent forth to serve Jesus in light of that knowledge, loving God and loving neighbor.

    God's mercy is inexhaustible. God is "compassionate and gracious; slow to anger, abounding in love." Remember your finitude, rest in God, and rejoice in the good news that Christ died for you knowing those things about you which you do not even know about yourself, supplying for your every need, and equipping you for meaningful service.

    Wednesday
    Jul202016

    John Macmurray and The Golden Girls

    On Tuesday evening our family welcomed a few of my former students from University Baptist Church to our home for an evening of pizza and swimming. It was delightful to see Sharla, Sam, Jarrett, Oliver, and Prezlie. I learned about restarting potatoes and heard other stories from youth camp.

    As our time drew to a close the students piled into Oliver's Jeep. All four doors were off. They backed down the drive and cued Andrew Gold's "Thank You for Being a Friend," featured in the opening credits of The Golden Girls.

    They did so as a tribute. During my three years at University I would cue television themes while we played games. "Thank You for Being a Friend" would also make its way into Snapchat messages, sent along whimsically. I do stuff like that.

    In The Self as Agent, philosopher John Macmurray wrote, "All meaningful knowledge is for the sake of action and all meaningful action is for the sake of friendship." I have thought about this quote for years, for Macmurray is right. Meaningful knowledge, which within my vocation includes knowledge of God, virtue, holiness, and wisdom, is meant for applied action in the shared human venture we call friendship. I love to learn and study not simply to gather facts (though this is a byproduct), but toward the end of love and service to my neighbor, whom I hope to call not only neighbor, but friend.

    This idea is also expressed, and more powerfully so, in Jesus' statement found in John 15:15, "I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you." The meaningful knowledge Jesus possessed--that of his Father's business--was transmitted to his disciples not only so that they might share said knowledge, but also so that Jesus and his disciples might live together in friendship within the bounds of God's venture we know as kingdom.

    Two verses prior in John 15:13, Jesus says, "Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends." Jesus thus demonstrated the full extent of his love on the cross. Further, Jesus invites to us to join him on the path of discipleship. In John 15, he  exhorts his disciples to obey his commands, demonstrating that they are, in fact, his followers. Jesus' school involves dying to self. Christians take up their cross, follow, and give witness to the reality that Christ lives in them. Paul understood this well.

    Knowledge of this kind, in so far as it is meaningful (and it is), rightly results in action, and friendship. As a minister, I am called to demonstrate friendship with God, but also to offer myself in friendship to all people. It is for this very purpose that Christians have been set apart: to serve as heralds of a message and as living evidence of its veracity, that in Christ friendship with God and reconciliation with one another has been made possible.

    Monday
    Jul182016

    Bringing Up the Rear

    This past week our kids participated in Vacation Bible School at First United Methodist Church, Waco. One of the songs for the week was "I Have Decided to Follow Jesus." Everything old is new again. It was good for Paul and Slias; it's good enough for me. And for you, too.

    At the dinner table, my son David broke the silence and said, "We follow Jesus."

    "Mommy, you follow Jesus."

    "Joy, you follow Jesus."

    "And Daddy, you follow Jesus."

    We nodded.

    He continued, "I will go first. Joy, you are behind me. And Mommy, you are behind Joy. And Daddy, you are behind Mommy."

    A little child shall lead them.

    And that's me, way at the back, bringing up the rear.

    As long as we are following Jesus, that's alright.

    Sunday
    Jul102016

    Throwing Your Cloak

    In 1 Kings 19 we find the story of Elijah the Prophet placing his mantle, or cloak, upon the shoulders of Elisha son of Shaphat. We examined this narrative today in worship.

    In the Bible, prophets often donned a particular kind of garb. Imagine the ancient Israelite equivalent of the high school lunch room. You might find warriors, farmers, scribes, all congregating with those of like station. They are all within dress code. And then there is the Prophet table. Shirts of camel hair, rope belts. One or two are engaged in performance art. "Word of the Lord," is one oft-heard phrase. Prophets are found either compelling, repulsive, or contemptible. Few outsiders try to infiltrate their circle. Some draw a crowd, others are dismissed. More than one were killed because of their message. It isn't widely considered a promising career track, much like ministry today.

    In his day, Elijah the Tishbite of Tishbe in Gilead (a great designation) was the most notable among the prophets. As 1 Kings 19 opens, Elijah has experienced what might be considered the pinnacle of his prophetic career. At God's command, Elijah challenged the prophets of Baal and God prevailed. But Jezebel, the Queen of Israel, issued a death warrant for Elijah. Elijah fled to Mount Horeb, where God met his needs, reassured him that God had preserved for himself a faithful people in Israel, and gave him a task. He sent him forth to anoint a successor, both for King Ahab of Israel, but also for himself.

    When Elisha son of Shaphat appears on the scene he is plowing a field. Elijah approaches and throws his cloak over him. Elijah doesn't stop. He is on the move. But Elisha leaves his oxen behind and runs after Elijah. Elisha knows that from this moment forth, everything would change. The cloak signals a transference, a weight of responsibility, a trust, and a new start. The mantle of Elijah would be passed to Elisha. Elijah's way of being with God would become Elisha's. Elisha becomes a student, and Elijah is the teacher. But it is the Lord who leads them both.

    Elijah brought a word from God. Elisha was ready to hear it. The first attribute of the student, if they are to excel, is that they must be teachable. And in what might be considered both a "burn the boats" kind of moment as well as a profound expression of praise, Elisha slaughters his oxen, makes a bonfire with his plowing equipment, celebrates a feast with his friends, and sets out to become the servant of Elijah.

    One of the topics visited most often in conversations with my dad is every Christian's responsibility to serve as a witness to Jesus, to share the gospel and to live according to the mandate given in Matthew 28:18-20: "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And lo, I am with you always, until the very end of the age."

    Elijah had been given a specific instruction: to seek Elisha son of Shaphat and anoint him as a successor.

    Like the first disciples, we too have been given a specific instruction: to announce the good news that in Jesus salvation has come, God reigns, and kingdom-schooling can commence. In this task, we are never alone. It is God who works in and through us.

    The call to make disciples is, in a sense, a call to throw your cloak, to pass the mantle, to raise up another, to invite others to join you on the way of following Jesus. And it isn't a call to one person here or there, but to all people everywhere.

    Throw your cloak.

    Saturday
    Jul092016

    10 Byproducts of Being Cellular Free

    I have been without a cell phone for a little more than one month. Here are a few things I have noticed:

    1. I am less anxious.
    2. I am more focused while driving.
    3. I enjoy looking up driving directions and paying attention to street signs.
    4. I am less aware of what people are buzzing about on social media. I am OK with that. But I am not in a cave. I still have some awareness.
    5. When I read, I have greater clarity of thought.
    6. Silence is pleasing.
    7. I have to plan to communicate with people, whether by phone or text (I have an app on my tablet, or Molly loans me her phone).
    8. I am more fully present with my kids.
    9. I am OK with being "difficult" to reach.
    10. It is nice to have to think about answers to questions, or ask others for help rather than conduct a web search. Others helped me buy ingredients for homemade ice cream at the store--I had to start conversations.

    For those concerned: I am doing fine.

    Home phone and internet access will begin at home this next week. My cellular break will last till early August. And I plan to significantly shift how I use a cell phone. The only reason I plan to have a phone at all: emergency recourse, particularly in caring for my children.