Sunday, May 27, 2007

No Blog May 28-June 2

I will be taking the week of May 28-June 2 off from blogging. My next new post will be Sunday, June 3.

Thanks for reading,



(Sabbath Blog #19)

Our church has a ministry that we call RACK, which stands for Random Acts of Christian Kindness. Our regular Lord’s Supper observances fall on the third Sunday of January, March, May, July, September, and November. On the following Saturdays we hold our RACK days. Bob Walker, our Minister of Worship and Outreach, coordinates the ministry. Yesterday was a RACK day. Some of us went to a convenience store and cleaned customers’ windshields; some of us went to an outdoor market in downtown Augusta and gave away ice cream bars; some of us drove around our community giving cold drinks to people who were doing yard work; and others of us went to a local coin laundry armed with quarters to feed into the washers and dryers for folks.

We tell people that we just want to share the love of God with them in those simple ways. It’s a little bit of grace, I guess, since we are giving without asking for anything in return. We talk about it this way: when we celebrate the Lord’s Supper we are receiving the Body of Christ; then we go out into the community to be the Body of Christ.

Yesterday, Fred and Ann Gunter went to the laundromat. Fred and Ann are retired, she from teaching and he from the staff of our church. A lady was there with her grandson and she had a lot of dirty clothes. Fred and Ann offered to put money in the machines for her. She gladly accepted and said, “When I prayed this morning I told the Lord that I didn’t know if I had enough money to wash all these clothes. I told him I’d just have to trust him.” Then she said to her three-year old grandson, “See what I told you? You just never know what the Lord is going to do!” By the way, we had carried out this ministry at laundromats before but this was the first time that we had gone to that particular one.

When Fred and Ann told that story, it brought to mind one that I heard the writer Brett Lott tell a couple of years ago at the Festival of Faith and Writing at Calvin College. Lott, who teaches Creative Writing at LSU and who is probably best known for his novel Jewel, had gone on a mission trip with a group from his church. The group was going to conduct a camp for children. One of the activities they planned to do involved tie-dying t-shirts. They had taken what they believed would be, based on the advance information they had received, plenty of white shirts. When they arrived and counted children, they were short over thirty t-shirts. Lott said there was nothing they could do; there was nowhere in the region where they could purchase white t-shirts. There was nothing they could do but pray.

When they got ready to tie-dye the t-shirts, they had exactly the number they needed.

Lott said that he couldn’t explain it; he could only tell us what happened.

I know that such talk is not sophisticated. I know that many of us think that prayer doesn’t work that way.

But I for one have not yet lost my naiveté and I hope that I never do.

The Purpose of Pentecostal Power

(A Sermon for Pentecost Sunday based on Acts 2:1-21; John 14:8-17, 25-27)

Forty days after his resurrection, Jesus ascended to his Father in heaven. Ten days after that, on the day of the Jewish festival of Pentecost, the Holy Spirit came to his followers just as Jesus had promised would happen. The Holy Spirit has ever since been the very presence of God with his people. We need to get hold of the fact that God is, through his Holy Spirit, actually and literally in our lives and in the life of the church. That presence makes all the difference.

Why? What does the Holy Spirit do? We could make a long list. The Holy Spirit works in us to make us more holy, more capable of being instruments through whom God will work. The Holy Spirit comforts and strengthens us. The Holy Spirit teaches us and opens our minds up to the Word of God. The Holy Spirit convicts us of our sins. I want to focus, though, on one particular function of the Holy Spirit. It is the function that was displayed on that Day of Pentecost. In that function we see the primary purpose of Pentecostal power.

The Holy Spirit empowered the disciples to cross cultural barriers in the proclaiming of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. The primary purpose of Pentecostal power, then, is to empower us to communicate the good news to anyone and everyone.

This should not be surprising. After all, on the night that he was betrayed, Jesus told his disciples,
Very truly I tell you, the one who believes in me will also do the works that I do and, in fact, will do greater works than these, because I am going to the Father. I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If in my name you ask me for anything, I will do it. (John 14:12-14)
How can it be that we, the followers of Jesus, will do “greater works” than those that Jesus did? It’s all about mathematics. When Jesus walked the earth, there was only one Jesus. While he was the Son of God, he was nonetheless flesh-bound and thus could be in only one place with one group of people at a time. But he left behind his church which would be and is made up of many, many people who can be in many places at one time. It is God’s plan that the church do what it has done—spread out over the world, preaching the good news and doing the work of ministry.

The church cannot and does not fulfill our calling on our own, though. We need the help of our Lord and he has promised to give us whatever help we need, so long as it is for the carrying out of our mission and so long as it is in line with the kind of life Jesus lived and the kind of love that he showed. And there is no more significant help given to us by Jesus than the Holy Spirit.

Tremendous and mysterious things happened on the day that the Holy Spirit came upon the disciples. Notice the language that Luke uses to try to describe the event: “there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind…. Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them…” (Acts 2:2-3, emphasis added). Notice that no such qualifying words are used in the next verse: “All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability” (v. 4). They did not begin to speak in something “like” other languages; they began to speak in other languages. They spoke in those languages because the Holy Spirit empowered them to do so. Moreover, they spoke in those languages for a specific reason: so that the Jews who had gathered in Jerusalem from all over the Mediterranean world could hear the proclamation of the gospel in their own languages. “Amazed and astonished, they asked....’How is it that we hear, each of us, in our own native language?... In our own language we hear them speaking about God’s deeds of power’” (vv. 7, 8, 11).

The primary purpose of Pentecostal power is the empowering of the church to proclaim the good news of Jesus Christ across those cultural, geo-political, and language barriers that separate us. We are still surrounded by people who need to hear and in many cases they need to have the message translated for them. Now, this is literally true. According to one database, there are 6,912 known distinct languages in the world. While I don’t know how many of those language groups have been touched with the gospel, one measure might be the number of languages into which the Bible has been translated. According to the International Bible Society, at least a portion of the Bible has been translated into 2,287 languages. So while it may seem to us that the world has been thoroughly saturated with the gospel, the truth is that we have a long way to go. Thus, we need to keep sending missionaries and we need to try to gain access to more people groups and we need to keep learning more languages so that we can communicate the good news to as many people as possible. I realize that on Pentecost the Holy Spirit empowered the disciples to speak in other languages, but more often than not these days the Holy Spirit leads us to the people to whom we need to go and inspires us to do the work we need to do to learn on our own. You might say that it is a greater miracle for the Holy Spirit to cause you to speak a foreign language than for the Spirit to cause you to go to an unreached group and to spend the years and effort necessary to learn a foreign language; I say that it is not. I say when that when the Holy Spirit melts our hearts and causes us to care, that’s as big a miracle as there is.

Remember, now: the essence of Pentecostal power is that the mighty acts of God through his Son Jesus Christ are proclaimed. Not everybody who needs to have the good news translated for them lives in a foreign country. The United States of America is still one of the world’s great melting pots. We have people coming to us from all over the world. A great many of them are Spanish-speaking folks. We all know that our nation’s immigration policy is a hot topic right now. We also know that the extent to which allowances should be made for Spanish-speaking people is another hot topic. I know that those issues matter. But when we Christians are under the influence of Pentecostal power, when we are under the empowerment of the Holy Spirit, what will matter the most to us is that those people who are our neighbors—be they legal or illegal, be they permanent or temporary—hear the good news of Jesus Christ. If we need to learn their language to communicate the good news, then let’s learn their language.

Here is something else to think about on this Pentecost Sunday: many of the folks around us who speak English need to have the gospel translated into words they can understand. If we are imbued with Pentecostal power—and if we are Christians, we are—then we will be open to how the Spirit leads us to communicate the gospel to them. I dare say we won’t be able to help ourselves any more than those disciples on Pentecost were able to help themselves. I am not advocating any kind of softening or compromise when it comes to the message of Jesus Christ. Far from it—I would advocate that we treat the life and teachings of Jesus and of the entire Bible in a much more comprehensive and serious way than we presently do. Somehow, though, our church and all churches need to translate the gospel into the language of the people.

It’s not about changing the message. We can’t change the old, old story and we don’t want to. But it is about somehow putting the old, old story in the language of the people around us that we’re trying to reach.

One of my all-time favorite television shows is WKRP in Cincinnati, which was a comedy about the goings-on at a radio station. One of the characters was a black DJ named Venus Flytrap. In one episode, Venus was asked by a custodial worker at the station to talk with her sixteen year old son, who was involved in dangerous activity and was planning to drop out of school. The young man, whose name was Arnold, said that he just couldn’t learn that science stuff. Venus wanted to show him that he could. Here is how Venus’ conversation with Arnold went.
Venus: There are three gangs on the street, right?
Arnold: Yeah yeah, three gangs.
Venus: And this right here is the territory. Now here (drawing a circle on the wall) is the neighborhood. Got that?
Arnold: Yeah.
Venus: And right in the middle of this neighborhood is a gang called the New Boys.
Arnold: Yeah, the New Boys. Good name.
Venus: Out here on the outside, on the edge of the neighborhood, is another gang. These are real negative dudes. Really negative, right?
Arnold: Right.
Venus: They call themselves the Elected Ones.
Arnold, bored: All right, the Elected Ones.
Venus: You got that? Really negative, they don't like nothing!
Arnold: Right.
Venus: They spend all their time out here circling around the neighborhood, just circling. Checking out the New Boys. Now the New Boys see this, and they guess, they figure, something's wrong here. So they make a deal with another gang - a gang of very happy-go-lucky guys. They call themselves the Pros. The Pros. Now, the Pros are very positive cats. See, they got all the good-lookin' women, right?
Arnold, interested: Yeah!
Venus: Now you see right here, the Pros and the New Boys, they call their hangout the Nucleus. Now see, that's a real tough word. It's Latin. I kinda think it's Swahili. And it means center.
Arnold: Yeah? What is it?
Venus: Nucleus. Say it.
Arnold: Nucleus. Is that really African?
Venus: Say it!
Arnold, with exaggeration: Nucleus!
Venus: All right. I'll give you another Swahili word. It's, uh, it's "tron." It means "do."
Arnold: Yeah, "tron, do."
Venus: All these gangs like that name so well that they all decide to use it. Fr'instance, the Pros right here in the middle start calling themselves the Protons, and the New Boys, they start calling themselves the Neutrons. And out here on the edge, the Elected Ones, they start calling themselves the Elec--?
Arnold: The Electrons. The Protons, and the Neutrons.
Venus: And all this right here, this is the neighborhood. This is block after block of nothing. You understand block after block of nothing.
Arnold: Yeah, I know all about that, and your time is up, Professor….
Venus: Good. I was finished anyway. Now, you go on back to school.
Arnold: School! Man, all I know about is a bunch of … gangs that live in a round neighborhood!

But, in learning about a bunch of gangs that live in a round neighborhood, Arnold had really learned about the atom with its nucleus, and its protons, neutrons, and electrons. Venus wanted Arnold to learn about the atom. He found a way to put his message into words that Arnold could understand.

That’s what the Holy Spirit will lead and empower us to do—to proclaim what people need to know in words and in ways that they can understand. Our tradition has some great words that are full of meaning: salvation, redemption, grace, sin, and sanctification, for example. But who around us knows what they mean? The gospel message says everything that people need to know about God, themselves, life, and eternal life. But how can we get them to hear what they need to hear? How shall they hear of the mighty acts of God unless they hear of them in words that ring true? And how can they ring true unless they can understand them?

Eugene Peterson recently retold a story that is pertinent to this subject. The literary Greek that developed over the last five centuries B.C.E. is called Attic Greek. The Greek in which the New Testament was written, though, is not Attic Greek. It is so different that some scholars posited that it was a translation of a Hebrew text; others held that it was a special “Holy Spirit” Greek. Finally, though, a breakthrough occurred that explained the situation. In 1897 pieces of writings were pulled from a garbage heap at a dead Egyptian town called Oxyrhynchus. The scraps “came from wills, official reports, letters from husbands away on business to their wives at home, a letter that a son who had become a soldier wrote to his parents,…shopping lists, bills and receipts—the kinds of writings that never get bound into books and catalogued in a library” [Eugene H. Peterson, Eat This Book: A Conversation in the Art of Spiritual Reading (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2006), p. 145]. Scholars eventually found almost all of the 500 or so “special” words in the New Testament that they had thought were unique. As Peterson put it, “(I)t was a surprise: our Bibles written not in the educated and polished language of scholars, historians, philosophers, and theologians but in the common language of fishermen and prostitutes, homemakers and carpenters” [p. 146].

It should not be a surprise, though. After all, we are talking about the God who became flesh and dwelt among us. We are talking about the Savior who loved and ministered to sinners. We are talking about the God who went to all that trouble to make his message understandable, to put it in a form that frail human beings could grasp. Given that he did that with the Living Word, how surprising is it that he did it with the written Word? And, how surprising is it that his Holy Spirit, the divine empowering force of the church, would compel us to proclaim the message in the language of the people in order that those people might be saved? That very sharing is the purpose of Pentecostal power.

Friday, May 25, 2007

Mystery, Wonder, and Faith

On Monday of this week, a sixteen year old boy in our church was killed in an automobile accident in which he was the lone occupant of the vehicle. What follows is the text of the sermon I preached at his funeral. As I prepared it, I was thinking of his family, of course, but also of all of those teenagers who would be in attendance. I am posting it here hoping for feedback. Are these words helpful? What could I have said better? I want to know in case I ever have to do this again, which I hope with all my heart I do not. I have removed references to the young man’s name.


On June 25, 1990, a baby boy was born. That boy would have turned seventeen next month. Instead, though, on the morning of May 21, he left us and went home to be with his Lord and with his loved ones who have gone to heaven before him.

There is mystery in this and we need to confess the mystery. Oh, it’s not all mystery. We know that motor vehicles are powerful machines and we know that human beings are fallible and we know that accidents happen and we know that sometimes when accidents happen lives are lost. Still, there is mystery. It is a mystery why some live to a ripe old age and why some are stillborn. It is a mystery why an evil person might live to be eighty when a good person might die at sixteen. It is a mystery why some die suddenly while others die long painful deaths. There is mystery in life and there is mystery in death. That mystery just needs to be acknowledged.

At a time like this logic fails us and that’s all right because logic is not what we need anyway. What we need is trust. What we need is the willingness to settle for the peek behind the curtain that the Lord in his grace allows us to have so that we can keep living this life.

When we are allowed to peek behind the curtain, though, we still see things that are mysteries to us. Paul said as much when he talked about his vision of heaven. He admitted to the glimpse but he also admitted to not being able to describe what he had seen. John admitted as much with his abundant use of symbolism in the Revelation; he had a glimpse but when it came to setting down on paper what he had seen he had to speak in metaphors. There was just no other way to talk about it.

We are not left speechless in the face of the awesomeness of God and of the sometimes awfulness of the world, but we are left with a limited vocabulary. What we are left with is trust. What we are left with is belief. What we are left with is the stubborn clinging to that which we know we have caught a glimpse of and to that which we grasp for words to describe. We know it’s real. It has to be real. There’s nothing for it to be but real.

In the movie Contact, Jodie Foster plays a scientist whose skepticism and practicality leave no room in her world for the transcendent. When she was a girl, her father died of a heart attack. When a minister tries to comfort her with talk of the will of God, she just says, “I should have kept the medicine close by.” As an adult, she is chosen to be the passenger in a strange craft that is going to take her who knows where. After a journey through a worm hole takes her vehicle somewhere deep into space, the machine comes to a sudden stop. She beholds a wonderful sight, a sight that any scientist would long to see. The words she says are surprising. Does she offer a scientific explanation for what she sees? No. Does she apply her keen logic to the wondrous sight before her? No. She says, “They should have sent a poet.” They should have sent a poet, because only the poets have the kind of insight and the kind of vocabulary needed to come anywhere near describing the indescribable.

Fortunately, our Bibles were written by inspired poets. Those poets will, if we will let them, draw us into their world and that’s where we want to be because it is after the world that God has revealed to them for our sake. So let us be drawn into that world today.

In that world we meet a man named Enoch. Enoch lived to be 365 years old. Hear his story:
When Enoch had lived sixty-five years, he became the father of Methuselah. Enoch walked with God after the birth of Methuselah three hundred years, and had other sons and daughters. Thus all the days of Enoch were three hundred sixty-five years. Enoch walked with God; then we was no more, because God took him. (Genesis 5:21-24)
Three hundred sixty-five years sounds like a long time to us. But in the context of Genesis five it was not. Jared, Enoch’s father, lived to be 962. Methuselah, Enoch’s son, lived to be 969. Enoch lived a much shorter earthly life than anyone else named in Genesis 5 but he lived the best life of all. Why? Because he is the only one of whom it is said that “he walked with God” and he is the only one of whom it is said that “God took him.” Our friend’s life was short as we reckon time. Yet during his time here he walked with God. And while we cannot and must not say that God caused the accident, we can surely say that God took him home because only God can take us home. Only God can take us to where took Enoch and to where he has taken the rest of his children.

Let us be drawn into the world of the poets of the Bible. In that world we will meet Job. Job lost everything. He lost his material possessions, then he lost all of his children, and then he lost his health. But he didn’t lose his integrity and he didn’t lose his tenacity. He struggled with God over what had happened to him. He had questions and he asked them. He didn’t understand and he said so. Bumper sticker theology and pious platitudes didn’t work for Job and he said so. Job never got clear cut answers to many of his questions; we’re back to mystery again. What he did get, though, was the assurance that God was with him. Toward the end of the book Job says, “I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees you” (42:5). Perhaps there are some of us here for whom God has to this point been a rumor or a conjecture or a possibility or a problem. Perhaps this day will be made worthwhile if some of us can leave here today knowing for a fact that God is with us.

Let us be drawn into the world of the poets of the Bible. In that world we will meet Jesus Christ. Jesus is God’s ultimate statement of his presence with us both in this world and in the world to come. Jesus shows us everything that we need to know about God. In his life he shows us that God longs to be with us and to have us be with him. In his death he shows us that God suffers for us but also with us. In his resurrection he shows us that God redeems our suffering and our dying and turns it into the victory of everlasting life. When we trust in Christ as Savior, we are drawn into his way of living, his way of dying, and his way of rising. Listen to the way Paul puts it.
All who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God. For you did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received a spirit of adoption. When we cry, “Abba! Father!” it is that very Spirit bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ—if, in fact, we suffer with him so that we may also be glorified with him. I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory about to be revealed to us…. Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words…. We know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose. (Romans 8:14-18, 26, 28)
The events of our lives, be they good or the bad events, mean something very important, then, when they are caught up in the grace and in the purposes of God. He does redeem. He does transform. He does resurrect.

Our brother was here with us for just a little while. But his story was a part of Enoch’s story. While he was here he walked with God and now God has taken him home. His story was a part of Job’s story. He and his family suffered losses along the way. But he had and we can have a personal relationship with God that lasts for all eternity. His story was and is a part of Jesus’ story. He had accepted Jesus as his Savior; he suffered along with Jesus and Jesus suffered along with him. Now, he knows the reward of having loved and having been loved by Jesus and one day he will know the glory of his own resurrection like Jesus knows the glory of his.

We need to be caught up in that story, too. The poets of the Bible have made it possible for us, but it is really God himself in his grace and love who has made it possible. This young man believed and hoped; now he doesn’t have to believe and hope anymore because he knows. We still have to live in faith. For his sake, for our own sake, and for God’s sake—let’s live with the mystery, let’s live in wonder, and let’s live in faith.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Thursdays with Luke #5

The Birth of John

Luke 1:57-80

Here we have the story of the birth of the forerunner to the Messiah told in such a way as to give preeminence to the coming Messiah. John was a compelling figure who drew many people to himself. Luke wants to make clear that John’s role was to prophesy of and point toward the Messiah. It is worth remembering in any time that the messengers are not to be given pre-eminence over the subject of the message. I once heard a woman say of her pastor, “I just can’t imagine going to a church where he’s not the pastor.” So many red flags flew up in mind that she must have been able to see them through my eyes. It’s good to have mentors whom you can trust, but we must always remember that our allegiance is to Jesus Christ and not to his servants.

vv. 57-58

Mary may have stayed with Elizabeth until John was born (see v. 56—Mary had her visit from Gabriel in the 6th month of Elizabeth’s pregnancy [v. 26] and stayed with Elizabeth for three months).

None of this is surprising to us, since we expect the prophecies we’ve heard to be fulfilled.

Note that family and friends rejoiced because they realized that in the birth of John the Lord had shown his mercy to Elizabeth. What they don’t realize is the way in which God had shown his mercy to all the world as well. Then as now, the masses don’t realize how God is working, but he is working all the same.

vv. 59-66

v. 59: the covenant established with Abraham stipulated that male children be circumcised on the eighth day (Gen. 17:12). Luke wants us to see that Zechariah and Elizabeth are faithful adherents to Torah. Apparently the custom had arisen to name the child in conjunction with the ceremony of circumcision, and the people involved wanted to name the baby after his father. Usual custom seems to have been to name a son after his grandfather, but there is much evidence of the naming of a son after his father, as well.

vv. 60-63: Elizabeth and then Zechariah insist that he will be called John. The significance of that is that Gabriel had told Zechariah that his name would be John. Naming him John is an obedient action. Elizabeth and Zechariah are aligning themselves with God’s plan.

vv. 64-66: Zechariah is immediately enabled to speak. What does he say? He begins to praise God for what God has done. These events that enabled Zechariah to speak lead to everybody else in the area talking about what was going on. The question in v. 66 is a good one. The Lord was working in the situation and people wondered what the child was destined to be. It’s a question that could be asked of any child and it’s exciting to ponder the possibilities.

vv. 67-79

This prophetic utterance by Zechariah is traditionally known as the “Benedictus.”

It falls naturally into two sections:

vv. 68-73 focus not on the birth of John but on the still to come arrival of the Messiah. Notice the emphases: redemption (v. 68), salvation (vv. 69 & 71), fulfillment (v. 70, 72-73), and results (vv. 74-75).

vv. 76-79 are addressed to the baby John. Ultimately, the emphasis is still on the salvation to be brought about by the Messiah (vv. 78-79).

v. 80

This is a transition verse that prepares us for the appearance of the adult John just before the public appearance of Jesus.

Why was he in the wilderness? What is the role of the wilderness?

Some have speculated that he was among the Essenes at Qumran, but we can’t be sure about that.

The wilderness has always played a vital role in the preparation of God’s people for service. Moses was in the wilderness before he was called to lead the people out of Egypt. The Hebrews were in the wilderness for forty years before they entered the Promised Land. Jesus spent time in the wilderness at crucial points in his life. The wilderness, then, is an opportunity.

Sometimes we stumble into the wilderness.

“By accident a friend became lost. He was traveling with a dozen companions through a broad, meandering canyon filled with shrubs, and by chance he got ahead of his friends. The others, assuming he was behind, slowed down to wait. He, certain his companions would be walking faster than he was, increased his pace. By dusk they were stretched out miles apart. Night fell and instead of the comforting sounds of dinners being prepared around him, all my friend heard was the echo of his voice against towering cliff walls. He had stumbled into solitude. He was more isolated than he had ever been, adrift in a desert of silence and stars. Later, he would not talk about the experience except to say this: ‘It was terrifying. The best night of the trip.’” (David Douglas, “Inviting Solitude: Notes in the Desert Silence,” Weavings (May/June 2001), p. 16).

Our stumbling may be because of any number of factors: physical, emotional, spiritual, vocational, etc. But the wilderness is an opportunity.

Sometimes we walk purposely into the wilderness

We need voluntary times of separation like Jesus took and like John took. They are times of preparation.

“The desert…lacks everything except the opportunity to know God” (David Rensberger, “Deserted Spaces,” Weavings (May/June 2001), pp. 8-9).

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Celebrating the New Baptist Covenant

Baptists have meetings. In our local churches we have team meetings and committee meetings and council meetings and church-wide business meetings. Representatives from our churches gather in associational, convention, fellowship, alliance, or union meetings. These days we’re doing more and more meeting over the internet through our blogs and websites and emails. Yes, Baptists like to meet.

Given that the century is young, it is not hyperbole to say that one of the most important Baptist meetings of this century will take place January 30-February 1, 2008 in Atlanta. It is the Celebration of the New Baptist Covenant. That covenant was adopted on April 10, 2006 by representatives of twenty Baptist groups who convened at the Carter Center in Atlanta at the invitation of former President Jimmy Carter, a lifelong Baptist, and Mercer University President Bill Underwood. At a subsequent meeting at the Carter Center on January 9, 2007 at which over thirty Baptist groups, most of whom are members of the North American Baptist Fellowship (NABF), a regional body of the Baptist World Alliance (BWA), were represented, plans for the 2008 Celebration were announced.

According to the website of the New Baptist Covenant,
The theme of this historic gathering will be Unity in Christ. The Biblical basis for the meeting is Jesus’ reading of scripture in the Synagogue as recorded in Luke 4: 18-19. In these verses, Jesus reads from Isaiah: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim the release of the captives, and the recovering of sight of the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord.” This call by Jesus to pursue both evangelism and ministry to “the least of these” is the Biblical foundation for the New Baptist Covenant.
It’s really hard to imagine how anyone could find fault with a gathering that is built on that foundation.

That hasn’t stopped folks, of course. In particular, many leaders of the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) have expressed reservations about the gathering. As of this writing, the official leadership of the SBC has not responded positively to the invitation they have received to participate in the gathering.

Thankfully, some “non-official” SBC leaders have shown more openness. I am referring to a group of Baptist bloggers who recently met with President Carter and President Underwood. You can read a news account of the meeting here and read personal accounts by a couple of them here and here. Those bloggers did an interesting and, so far as recent Baptist relations go, a pretty unusual thing: they sat down with people of a different perspective, put their cynicism aside, and tried to understand where those folks were coming from. I don’t know if they will finally decide to participate in the gathering and if they do, I don’t know what they will conclude about it. But I applaud their willingness to listen even if their listening causes them to suffer the slings and arrows of some of their fellows. Frankly, more “moderate” types such as I have been could learn a lot from the example of those Baptist bloggers as could the more “fundamentalist” ones among us.

Let’s face it: the Baptist community needs to exhibit more unity as a witness to a rightly skeptical world. In Jesus’ farewell address to his disciples as given to us in John’s Gospel, he made a really big deal out of the need for love and unity among his followers as the bases for their witness to the world. I have mourned the fragmentations in the Baptist body that have taken place over the past thirty years, such as the moderate-fundamentalist rift in the SBC, the withdrawal of the SBC from the Baptist World Alliance, and the recent ruptures in the American Baptist family over the issue of homosexuality. I am glad that the president of my alma mater and the former United States President who hails from my home state are trying to find a way toward a Baptist unity that is built on sound biblical principles of ministry and evangelism.

Some folks have expressed their belief that the Celebration of the New Baptist Covenant is really a political rally dressed up in religious garb. Their reasoning goes something like this: (a) Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton, both Baptists as well as former Democratic Presidents, are involved (Carter in a much more substantial way, it appears); (b) the meeting is occurring right at the beginning of the Presidential Primary season (although the way states are moving the dates of their primaries up, we may know who the nominees are before February 1!); therefore, (c) the gathering is obviously a thinly disguised rally for (probably) Hillary Clinton or (maybe) any other Democratic candidate. Such reservations are at best humorous and at worst hypocritical, since recent SBC meetings have gladly received greetings from Republican presidents and at least year’s Greensboro meeting messengers listened gladly to a speech by Secretary of State Condaleeza Rice.

Besides, such fears should have been put to rest by the announcement that speakers would include Mike Huckabee, the Southern Baptist former governor of Arkansas who is running for the Republican nomination for President, and Republican Senators Lindsay Graham of South Carolina and Charles Grassley of Iowa. Imagine that: a Republican presidential candidate was scheduled to speak but no Democratic candidates were (former Vice-President Al Gore is scheduled to speak but as of this writing he is still not an announced candidate for President). Unfortunately, Gov. Huckabee has now withdrawn, expressing displeasure with President Carter’s recent negative comments about the Bush administration’s foreign policy record and with the allegedly leftward tilt of the speakers on the program. Perhaps Gov. Huckabee fears alienating the conservative base of the Republican Party. I wish he would reconsider; those who attend the gathering need to hear voices from all parts of the Baptist choir. I certainly hope that Sens. Graham and Grassley hang tough and follow through on their commitment.

I encourage my church members to attend Baptist meetings. I am encouraging them to attend this one. I am under no illusion that those who are organizing the gathering are right about everything nor do I think that such perfection is necessary. I do believe that this is an opportunity to begin to build and strengthen relationships between the varied Baptist bodies in North America for the sake of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. It is that opportunity that has me excited. It is that opportunity that will cause me to be in Atlanta January 30-February 1, 2008.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

The Local Law Enforcement Hate Crimes Prevention Act of 2007

The Local Law Enforcement Hate Crimes Prevention Act of 2007 has been passed by the United States House of Representatives and is awaiting action in the Senate. I have read it; you can, too, by going here. Be forewarned, though—it’s pretty boring reading.

The Act defines the term “hate crime” as it is used in the Act. Actually, it points you to a 1994 act that defined it. That’s in Section 2. The Act also provides for the Attorney General of the United States to, “at the request of State, local, or Tribal law enforcement agency…provide technical, forensic, prosecutorial, or any other form of assistance in the criminal investigation or prosecution” of hate crimes. It also provides for grants to assist those agencies in investigating and prosecuting such crimes. That’s in Sections 3 and 4.

For such a boring document, the Act sure is generating a lot of excitement. The part of the Act that is attracting the most attention is found in Section 6. Here’s some of what that section says.
(a) In General- Chapter 13 of title 18, United States Code, is amended by adding at the end the following:
`Sec. 249. Hate crime acts
`(a) In General-
`(1) OFFENSES INVOLVING ACTUAL OR PERCEIVED RACE, COLOR, RELIGION, OR NATIONAL ORIGIN- Whoever, whether or not acting under color of law, willfully causes bodily injury to any person or, through the use of fire, a firearm, or an explosive or incendiary device, attempts to cause bodily injury to any person, because of the actual or perceived race, color, religion, or national origin of any person--
`(A) shall be imprisoned not more than 10 years, fined in accordance with this title, or both; and
`(B) shall be imprisoned for any term of years or for life, fined in accordance with this title, or both, if--
`(i) death results from the offense; or
`(ii) the offense includes kidnapping or an attempt to kidnap, aggravated sexual abuse or an attempt to commit aggravated sexual abuse, or an attempt to kill.
`(A) IN GENERAL- Whoever, whether or not acting under color of law, in any circumstance described in subparagraph (B), willfully causes bodily injury to any person or, through the use of fire, a firearm, or an explosive or incendiary device, attempts to cause bodily injury to any person, because of the actual or perceived religion, national origin, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity or disability of any person--
`(i) shall be imprisoned not more than 10 years, fined in accordance with this title, or both; and
`(ii) shall be imprisoned for any term of years or for life, fined in accordance with this title, or both, if--
`(I) death results from the offense; or
`(II) the offense includes kidnapping or an attempt to kidnap, aggravated sexual abuse or an attempt to commit aggravated sexual abuse, or an attempt to kill.

The aspect of that section that has some people all riled up is the placing of a crime that involves the injuring or killing of a person because of his or her sexual orientation in the same category as such a crime that is perpetrated against someone for some other reason such as their race, religion, or national origin. The issue, some say, is whether or not gays, lesbians, and transgendered persons should be accorded some special status under the law.

A better question might be whether a law that seems to elevate the right of any group to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness over that of others should be adopted and enforced. Why, someone might ask, does an act of violence perpetrated against someone because of her race or because of his sexual orientation merit a more specific treatment under the law than an act of violence perpetrated against someone in order to take her money or to avenge some perceived wrong or out of just plain meanness? Is not, as a colleague of mine asked, any unlawful violent act a hate crime? It nonetheless seems to me that a special category of “hate crime” seems a necessary thing because a crime that is inflicted upon someone because of their racial or religious or gender status is in a sense a crime against anyone who belongs to that particular group. The disrespect for persons that such crimes reflect tears at the very fabric of our society and thus those crimes are, from a societal point of view, particularly heinous.

In other words, there are issues arising from this act that are legitimate and that merit serious discussion. While it is difficult to envision someone being beaten or killed because he is straight, it is nonetheless true that whether or not homosexuals should be accorded a different status under the law than heterosexuals is a serious matter worthy of serious debate.

Unfortunately, some commentators are raising issues that this act does not raise and in their paranoia they are obscuring those real issues. In a recent editorial in the Christian Index, the newsjournal of the Georgia Baptist Convention, editor Gerald Harris quoted Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council, as saying,
If (or when) federal thought crimes laws are passed, your right to share politically incorrect parts of your Christian faith could, in fact, become a federal crime…. Criminalizing Biblical truths would effectively silence the gospel in public. This kind of legislation is an attempt to criminalize our thoughts, punish our beliefs and silence our voices.
Harris goes on to recount cases in other countries in which pastors have been charged or convicted for preaching against homosexuality or for criticizing Muslims.

The problem with such arguments is that they attempt to get Christians agitated over something that is not even there. Take a look at Section 8 of the Act:
Nothing in this Act, or the amendments made by this Act, shall be construed to prohibit any expressive conduct protected from legal prohibition by, or any activities protected by the free speech or free exercise clauses of, the First Amendment to the Constitution.
Just to refresh our memories, here is what that First Amendment says:
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.
The First Amendment is the one that guarantees our freedom of religion and our freedom of speech. The Act specifically states that the Act shall not be construed to prohibit our exercise of those freedoms.

It is absolutely vital that our freedoms of speech and of religion be protected. Pastors and other Christians, as well as atheists, secular humanists, Scientologists, and anyone else must be free to say what they believe. But here’s the thing: there is nothing in this Act that says anything different. As is often the case, a cartoon says what I’m trying to say better than I can.

I’m a preacher. I am painfully conscious of my obligation to preach and teach the Bible. Sometimes that means that I have to say things that could be hurtful to some people. There’s plenty in the Bible, after all, that will step on all of our toes. Sometimes those hard truths have to be spoken but they have to be spoken in love.

The Local Law Enforcement Hate Crimes Prevention Act of 2007 does not stop me or you from saying whatever we believe we need to say. God forbid that our words or our behavior would ever get people to thinking that such a law might be a good idea. God forbid that any of us ever incite hate or nurture bigotry through our preaching of the Good News of Jesus Christ.

If I ever find myself preaching with hate in my heart so as to incite hate in the hearts of others, may the good Lord be gracious enough very quickly to put me in a place where I can do no harm.

Monday, May 21, 2007

A Column from On the Jericho Road Published in my Hometown Newspaper

A column that originally appeared on the blog has been reprinted in my hometown newspaper, the Barnesville Herald-Gazette. I am grateful to editor Walter Geiger for running it.

Crossing the Lines: Between Partial Community & Perfect Community

(A Communion Devotion for the Seventh Sunday of Easter based on Revelation 21:10, 22-22:5; John 14:23-29)

By now I’m sure that you’ve all joined the thundering herd that has stampeded into the theatres to view Spider-Man 3. If you have not seen it yet, I would encourage you to keep something in mind when you go. While you’re watching Spider-Man and the New Goblin tear up New York City while they’re trying to destroy each other and while you’re watching Spidey try to survive his bruising battle with both Sandman and Venom and while you’re sharing in Peter Parker’s angst over coming to terms with finding out who really did kill his Uncle Ben all those years ago, remember that the film is at heart a love story. This movie, as with the previous two, is largely about the relationship between Peter Parker and Mary Jane Watson and, to a lesser extent, the relationship between Peter and his best friend Harry Osborn. While Spider-Man is battling his enemies in the streets of and in the air above New York City, Peter Parker is also battling himself as he struggles to maintain and develop healthy relationships. He has his enemies to fight, but the barriers to healthy personal relationships are among the toughest things he has to overcome. While he battles to protect his community he also battles to build a personal community that will see him through.

All human beings need a sense of community; we need to know that we belong. That longing, whether we realize it or not, is a longing for God. For we who are Christians, community begins and ends with God. God is the source all that is; he is the source of all life. So in relationship with him we find real life and in that life with God we find real community. Having God in our life is the beginning of community and the essence of community.

We will be in the full and unimpeded presence of God only when we get to heaven. That’s when we will know perfect community with him. Still, we can already know community with God right here and right now—and that is not a small thing! Indeed, while we cannot know God fully here and now, we can know God in his fullness here and now. You will notice that in the Gospel text Jesus talks about how he and the Father will make their home with his followers (v. 22) and then he talks about the Holy Spirit coming to them (v. 26). Here we have Jesus promising us that those who love him and who obey him will experience the presence of God in all of his fullness as Holy Trinity. As we grow in our love and grow in our obedience we will know that presence more and more.

Being in community with God and being in community with each other go together. Indeed, being in community with God leads to our being in greater community with each other. After all, what does it mean to keep the word of Jesus and to be obedient to him? Later, Jesus will say, “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends” (John 15:12-13). Loving and obeying Jesus leads to loving our sisters and brothers in Christ more than we love ourselves which leads to our giving our lives up for each other. We will do whatever we can for each other in whatever ways we can do it. If such loving actions cost us, we can think of no more important way to give ourselves away. We are called to love each other as fully as the love of Christ and the power of the Holy Spirit will enable us. Community with God leads to community with our brothers and sisters in Christ.

That community will not be perfect on this side of heaven, though. It can become much more complete than we usually believe because it is God who will make it happen. But the glorious day is coming when we will know full communion with God and utter fellowship with all of his people. “I saw no temple in the city, for its temple is the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb,” John said in Revelation (21:22). There we will live in full and perfect communion with God. There we will know the full benefits of the eternal life that began for us here. There we will know the fulfillment of the peace of which we had a marvelous though partial experience of here. And there all the people from all the nations from all over the world “who are written in the Lamb’s book of life” (21:27) will dwell in perfect peace and fellowship forever.

Our calling is to do all that we can to cross the line between the perfect community that we will know there and the partial community that we know here. Our calling is to become as fully brother and sister to one another as we can. Our calling is to show that we are Christians by our love.

We come this morning to the table of the Lord. As we come to it, let us do so remembering that Jesus Christ gave his life that we might be in fellowship with God. Let us remember that he gave his life that we might be in fellowship with one another. Let us remember that one day our communion with God and with each other will be complete. And let us remember that, as followers of the one who gave his life for us, we are to give of ourselves for one another. When we do, the line between the perfect community that we will know in heaven and the partial community that we know here is crossed.

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Old #7

(Sabbath Blog #18)

I serve as the pastor of The Hill Baptist Church in Augusta, Georgia. The church building is located in a part of town known as both The Hill (thus the name of the church) and Summerville. It is an old and historic part of town.

Right across the street from the church building is one of Augusta’s historic structures— a fire station now known as Old Engine Company #7. Constructed in 1913, it is a beautiful white Spanish-style stucco building; it once had a terra cotta roof that has been replaced with a shingle roof. On the inside it has gorgeous hardwood floors, twin fire truck bays, and two fire poles. The firefighters would sleep on the second floor and slide down the poles to get to the trucks.

When I moved to Augusta in January 2003 there was no “Old” on the front of the Engine Company’s name because it was still a functioning fire station. The members of our church and the firefighters who have been stationed at the building across the street since the church was founded in 1930 have had a good and close relationship. The firefighters would eat meals at the church, church members would lead Bible study classes at the station, and church members would just hang out with the firemen. I heard a story just yesterday about how, when a Boy Scout troop was sponsored by the church, the firemen would block off the street between the station and the church so the boys could skateboard on the street.

Things change, of course, and not long after I moved to Augusta a new Engine Company #7 was build south of town and the old station was deactivated. Firefighters, the Summerville community, and other folks in Augusta immediately began to wonder what would happen to what began to be referred to as Old Engine Company #7. Members of our church were among the curious.

Discussions among interested members of The Hill Baptist Church led to meetings with the administration of the Augusta Fire Department and officials of the City of Augusta. A few months ago, both the County Commissioners and the membership of the church agreed to the formation of a public/private partnership for the purpose of renovating and developing programming at the fire station. Subsequently, a non-profit corporation was established called the Old #7 Community Center of Augusta, Inc. The goal of the corporation is to renovate the fire station, taking it back as closely as possible to its original condition (including replacing that terra cotta roof), in order to make it a home for a Fire Museum and a Community Center. The Community Center would house such activities as tutoring and other after-school programs, senior adult programs, health screening, life skills classes, concerts, and civic meetings. The Board of Directors of the Old #7 Community Center, which is comprised of members of the church and of the community at large, will work to raise the funding to renovate the building and to support the programs that will take place there.

Yesterday, Saturday, May 19, 2007, saw a vital first step. The Board, of which I am a member, hosted a Community Day at Old #7. We served hot dogs, chips, soft drinks, and ice cream. We had an inflatable slide for children. People could walk through the building. We sold Old #7 t-shirts and gave out written information about the project. Various groups and volunteers helped to staff the event. Lots of people from the community came to learn about what we hope to accomplish through the Old #7 Community Center. It was very exciting to listen to people affirm the project and to voice their support for it. It was great to see our diverse community come together in common cause.

Here at On the Jericho Road I will periodically post updates on the progress of the project. I believe that it is a good thing that Old Engine Company #7’s tradition of serving the community will be continued through the Old #7 Community Center. Making it happen will take a lot of hard work but it looks like a lot of people are very interested. It just might turn out to be a very good thing for the people of Augusta.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Thursdays with Luke #4

Mary Visits Elizabeth

Luke 1:39-56

It was a family reunion. Family reunions have always been a mixed experience for me. My family doesn’t have any formal reunions; Debra’s father’s family has one a year. We do get together from time to time, of course. I think that what determines the quality of a reunion is the quality of the relationship. I am bound to my larger family by blood and by some shared experiences and memories, but not, for the most part, by much else. I guess what I’m talking about is a common purpose or a common goal or a common calling.

But this family reunion between Elizabeth and Mary was more than just a family reunion. It was a meeting between two people who were united by their respective roles in playing a part in God’s purposes. In that regard, the relationship between Mary and Elizabeth serves as a model for relationships in the church. We are bound by more than friendship; we are bound by the fact that we are God’s people doing God’s work in God’s world. We are more than “joined at the hip” or “joined at the heart”; we are joined at the spirit by God’s Spirit, joined at the love by God’s love, joined at the will by God’s will, and joined at the purpose by God’s purpose.

vv. 39-40

Again, we see God working in a particular place. Only this time, the place is unnamed. We are only told that it was a “Judean town in the hill country.” God works in particular places, but what he is doing is finally more important than where he is doing it. “The journey was about 80-100 miles from Nazareth and would take about 3-4 days” (I. Howard Marshall, Commentary on Luke, p. 80).

Mary is there to see her kinswoman Elizabeth. Marshall interprets her “haste” as reflecting her obedience to the angel’s implied command to go see Elizabeth (pp. 77, 80). It may be that Mary went away to hide her inconvenient pregnancy from the probing eyes of her Nazareth neighbors and figured that Elizabeth would, given her own surprising circumstances, be good company. Elizabeth was the only one who could come close to feeling empathy for Mary. The text does not say but I think it more likely that she went to share in her common purpose with Elizabeth, since Gabriel had offered Elizabeth’s pregnancy as a sign that God would keep his promises to Mary. The two women were partners in what God was up to.

vv. 41-45

In v. 41, we see some interesting prophetic pre-natal activity going on. John leaps in the womb. Of this meeting of the two women, Craddock says, “The one is old and her son will close an age; the other is young and her son will usher in the new. Even the unborn John knows the difference and leaps in the womb when Mary enters” (Fred Craddock, Luke, p. 29). The leaping of the pre-natal John can call to mind the struggles in the womb between Jacob and Esau; there, as here, the older child wills serve the younger (Craddock, p. 29). Elizabeth speaks under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. Her words then become a prophetic utterance, a proclamation of the word of God.

vv. 42-45 contain the words of Elizabeth.

We see here the theme of the superiority of Jesus to John. Elizabeth makes clear that she is responding to what God has done in Mary’s life, and that Mary is the mother of her Lord. On one level, scholars suspect that there was some rivalry in the early days of the church between disciples of John and disciples of Jesus. The NT needed to make clear the nature of the relationship. On another, more important level, Luke wants to say that Jesus is the fulfillment of all prophecy, including those that will be uttered by John.

v. 45 is a very powerful statement. Elizabeth pronounces Mary blessed because Mary had believed what the Lord had said to her. Here is a way in which we can and will be blessed, too. We need to ascertain what the Lord is saying to us through Scripture, through his Spirit, through our fellow Christians, and through our leaders (it pays to be discerning, of course), and then to believe. Down that path lies true blessing. Perhaps nothing worth happening happens without the exercise of faith. Belief opens up amazing possibilities. Disbelief stunts and deadens our lives.

vv. 46-55

These words of Mary are traditionally known as the Magnificat after the first word in the Latin translation.

Some themes that emerge from this Magnificat:

The grace of God

There is much emphasis on how God favored and blessed Mary, even though (and probably because) she was of low estate.

The power of God

God is praised for what he has done which also implies what he is doing and what he will do.

The great reversal of God

Notice especially vv. 51-53.

God is about the business of bringing down the proud, the powerful, and the rich, and of lifting up the humble, the lowly, and the hungry. We must never forget the prophetic and gospel message that God does not regard things as the world does and does not value what the world values. He is interested in the doing of justice and in the exaltation of the oppressed and the misused. God will bring down those who trust in themselves and who misuse their power; he will lift up those who trust in him and who have no power to misuse.

A good question for us is how can we participate in that process of reversal today? The process will not be completed until the end, but how can we help today? How can we be about the business of exalting the lowly and helping the poor and strengthening the weak? What does such an emphasis say about the kinds of ministries in which our church should be engaged?

The faithfulness of God

vv. 54-55 point out that what God was doing through Mary he was doing to Israel out of his faithfulness to his covenant promises.

In a way, then, Mary stands for Israel and thus for the people of God. We share in her role of participating in what God is doing.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Book Review: Eat This Book: A Conversation in the Art of Spiritual Reading by Eugene Peterson (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2006).

Eugene Peterson, perhaps best known as the translator of the popular modern version of the Bible called The Message, has, through his many other writings, also become one of America’s leading pastoral theologians.

Peterson is presently engaged in producing a five-volume work on spiritual theology that is being published by Eerdmans. Eat This Book is the second book in the series; the first book, Christ Plays in Ten Thousand Places, and the third book, The Jesus Way, are also available. Eat This Book is a book about the Bible; specifically, it is about the way in which the Bible is to be read if it is really to be the Bible. Peterson draws his title from the passage in Revelation 10:9-10 where John is commanded to “eat this book.” The book is at its core a case for a reclaiming on a broad scale the ancient practice of lectio divina or “spiritual reading,” which Peterson says is “reading that enters our souls as food enters our stomachs, spreads through our blood, and becomes holiness and love and wisdom” (p. 4). We cannot, Peterson maintains, separate our reading of the Word from our living of the Word.

In making his case Peterson is advocating for a reclaiming of the Bible as the material given to us by God for our formation as persons. Indeed, he says, we must move from regarding the Bible as primarily a source of information to a source for our formation. In our culture the material out of which we try to form ourselves is basically ourselves—our wants and our wishes. When we come to the Bible as a source of information, we will tend to try to bend and shape it to fit our agendas and to meet our perceived needs. What we need to be doing, Peterson says, is to be humbly seeking to be formed into the image of God with the Bible as our guide for that formation. “What we need is not primarily informational, telling us things about God and ourselves, but formational, shaping us into our true being” (p. 24).

Peterson appropriately stresses the participatory nature of our encounter with the Bible. He grounds that emphasis in theology: the revelation of God as Trinity shows that God is relational in his own identity. Since God is personal and relational, his revelation is personal and relational. Moreover, he draws us personally into his revelation (p. 27). He also grounds his emphasis on our personal participation in the text in hermeneutics: the Bible’s overarching form is that of story. We are drawn into that story and find ourselves in it. Thus, we become participants in the story. Furthermore, Peterson grounds this emphasis on participation liturgically: “Instead of limiting liturgy to the ordering of the community in discrete acts of worship, I want to use it in this large and comprehensive way, the centuries-deep and continents-wide community, spread out in space and time, as Christians participate in actions initiated and formed by the words in this book…” (p. 73). It all comes back to relationships and participation: because God is personal, because his written revelation is personal, because the Christian community is personal, we must personally participate in the biblical text, we must have it get into our lives so that we live it out, if we are going be formed as God intends for us to be formed.

I’m convinced. Peterson’s philosophy of Bible reading seems to me to be right on target.

Having laid the foundation for it well, Peterson offers a helpful guide (chapter 7) to the practice of lectio divina, which is the art and practice of carefully reading the biblical text with an eye toward living it, the end result of which will be the life-forming assimilation of God’s revelation. He walks the reader through the four steps of lectio divina, which are read, meditate, pray, and live. I appreciate the emphases of Peterson as he deals with each step. In the section on lectio (reading), he stresses the importance of coming to grips with the fact that the Bible makes tremendous use of metaphor. In the section on meditatio, Peterson stresses the need to enter into the world of the biblical text in a way that respects its coherence and context. In the section on oratio (prayer), he places much emphasis on the fact that prayer, as dialogue with God, is done in the company of the Holy Trinity with the Bible providing our access to the language of prayer (p. 104), especially through the words of the Psalms and the teaching of Jesus. Finally, in the section on contemplatio, stresses the way in which the Bible is to be incorporated into and lived out through our everyday lives. The chapter is an excellent short course in the practice of lectio divina.

My one criticism of the book has to do with the final section, “The Company of Translators.” While I found it fascinating, particularly in its discussions of how scholars came to understand the grounding of the biblical language in everyday life and in Peterson’s autobiographical account of how he came to understand and apply that knowledge in his work of translation, I did not find the section to be particularly germane to the discussion of the book. It struck me as something of an apologetic for The Message. Perhaps the section was anti-climactic; it may have been more helpful as the first rather than the last section of the book.

But that’s a minor issue.

This is a book that could, if read and taken seriously, resurrect the art of Bible reading in the Christian community. Peterson gets to the heart of what makes the Bible the Bible. He offers inspiration for reading the Bible for personal formation in the context of our submission to God and instruction on how to read it that way. The book, in other words, has given me hope—hope that if enough people read it and get what Peterson is saying our lives will be transformed by our encounter with the who stands behind and within the Bible and with the Savior to whom it points and who provides its primary context (p. 102).

The title of the book calls us to eat, to devour, to assimilate the Bible, and that’s what we should do. The Bible is our main course. Eugene Peterson’s book is just the right appetizer; we should “eat” it, too, and let it permeate our lives--or at least our reading style.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Movie Review: Spider-Man 3

I read a lot of comic books during my childhood but my favorite was Spider-Man. Peter Parker, the teenager who became Spider-Man when he was bitten by a radioactive spider, was shy and bookwormish; he was thus someone with whom I could identify. Spider-Man not only fought crime; he did so in style, wisecracking his way through one life-threatening situation after another. How could you not like a super-hero who referred to himself as “your friendly neighborhood Spider-Man”?

The Spider-Man movie franchise has proven to be very successful. The third installment is now in theatres and is making a ton of money; it took in $148 million in its first weekend of release. Spidey 3, like its predecessors, is a lot of fun to watch. The special effects are excellent, the action sequences are appropriately exciting, and the story is interesting.

There are some negatives. Toby McGuire as Peter Parker and Kirsten Dunst as Mary Jane Watson seem comfortable—maybe a little too comfortable—in their roles. The film has three bad guys—the New Goblin, Sandman, and Venom—and that’s at least one and maybe two too many. There’s almost too much going on to keep up with. The most enjoyable villain is, as in all the films, J. K. Simmons as newspaper publisher J. Jonah Jameson. There is some humor in the film, particularly during the part when Peter is under the influence of the material that almost turns him to the dark side, to steal another film series’ terminology. Unfortunately, during that sequence McGuire basically channels Jerry Lewis doing the Nutty Professor and doesn’t do it very effectively. Also, and this is rather amazing, by the end of the movie I really didn’t care if Peter and Mary Jane stayed together or not. I didn’t think that was possible.

The movie does, however, as a good super-hero movie should do, delve into some aspects of life that are shared by all human beings, be they super-heroes or the not-so-super heroes that the rest of us are. The inevitability factor is at play, since Peter and Mary Jane are trying to make it on their own and are trying to grow up just like any other young people have to do. At the beginning of the film, while they hardly have it made, the two young lovers are wrapped up in their youthful, the world is our oyster, love conquers all idealism. Soon, though, they have to deal with the consequences of shattered dreams, unfulfilled expectations, personal failure, and plain old human selfishness. They have to face the fact that neither they nor their relationship is perfect. They must, in other words, face the fact that they are human.

The movie’s treatment of that theme thankfully moves well beyond teen angst into the realities of human frustration and disappointment. The questions for Peter and Mary Jane, as for all of us, are whether to assimilate those realities in a way that leads to a mature relationship and if so, how.

As an action movie based on a comic book, Spider-Man 3 is as good as any and better than most. Its real strength, though, is in its human drama.

One caution for parents: Venom may be a little scary for young children. He was a little scary for at least one forty-eight year old man.

Spiderman 3, which is directed by Sam Raimi, stars Toby McGuire, Kirsten Dunst, James Franco, Thomas Hayden Church, and Topher Grace. It is in theatrical release and may be until Jesus comes back.

Monday, May 14, 2007

Crossing the Lines: Between Earth & Heaven

(A sermon for the sixth Sunday of Easter based on Acts 11:1-18; Revelation 21:1-6; John 13:31-35)

We’re talking during this Easter season about crossing the lines. So far we have talked about crossing the lines between who Jesus is and who we are and about crossing the lines between life and death. Today we turn our attention to crossing the lines between earth and heaven.

We talk a lot about going to heaven. We think of heaven as our goal, as the end result of our pilgrimage with Christ on earth. Obviously, we are very limited in what we can know about heaven. We stand in awe at the wonder and mystery of heaven. The Bible uses the most beautiful words and images that it can in talking about heaven but those words and images cannot get the true picture across.

I do believe that we make a positive shift in our thinking when we think of heaven not so much as a place but rather as a state of being. When we get to heaven we will be complete; we will be everything that God intends for us to be. While we are here we are to be growing into who God intends for us to be. Because we have been saved by God and because we follow Jesus Christ and because we are empowered by the Holy Spirit, we can be growing and changing and maturing. When that happens, heaven is breaking into our lives now. Heaven breaks into our lives because God has broken into our lives.

When you get right down to it, heaven is really all about God’s presence with us and about our presence with God. John had a vision of a “new heaven and a new earth” (Revelation 21:1). God told John that he was “making all things new” (v. 5). Paul talked about how “the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and will obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God” (Romans 8:21). The new heaven and the new earth will be the transformed and completed and mature versions of the heaven and earth that exist now. We will be the transformed and completed and mature versions of the followers of Christ that we are now.

In John’s vision of the culmination of all things, he saw “the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God” (v. 2). Then the “voice from the throne” said, “See, the home of God is among mortals. He will dwell with them; they will be his peoples, and God himself will be with them” (v. 3). When all things are as they should be, God will be with us completely and with no barriers caused by sin or doubt or confusion. Oh, that will be heaven for me and you when we can commune fully with God.

While we have to wait for heaven to experience full communion with God, we don’t have to wait for communion with God. God is already with us now. He came to us in the person of his Son Jesus. He remained with us through the resurrection of Jesus. He is with us now through the presence of the Holy Spirit with us. Because he is with us here and now the line between heaven and earth can be crossed here and now. Great things can happen when that line is crossed. Great things can happen because we can experience breakthroughs that will take us farther down the path of being mature believers and complete disciples.

Let me mention just a couple of the major developments that can happen when the lines between earth and heaven are crossed and they really are major.

We will come to love each other better. On the night that he was betrayed, Jesus was preparing his disciples for the new reality they would face when he would no longer be physically present with them. He told them that they could not go where he was going. He declared that God was being glorified in him; God’s great attributes of love and grace and forgiveness were being made obvious in him through his impending death and resurrection. He wanted them to know how he could be glorified in them; he wanted them to know how it could be obvious to the world that they belonged to him. He said, “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:34-35).

Heaven breaks into our earthly existence and the lines between earth and heaven are crossed when we love each other with the kind of love that Jesus has for us. What does that kind of love look like? It is self-giving, sacrificial love that thinks of the other person before it thinks of itself. Jesus gave up his home in glory and entered our earthly frame; he was utterly obedient to his Father for his entire life; he willingly died on the cross for our sake. He wanted to serve God by giving himself up for us. So our love is to be like his love; indeed, our love is to be his love. It is forgiving love. The love of Jesus is characterized by radical forgiveness. Are you holding something against a brother or sister? Would Jesus hold on to it or would he forgive? The love of Jesus is forgiving love. It is active love. The love that Christ puts in our heart is more than a feeling; it leads to acts of love on behalf of one another. Such love goes beyond hoping for better for someone; it tries to make that better thing happen. We glorify Christ with active love. As Eugene Peterson put it in his lyrical way, “Each act of enduring faith and sacrificing love, frequently begun in the dark and long continued in the shadows, somewhere in the course of its enactment, flashes with the color of its final plenitude” [Reversed Thunder: The Revelation of John & the Praying Imagination (HarperSanFrancisco: 1988, p. 181)].

When we practice such love for one another within the fellowship of the church the lines between heaven and earth are crossed. But we need to acknowledge something more.

When those lines are being crossed, we will come to love others better. By “others” I mean those outside the church. When Peter had his vision of the sheet coming down from heaven, he really experienced a crossing of the lines between earth and heaven. In his vision that sheet came right down from God to him. The vision and its meaning as given to Peter by the voice he heard addressed an important issue for the early church: would Gentiles be included as full participants in the life of the church? Before action can be taken on such matter, attitudes need to be addressed. What attitudes about other people do we have that need to be addressed?

Too often we are afflicted by the problem that the man had who asked Jesus, “Who is my neighbor?” We want to be able to frame a definition of neighbor that will allow us to exclude folks we don’t like or who don’t like us or folks who aren’t like us or who we aren’t like. Peter was a product of his environment and culture just as we are. When he was told to kill and eat animals that his tradition considered unclean, he was appalled. But the word came to him, “What God has made clean, you must not call profane.” This exchange happened three times so as really to drive the point home. And it was just at that moment that messengers from the Gentile Cornelius came to Peter asking him to go with them to the household of that person that Peter would have also regarded as “unclean.” Who do you regard as “unclean” today? Do you need to be reminded that no one is outside the reach of God’s love and grace?

Heaven truly breaks into this old earth when human beings like us get the truth that God really does love everybody and so must we.

The experience of a little bit of heaven here on earth is more available to us than we know. Heaven comes down when God’s love is known, seen, and practiced in his children.

Sunday, May 13, 2007

Talking Monkeys

(Sabbath Blog #17)

Next, Michael Crichton’s latest novel, features, among many other interesting characters, a couple of talking monkeys.

While Crichton’s book is a timely precautionary tale about genetic manipulation, he is hardly the first one to create simian characters that are fluent in English.

Cheetah, Tarzan’s sidekick in the Johnny Weissmuller movies, comes to mind, but he didn’t actually talk. He expressed human emotions and mannerisms but did not speak.

Not too many years ago cable channel TBS aired a series of “Monkey Movie Shorts,” which were movie parodies starring talking chimps. The send-ups of Braveheart and Forrest Gump are hilarious (you can find them on YouTube; search for “monkeyed movies").

My wife says that talking monkeys are funny.

That’s why I chose the Mother’s Day gift for her that I gave her this year: Lancelot Link, Secret Chimp on DVD. This chimpanzee-starring series aired on Saturday mornings on ABC in the early 1970s. The main character was of course Lance Link, a rather hairy James Bond type. He and his partner, the exotic Mata Hairi, worked for APE (Apes Preventing Evil). They worked tirelessly to thwart the plans for world domination of CHUMP (Criminal Headquarters for Underworld Master Plan). In addition to those tales of espionage and suspense, the show featured performances by Lance’s rock group The Evolution Revolution.

I’ll be the first to admit that the plots, dialogue, and characterization did not rise to the level of, say, Get Smart. But, to quote my wife, talking monkeys are funny.

I’m not a gambling man and there’s no way to find out, but I’d just about be willing to bet the farm that no other woman in the entire world received Lancelot Link, Secret Chimp on DVD for a Mother’s Day gift this year.

That Debra is one lucky woman.

She’s insightful, too. Talking monkeys are funny.

So are silly husbands.

Friday, May 11, 2007

Competition or Discrimination?

I began my educational journey in 1963 at Miss Sylvia’s Kindergarten. It was a private kindergarten; there was no such thing as public kindergarten in my neck of the woods. There were around fifteen children in my kindergarten class. I would attend school with most of those same children for the next six years.

That was because we would all attend the Barnesville city elementary school, Gordon Grammar School. Gordon was a very good small school that included classes in grades one through eight. There were two classes in each grade with each class having around fifteen students. This was in the days of so-called freedom of choice when it came to school assignments. Parents would fill out a form each year indicating where they wanted their child to attend school. The choices for elementary schools in my county were Gordon Grammar School, the county elementary school at Milner, and the other school in the county, Booker T. Washington School, where black students from grades one through twelve received their education. By and large, the white parents in the city sent their kids to Gordon, the white parents in the county sent their kids to Milner, and the black parents in the city and county sent their kids to Booker. I think that I was in the third or fourth grade when a few courageous black families used their freedom of choice to send their children to Gordon.

Everything changed in 1970, the year that I entered the seventh grade. That was the year that the schools in our county entered into the desegregation process in an all-at-once and very traumatic fashion. I, along with all the other boys in Lamar County in the middle and high school years, were assigned to attend what had been known as the Booker T. Washington School but was now referred to rather dully as the Forsyth Road School. The girls in those grades were assigned to attend the Milner school. That’s right—we were integrated racially but segregated by gender. Many of those children with whom I had attended Miss Sylvia’s kindergarten and others were removed from the public schools by their parents. When I walked into the Forsyth Road School in the fall of 1970, I went from attending a school where I was among boys and girls primarily of my own race to attending a school where there were no girls and where I was in the racial minority by a small margin.

Needless to say, I had never had an African-American teacher before that year. The first teacher I met at my new school was Mr. Robert Myles, a black man who was my homeroom teacher and my math instructor. Mr. Myles was a good man who, like many of our other teachers, tried hard in a very difficult situation. I admire him to this day. He and I shared a love for sports and talked about them a lot.

How I was looking forward to the spring of 1971 and the arrival of the Little League baseball season. I played for the Mets. Our season the previous year had been a good one; we finished second in the four-team league to the Cubs. But most of the best players from that Cubs team were now too old to play while we were bringing back most of our best players. I was confident that we were going to win the title. I had heard that the league was going to expand to six teams but, being twelve years old, I gave no thought to why that was beyond the obvious reason that more boys wanted to play. Still, expansion teams being expansion teams, I figured that those two new teams would provide easy wins for the mighty Mets.

I was explaining this to Mr. Myles one day. I was telling him how excited I was about the upcoming season. I said that we should have the best shot by far at the title. “Who do you think will be your strongest competition?” he asked. “The Braves,” I answered quickly. The Cubs would be down, I knew, and the Yankees would be young. The Braves would be pretty tough, though. “What about the new teams I hear they’re going to have?” he asked. “Oh, I don’t see them being much competition. I mean, how could they be? All the boys on those teams will be new and our team will have a lot of players who are in their fourth year.” Looking back later I realized that Mr. Myles had a playful look in his eyes when he said, “So you’re not worried about the Cardinals?” “No, sir,” I declared, “there’s no reason to be.” And that was the end of the conversation.

The new boys had to go through a draft. Our roster was already full. The new teams would get most of the new players.

The day of our first game arrived. Mr. Myles asked me who we were playing that night. “One of the new teams,” I replied, “the Cardinals.” I think he said something like “Oh.”

I was scheduled to pitch that night. When I arrived at the ball field I looked over at the other team. I saw a team made up of mostly black players, most of whom I knew from school. There were a couple of white players on the team, but the roster was 90% African American. And standing there in the dugout was the coach of the Cardinals—Mr. Myles. It had never occurred to me that the reason for the league’s expansion was the accommodation of the black kids in town. It had never occurred to me that our community’s recreational facilities and opportunities had been just as segregated as our educational institutions. It had never occurred to me that over on the other side of town young black men loved and played baseball with just as much dedication and fervor as the young white men with whom I lived and played.

And it never occurred to me that I was going to get the stuffing kicked out of me that night, but I did. Willie Green hit a home run off of me. Peter King hit a home run off of me. I don’t remember who all hit home runs off of me. I gave up eighteen runs in six innings. This being Little League, we did come back from an 18-8 deficit in the top of the sixth inning to tie the game, but we lost it 20-19 in extra innings. I was flabbergasted. I don’t think that Mr. Myles rubbed it in the next day or any other day, an act of kindness that I never forgot and from which I learned much. For that matter, I don’t remember those Cardinal players giving me a hard time about it, either. We played them tough the rest of the season but we never beat them. Not once. We finished in second place again.

My consolation prize was my winning of the batting championship. For that accomplishment I received my one and only athletic trophy. It was inscribed “Best Batting Ave.”—which of course would stand for “Best Batting Avenue.” Oh well.

Each year following the regular season an all-star team was chosen that would compete in the tournaments that could lead ultimately to the Little League World Series, although no team from Lamar County ever progressed very far in those days. The practice had always been to select a roughly equal number of players from each team. So, in the previous year, when there were only four teams in the league, four players were chosen from three teams and three players from one team to make up the fifteen-man roster.

After the 1971 season, certain players from each team were told to be at the Little League field on a particular day for the beginning of all-star tryouts. That was new. The best players from each team were there. When the team was chosen, the old practice of having each team equally represented was abandoned. I don’t know why. Mr. Myles was the all-star coach because his team had won the regular season championship. If my memory serves me correctly, over half the all-star roster was made up of Cardinals. Three players from my Mets made it, including me. When our first tournament game against the team from Thomaston arrived, our starting lineup included mostly Cardinals. I started in right field and got to play the entire game, for which I am still grateful, because I hit a home run in my last at-bat in the sixth inning. The next batter, James Roach, who was the Cardinals’ catcher, also hit a home run. We lost 9-2 and our march to the Little League World Series was over.

I remember thinking that some of the players on the Braves, the Cubs, and the Yankees had been the victims of reverse discrimination, although I’m certain that I didn’t actually employ that term in my processing of the situation. It did occur to me, though, that something unfair happened in the selection process for the all-star team. I chose to believe that if bias was exhibited in the process it was toward the Cardinals and against the other teams rather than being toward the black players and against the white players. I chose to believe that Mr. Myles wanted to put the team on the field that would stand the best chance of winning and all that he did was to pick the best players available. And looking back on it, I think that is in fact what he tried to do. If he was really trying to win, though, he should have started Ronnie Silva at pitcher rather than Joe Culpepper (neither of whom was African-American; I just think that Ronnie was a stronger pitcher than Joe was), but that’s another story.

There were of course possible aspects of that Little League baseball situation that occurred in the midst of the most traumatic social upheaval ever to hit our little community that I did not ponder for many, many years. For example, while I don’t know this for certain, I am pretty sure that up until that year those young black athletes had worked with equipment and facilities that were not on a par with those that we white players enjoyed. Also, I suspect that whatever if any postseason experience they had available to them did not give them even the very remote hope for a Little League World Series championship that we harbored.

Still, I don’t believe that Mr. Myles was trying to make up for wrongs or to redress grievances. I believe that he was trying to reward the best players by putting them on the all-star team. And the truth is that there were no better players in our league than Willie Greene, Peter King, James Roach, and some of their other Cardinal teammates.

So now it is 2007. The other day representatives of Jesse Jackson’s Rainbow-PUSH Coalition met with General Manager John Schuerholz and other management personnel of the Atlanta Braves to voice their concern over the lack of African-American players on the team’s roster. As of today, there is one African-American player on the Braves’ team—Willie Harris, who, somewhat poetically, is from Cairo, Georgia, the birthplace of Jackie Robinson. The Coalition representatives believe that the Braves could and should make a concerted effort to recruit more African-American players. While the situation may be more pronounced on the Braves, less than 10% of major league baseball players are African-American. Around 70% of National Football League players are black while about 75% of National Basketball Association players are black.

I doubt seriously that the Braves or any other team intentionally tries to exclude people of any race from playing in their organization. The bottom line in professional sports is putting the best product available on the field or floor so that the team will have the best chance of winning and thus of drawing more fans, selling more merchandise, getting better television ratings, and generally bringing in more money. If it could be shown that a team did have a policy of practicing such exclusion, that would be very problematic and I would hope that they would be called on it.

In the case of the Braves, though, I think they’re just doing what Mr. Myles did all those years ago when he put a primarily African-American team out there to play those kids from Thomaston—playing the players that will give the team the best chance of winning.

Dr. Martin Luther King said, “I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.” That’s a dream the realization of which we’re still striving for. I suspect that there is room in that dream for the hope that we will one day live in a time when athletes will be judged by the content of their character and the development and display of their skills—and not by the color of their skin.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Articles by Josh Ruffin in the Metro Spirit

You can read them here and here.

Thursdays with Luke #3

[Note: On Thursdays I am sharing notes from my recently completed study of Luke.]

Being in God’s Favor (Luke 1:26-38)

I read the following in the July 3-10, 2002 issue of the Christian Century:

Each year when he makes up a timeline for his course in early Christian history, church historian Robert Wilkens is struck by one fact: church history, unlike national histories, doesn't have many events. Rather, his timeline is strung together more by people, such as "Origen, Augustine, Gregory the Great, Anselm, Bernard . . ." Says Wilkens: "This noble train ... bears witness by their lives and also by their words. The saints have left us an ocean of words, theolog¬ical words, philosophical words, spiritual words, words of faith and hope and love, words of courage and words of patience ... different from the language we use to carry on our affairs or to debate political or social issues¬—words such as grace, faith, justification, sanctification, deification, original sin, living water ... and on and on and on." …. Says Wilkens: "Christianity is a sacramental religion, for God is made present through persons and places and things, and that is the stuff of church history" (Union Seminary Quarterly Review, 55: 1 2,2001).

Keep those thoughts in mind as we consider what Mary heard and did in this passage. Here was a human being who was used in a special and mighty way by God. And that is the way that God has always worked. He chooses to work through people, flawed and frail though we may be. Yet the story is not finally about those people. It is not finally about us. It is finally about who God is, not about who we are. As Fred Craddock said, “We must be careful to notice that none of her qualities is offered as the reason God chose her; that reason lies tucked away in the purposes of God.” (Luke, Interpretation Commentary, p. 28.)

vv. 26-27

“The sixth month” would be the sixth month of Elizabeth’s pregnancy.

Note the specificity of the description: Gabriel is sent to Nazareth in Galilee. God works in history and in the real places of human life and activity. Recent study has suggested that Nazareth was a more urban and cosmopolitan town than was previously thought.

Some important details:

Joseph was a descendant of David. This connects Jesus in a “legal” sense with the house of David which has important messianic implications.

Mary was a virgin, in the legal state of betrothal, which probably meant an arranged marriage entered into by her parents when she was young.

vv. 28-29

There is no indication why Mary was favored or chosen. The most important component of the greeting is the fact that the Lord is with her.

She is rightly “perplexed.”

vv. 30-33

Mary is told by Gabriel not to be afraid because she has found favor with God. One might suggest that, given subsequent events, finding favor with God is actually reason to be afraid! After all, those with whom God finds favor (Job, for instance, or Jesus) often find themselves in peril. The meaning is, though, that true peace is found in being open to whatever God wants to do in your life no matter where that leads you or puts you. It is better to be in a tough spot within the will of God than to be in an easy spot outside the will of God.

The honorific titles assigned to Jesus point to his greatness and to his superiority to John the Baptist. To have the throne of David and to reign over the house of Jacob forever and to have a never-ending kingdom were all ways of saying that Jesus would fulfill Jewish messianic expectation. “Jesus” itself means “the Lord saves” and is the Greek form of the Hebrew “Joshua.” It was a common name but in this case it came to have uncommon meaning. There have been a lot of men named George Washington but for most of us there is only one George Washington. His life gave power to his name. The life, death, and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth gave the power to the literal meaning of his name.

vv. 34-37

Mary asks a good and logical question.

The angel assures her that this miracle will be the result of the Holy Spirit’s work.

Mary is given the sign of Elizabeth’s remarkable pregnancy.

This what Craddock calls the “creed behind all creeds”: “For nothing will be impossible with God.” Indeed, this is the truth that stands behind all the audacious as well as reasonable things that we believe: “Nothing will be impossible with God.”

v. 38

These are the words that cause Mary to go down in history. She wanted what God wanted. What kind of legacy will we leave? It doesn’t matter whether you are famous and important. What does matter is whether we have been open to whatever God wants to do with us and through us and in us.

To find favor with God is to be used in the fulfillment of his purpose. No more gratifying knowledge can be had than to know that you are being used by God to bring about what he wants to bring about. That gratification can be experienced fully and properly, however, only when it is focused on who God is and what God is doing.