Monday, December 21, 2015

The Tomb is Empty: Fear vs. Faith

It may be Christmas time, but it's never too early to celebrate Easter!  Mark 16:1-8 (NRSV) says this: "When the Sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices, so that they might go and anoint him.  And very early on the first day of the week, when the sun had risen, they went to the tomb.  They had been saying to one another, 'Who will roll away the stone for us from the entrance to the tomb?'  When they looked up, they saw that the stone, which was very large, had already been rolled back.  As they entered the tomb, they saw a young man, dressed in a white robe, sitting on the right side; and they were alarmed.  But he said to them, 'Do not be alarmed; you are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified.  He has been raised; he is not here.  Look, there is the place they laid him.  But go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him, just as he told you.'  So they went out and fled from the tomb, for terror and amazement had seized them; and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid."

We're told that just after the sun had risen, the women went to the tomb.  At this point, they had no idea that it wasn't just the sun which had peaked above the horizon, but the true son, the Son of God had risen from the dead.  And it wasn't just the first day of the week, it was the first day of a brand new age - the new creation had begun!  The most important part of God's rescue operation had been completed with the death and resurrection of Jesus the Messiah - Jesus the Son of the living God.  These women had not only followed Jesus all the way to his death on the cross, they had followed him all the way to the grave as he was buried in the tomb of Joseph of Arimathea.  And now they had come to complete his burial; to wrap his body with aromatic perfumes and spices.  They, far more than Jesus' male companions, had been loyal to the end.  Yet, they must have by this point realized that Jesus' messianic movement had ended in failure - a crucified messiah being an oxymoron for a Jew of the first century.     

But, if somehow, as the empty tomb and the man in white claimed, God had raised him from the dead, then that would have been the sign of God's vindication.  He was in fact who he had claimed to be. In fact, he was even greater than anyone could have imagined him to be.  He wasn't just the Messiah, he was the risen Lord, the Savior of the world!

It's interesting that it was a group of women who were the first to arrive at the tomb.  Women weren't considered to be credible witnesses in the ancient world.  If someone was going to make this story up, they wouldn't have chosen a bunch of ladies for this important role.  But, here again, we're reminded that God's ways are not our ways.

Verse 6 tells us that the women had come to the tomb looking for Jesus.  But they came looking in the wrong place.  Death could not keep him - death could not defeat him.  The tomb was empty.  The tomb is empty.  Jesus of Nazareth who was crucified has been raised from the dead!  Some stories are too good to be true.  This story, and the difference that it makes for the whole world, is too good not to be true.

But where does Mark's gospel end?  Have a look in your Bible and you'll see a footnote telling you that the oldest Greek manuscripts end at verse 8.  It's safe to say that verses 9-20 were not original to Mark.  They seem to be a summary of the resurrection narratives from the other gospels.  They must have been added onto what we call verse 8 by a later scribe who couldn't figure out why Mark's gospel would end so abruptly.  That leaves us with two options regarding the ending of Mark.  Either, Mark's original ending was somehow lost.  Or, Mark intentionally ended his gospel at verse 8.  I personally believe the latter; that Mark ends his story of Jesus with the women fleeing the tomb in fear.  Why?

Fear is a major theme in the gospel of Mark.  In fact, fear, not doubt is the enemy of faith according to Mark.  After stilling the storm, Jesus in Mark 4:40 said, "Why are you afraid?  Have you still no faith?"  In the next chapter, after he had exorcised the demoniac's demons, the local townspeople asked Jesus to depart from their region because they were afraid.  Later in the same chapter, a woman suffering from a bleeding condition touched Jesus' cloak and was healed.  Jesus, realizing that power had gone forth from him, asked, "Who touched my clothes?"  The woman came and fell at Jesus' feet in fear and trembling.  His response to her was, "Daughter, your faith has made you well."  Jesus was on the way to attend to the sick daughter of a man named Jairus.  Right after healing the bleeding woman, some people arrived and informed Jairus that his daughter had died.  Jesus said to Jairus, "Do not fear, only believe."  Jesus then proceeded to raise Jairus' daughter from the dead.  Later in the gospel, as Jesus walked on the water, we're told that his disciples were terrified.  Peter, James, and John were also terrified on the Mountain of Transfiguration.  Later, when Jesus spoke of his impending death and resurrection, his disciples did not understand what he was talking about, but were too afraid to ask him what he meant.  And when they were on the road going up to Jerusalem, his disciples followed him, but they were afraid.  The disciples must have been afraid when they abandoned Jesus at his arrest.  It must have been his fear that led Peter to deny Jesus three times. 

And so Mark's gospel ends at chapter 16 verse 8 with the women fleeing the tomb, "for terror and amazement had seized them; and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid."  The reader is left to wonder - will the women through faith overcome their fear?  Will they obey the command to go and tell the disciples that Jesus has been raised?  It's obvious that the women, through faith, must have overcome their fears.  Mark's gospel and the rest of the New Testament testify to this fact.  But the question remains for Mark's original audience and the question remains for us.  Do we have faith that the tomb is empty?  Is Jesus really risen from the dead?  And if we do believe, is our faith greater than our fear?  Will we go and tell?  Will we live our lives as if the tomb stands empty?  Will we, through our lives of  faith proclaim to the world that sin and death have been defeated, that Jesus has been raised from the dead, and that eternal life is found in him?  This Christmas, as the world celebrates the birth of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, let's make sure we remind our world that though Jesus was born to die, he didn't stay dead.  The tomb is empty! - Shay

Monday, December 7, 2015

My Body and My Blood

           The following reflections are based on Mark 14:12-25.

           Many of us celebrated Thanksgiving nearly two weeks ago.  We gathered around tables with family and loved ones, we gave thanks, we broke bread, we sliced and ate turkey, and we celebrated the good life that God has so bountifully provided for us all.  There’s something deeply satisfying about holidays and special occasions.  Whether it’s Thanksgiving, Christmas, anniversaries, or birthdays, nothing marks these occasions quite as well as food, family, and fellowship.  For thousands of years of human history, feasts have been the way we recognize significant events in our lives.  We probably don’t do it as much as we should.

           Sharing any meal in the ancient world carried with it a great significance.  To share food with another meant that you were sharing life and sharing relationship.  It’s why Jesus’ willingness to eat with tax collectors and sinners was so scandalous.  By sitting down at the table with these outcasts and outsiders, Jesus was proclaiming that though they were on the margins of respectable society, they were to be offered a seat of honor within the broader borders of God’s Kingdom.

          So it makes sense that as Jesus approached the climax of his mission that he would choose to mark the occasion with his disciples through a meal – and not just any meal, the Passover meal.

          The Passover was the most significant of all Jewish festivals and more than any other ritual or action, it defined and marked out those who were the people of God.  As important as the giving of the Law was, God’s deliverance and rescue of his people from Egyptian slavery is what formed the nation of Israel to begin with.  The Law did not make Israel God’s people; the Law was given to Israel as a gift because they had already been redeemed as his people through the sacrifice of the Passover lamb and the miracle at the sea.

          Each year when the people would gather to celebrate this foundational meal, they were reminded that YHWH, the God who had acted in the Exodus, who had provided for them in the wilderness, who had given them the Promised Land, who had established the Davidic Kingdom, who had chosen to dwell in the Temple in Jerusalem, and who had brought his people back from exile would one day act again in a dramatic way to free his people from their current bondage under pagan rulers.  The God who had acted in the past, would act again in the future.  When that great day occurred, then the glory of this one true God, YHWH would extend from Jerusalem to the very ends of the earth.  Isaiah 66 looked forward to that time and described it in the following way. “I will send survivors to the nations…to the coastlands far away that have not heard of my fame or seen my glory; and they shall declare my glory among the nations.  They shall bring all your kindred from all the nations as an offering to the Lord…to my holy mountain, Jerusalem…For as the new heavens and the new earth, which I will make, shall remain before me, says the Lord; so shall your descendants and your name remain.  From new moon to new moon, and from Sabbath to Sabbath, all flesh shall come to worship before me, says the Lord.”

          Many Jews of the first century believed that God’s deliverance would come to them through a descendant of David who would establish God’s Kingdom on earth in ways that it had previously not been realized.  The pagans would be defeated and kicked out of the land.  True worship would once again be established in the temple.  The heathen nations around the world would either be destroyed or would submit to the one true God, YHWH, and his representative on earth, the Messiah, the Davidic King.  Those who acknowledged God and his Messiah would stream to Jerusalem to offer sacrifice and worship.  Then the world itself would be transformed and God’s will would finally be done on earth as it was already being done in heaven.  For Jews of the first century, when they celebrated Passover, they not only looked back at YHWH’s past deliverance, they also looked forward to such a time as this.

          Of course, the chief priests and many of the other religious and civil leaders in Jerusalem were quite happy with the status quo.  They had a sweet deal in place with the Romans and any “kingdom of God” talk that threatened Rome’s control inevitably threatened their own position and status.  So, they, like the Romans, were on high alert each year at the time of Passover.  This is why Jesus had to so stealthily make arrangements to celebrate the Passover with his disciples.  He was already public enemy number one in the eyes of the Jerusalem establishment, so if they became aware of his whereabouts during the Passover meal, his arrest might have occured before the appointed time.       

          So, how ironic it was that as Jesus sat down to feast with his closest companions, he was surrounded by a betrayer, a denier, and 10 deserters.  But despite the fact that these flawed and fallen followers were to soon abandon him in his darkest hour, Jesus unreservedly extended grace and understanding to these mostly well-meaning, though naïve and fearful friends. 

          It is with this Passover that Jesus inaugurated the first celebration of what we call communion, or the Eucharist, or the Lord’s Supper.  The recollection of God’s past deliverance bled into the imminent expectation of God’s present and future redemption of his people.  The hopes, dreams, and expectations of a Messiah, a King, a deliverer would finally be accomplished, but in ways that no one, not even his own disciples could imagine.  A new exodus and a new covenant would be established through his death and resurrection.  It would only be in hindsight that his disciples could look back on this moment and understand its full significance.

              As would be done just a few hours later with his own physical body, Jesus took a loaf of bread, broke it, and gave it to his disciples, saying, “Take; this is my body.”  And knowing that his own blood would be violently spilled the following day, Jesus took a cup and shared it with his friends, saying, “This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many.”  Actions speak louder than words and Jesus’ actions here would have continued to speak loudly to his followers after the dark hours of this moment cleared and the light of the resurrection shone brightly in their hearts.

          And his actions were not just for the 12 in that upper room; his actions on that night continue to resonate some 2,000 years later.  Like his first disciples, our participation in the Lord’s meal continues to be a rehearsal of all God has done for us, in and through Jesus Christ.  As we share this feast each week, it’s an expression of our relationship with Jesus and with each other.  When we share communion, the Lord’s Supper, we are sharing in the person of Jesus of Nazareth – his life and his mission.  Jesus is spiritually present with us in the meal and so we not only remember what he accomplished in his death and resurrection, we also celebrate his continued presence among us. 

          But Mark’s account of the Last Supper serves as a warning for us too.  Like Judas, we can sit down to eat with Jesus and turn around and betray him.  Like Peter, we might find ourselves moving from fellowship with the Master to outright denial.  Or like the other 10, rather than conquering our fears through faith, we may simply run away.  If we find ourselves failing Jesus in any of these or other ways, we can be sure that the Savior is still willing to extend us grace and understanding despite our many flaws – he’s faithful, even when we’re not.  But the meal ultimately anticipates victory, not defeat.  There’s a reason that the early Christians celebrated the Supper in a special way on Sundays and not on the Sabbath.  The tomb is empty, and though, as disciples, we’re to live lives under the shadow of the cross, we are always moving towards the light of the resurrection. 

          The new creation has broken in on this present age through Jesus’ resurrection, but the fullness of the age to come is still to come.  God’s will has not fully and completely been done on earth as it is done in heaven.  Christ’s already reigning as King at the right hand of the Father, but the final consummation of God’s Kingdom is still in the future.  As we break the bread and sip from the cup as citizens in Christ’s Kingdom, we look forward to that day when God will come and make his home among us again.  He will dwell with us and we will be his people.  He’ll wipe every tear from our eyes, because death, mourning, crying, and pain will be no more.  He’ll make all things new and Jesus will drink new wine with us in the Kingdom of God.  We anticipate this Messianic banquet every time we commune with our brothers and sisters in Christ.  Jesus invites us to this meal and to eternal life in the age to come with these simple words: “Take; this is my body…take; this is my blood.” - Shay

Monday, November 30, 2015

The Most Significant 30-33 Years

               They don’t celebrate Thanksgiving in Ireland, but boy, do they ever celebrate Christmas!  Once the month of December rolls around in Dublin, you can be sure that the city has already been decked out with holiday décor for a few weeks.  Any school, volunteer organization, special interest group, sports team, or social club will have an obligatory Christmas party at some point in the month.  Sadly, many of these parties are nothing more than an excuse to over-indulge in food and drink.  And though there is religious as well as secular holiday imagery in plain sight everywhere you turn, like here in the US, many people in Ireland have made this time of year about materialistic conquest rather than a period of contemplation on what it means for God to have become human.

               But the Christmas holidays can be a great time for us to remember that in the incarnation, the Son of God became the Son of Man.  We don’t have to lose sight of the fact that the most significant 30-33 years in world history occurred through the birth, life, ministry, death, and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth.  In fact, the holiday season gives us all a great opportunity to talk to our friends, family, co-workers, and neighbors about our faith in Jesus.  We might simply ask them what they think of Christmas or Jesus and see where the conversation goes.  And as we would never limit our gratitude to one Thursday in November, so may our faith in Jesus be evident in January and beyond!  

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

A Generous Body of Believers

Churches, like people have personalities.  And like getting to know new people, it takes time to get to know a church.  We're still very much in the "just getting to know you" phase with the Burleson Church of Christ, but a few personality traits of this congregation are beginning to show.  One such trait is generosity.  I can honestly say that if I've ever been around a more financially generous body of believers, I wasn't aware of it at the time. 

The Burleson Church of Christ not only meets it's weekly budget through its Sunday offerings, it quite often exceeds it.  Rather than having to cut items from the budget, this congregation could add items if it was necessary.  This tells me that the people of this church have bought into the vision that the leadership has cast. 

For the past several years on the Sunday before Thanksgiving, BCOC has celebrated the Day of Thanks and Giving.  Initially it was a way for the congregation to pay down debt on building projects, but eventually it expanded to include a number of charities and mission organizations.  Last year the church decided to make sure that every penny raised through the Day of Thanks and Giving went to something beyond the congregation.  Their goal was to raise $225,000 in a single week.  They wound up bringing in over $297,000!  So, this year's goal was to raise $280,000.  I'm delighted to write that we raised over $302,000 through our offering Sunday!  But the most amazing thing that happened on Sunday at BCOC was that a man gave his life to the Lord and was immersed into the body of Christ! 

The Smith family has a lot to be thankful for this Thanksgiving, 2015.  In the forefront of our minds will be the fact that though we left an amazing spiritual family in Dublin, we've been blessed with an equally amazing one here in Burleson.  And though we still have a lot of "getting to know you" to do, what we know for sure is that the Burleson Church of Christ is generous body of believers! - Shay  


Monday, November 16, 2015

The Lord Hears Our Cries

Like most people, I was outraged by the events in Paris on Friday evening.  It was a chilling reminder that our world is full of evil and sin.  I can’t imagine what the families and friends of those killed and maimed by these fanatics must be going through right now.  My heart and my thoughts go out to them and my prayers go up to the Father on their behalf.  But that raises the question, “How do people of faith understand such events?”  The Bible never sugarcoats the fact that we live in a broken world, full of broken people with free will who sometimes use their freedom in destructive ways that have far reaching consequences.  Innocent lives are often destroyed along the way. 

               But in the story of Job, through the book of Lamentations and the Psalms of lament, Scripture gives those struck by tragedy permission to utter raw and honest words to their Creator.  We don’t have to curb our emotions or soften our angry words in the face of human suffering.  We can be real with our God.  He’s a big boy, he can take it!  Besides, he knows how we really feel – we’re only fooling ourselves when we’re less than honest with the Father.  Psalm 88 came up this morning in my daily devotions.  It's a fitting prayer for times like these.

O Lord, God of my salvation, when, at night, I cry out in your presence, 
Let my prayer come before you; incline your ear to my cry.
For my soul is full of troubles, and my life draws near to Sheol.
I am counted among those who go down to the Pit;
I am like those who have no help, like those forsaken among the dead,
Like the slain that lie in the grave, like those whom you remember no more,
For they are cut off from your hand.
You have put me in the depths of the Pit, in the regions dark and deep.
Your wrath lies heavy upon me, and you overwhelm me with all your waves.
You have caused my companions to shun me; you have made me a thing of horror to them.
I am shut in so that I cannot escape; my eye grows dim through sorrow.
Every day I call on you, O Lord; I spread out my hands to you.
Do you work wonders for the dead?  
Do the shades rise up to praise you?
Is your steadfast love declared in the grave, or your faithfulness in Abaddon?
Are your wonders known in the darkness, or your saving help in the land of forgetfulness?
But I, O Lord, cry out to you; in the morning my prayer comes before you.
O Lord, why do you cast me off?
Why do you hide your face from me? 
Wretched and close to death from my youth up, I suffer your terrors; I am desperate.
Your wrath has swept over me; your dread assaults destroy me.
They surround me like a flood all day long; from all sides they close in on me. 
You have caused friend and neighbor to shun me; my companions are in darkness. 

               Though this psalm ends in darkness, the resurrection of Jesus and the renewal of all things in the future gives me hope to face the present, even in times of despair.  Yet, I’m well aware that until Christ returns, the already is not yet what it will someday be.  The new creation and the new age may have broken in, but God’s kingdom is still coming and God’s will is not yet fully realized on earth as it is in heaven.  Until that time, when tragedy strikes, we can turn to the Scriptures to find the words to pray, knowing that the Lord hears our cries and understands what we are going through because he’s walked in our shoes and suffered on our behalf. - Shay   

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

A Typical Small Texas Town

We've been in Burleson for nearly three months now and so I am anxious to begin to explore the surrounding cities and towns.  This past Saturday we had the opportunity to visit Granbury for the first time.  None of the three of us had ever been there.  In many ways it's a typical small Texas town with a well-maintained downtown square and county courthouse.  A small, but pretty river/lake flows through the middle of the community.  In addition to the strip mall businesses that are common to any US city, Granbury has quite a few local shops.  For such a small place, it had a number of nice restaurants and eating establishments, including a quaint German one called Ketzler's -  Above our table on the wall was a picture of Rothenburg, a small medieval city in Bavaria which happens to be the location of the annual Euro-American Family Retreat that we and our Dublin teammates (and hundreds of other friends from across Europe) attended each of the past 5 years.  The retreat is always held on the weekend before Thanksgiving, so with it being November, the whole experience Saturday brought back quite a few pleasant memories.  I'm not sure where we'll visit on our next excursion.  Maybe Dublin, TX?  That would certainly bring back some memories! - Shay


Monday, November 9, 2015

Spirit's wind, life's breath...

               Ezekiel was a prophet of the Judean exiles in Babylon more than 550 years before the time of Christ.  He ministered during an era when many had begun to question whether the God of Israel would be faithful to the promises he made to Abraham and David.  The temple in Jerusalem had been destroyed by Nebuchadnezzar, many of the people had been removed from the Promised Land, and there was no king to lead God’s people.  Could YHWH be trusted?  Was YHWH still supreme?  What would be the fate of Israel?  To answer these questions, Ezekiel was transported by the Spirit to a valley full of dry bones.  Ezekiel was asked whether or not the bones could live?  His answer: “I don’t know.”  God’s breath, his Spirit, then began to move and what happens next is nothing short of a resurrection.  I penned a poem inspired by this passage several years ago.  The first stanza went like this...

Lying in the dust, the corpse rots through and through.
There's no more life to live, there's nothing left to do.
Then the bones begin to rattle, the bones begin to shake.
The sinews and the flesh, new life begins to make.
Gasping deep, lungs expanding, Spirit's wind, life's breath.
The living God's the giving God and life has conquered death!

Ezekiel was told that the dead bones represent Israel and that God will bring them from their graves and put them back in their land.  In addition to this, he’ll put his own Spirit within them and they will live.  Though clearly metaphorical, this ancient vision helped inform the development of the Jewish theology of resurrection, which of course informed the Christian understanding of both spiritual and physical resurrection.  Our God is fully capable of, and quite frankly, anxious, to resurrect our broken lives.  Our spiritual resurrections point us to the future when the last enemy, death, will be defeated completely and God will bring our physical bodies out of our graves and into his glorious new world to live with him forever.  If our God is able to do this, then is there anything beyond his reach?  If even your decayed, rotted, mortal body can be given new breath and new life some day, then why not your present life now?  If God can raise the dead (and we know he did - Jesus), then why can't he raise you from whatever ash heap you may find yourself in spiritually?  Why not at least be as open minded as Ezekiel and say, "I don't know."?  God is a God of surprises! - Shay     

Monday, November 2, 2015

The Gift of Grace

               Grace is an amazing thing.  The older I get, the more aware I am of my continual need for it.  I need grace from my wife and daughter because I don’t always get it right as a husband or father.  I need grace from my parents and sisters because I have not always been the son or brother that God created me to be.  I need grace from my friends and neighbors because I can be a lousy friend and a bad neighbor.  And I need grace from my brothers and sisters in Christ because I’ve sometimes failed them as a minister in Christ’s church and as a fellow disciple and sojourner. 

               Thankfully, following Jesus isn’t about getting everything just right all of the time.  Following Jesus is about fixing our eyes on him, getting back up when we stumble and fall, and slowly, but surely, continuing along the way until we finally reach maturity and completeness in him.  Sure, we’re called to deny ourselves and to take up our crosses as we follow Jesus.  But even then, we often get self-denial and cross-bearing wrong.  So thank God there’s grace all along the way!  Jesus’ first disciples frequently misunderstood him, acted as stumbling blocks for him, and even denied that they ever knew him.  And yet, Jesus shared these words with them, “Truly I tell you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields, for my sake and for the sake of the good news, who will not receive a hundredfold now in this age – houses, brothers and sisters, mothers and children, and fields, with persecutions – and in the age to come eternal life.” (Mark 10:29-30).  As I inadequately continue to follow the path that Jesus tread, I’m reminded that I need to be willing to extend grace to others because I’ve received so much grace from so many, especially Jesus.  From whom have you received grace?  To whom do you need to extend it? - Shay        

Monday, October 12, 2015

Transformation Takes Time

            We live in an instant society.  It seems like an already fast-paced world is getting faster and faster by the day.  Boredom with just about everything is on the rise.  If we have to wait for anything, it’s just not worth it.  In such a world, patience is a much needed virtue.    

            In our spiritual lives, patience is even more important.  The reality for all of us is that spiritual maturity and transformation takes time.  It’s a process.  By just adding (boiling) water you can make instant oatmeal, but in the life of the Christian it isn’t so simple.  Some have mistakenly assumed that after rising from the waters of baptism and beginning their new life in Christ everything will be perfect and there won’t be any hiccups along the way.  Eventually reality comes along and blows this misunderstanding to shreds.  It becomes easy to lose patience with others, and especially ourselves.  Becoming conformed to the image of Christ is a long and slow process for the most diligent follower of Jesus.  For a slow learner like me, it has at times proven to be especially frustrating.

            But thankfully Jesus is especially patient.  He spent three years with 12 knucklehead disciples and not once did he give up on them.  Sure, he occasionally let them know that he was frustrated with their lack of understanding, but he continued to touch their lives until his teaching sunk in.  We can be sure that though we so often get it wrong, as long as we continue to stumble and crawl behind our master we will eventually begin to resemble the one we follow.  Patience is a virtue and thankfully Jesus has plenty of it!  - Shay

Unclean Dogs

               We see them every day.  We pass them on the street, in the grocery store aisle, in the halls at school and at work.  We don’t refer to them as dogs, but sometimes we might treat them as such.  We may not call them unclean, but sometimes we’re unwilling to touch them.  They’re the marginalized, the ostracized, the outcasts, the leftovers, and the left-outs.  They’re the worldly, immoral, irresponsible, and irredeemable.  Or are they?

               When we pass by a mirror from time to time, we’re reminded that we not only used to live like them, we were them.  Sometimes we still are them.  But sometimes we forget.  We forget that though they may seem like unclean dogs, like us, they’re people made in God’s image and in need of the forgiveness and healing that only Jesus can bring.  

               The good news for them and for us is that Jesus doesn’t merely heal us, he transforms us as we move through death into new life.  In Mark chapter 5 Jesus essentially resurrects a man who had been enduring nothing short of a living death.  Later in that chapter he heals a woman who had lived in an unclean state for 12 years.  At the end of Mark 5, Jesus speaks words of life to a little girl who had tragically died at the age of 12.  She’s resurrected and the unclean stain of death is removed.  When one reads ahead to Mark chapter 7, the theme of uncleanness is again brought to the fore.  As the Pharisees and scribes argue with Jesus about ritual purity and uncleanness, Jesus gets to the heart of the matter and reminds us that our inward lives have far more to do with our unclean states than our physical hygiene.  Then he speaks words of grace to an unclean Gentile woman.  Through these stories we’re reminded that though we all were once unclean, we can be made clean through God’s power initiated through the gospel of Jesus Christ! - Shay

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

12 Years a Slave

I love to try and identify with characters in the Biblical narrative.  After reading through Mark 5:21-43, I wrote the following.  One might describe it as the gospel according to Jairus and an unnamed woman whom we will affectionately call Martha.

The Gospel According to Martha
My name is Martha and I can still remember the month it happened.  It was like any other month, maybe just a bit heavier than usual, but nothing to be alarmed about.  I did what I would usually do – what I was required to do by the Law of Moses.  I kept myself separate and I made sure that I didn’t touch anyone or anything that might cause someone else to become unclean.  But at the end of the week, my period didn’t stop.  It seemed like it would get lighter, but then, it would come back heavy.  It went like this for days and days.  I began to get worried.  I was in my unclean state for weeks and so I began to see healers, physicians, anyone who could help me.  I spent all I had trying to be cured, but I never got any better, I only got worse.  I never could have imagined that this ailment, this affliction would stay with me for months, even years.  I struggled so much just to have enough energy to get through the day.  No matter how much I would eat, I always felt weak.  And isolated.  I got so lonely.  I gave up on ever trying to have a husband.  No man in his right mind would ever want to marry me.  They would be unclean, unable to live a normal life, unable to have children, or even be able to enjoy making love to their wife.  Eventually, after a few years, I learned to accept my status as an outsider, as one unclean -   unable to worship at the temple and unable to be in normal fellowship with the rest of my countrymen and women.  For 12 long years, this was my reality.  I was a slave, 12 years a slave, until…

The Gospel According to Jairus
My name is Jairus and I will never forget the day my little girl was born.  I was so proud!  She was my firstborn – my only child.  My wife and I wanted other sons and daughters, but she was the only one that God had seen fit to give us.  But, oh, did we love her.  Our nickname for her was Talitha – little girl.  Even as she grew older, we affectionately called her by this name.  She was a daddy’s girl, though she loved her momma too and wanted to be just like her.  Sometimes, I would take her with me to the Synagogue as I would prepare for our worship the day before the Sabbath.  I also remember taking her on walks along the shore at the sea.  We would walk along the rocky beaches, taking time to skip rocks or wade out into the shallows.  As she got older, I could see that she was becoming more and more like her mom.  She was beautiful.  I'll never forget the day she got sick.  It wasn’t long after her 12th birthday.  She had complained of a headache that morning and a few hours later, she collapsed in our kitchen.  We took her into the back room of our home and tried to cool her fevered body with wet rags.  Nothing seemed to work.  We tried to give her every herb and every medicinal concoction that we could find, but she only got worse.  And then it hit me.  I had heard of a miracle worker, a rabbi from Nazareth who had become famous across Galilee for his healing abilities.  In fact, once, when Talitha and I were out on one of our seaside walks, we had witnessed a crowd who had gathered to hear him teach.  The crowd was so large he had got into a boat and floated out on the water to give himself some room.  I knew that he frequently crossed the sea.  In fact, some of his disciples were fisherman, so maybe if I went down by the shore I could find him.  Maybe, just maybe he would be able to do something!

According to Martha
I saw the crowd swarming him down by the sea as he climbed out of the boat.  But then, he paused.  In the middle of this mass of humanity, a man had fallen at Jesus’ feet and seemed to be desperately begging him for something.  Jesus lifted the man up and began to follow him.  The crowd also pressed in and went with them.  I struggled to catch up and as I wedged my way in-between the people a thought crossed my mind.  “This rabbi is so godly, so righteous, so full of God’s power, that if I only touch his clothes, then God will heal me through that single touch.”  I anxiously approached, weaving my way through the herd, until finally, I was able to reach out and skim the edge of his cloak with my fingertips.  I immediately felt a feeling I hadn’t had for 12 years.  My bleeding stopped and I felt a rush of energy cascade through my body.  I was healed!  But before I could make my way out of the crowd, Jesus turned around and shouted, “Who touched my clothes?”  What was I to do?  I was so afraid.  Maybe I shouldn’t have gone about things this way?  I had hoped to make a quiet escape, to draw no attention to myself, but it was obvious that Jesus realized that power had left him.  He wanted to know who had been healed and though I was scared to death, I slowly pushed my way through the people and fell down at his feet and told him everything.  With a tear in his eye and the sound of hope in his voice he simply said, “Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace, and be healed of your disease.”  For 12 long years I had been a slave to my bleeding womb.  What God had designed to be an instrument of life, for me had become an instrument of death, until - until that day when I reached out to Jesus and he spoke those words of life.

According to Jairus

“Jesus, I know that if you will just come and lay your hands on my little girl, she’ll be healed, she’ll live.”  Those were the words I uttered as I fell on my face and begged Jesus to come and do something for my dying daughter.  Jesus immediately went with me, no questions asked - he just agreed and followed me.  I didn’t even notice the large crowd that was following us as we hurriedly made our way to my home, until – until Jesus all of the sudden froze.  He spun around and shouted “Who touched my clothes?”  “What’s going on?” I thought.  Why is he stopping?  Doesn’t he know my daughter will die if we don’t get there soon!  Jesus and his disciples seemed to be arguing about something and then a woman fell down at Jesus’ feet and began to timidly tell him how for 12 years she had lived in a state of uncleanness, bleeding, living in isolation, but that now, after having touched his clothes she was free from her affliction.  While Jesus responded to the woman, all I could do was think about my 12 year old daughter who laid dying in our home.  And then I saw them approaching us - some of the local professional mourners.  They had already begun to gather at our house.  That could only mean one thing.  Our little Talitha had died.  They confirmed the bad news and told us that Jesus shouldn’t be bothered any longer.  There’s nothing that could be done now.  Our girl who had emerged from the womb only 12 years prior would soon enter the cold dark womb of a tomb.  Death had stung.  Death had won. 

But Jesus turned back towards me, overhearing the mourners’ lamentation.  He grabbed me by the shoulders and looked me in my tear-filled eyes and said, “Do not fear, only believe!”  Then he motioned for me and three of his disciples to follow him.  When we arrived at the house, the professional mourners were in full flight.  They were weeping, wailing, hollering, and screaming.  What a production they were putting on!  But Jesus calmly eyed the scene and confidently said, “Why are you making such a commotion?  The child isn’t dead, she’s just asleep.”  Even professionals sometimes slip up.  They went from crying for my daughter to laughing at Jesus.  I didn’t know what to think at this point – was I to hope or was I to fear?  I feared the worst and hoped for the best as Jesus dismissed the mourners and took my wife and his disciples in to see our lifeless little girl.  Jesus gently grasped her hand and softly spoke the words, “Talitha cum – little girl, get up.”  Talitha gasped for breath, opened her eyes, and began to walk around the room.  My little girl was alive!  For 12 short years, I had raised my daughter, expecting that one day she would be married and have children of her own.  But death had come and done its worst and for a moment, my hopes and dreams were shattered.  I had lost my only daughter and the hopes of grandchildren had vanished as well.  Until…until he took her by the hand and he spoke those words of life. - Shay

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Celebrate Good Times

Everyone likes a party!  Well, maybe not everyone, but most of the people I know enjoy a good party from time to time.  Jesus certainly liked to party.  Throughout his ministry, Jesus was constantly in other people’s homes, sharing food, drinking wine, and celebrating the goodness of God’s creation.  But that’s not the only reason Jesus liked to celebrate.  He was also initiating the in-breaking of God’s Kingdom.  Through writings like those found in Isaiah, God’s people had looked forward to a time when YHWH would act decisively on behalf of Israel to bring his reign and rule to the ends of the earth.  Isaiah 25:6-9 says, “On this mountain the Lord of hosts will make for all peoples a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wines, of rich food filled with marrow, of well-aged wines strained clear.  And he will destroy on this mountain the shroud that is cast over all peoples, the sheet that is spread over all nations; he will swallow up death forever.  Then the Lord God will wipe away the tears from all faces, and the disgrace of his people he will take away from all the earth, for the Lord has spoken.  It will be said on that day, Lo, this is our God; we have waited for him, so that he might save us.  This is the Lord for whom we have waited; let us be glad and rejoice in his salvation.”  In his ministry, especially when he ate and drank with others, Jesus was signaling that this long awaited day had finally dawned.

God’s Kingdom has broken in on our world through the life, ministry, death, and resurrection of Christ.  And as we await the final consummation of that Kingdom, we, like Jesus, would do well to celebrate what God has already done, what he is presently doing, and what he will finally do in the future to bring all things to completion.  Like Jesus did, one of the best ways to point people to the reality of the Kingdom of God is to celebrate and have a party.  On Saturday, October 3 from 6-8 pm, the Burleson Church of Christ will welcome our friends and neighbors to celebrate God’s work in our world.  Hopefully we will point those who join us to the good life that can be found through our King Jesus! - Shay

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Reached Out and Touched Him

I'm teaching the gospel of Mark on Wednesday evenings here at our new congregation, Burleson Church of Christ.  We're beginning (fittingly) with chapter one tomorrow evening.  At the end of the chapter there's a story that's become one of my favorites in Mark's account of Jesus' life.  Here's my paraphrase of the event and some reflections.

A social and religious outcast - a leper - approached Jesus and fell on his face and cried out, "If you choose, you can heal me."  Moved with compassion, Jesus not only healed the man, but also reached out and touched him, saying, "I do choose.  You're cleansed."  At once the disease was gone and the leper lost his outsider status.  Jesus warned him not to tell anyone, but to do what the law required so that he might be welcomed back into normal life and society.  But the man couldn't keep this good news to himself and as the message spread, Jesus was increasingly forced to avoid urban areas.  But even out in the country, people traveled to see him.

We can empathize with the leper in this story.  Maybe we know what it's like to be a social outcast.  Or maybe we've suffered from a chronic condition or a serious, lingering illness.  All of us know what it's like to be separated from our God.  We've all had moments where we ask, with hesitation, for Jesus to at least consider cleansing us of our sins.  When we finally have reached the point where we realize that we'll never be able to clean ourselves up, we fall on our faces and we say those words, "if you choose...Jesus, you can make me clean."

Just as in this story, we can be sure that Jesus' response is always, "I do choose.  Be made clean!"  Our God is a God who loves the unlovable and touches the untouchable.  He's not concerned with our sin, our brokenness, our disease somehow infecting him, rather his healing and cleansing power is contagious and infectious - spreading and transforming every single fiber of our being until we've become holy, like him.  He has compassion for us and will not stop his work in us until it's brought to completion.  This is good news - good news that penetrates our hearts, and good news that's meant to be shared. - Shay  

Thursday, August 20, 2015

A Day I Won't Soon Forget

Although I haven't officially started as the Associate Minister at Burleson Church of Christ, I had the opportunity to join the rest of the ministry staff in an incredibly cool activity today.  Beginning at 9 AM we loaded up a U-Haul truck with nearly 200 boxes of copy paper and distributed them to every single campus of the Burleson Independent School District.  We hit every elementary, middle, high, and alternative campus in the city and left them with several boxes each.  It may not seem like we gave them much, but for whatever reason, the teachers never seem to have enough copy paper and often end up having to pay for paper out of their own pockets.  It was almost as if Christmas came early as we wheeled the boxes into the schools.  The paper was provided by excess funds raised by BCOC's annual day of thanks and giving.  The congregation raised nearly $300,000 on a single Sunday last November.  Every single penny raised goes to some worthy cause beyond the walls of the church and no small chunk of this change went towards the reams of paper provided today.  What a generous congregation of people!

Before we left each campus we asked the administrators if it would be okay for us to pray for them, the faculty, the staff, and the students.  Every single administrator obliged us and some even invited their entire staff to join us for the prayer.  It was a really cool moment to get to ask the Lord to bless the teachers where Ashlyn will be attending school this year.  This evening Juli, Ashlyn, and I had the opportunity to meet Ashlyn's Kindergarten teacher at the school orientation.  I was thankful that I had had the chance to pray for her earlier in the day even though I had never met her.  Now I'll be sure to pray for her by name.  I may not have "officially" begun in my new role yet, but there's no doubt that this will be a day I won't soon forget.  Plus, if I'm ever looking for a career change, I can maybe get a job with Dunder Mifflin! - Shay    

Monday, August 10, 2015

3,350 Miles Later

Six weeks ago tomorrow, the Smith family landed in Kansas City, MO.  We're presently still in the KC area, but over the last six weeks we've driven over 3,350 miles across the Midwest and Southwest of the US.  In that time we've visited friends and family, debriefed regarding the Dublin mission with our home church in Austin, interviewed with a couple of churches in West and North Texas and have finally settled on a new place to live, work, and serve the Lord.  On August 30 I will "officially" start work as the Associate Minister at the Burleson Church of Christ.  We're moving to Burleson (15 miles south of downtown Fort Worth) this Friday and Ashlyn starts school on Monday, August 24. After living out of suitcases the past 40 plus days it will be nice to finally get settled into a place of our own.  We've made it our life's goal to serve Christ and his church and to work to see the Kingdom of God grow wherever we've happened to live the past 13 years.  After 8 years in Austin and 5 years in Dublin, Ireland, we can't wait to get started on this new adventure! - Shay

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Literal Journeys or Just the Metaphorical Kinds

We've been back home in the States for a little over a week and it still feels like we're on holiday (oh, I mean vacation - I need to quit using phrases like toilet instead of restroom and cheers instead of thank you).  I don't think our move and transition has quite sunk in.  I'm not sure if that's something that happens overnight or if just gradually occurs over time.  I'm guessing the latter, but we'll just have to wait and see. 

We spent the 4th of July weekend with Juli's family in Oklahoma and then made our way down to the ATX (Austin, TX) a couple of days ago.  We're presently enjoying time with our dear friends and former colleagues, Roger and Mary Beth McCown and the larger Brentwood Oaks Church of Christ family.  These people in Austin mean so much to us and we are forever in their debt for all they've done for us the past 13 years.

I've worn my emotions on my sleeve a little more than I typically do the past few weeks and I'm sure that will continue for the next few as I continue to process all that I've witnessed God do in the lives of our loved ones back in Ireland.  Our family has forever been changed for the better by our experiences these past 5 years.  I can confidently say that the last 5 years of my life have been both the best and some of the hardest.  It's been a half decade I'll never forget.  But we're looking forward to the next chapter in our lives as well.  We are certain that it was time for us to return home and we want to continue to love Jesus, follow him, and share his love with those around us wherever God leads us next.  

One thing I've been reminded of since 2010 is that God always sojourns with his people.  In fact, the Biblical narrative is one of an unsettled people journeying home.  So whether our sojourns include literal journeys, or just the metaphorical kinds, we can be certain that as Jesus promised us, he will never leave us or forsake us.  He'll go with us to the very end of the age. - Shay 

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

A New Adventure Begins

I've always enjoyed sharing the things I love with other people.  If I find a great new restaurant, I want to let people know.  If I've seen an amazing new film, I want to spread the word.  If I've discovered a cool underground band, I try to do my part to get them heard by a wider audience.  And if I've had the chance to visit somewhere nice, I want others to do the same.

For the past 5 years, Ireland has become a home, not just a place we've dropped in to see.  In fact, I would guess Juli, Ashlyn, and I have seen more of this little island than most of its born and bred residents.  There are some stunning areas of natural beauty dotted with towns and villages that are the definition of quaintness.  So it's with great pleasure that we will welcome my sister Misty and 3 of her 4 children (her oldest son, Nathan, visited last summer) tomorrow morning.  My parents are flying in today, but they've already been here before, so it won't be quite the unveiling that awaits the Boyles.  We hope to take in most of Ireland's rugged and wild coast land as well some of its inland jewels.  For Juli, Ashlyn, and me, it will be a nice way to say goodbye to the Garden of Eden of the North Atlantic.  20 more days and then a new adventure begins. - Shay

Monday, June 1, 2015

Very Fond of Each One of Us

I just finished reading The Shack by William P. Young for the second time.  I found the story more compelling and the theology even richer this go around.  I didn't have a child when I first read the book, but now that my daughter Ashlyn is around the same age of the tragic girl Missy, I had to work hard to not empathize too much with the protagonist, Mack.  I can't imagine what it must be like to experience that kind of loss.  But we all know that someone somewhere suffers immensely every single day.  One of the big issues raised in the book is how people of faith come to grips with the tragedies and injustices of life.  Where is God in natural disasters?  Why does he sometimes intervene in the face of human evil, whereas other times he restrains himself?  A lot of other theological issues get analyzed in the course of the narrative, but I'll let you read it (or reread it) yourself.  One thing that stands out more than anything else in the book is that we have a God who is very fond of each one of us.  We were made for  relationship with this God and one day, though not always evident from our point of view, the seemingly senseless stuff of our world will finally make sense.  Amen. - Shay   

Thursday, May 21, 2015


Forty is a very Biblical number.  It rained 40 days and 40 nights during the flood.  The children of Israel spent 40 years wandering around the wilderness.  David reigned as King for 40 years.  After his baptism, Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wild to fast for 40 days before he began his ministry.  Usually, 40 was representative of the complete and total time an event lasted, whether or not it was literally and exactly 40 days or years. 

Our family has 40 days left in Ireland.  For us it is literally 40 days until we complete the entirety of our sojourn on this little green isle.  A lot can happen in 40 years or even 40 days.  Lord, make it rain, but not literally! - Shay

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Get Real

On Thursday evenings, a number of Dubs (and wannabe Dubs...I am one) have been getting together in a local coffee shop to read and discuss the first epistle of John.  In this beautiful, spiraling prose that borders on poetry, the author keeps stressing that faith in Jesus Christ is grounded in the reality of God's Son taking on a real flesh and blood body in the man Yeshua of Nazareth.  The writer of this epistle is battling an early form of Gnosticism which denied certain, if not all aspects of the incarnation.  This ancient heresy claimed that true spirituality is found through non-material means, most explicitly realized in a special form of knowledge (gnosis is the Greek word for knowledge, hence the term Gnosticism).  This teaching was elitist and led to divisions in the Christian community.  It's emphasis on the ethereal had the tendency to disengage its practitioners from the realities of life in one extreme direction, while allowing unhindered moral license in another (if the material world doesn't count then what one does with one's body is inconsequential).  Neither of these two extremes properly expressed the ethos of the Christian faith and by denying the foundational tenets of life in Jesus, the Gnostics had cut themselves off from the very source of true spirituality.  John rightly described them as "antichrists".

I've heard that there are a few Gnostic churches springing up in our modern world.  I find this disturbing, but not surprising.  Over the past few years I've met a number of people who embrace neo-gnostic philosophies when it comes to spirituality.  But I also think our present world is in danger of disengaging from reality as much, if not more than the ancient gnostics in other areas of life.  For instance, how often do people miss out on meaningful conversation and relationship with the person(s) sitting right in front of them?  It's not uncommon to walk down the busy city streets in Dublin and pass dozens of people who are glued to their smartphones while (sort of) navigating other pedestrians and traffic.  Many of the cars these people are dodging have drivers who are just as preoccupied with their mobile devises.  As dangerous as this may be from a purely physical perspective, it poses even more social and spiritual risks to our society.  The Matrix was prophetic, but instead of people being unaware that they're "plugged in", many are simply voluntarily signing up for a life of (virtual) reality.  But I can't keep from thinking that this (un)real life isn't as rich and fulfilling as it could be.

First John provides some answers for us I believe.  The theme of the entire letter is summed up in 4:7-12, "Beloved, let us love one another, because love is from God; everyone who loves is born of God and knows God.  Whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love.  God's love was revealed among us in this way: God sent his only Son into the world so that we might live through him.  In this is love, not that we loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins.  Beloved, since God loved us so much, we also ought to love one another.  No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God lives in us, and his love is perfected in us."

It all begins and ends in God - it all begins and ends in love.  How is God love?  In his very being, he exists in loving relationship: Father, Son, and Spirit.  We as humanity are made in his image - made for loving relationship.  God so loved us that despite our sin and brokenness, he entered into the mess of human reality.  He not only made us in his image, he took on our image in the real life man, Jesus of Nazareth.  Those who embrace this Jesus and choose to live life through him have the opportunity to not only receive the love of God, but to pour that love out to others.  This requires us to live and engage with life the way that Jesus did - to get down and dirty; to get real.  It's not easy.  Sometimes it would be nicer to escape to the various worlds floating out there in cyberspace.  But just as true life wasn't found in the ethereal world of the Gnostics, but in the tangible day to day encounters of people expressing love for one another in action, so the abundant life promised by Jesus, I believe, more often is manifested in our day to day encounters with real people and (un-virtual) reality than through the online world.  I pray Christ's body will embrace the opportunity to offer an alternative lifestyle to the world around us.  Let's get real! - Shay

Tuesday, May 12, 2015


In exactly 7 weeks from today our family will be boarding a plane bound for home.  I didn't begin to actively keep up with the amount of time we have left in Ireland until a few weeks ago.  Now it's hard not to think about it.  I've always tried to be fully present wherever I'm at, but at the same time, I've always been a dreamer with a heavy dose of hope and optimism thrown in for good measure. 

Not only am I beginning to imagine a future back home in the States, the past few weeks have provided  me with the opportunity to look back on our time in Ireland.  I've had the opportunity to do a lot of reflection lately.  It's been said that we live our lives going forward, but we understand them looking backwards.  I think there's a lot of truth in that and in fact, I think we are far more prepared for the future when we have a good perspective on the past.

So over the next 7 weeks as I engage with people in Bible study, theological reflection, and in communal worship, I'll be balancing the past, present, and future.  I am so thankful that we have a God who is fully present to us in all three of those arenas. - Shay 

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Walking Around the City

It's been a long wet winter, but suddenly Spring has sprung in Dublin over the last couple of weeks.  In my free time I've been walking around the city (and beyond), soaking up the sun.  I don't think its an accident that Easter/Passover happens each year as winter dies and summer draws ever-so-nearer.  The in-between time is simply gorgeous; full of hope, life, and dreams about the future.  About ten days ago I was due in Dundrum for a Bible study at 7:30, so I decided to walk from Raheny, rather than take the car or public transport.  I walked most of the way back too, nearly 20 miles total, and I would have walked 500 more if I had had the light and a slightly stronger right knee (my old school injuries sometimes come back to haunt me).  We have less than 75 days left in Dublin, but I plan to make the most of them in the meantime.  Here are some reflections from my walk the other day.

This Glorious Spring Day 

With the sun moving briskly towards its apex in the sky, I saunter down, the Howth road into town,
     taking a long-cut through the park to the Clontarf coast;
Near St. Anne's and the sea.
With glorious solar beams shining radiant rays - radiating smiles on faces, walking to and from 
A fair view through Fairview, a cut through Connally to the docks;
Descending on the city centre and then over to the canal.
Two Polish lads sipping Tyskie by the calm running water.
The leaves on the trees trying to bud - striving, yearning to bloom, churning towards eruption;
Not long to come.
Spring is bursting with life, oozing fertility.
The sun burning down on the well-worn path,
My feet treking to the cadence, to the beat of the music in my ears;
The wandering of my mind,
Not knowing what I'm searching for, not sure of what I'll find.  
Round the bend to Ranelagh, then down to Dundrum.
The Dublin Mountains inching ever closer with each foot, with each step taken.
I'm soaking up the sun - addicted to its rays like so much coffee, so much caffeine coursing through 
     my veins.
I don't want to stop - don't want to reign in my emotions;
Don't  want to put a full stop or a comma or a semi-colon on this glorious Spring day - 
Don't let it fade, don't let it go away... 
                                                                       - Shay 



Tuesday, March 10, 2015

The Poetry of Faith

I don't see life in black and white, that would be too dull.  I prefer to see life and all its complexities in a hundred shades of various colors; in different hues and tints.  It's far richer and warmer that way - brimming with hope and possibility.  But some of the colors are angry and some are depressing.  Some are so frustratingly difficult we may struggle to even identify them.  Due to the Scandinavian blood pulsing through my veins, in many areas of life I would prefer things to be neat and tidy.  But similar to the pictures Ashlyn brings home from school, life's colors run over the lines and the marks are rough and jagged - like so much modern art.  Faith doesn't remove one from all of life's chaos and contradictions, it engages life in the midst of all the mess.  Faith is much more like poetry than prose.  I began sketching the ideas for the following while sitting in a hospital in Germany back in November.

The Poetry of Faith

The poetry of faith...
Asking the inconvenient questions.
Not settling for the all-too-obvious answers,
Because not everything happens for a reason.
If it all made perfect sense, where would the sense of wonder be?
Is to lose that which you never knew still a loss?
For some things in life there should never be a season.
There's a place where free-will, love, and evil collide -'s messy. 
 - Shay


Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Baptism: A Believer's Response to the Gospel

Some friends and I gathered at O'Neill's in Dublin last night for our weekly chat about faith and life and how those things intersect (and sometimes collide).  Last night's discussion centered on the topic of Christian baptism.  There are a variety of positions, theories, theologies, etc. regarding all things Christian and baptism is no exception.  Because we're living on the backside of 2,000 years of church history, there's a lot of confusion about this topic.  The easiest way to cut through the confusion is to go back to the earliest sources of information, namely the New Testament itself.  The scriptural witness of baptism, its mode and its meaning is quite extensive.  Here are a few examples of baptismal teaching:  

Matt 3:13-17 & 28:16-20; John 3:1-18; Acts 2:29-47 & 22:6-21; Rom 6:1-14; 1 Cor 12:12-13; Gal 3:23-4:7; Eph 2:1-10, 4:1-5:27; Col 2:8-3:17; Titus 3:3-8; 1 Pet 3:13-22.

But any discussion of Christian baptism obviously begins with Christ himself.  Without the Son of God humbly incarnating himself in the man Jesus, living a complete and faithful life in full obedience to God the Father, dying an undeserved, yet completely effective (to deal with the sins of the world) death on the cross, and then through the power of the Spirit defeating death by rising to new bodily life on the third day, any talk about baptism is meaningless.  But the man Jesus was and is the Son of God, died and rose again, so a discussion of the meaning of Christian baptism is worthwhile indeed. 

The reason that Christian baptism is a worthwhile discussion is because from the earliest days of the church, baptism was the normative way in which individuals, and often, groups of people responded to the proclamation of the gospel.  It was never perceived as a work to be done nor as something that merited anything on behalf of the one submitting to it, but rather was seen as the means by which one accepts God’s gracious gift of the forgiveness of sins and the indwelling of his Holy Spirit.  It was the moment when one began the new life of Christian discipleship and it was the point in time when that individual was added to Christ’s body, the church, the new Israel, the people of God.  One might say that we are saved by grace through faith and that this process begins at baptism.  It certainly doesn’t end there.  It ends (or begins again in a radically new way) in the new creation when God brings all things to completion and makes all things new. 

God is a gracious God.  He graciously forgives his children for their sins and so it is reasonable to assume that he also forgives us for our doctrinal misunderstandings as well.  Due to 2,000 years of sometimes poor baptismal (as well as other doctrinal) teaching, many sincere believers are genuinely confused about the meaning of and the importance of believer's baptism.  When Paul reminds his readers about faith, hope, and love, he’s quick to remind them that the greatest of these is love.  This is important for us to remember, because in the modern Christian world there are many areas in which sincere believers have honest disagreements and in a variety of ways we all have massive misunderstandings.  As we seek to better understand our faith, thank God for his grace along the way.  And as we come to a greater awareness of God’s will, may he grant us all the humility to submit to his word in our lives. - Shay