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 d├ęcor 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