Monday, December 26, 2016

Questions?

Though we may sometimes tire of formulating the answers, we are often forced to consider what we believe and why we believe it, when asked both simple and profound questions by our children.  Really, no question should be off limits when contemplating the cosmos.  It's a shame when adults loose the curiosity so common in a child.  We should all desire to ask questions.  That's what theology seeks to do -  to ask the questions that might lead to the answers, or that might lead to the understanding that some questions can't be answered in this life.  As Anselm of Canterbury put it: theology is faith seeking understanding.  I believe that there's so much more to our world and our reality than what immediately lies at the surface.  I think most people believe this as well.  Unfortunately, in a world full of distractions, and some of them quite amazing, many don't take the time to ask the questions that might lead to ultimate answers.  Here are some questions that came to my mind on Christmas Eve.  I believe that the answer to all of these questions arrived in the most unexpected of ways some 2,000 years ago in Bethlehem. 

Questions?

Are we just an insignificant dot of light - a cosmic amalgamation of dust and debris spinning around an average star in an average galaxy?
Will any of this matter in a million, or a billion, or a trillion years when the universe is shred to bits and pieces; gradually torn a part into a cold nothingness?
Are we just an accident of mindless atoms colliding randomly - creating the illusion of structure, purpose, and meaning?  Creating even the illusion of personhood?
Is this just an act - a charade - a put on of the grandest scale - one big universal joke?  Could such a joke be any more cruel?
Is there really any purpose and meaning to any of this?  
Or is this long march of history really nothing more substantial than the latest "tweet" or an episode of reality TV?
Do black lives, white lives, brown lives - do any lives really matter?
Is this something, really nothing?
Or; is there something more? - Shay 
 

Thursday, December 22, 2016

What's In A Name?


          According to “Babycenter.com”, Sophia, Emma, and Olivia were the three most popular girl’s names given in 2016.  The most popular boy’s names were Jackson, Aiden, and Lucas.

          What’s in a name?  Do our names mean anything?  Do they in some ways define us?  Do they reveal something of our charcter?  Why did your parents name you what they named you?  Why did you give your children their names? 

          I was named after the now defunct Shea Stadium in New York City.  My dad just liked the sound of the name.  But they changed the spelling of it to “Shay” with an “a” “y” instead of an “e” “a”, so that my uncle wouldn’t call me “Shee-a”. 

          We “Americanized” the Irish name “Aisling” to “Ashlyn” when our daughter was born in 2009.  We discovered that her name means “dream” in Irish, but that’s not why we named her Ashlyn.

          A lot of people name their children after relatives or famous people.  And some people still name their children based on the meaning of the name or for some other symbolic reason. 

          Names were also very important in the Bible.  God told the prophet Isaiah to name his children for specific symbolic purposes.  One son was to be called Shear-Jashub which means “a remnant shall return”.  Another child was given the name Maher-shalal-hash-baz, meaning “spoil speeds, prey hastes”.  Can you imagine the bullying you’d get at school with a name like that?
         But the most famous of the sign children in Isaiah, is of course the son who was to be called Immanuel, meaning “God with us”.  In the original context of Isaiah’s prophesy, this was to be the name of either one of Isaiah’s sons, or possibly, one of King Ahaz’s sons.  The child was to be a sign of God’s continual presence with his people. 


Why did God’s people, Judah, and specifically, King Ahaz need to be reassured of God’s presence with them?  Because King Rezin of Syria and King Pekah of Israel were plotting an attack on Jerusalem to depose Ahaz and place another king on the throne.  We’re told in the early part of Isaiah 7 that when Ahaz and his people learned of this plot, they were “shaking as the trees of the forest shake before the wind.”  They needed to know that their God would be with them in this crisis.

The word of the Lord from Isaiah 7:10-16.  “Again the Lord spoke to Ahaz, saying, ‘Ask a sign of the Lord your God; let it be deep as Sheol or high as heaven.’  But Ahaz said, ‘I will not ask, and I will not put the Lord to the test.’  Then Isaiah said: ‘Hear then, O house of David!  Is it too little for you to weary mortals, that you weary my God also?  Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign.  Look, the young woman is with child and shall bear a son, and shall name him Immanuel.  He shall eat curds and honey by the time he knows how to refuse the evil and choose the good.  For before the child knows how to refuse the evil and choose the good, the land before whose two kings you are in dread will be deserted.” 

Essentially, God’s message to Ahaz is that very soon, the land of Syria and the land of Ephraim will be deserted and they will no longer pose a threat to Ahaz and the people of Judah.  By the time the soon to be born child, Immanuel, is weaned from his mother’s breast, God’s promise will be fulfilled.  And because the child’s name is Immanuel, (“God with us”), they can be sure that their God will be with them, even as they face this crisis.

Throughout the centuries, God has always journeyed with his people.  He has never deserted them – he has never forsaken them.  When God’s people cry out to him, he hears them and he rescues them -  he saves them.  At the dawn of the first century of our era, God comes to his people again, but in the most unexpected of ways.  Matthew’s gospel tells the story like this.

“Now the birth of Jesus the Messiah took place in this way.  When his mother Mary had been engaged to Joseph, but before they lived together, she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit.  Her husband Joseph, being a righteous man and unwilling to expose her to public disgrace, planned to dismiss her quietly.  But just when he had resolved to do this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, ‘Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife, for the child conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit.  She will bear a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.’  All this took place to fulfill what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet: ‘Look, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall name him Emmanuel,’ which means, ‘God is with us.’  When Joseph awoke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him; he took her as his wife, but had no marital relations with her until she had borne a son; and he named him Jesus.” (Matthew 1:18-25).

If the names of the children in Isaiah reveal to us the nature and purposes of God, how much more do these two names reveal?  Jesus, which is the Greek version of the Hebrew name Joshua, or God saves, reminds us of God’s continual deliverance of his people.  Joshua led God’s people into the Promised Land, but how much more does Jesus lead his people into the ultimate Promised Land – the new creation in the age to come! 

And if the child Immanuel in Isaiah’s time had pointed God’s people to his continuing presence with them, how much more is God’s presence realized as God the Son takes on human flesh and moves into the neighborhood (to quote Eugene Peterson)!  In the person of Jesus of Nazareth, God is truly with us.  

God’s modus operandi throughout time has been deliverance, salvation, and presence.  God rescues us for the sake of relationship, and he converts us for the sake of communion.  Jesus is the climax of the story of God and his people – he is God with his people!  These two names, Jesus and Immanuel reveal so much about the man from Nazareth.  And the man from Nazareth, in turn, reveals so much of the God of Israel – the God of the world. 

On Sunday, many in our world will celebrate the birth of Jesus.  We join them in this celebration.  But we also remember that his birth eventually led to his death and his death to his resurrection and exaltation.  We’re reminded of the early Christian hymn that says, “God also highly exalted him and gave him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” (Phil 2:9-11).
So, wherever we’re at in our journey through life – even if we’re in the midst of a crisis – we can be sure that God will deliver us and rescue us through Jesus.  And let us not forget that God’s presence isn’t just promised at the beginning of Matthew’s gospel, but also at the end.  Jesus’ final words are, “And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”  God remains with us.  May we remain with him. - Shay

Saturday, December 3, 2016

One's Own Sense of Worth

Doing ministry for your full-time job can be dangerous.  I'm not talking about those brave men and women who risk their lives in far-flung places selflessly laying it all on the line in order to bring good news to those in darkness.  They face a kind of danger that many of us pray we never face.  I'm referring to a more subtle, but spiritually speaking, a potentially far more deadly danger.  Maybe the biggest threat to a minister's life and ministry is the minister himself.  One's own sense of worth is often derived from the work that one does, and this can be extremely dangerous for those employed by churches.  Pride is probably the nastiest of sins and a deadly enemy for any believer, but I believe it can be especially damning for members of the clergy.  I've fought this sin all of my life and I have become increasingly aware of it the past decade or so as I've made Christian ministry my life's vocation.

But one of the things that has helped me to have a more realistic picture of myself is to look around me at all the ways that God is at work through my brothers and sisters in Christ, most of whom are not dependent on the church for their source of income (they in fact are the source of income for people like myself).  When I see dozens upon dozens of my fellow sojourners offering their bodies as living sacrifices, often going unnoticed in the process, I'm reminded that God's kingdom is built upon the foundation of humble servants who quietly and consistently demonstrate the love of the Lord and their neighbor, not expecting anything in return.  Sure, vocational ministers like myself have a role to play in Christ's church, and we should seek to play our parts well.  But anytime we begin to place a higher value on what we offer to the collective, compared to what our compatriots might offer, we are on dangerous ground.  Regardless of our role in Christ's church, we need to all be reminded that our worth is derived not from what we do, but from whose we are by virtue of the gospel.  We are the adopted children of the Father in whose hearts the Spirit of the Son cries "Abba Father!"

That last line comes straight out of Galatians chapter four.  The Apostle Paul is dealing with an imminent threat to the gospel as he writes the churches in Galatia.  The cliff-notes version of the backstory is this: Jewish Christians have infiltrated the Galatian churches claiming that in order to truly be a part of God's people, Gentile Christians have to keep the entire Mosaic Law, including the visible signs of covenant membership such as Jewish dietary restrictions, the Sabbath, and especially the rite of circumcision for male converts.  Paul claims that this version of the gospel is in fact not the gospel at all, but a distortion of the gospel.  Paul's argument in the letter could be fairly well summarized as this, "...in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith.  As many of you as were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ.   There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.  And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham's offspring, heirs according to the promise...And because you are children, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying 'Abba!  Father!'  So you are no longer a slave but a child, and if a child then also an heir, through God." (Galatians 3:26-29 & 4:6-7).

Thousands of years prior to this God had redeemed a people from slavery in the land of Egypt.  This people of course was Israel.  God had set them free from slavery and given them a new identity as his children.  Now, in Christ, God has formed a new people for himself derived from every tribe, nation, and tongue.  In God's family, ethnic identity counts for nothing.  In God's family, social standing counts for nothing.  In God's family, gender differences, count for nothing.  The only thing that counts for anything is being one of God's adopted children.  That's where our identity and our own sense of worth is to be found.

This sets me free from the slavery of finding my self worth through the success or failure of "my ministry".  This identity in Christ brings freedom to the believer who struggles to meet their own personal expectations in life and spirituality.  When a child of God discovers that there's nothing they can do that would make God love them more, and there's nothing they can do that would make God love them less, they are free to live boldly before God.  A fear a failure is replaced by a longing for love.

I can't say that I've fully embraced this new identity in Christ.  But I want to.  When I find myself becoming prideful over things that I think I've achieved, I need to be reminded of where my sense of worth is to come from.  When I feel like I've failed and that I'm just not good enough, I need to be reminded that that's true - I'm not good enough!  I never have been and I never will be.  But that doesn't matter.  What matters is that I am a child of God and that he has given me the Spirit of his Son.  If I allow the Spirit to do his work in me, then I will slowly, but surely, put to death my fleshly desires, including the nastiest of them all: pride!

Where do you find your sense of worth?  Is it in your job or vocation?  Do you find your identity in your skills or hobbies?  Is it found in your favorite sports teams?  Is your sense of self found in your social or economic standing?  Do you find your identity in your level of education (or your lack of education)?  Do you view yourself primarily through your present life stage (single, married, children, no children, employed, unemployed, etc.)?  Is your self worth bound up completely in your physical family?  Wherever you derive your sense of self worth, God invites you to find your  identity through his Son.  He welcomes you into his family where all the social and spiritual barriers that so often divide our world can be torn down and demolished.   You can discover a new identity in and through him.  If you are curious about what life in Christ might be like, talk to someone who may have already taken those first steps down this path.  Life in Christ really does open up a whole new identity and a whole new world (Gal 6:15).  - Shay     

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

The King


“(The Lord) chose the tribe of Judah, Mount Zion which he loves.  He built his sanctuary like the high heavens, like the earth, which he has founded forever.  He chose his servant David, and took him from the sheepfolds; from tending the nursing ewes he brought him to be the shepherd of his people Jacob, of Israel, his inheritance.  With upright heart he tended them, and guided them with skillful hand.”  So, says Psalm 78.  David, the shepherd of his father’s sheep became King David, the shepherd of God’s people. 

David was not the first or last of Israel’s and Judah’s kings, but he was the greatest – the one that all the others were measured against.  His kingdom stretched even beyond the borders of the land that God promised to Abraham.  David was ruddy and handsome, a skilled musician, a passionate poet, a fearless warrior, a charismatic leader, and a cunning politician.  He wasn’t perfect, but he had all the attributes one would look for in a king.  Yet, when he was first anointed, no one could have imagined that he would have been God’s chosen one.  David ruled God’s people with equity and justice.  He was a man after God’s own heart.  He learned to love the Lord with all his heart, soul, strength, and mind, even if he at times failed to love his neighbor as himself.  And when he wavered in his love of God or neighbor, he confessed and repented of his sin. 

But sadly, David’s Kingdom would not last forever.  After his son Solomon failed to seek the Lord, the way David had done, much of the kingdom was torn from David’s grandson, Rehoboam.  Most of the rest of David’s descendants ruled Judah poorly, leading God’s people into sin and idolatry.  It got so bad that the Lord finally handed his people over to destruction and captivity.  For nearly 600 years, God’s people were without a king.  But they weren’t without hope. 

They hoped that one day, God would restore to them a king from the line of David who would defeat their pagan oppressors and expand the borders of Israel farther than they had ever been.  Many of the prophets spoke of a deliverer to come and some of the Psalms, especially Psalms 2 and 110 hinted at similar ideas.

But just as David seemed to be an unlikely choice for king, so God finally chose to deliver his people in a most unexpected way.  Rather than attacking the Roman legions on horseback, leading an army wielding the typical weapons of war, God’s anointed, Jesus, rode into Jerusalem humbly on a donkey.  The real enemy he came to defeat wasn’t the pagan oppression of the Roman Empire, but the enemy of all of humanity – sin and death.  And instead of sitting on a throne in the middle of Jerusalem, Jesus, the true King, was enthroned upon the splintered logs of a Roman cross.  God’s victory would be won, not through violence and vindictiveness, but through submission and surrender. 

One of Judah’s prophets had laid out the blueprint of how God would ultimately win his victory, but most of Jesus’ contemporaries failed to grasp the message.  Hear the words from Isaiah 52 and 53. “See, my servant shall prosper; he shall be exalted and lifted up, and shall be very high.  Just as there were many who were astonished at him…so he shall startle many nations; kings shall shut their mouths because of him…Who has believed what we have heard?  And to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?  For he grew up before him like a young plant, and like a root out of dry ground; he had no form or majesty that we should look at him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him.  He was despised and rejected by others; a man of suffering and acquainted with infirmity…Surely he has borne our infirmities and carried our diseases; yet we accounted him stricken, struck down by God and afflicted.  But he was wounded for our transgressions, crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the punishment that made us whole, and by his bruises we are healed.  All we like sheep have gone astray; we have all turned to our own way, and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all…Yet it was the will of the Lord to crush him with pain.  When you make his life an offering for sin…Therefore I will allot him a portion with the great…because he poured out himself to death…and made intercession for transgressors.”

In his life and ministry, Jesus was everything that the kings of Judah and Israel had failed to be.  In his life and ministry, Jesus was everything that the people of Israel had failed to be.  They were to be a light to the nations and to be that suffering servant described by Isaiah.  But they had failed in their God-given vocation.  But Jesus was faithful and did not fail.  He was faithful, all the way to death.  All of humanity had been called by God to be his image-bearing creatures to the rest of creation, and of course, we’ve all failed in this vocation as well.  But Jesus, the true human, the true Israelite, and the true King, was faithful, and completed the task that none of us could complete.  God the Son, showed us what it truly means to be human.  Jesus has forever bridged the gap between God and us, by becoming one of us.  He is the King of Kings and the Lord of Lords!

An early church hymn, quoted by the apostle Paul, said it this way.  “Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness.  And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death – even death on a cross.  Therefore God also highly exalted him and gave him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”

We serve a risen and exalted King.  May we live this day, and each and every day in hopeful expectation as we await the return of our King! - Shay


Tuesday, November 8, 2016

Warrior Poet


“In the year of our Lord, 1314, patriots of Scotland, starving and outnumbered, charged the fields of Bannockburn.  They fought like warrior poets.  They fought like Scotsmen.  And won their freedom.”  So the movie Braveheart ends.  The hero of the film, William Wallace has died.  He’s martyred for the cause of Scottish independence, but his legacy lives on through his fellow Scotsmen, and most importantly, in the heart of the flawed figure, Robert the Bruce, who leads his countrymen to victory over the English, and gains the Scottish crown.

But this one line stands out at the end of the film.  “They fought like warrior poets.”  Warrior poets.  What an evocative description, capturing ruggedness and tenderness all in one.  The mind and the body - art and practicality - coming together in a kaleidoscope of savage beauty.  For me personally, I can’t think of a way I would rather be described.  Whether I am much of either a poet or a warrior, I’m not sure, but at my best, I aspire to be both.

David was both.  In 1 Samuel 18, we’re told that after David had defeated Goliath, the women came out of all of the towns of Israel dancing and singing, “Saul has killed his thousands, and David his ten thousands.”  Later, to win the king’s daughter’s hand in marriage, David provided Saul with 100 foreskins of the Philistines.  Presumably, David was forced to kill these enemies.  It’s unlikely they would have parted with that particular part of their anatomy otherwise.  In fact, David was such a warrior and had shed so much blood, he was told by God, in 1 Chronicles 28:3, that he was not to build the temple. 

But David wasn’t just a fighter, he was a writer too.  A poet.  Many of the Psalms are attributed to David and they are some of the finest poetical writings in the history of the world.  Many of the psalms that we use in worship are attributed to David.  Just listen to some of these lines.  “You, O Lord, are a shield around me, my glory, and the one who lifts up my head…O Lord our Lord, how majestic is your name in all of the earth…The heavens are telling the glory of God; and the firmament proclaims his handiwork.  Day to day pours forth speech, and night to night declares knowledge…The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear?  The Lord is my stronghold of my life; of whom shall I be afraid...The voice of the Lord is over the waters; the God of glory thunders, the Lord, over the mighty waters.  The voice of the Lord is powerful; the voice of the Lord is full of majesty.  The voice of the Lord breaks the cedars; the Lord breaks the cedars of Lebanon…Happy are those whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered.  Happy are those to whom the Lord imputes no iniquity, and in whose spirit there is no deceit…I waited patiently for the Lord; he inclined to me and heard my cry.  He drew me up from the desolate pit, out of the miry clay, and set my feet upon a rock, making my steps secure.  He put a new song in my mouth, a song of praise to our God…As the deer longs for flowing streams, so my soul longs for you, O God.  My soul thirsts for God, for the living God…Create in me a clean heart, O God, and put a new and right spirit within me.  Do not cast me away from your presence, and do not take your holy spirit from me.  Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and sustain in me a willing spirit.” 

I could go on and on.  This only skims the surface of all the psalms attributed to David.  He was a poet, rivaled only by a few over the past 3,000 years.  And his poetry sprang from his deep and emotional relationship with God.  Like the time he danced with all of his might before the Lord and before any and all who were present.  Though his wife Michal was embarrassed by his lack of restraint, David was willing to make himself vulnerable before others out of his sheer jubilation at welcoming the Ark of the Covenant into his royal city.

I believe that both men and women would do well to embrace some of David’s raw emotion and vulnerability in our relationship with God and in our relationships with one another.  As both a warrior and a poet, what stands out in David’s life was his passion.  He gave 110% in everything he set his hand to – whether the sword or the pen.  David was one of the most passionate people to have ever lived.

But David was not the most passionate person to have ever breathed the breath of life.  That description is reserved for none other than our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ!  It’s no wonder that we refer to his death upon the cross as The Passion.  It was Jesus’ passionate relationship with his Father that enabled him to go all the way in his life of obedient submission – all the way to death on a Roman execution instrument.  He held nothing back – he laid it all on the line.  Jesus never wrote a word that was preserved for posterity, yet his poetic life is written on our hearts.  And though his battles were fought without the weapons of war, there’s no greater warrior than the one whose death and resurrection brought victory.  

The passion of the ultimate warrior poet inspired the apostle Paul to write the following in his letter to the Philippians.  “…whatever gains I had, these I have come to regard as loss because of Christ.  More than that, I regard everything as loss because of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord.  For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things, and I regard them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own…but one that comes through the faith of Christ…I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the sharing of his sufferings by becoming like him in his death, if somehow I may attain the resurrection from the dead.”  May this be our passionate hope as well!  - Shay


Monday, November 7, 2016

The Shepherd


When we look back at our lives, I’m sure most of us can see the various ways that God has prepared us for where we are now and what we are presently doing.  Back then, we may not have been aware of how God was building our knowledge, experience, or character, but now in hindsight, we can see God’s method in the madness.  It’s been said that we live life going forward, but we only understand it looking backwards. 

What would have been the best training for a future king of Israel?  How might God prepare someone who would rule and lead his people? Looking after a bunch of dumb, defenseless, and smelly sheep might not be the most intuitive answer.  But that’s exactly where David found himself in 1 Samuel 16 when he was anointed as the next king of Israel.  How did his role as a shepherd prepare him to lead God’s people?

          Being a shepherd at that time and place took a lot of courage.  In 1 Samuel 17, David spoke to Saul before he went out to battle Goliath.  “Your servant used to keep sheep for his father; and whenever a lion or bear came, and took a lamb from the flock, I went after it and struck it down, rescuing the lamb from its mouth; and if it turned against me, I would catch it by the jaw, strike it down and kill it.  Your servant has killed both lions and bears; and this uncircumcised Philistine shall be like one of them, since he has defied the armies of the living God…The Lord who saved me from the paw of the lion and from the paw of the bear, will save me from the hand of this Philistine.”

          As a shepherd, David was willing to put his life on the line to protect his dad’s flock of sheep.  When the little lambs were in harm’s way, David engaged in hand to hand combat with dangerous and wild animals to ensure that his father lost none of those entrusted to his care.  It wasn’t easy, but David wasn’t alone in this venture.  He relied on God to protect him and deliver him from danger.  In fact, rather than self-reliance, David practiced God-reliance, not only as a shepherd of his father’s sheep, but later as a shepherd of God’s people.  The shepherd was a common metaphor used to describe the role of a king in the ancient Near East, and in David’s most famous Psalm, Psalm 23, the metaphor of God as a shepherd bleeds into the actual description of God as our King.

          “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.  He makes me lie down in green pastures; he leads me besides still waters; he restores my soul.  He leads me in right paths for his name’s sake.  Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I fear no evil; for you are with me; your rod and your staff – they comfort me.  You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.  Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord my whole life long.”

          As much as anything, David’s time as a shepherd taught him to rely wholly and completely on God, his true shepherd, his true king.  More than anything else, that equipped David to be the ruler and leader of God’s people later in life. 

          David’s life as a shepherd points us to another shepherd who lived about a thousand years later.  John chapter 10 paints the picture for us beautifully.  “I am the good shepherd.  The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.  The hired hand, who is not the shepherd and does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and runs away – and the wolf snatches them and scatters them.  The hired hand runs away because a hired hand does not care for the sheep.  I am the good shepherd…and I lay down my life for the sheep.”

          David, the shepherd, was willing to risk his life to protect the sheep of his father, Jesse.  Jesus, the good shepherd, freely laid down his life for his Father’s sheep.  What David was willing to do, our shepherd, Jesus, did do - to the fullest possible extent.  So, we can join David in proclaiming, “The Lord is our shepherd, we shall not want…Surely, goodness and mercy shall follow us all the days of our lives and we will dwell in the house of the Lord, forever.”  - Shay

Monday, October 31, 2016

Those Who Bring Good News


Who are those people who were instrumental in sharing the good news of Jesus with you?  Who took the time to take an interest in you and an interest in your spirituality?  For a lot of the people who came to obedient faith in Jesus in the mid-1st century Mediterranean world, it was the apostle Paul.  Many of those taught by Paul, taught others and so the gospel spread rapidly across the length and breadth of the Roman world. 

Over 500 years earlier, other messengers brought good news to God’s people.  As Jerusalem lay in ruin due to Babylonian destruction, a message of hope rang out.  “How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of the messenger who announces peace, who brings good news, who announces salvation, who says to Zion, ‘Your God reigns.’  Listen!  Your sentinels lift up their voices, together they sing for joy; for in plain sight they see the return of the LORD to Zion.  Break forth together into singing, you ruins of Jerusalem; for the LORD has comforted his people, he has redeemed Jerusalem.  The LORD has bared his holy arm before the eyes of all the nations; and all the ends of the earth shall see the salvation of our God.” (Isaiah 52:7-10).  Good news like this is meant to be shared! - Shay

Monday, October 17, 2016

Jesus Part Two


Usually, sequels aren’t as good as the original.  The book of the Acts of the Apostles could just as easily be called Jesus Part 2, but it’s a sequel that lives up to the original.  In Acts, Jesus is still at work in the world, only he does his work through his people who are empowered by his Spirit.  In Luke’s gospel, as Jesus engaged with his fellow Jewish countrymen, the action flowed from Galilee to Jerusalem.  In Acts, the movement of the narrative flows from Jerusalem, into Judea, Samaria, and eventually the very ends of the Roman world.  In fact, Acts wraps up with the Apostle Paul powerfully proclaiming the good news that Jesus is Lord right under the nose of the would-be-lord of the world, Emperor Nero, in the capital city of Rome.    

Acts reminds us that though Jesus has ascended to the Father, he's still at work in our world.  And as the gospel continues to spread to the ends of the earth, we’re reminded that Jesus Christ is Lord, even in those places where he’s not yet been named publicly as such.  As Acts tells us in the first chapter, Jesus will return someday, just as he departed.  And as Acts 17 reminds us, God is not far from anyone of us.  He's placed us in the times and places of his choosing so that we might grope for him and find him.  There's no greater freedom in this life than the freedom that comes through making Jesus our Lord and our Master.  The latter part of the Christ-hymn in Philippians 2 says this: “God also highly exalted him and gave him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”  And I would echo John’s words from Revelation 22, “Amen.  Come, Lord Jesus!” – Shay   

Monday, October 10, 2016

But in Fact Christ has been Raised...


Is it worth it?  Is living the Christian life worth it?  If Jesus was not raised from the dead, then no, it’s not worth it.  It’s a waste of time, energy, and money.  If Jesus was not raised from the dead, then the biggest scam in the history of the universe has been meted out on millions and millions of people for the past 2,000 years.  If Jesus was not raised, then all of our loved ones who have died have absolutely no hope.  They are dead and buried, never to breathe and live again.  Their rotting corpses are just that - rotting corpses never to rise again.  We may as well live and do whatever we want to do.  We should get as much as we can while we can.  Meaningless!  Everything is meaningless without the resurrection of Jesus.  We’re wasting our time if Jesus’ body did not rise on the third day.

But, thank God, the tomb is empty!  Jesus did rise, the first-born of the new creation.  The world changed the moment his lifeless body breathed again.  His resurrection gives us hope and meaning for the future.  In fact, the resurrection is our future.  We too will breathe and live again.  Our bodies will rise again to live eternally in God’s renewed creation.  As Paul reminds us in 1 Corinthians 15.  “But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who have died…thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.  Therefore, my beloved, be steadfast, immovable, always excelling in the work of the Lord, because you know that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.” – 1 Cor. 15:20 & 57-58.    
But the reality is, there are days when we forget this truth.  It's easy to be distracted by all the good things that this life has to offer and it's easy to be overwhelmed by all the tragedies of this world.  We might find ourselves swinging between these two extremes, forgetting that no matter how good or bad this life can be at different times, this present life isn't worth comparing with the eternal life to come.  Wherever we may find ourselves today, let's be encouraged by Paul's words in Romans 8:38-39: "For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord." - Shay   

Monday, October 3, 2016

The Faith of Jesus


There’s a phrase used in the New Testament, particularly by Paul which has often been understood to refer to a believer’s faith in Jesus.  The phrase is typically translated “faith in Jesus Christ”, but can also be translated as “the faith of Jesus Christ”.  In addition to referring to the believer’s faith in Jesus, this phrase almost certainly also refers to the faithfulness of Jesus himself.  This reminds us that in his own life Jesus demonstrated trust, faith, and obedience to his Father.  Our faith in Jesus is important, but even more important was Jesus’ faithfulness to the will of God.  It’s through his faith and righteousness that we are made right with God. 

Have you ever considered that as Jesus approached his death, he did so in faith?  What I mean is that Jesus had to trust God to take him through death and into resurrection.  For the man Jesus to remain obedient to God, he had to walk by faith and not by sight, just as much as we do, and never so much as he did when he freely laid down his life.  It wasn’t easy for Jesus, as his prayer in the garden clearly reveals, but he was nevertheless willing to submit his will to the will of the Father.  So, yes, our faith in Jesus Christ is important, but not nearly as important as Jesus’ own faith and faithfulness.  - Shay  

Monday, September 26, 2016

Jesus, Son of God: What does it mean?


In the Old Testament, the nation of Israel was collectively referred to as God’s son (Exodus 4:21-23; Hosea 11:1-9).  The term son of God was also a title given to the king of Israel or Judah at his enthronement (Psalm 2).  Sometimes, the term “sons of God” referred to heavenly beings, such as in Job 38:1-7.  So in what sense do we find both continuity and discontinuity with the Old Testament usage of this phrase and the New Testament’s identification of Jesus as the “Son of God”? 
Well for one, if Israel was in a sense, God’s son, Jesus was even more so.  Israel was called to be the faithful light to the nations, but unfortunately, they mostly failed in this vocation.  Jesus however sums up the entire story of Israel in his life and ministry, but where Israel failed, Jesus was faithful and overcame (see Matt 1-7, especially 4:1-11). 
The kings of Israel and Judah were meant to represent God’s people before God and the world, but they too largely failed in this vocation.  However, Jesus as God’s true Son was the just and righteous king who came to set up a kingdom for the world, but not of the world (John 18:28-37). 
And if the heavenly beings participate and share in the glory of God through his acts of creation and redemption, how much more does Jesus (John 1:1-5)?
Jesus fully and faithfully sums up and brings to completion each of these Old Testament notions of God’s son, but he does so in ways that far transcend that limited understanding.  It was only after the resurrection that Jesus’ followers could fully comprehend who Jesus truly was and what exactly he had come to accomplish (Romans 1:1-4).  This is topic worthy of further exploration. – Shay     

Monday, September 19, 2016

His Story is Our Story


I’m a firm believer in studying the entire story of God and his people as it is recorded for us in what we call the Bible.  Not only should we read and meditate on the words of the New Testament, we need to understand the Old Testament story to fully appreciate the New.  However, we should never stray too far from the New Testament in our study of the Old as ours is a story that’s not only going somewhere,  but in a sense, has already arrived through the person of Jesus Christ.  Of all the good places to spend time in the New Testament, there’s no better place than our four gospels.  Each of the four evangelists had a specific purpose in recording the life and times of Jesus and each records these events from a unique perspective.  To fully appreciate that perspective, one is best served in reading these gospels in their entirety and in context, rather than jumping around or trying to “harmonize” them.  In fact, harmonization does more damage than good in understanding the story that each writer is trying to tell.  But regardless of how we go about studying Jesus’ life as recorded for us in Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, the important thing to remember is that his story is our story!  

If we are to truly be Christ’s church in the world, then the anchor of our lives and faith has to be securely rooted in the gospel of Jesus.  He is the founder of our faith and the one who will finally bring our lives to completion.  If we are to be transformed into his image, then we need to immerse ourselves in his life and teachings.  Because we are his disciples and follow in his footsteps, we need to take time to learn from this one who is meek and gentle, and yet, firm and demanding.  As we continue through the gospel portion of the story, let’s fix our eyes on this man who fixed his eyes on his Father and was obedient all the way through death and into resurrection life.  He has gone ahead of us, but he hasn’t left us behind.  He’s given us his Spirit to enable us to become citizens of his new creation.  In the meantime, may our lives reflect Jesus back into this present age.  May our lives be “little gospels”, so to speak.  May God’s will be done in our lives, both corporately and individually, as we await the renewal of all things. – Shay   

Monday, September 12, 2016

The Biggest Questions in the History of the World

I asked our Bible class yesterday morning who they believed to be the 10 most influential people to have ever lived, excluding people whose lives are recorded in the Bible.  I can't remember all of the various answers, but some of the names mentioned were Mother Theresa, George Washington, Gandhi, Confucius, Charles Darwin, Abraham Lincoln, Adolf Hitler, and Helen Keller.  I then asked the class to think of how different our world would be if Jesus of Nazareth had never been born.  This question is really too big to even get our heads around.  So much of the world that we take for granted is directly or indirectly related to the impact of a seemingly insignificant craftsman turned rabbi from a backwater region of an insignificant province on the edge of the Roman Empire.   According to an article in Time Magazine http://ideas.time.com/2013/12/10/whos-biggest-the-100-most-significant-figures-in-history/ , Jesus actually is the single most influential person to have ever lived. 

How and more importantly, why did this young Jew make such an impact on the world?  Regardless of one's religious convictions (or lack-there-of), this is a question that's worth pondering.  Prior to and even after the life of Jesus, there were many would be messianic figures who arose in 1st century Palestine.  The fact that we even refer to it as the 1st century shows how much of an impact Jesus has had on history.  He's the pivot on which our entire dating system in the Western world turns.  He wasn't the only person who lived in his era who harbored messianic pretensions.  But how many others of these would be messiahs have had the impact on the world that Jesus did?  How many of these others can you name without a google search?  What's also interesting is that Jesus' vision of the Kingdom of God shared some continuity with the expectations of his fellow Jews, but in many ways, his vison not only transcended his contemporaries' hopes and dreams, it completely turned them upside down.  And yet, his impact on not only his own generation, but countless generations since is virtually incalculable. 

The historian, the philosopher, the theologian, and I would argue, the average person really has to come to grips with this amazing man, Jesus of Nazareth.  Who was he?  What was his hope for his people, the nation of Israel?  What was his vision for the world?  How did the kingdom that he hoped to establish differ from the other kinds of kingdoms of the world?  And if he ultimately failed in establishing his kingdom, as many of his contemporaries would have said, then why are we still talking about his impact on the world rather than the impact of Tiberius, who reigned in Rome at the same time?  How did a crucified criminal wind up making a bigger ripple in the subsequent centuries than did the ruler of the world's largest empire? Why are the other would be messiahs of the 1st century just a footnote and Jesus is the pendulum on which the door of history swings?  I believe these are the biggest questions in the history of the world. - Shay       

Monday, August 15, 2016

Free to Start Again

David and Lisa Fraze joined our church family yesterday and gave us some important food for thought.  David spoke to the men of our congregation on the importance of living holy and pure lives in light of our faith in Christ.  From what I've heard from the ladies in attendance, Lisa's presentation was also very well received. 

David made an excellent point when he reminded us that every sin we've committed after our baptism into Christ has been a conscious choice on our part to choose our own selfish and sinful desires over/against the will of God and the direction of the Holy Spirit.  I wholeheartedly agree with David, as I imagine, most, if not all of the more than 200 men in attendance do as well.  Do we struggle sometimes?  Yes.  Are we sometimes weak due to any number of circumstances?  Yes.  But is our sin ultimately due to our own fault and failure, as opposed to others or the difficult circumstances we face?  Most certainly, yes.  David was also quick to point out that through God's grace, we are free to start again.  To quote Rend Collective, "countless second chances we've been given at the cross."

Towards the end of his presentation, David played a video clip of a middle aged man attending Kindergarten, for probably the 40th time in his life.  The video was both absurd and funny.  But how absurd it is for us to consistently remain "Kindergarten" students in our faith.  How very unfunny it is for us to indulge rather than die to ourselves.  It is both absurd and sad for us to simply stumble over the cross, rather than pick it up and get on with the task of following Jesus.  I've been guilty of doing these very things at different points along life's path, but I really don't want to do them anymore.  I want more!   I want to do the hard work of losing my life so that I might find it fully and abundantly in Christ alone!  

David's message wasn't a "works based" message, but a message of mercy, grace, and forgiveness.  It was a message that reminded us all that God loves us more than we could ever imagine.  But it was a message that also reminded us that we need to take the gospel seriously and allow God's Holy Spirit to transform every aspect of our lives from the inside out.  The gospel doesn't just provide forgiveness for our sins, it also equips us to overcome our sins - to be free from our sins.  The gospel gives us the freedom to start again. The good news of Jesus Christ will first make a difference in all of our own personal lives if it is ever going to make a difference in the world around us.  If I'm going to experience God's coming Kingdom and his will being done on earth, as it is in heaven, then I must allow God to work in my own heart and mind along the way.  Father, give us all the grace to say no to our own selfish desires and to say yes to your gracious work in our lives. - Shay   
 

Monday, July 18, 2016

The Renewal of All Things


"Then Peter said in reply, 'Look, we have left everything and followed you.  What then will we have?'  Jesus said to them, 'Truly I tell you, at the renewal of all things, when the Son of Man is seated on the throne of his glory, you who have followed me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel.  And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or fields, for my name's sake, will receive a hundredfold, and will inherit eternal life." - Matthew 19:27-29
I asked my Sunday morning Bible class the following two questions yesterday morning.  First of all I asked, “If you could change one thing to make the world a better place, what would you change?”  As a follow up to that question I asked them to describe their version of utopia.  In other words, what would a transformed and renewed world look like to you?  I asked these questions to introduce the third part of a study on the Old Testament prophetic book of Zephaniah.  In Zephaniah chapter one, we are told that God is going to bring a sweeping judgment on the whole of creation.  The description of this judgment is couched in language very similar to the flood narrative of Genesis chapter 6.  In fact, like the flood description, this judgment is God’s de-creation in order to bring about a re-creation.  By the time you get to Zephaniah chapter 3 (the last chapter in this short book), universal judgment language similar to the flood is evoked again, but this time another Genesis story is brought to the fore.  Here the Tower of Babel is brought to mind, but instead of God scattering the nations, in Zephaniah we’re told that he will gather the nations for judgment.  But unlike the Babel narrative, in Zephaniah the language of the people isn’t confused, but is instead unified in praise to the Creator.  As Zephaniah 3 progresses we discover that the result of God’s judgment on the world and on the nations eventually leads to a remnant of renewed people who are joined by God in an ideal world and kingdom.  Even the outcasts and lame are welcomed into relationship with God and his people. 

So like the message of the entire Bible, we discover that in Zephaniah, God brings judgment on his world in order to bring about repentance which leads to renewal, transformation, and ultimately salvation.  Like the flood, the purpose of God’s judgment isn’t finally destruction, but re-creation.  The flood served to cleanse the world so that God could start again with Noah and his family.  This micro-message in Genesis actually forms the backbone to the entire macro-message of the Bible.  From the beginning of creation, God’s plan was to share life with his people in this world.  We see descriptions of this in Genesis 2-3 as God walks with his people in the garden.  After humanity rebels against God and is cast out of the garden, the remainder of the Biblical narrative is the revelation of God working to redeem and renew both the creation and humanity so that he can once again share life with his people in his beautiful world.  Of course the redemption and renewal of all things comes at a great cost to God.  And at times both discipline and judgment must be experienced by humanity.  But the final outcome of this judgment is restorative in purpose.  God’s not a vindictive God.  His actions always flow out of his loving purposes for his creation and for his people.  God’s final word is always grace. 

I believe we need to hear (or re-hear) this message.  From the civil unrest in the United States to the terrorist actions in France to the unrest in the Middle East to the countless other places of strife and devastation in our world, it seems like the planet’s going to hell in a handbasket in a hurry.  I’m not sure that things are worse now than other moments in the last century, not to mention the whole of history.  But I do think that we are more aware of what’s going on, not just locally, but globally.  And because bad news leads to far more clicks than good news, we can be overwhelmed by the sheer avalanche of chaos.  We are painfully aware that our world is broken and it needs to be fixed.  And in our moments of clarity and honesty, we are also painfully aware that our own personal lives are broken and need to be fixed.  The good news of the Bible is that God knows this too and is actively at work to make all things new – us and the rest of his creation.  The most significant part of this work was accomplished in the life, ministry, death, and especially resurrection of Jesus Christ.  The new creation broke through when Jesus’ body was raised to new life.  But, as we can clearly see, the renewal of the cosmos has not yet been brought to completion.  That will happen when Jesus returns and God’s final judgment results in a renewed world for a renewed people.  In the meantime, we hope, we wait, and we work to bring God’s love, justice, healing, and grace to a world badly in need of good news.   

Unfortunately, for many years I was told a different Biblical story than the one I’ve tried to share here.  I was made to believe that the world is simply a temporary home for us all to sojourn on and that one day, God would destroy the universe and we would all live with him in some kind of ethereal bliss in heaven.  That’s not necessarily a bad story and it was told with good intentions, but it’s just not the Biblical story.  The reality is that God won’t give up on his good creation and since we’re a part of that creation, that’s good news for us too!  God won’t give up on us either.

So let’s go back to those two questions I asked my Bible class yesterday morning.  If we were to actually try to make some of those changes in the world – or at least, our world – because of the resurrection of Jesus Christ, we can be sure those efforts won’t go to waste.  Undoubtedly, our version of utopia won’t match up exactly with God’s renewed world, but we can be sure that whatever world we may dream of will pale in comparison with what God will actually bring about in the end.  His version will be so much better than ours and that gives me hope for the future.  The best part of that world is that we’ll see Jesus face to face and we’ll be like him.  And we’ll experience God’s Kingdom having come and God’s will being done on earth as it’s filled with all the glory of heaven.  I’ll let John and Paul (not the Liverpudlian versions) have the final words of this post.  From Revelation 21:1-7 – “Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more.  And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband.  And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘See, the home of God is among mortals.  He will dwell with them; they will be his peoples, and God himself will wipe every tear from their eyes.  Death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more, for the first things have passed away.’  And the one on the throne said, ‘See, I am making all things new.’  Also he said, ‘Write this, for these words are trustworthy and true.’  Then he said to me, ‘It is done!  I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end.  To the thirsty I will give water as a gift from the spring of the water of life.  Those who conquer will inherit these things, and I will be their God and they will be my children.’”  And from 1 Corinthians 15:58 – “Therefore, my beloved, be steadfast, immovable, always excelling in the work of the Lord, because you know that in the Lord your labor is not in vain." – Shay    

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

A Culture of Violence

I normally try to avoid conversations that are overtly political.  And I'm referring to "partisan politics", when I say political.  In other words, when people are supporting a particular candidate or political party, I usually try to stay out of it.  It's not because I don't have opinions and it's not because I don't think the issues that feed into the democratic process aren't important.  I avoid overtly political conversations because I generally can see positives and negatives in most political parties and in most individual politicians.  The issues of the modern world are too important for me to align myself with any one party, individual, or agenda.  I want to be free to equally applaud or criticize an elected official or party without having rooting interests influencing my perception of them. 

Another reason I try to avoid supporting a particular candidate or party is that through the years I've known and admired a number of men and women on both sides of the political spectrum.  I've known quite a few who were in the middle too.  Rather than alienating myself from them over controversial or divisive issues, I would rather remain an ally to all - Democrats, Republicans, Greens, Libertarians, Communists, Independents, and others. 

Having said all of that, I'm going to put myself out there and offer up a personal lament.  I am so disappointed in the acts of violence spread across our nation.  And I don't just mean the violent acts of the past several days.  I am so disappointed that our culture is so immersed in violence in general.  For a modern, industrialized, democratic country, our record of violent crime is unbelievable.  From violent video games to violent films to violent schools to violent communities, we have got to take a hard look at our culture of violence and do something about it.  We need to ask the tough questions and then be willing to look for practical solutions.  And for those of us who profess to follow Jesus Christ, we need to take his words in his Sermon on the Mount seriously.  "Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God." (Matthew 5:9).  We would also do well to hear again Jesus' rebuke after Peter tried to defend Jesus in the garden at his arrest.  "Put your sword back into its place; for all who take the sword will perish by the sword."  (Matthew 26:52).  Gun powder had yet to be invented at this point in history, but I would imagine Jesus would have similar things to say about guns.  And for those of us who profess to be pro-life, are we only pro-life as it relates to the unborn, or are we pro-life, from the cradle to the grave?  If not, why not?  Do all lives truly matter?  This is something we need to think about as we reflect on, not only the events of the past few days, but on the events in our country over the past 200 plus years. - Shay  

Monday, June 27, 2016

The Best 5 Years of My Life

Exactly one year ago today, Juli and I packed up the last of our belongings and crammed them into our blue van.  We did a property walk-through with our landlord and handed him the keys to what had been our Irish home for the previous 4 years.  (Our first year in Ireland we lived in an apartment).  After saying goodbye to 91 Belmont Park, we drove ourselves and our bags over to the Clayton Hotel, where we would lodge for the next three evenings before bidding Ireland farewell and crossing back over the Atlantic, not knowing precisely where in the States we were to call home.

The five years we spent in Ireland, were up to that point, the best 5 years of my life.  Having only finished year one since then, I wouldn't want to try to compare life back in the States this time around to our lives on the Emerald Isle.  I'm firmly of the conviction that life has generally far less to do with your circumstances, and far more to do with how you handle those circumstances.  I miss Ireland and I miss all of my friends and my spiritual family there, but I am thankful for those God has placed in our lives in Burleson, TX as well.  I feel like we really found our niche in ministry and life in Dublin, but I believe that we are discovering how to best use our gifts in our new home too.  Plus, we're blessed to be far closer to family here in the US.

There are a number of images burned into my memory and so many interesting stories for me to tell about our time in Ireland.  I'm presently writing those down and I hope to publish a book full of them before too long.  In the meantime, I plan to read back through this blog and share those posts from way back when along the way.  If you haven't previously joined me on this journey, why don't you come along now.  If you've already read some of the posts, have a look again.  I may be biased, but I doubt you'll be disappointed. - Shay

Monday, May 23, 2016

Even Walls Fall Down


One of the things I loved about living in Europe was being surrounded by so many old, historic structures.  It was exciting to visit church buildings and castles that were 5 times older than our country!  The only downside to this was that you’d sometimes catch a whiff of the smell of damp antiquity.  But even that generally just made me nostalgic. 

Each year our mission team would attend a Christian retreat held in Rothenburg, Germany, one of the best preserved medieval cities in all of Europe.  Most of the buildings in the town were built in the 11, 12, and 1300’s, and though modernized on the inside, the outside of them look much like they did 700 years ago.  Complete with cobblestone streets, walking into the old town feels like you are walking into history, if not the set of a Disney princess adventure.  Surrounding the city is a massive wall with huge towers, which has only been compromised on a couple of occasions, most recently when Allied bombs destroyed part of the wall and city at the end of World War II.  Thankfully, the German army surrendered before more damage was done.  After the war, the citizens of Rothenburg solicited the world for help in rebuilding their damaged wall.  The world responded, and with donations pouring in from as far as Japan and the United States, the wall was repaired and tourists can now enjoy the charms of this quaint burgh. 

Though not crucial today, walls were essential for the defense and protection of ancient cities.  So it was no unimportant task that Nehemiah set out to accomplish in the 5th century BC when he and several other Jewish leaders began the task of rebuilding the walls of Jerusalem.  But as crucial as walls were to the towns of antiquity, they could also be damaging when they unnecessarily kept people separated and isolated from one another.  Paul reminds us in Ephesians chapter 2 that the dividing wall between Jews and Gentiles has been torn down through the gospel of Jesus Christ.  And in Galatians 3, Paul tells us that though as diverse as Jew, Greek, slave, free, male, and female, we can be fully united in the Messiah Jesus by being clothed with Christ through baptism.    

Unfortunately, even in Christ, we sometimes lapse back into wall building.  We set up artificial barriers and fail to embrace one another’s God given diversity.  In a misguided quest for uniformity, we sometimes destroy our Christ formed and Spirit fueled unity.  How often are people put off and denied entrance into the body of Christ by the walls we build? 

Thankfully we are headed for a city whose walls have 12 gates, open 24/7.  In his vision, John saw the following.  “I saw no temple in the city, for its temple is the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb.  And the city has no need of sun or moon to shine on it, for the glory of God is its light, and its lamp is the Lamb.  The nations will walk by its light, and the kings of the earth will bring their glory into it.  Its gates will never be shut by day – and there will be no night there.  People will bring into it the glory and the honor of the nations.” (Revelation 21:22-26)  In the meantime, as we seek that city of the renewed creation, let us do our best to at least pry open gates, if not to tear down walls! – Shay

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

For Vance Crowe

I've been blessed by a number of mentors through the years.  I've learned from ministers and other members of various of churches I've worshiped in.  Many of my school teachers and coaches have had a tremendous impact on my life.  I continue to look up to so many of my college professors, from both my undergraduate and graduate studies.  I've worked in ministry with a number of amazing colleagues, both older and younger than me.  And obviously, more than anything else, I've been formed by my family - my parents, siblings, grandparents, uncles, aunts, and cousins. 

In addition to all of these mentioned above, one of the most impactful people I've ever had the privilege to know is Vance Crowe.  Vance was the director of Camp Blue Haven from 1987-2003 (17 years).  My first summer to attend camp was Vance's first summer to direct it.  My first summer to teach Bible class at Blue Haven was Vance's final summer to direct.  I camped under Vance's leadership for 10 summers, I worked for Vance as the dish room manager for one summer, and I was blessed to serve as one of Vance's counselors in 2001.  There are countless Christ-like men and women who've had a hand in making Blue Haven youth camp the amazing ministry that it is, but no one has done more through the years than Vance and his wife Amy.  Though he passed from this life on Saturday, May 14, his legacy will continue to reach into the thousands!

I have so many fond memories of Vance, it would be difficult to try to recollect them all now, but I want to share a few.  In 1991, during 2nd session, I joined dozens of other campers on the all day hike to the top of Elk Mountain (11,661 feet).  Vance led the hike and it was the first time a group from Blue Haven had attempted to make the 13 plus mile round trip journey.  We had no problems making it to the snow crested peak of the mountain, but as we descended, Vance decided to take a short-cut that turned out to be a long-cut.  What should have been around 13-14 miles turned into a 26 mile marathon of mythic proportions.  We slept out under the stars and didn't get back to camp until the following morning.  But during the entire journey, no one ever doubted that we'd get back to civilization in one piece.  Vance remained calm, cool, and collected and owned up to his mistake, while simultaneously assuring everyone that we would all be okay.  Later that summer, Vance had t-shirts printed up and sent to all of us on the hike.  The shirts said, "I survived the Elk Mountain Lost Hike."  I think they must be collectors items by now.  I certainly lost mine somewhere along the way.

Though he got lost on that occasion in 1991, Vance knew his way around the Sangre de Cristo Mountains like no one else.  In fact, it sometimes seemed like Vance would just appear out of nowhere!  When we used to have devotionals out in the woods, you would look up and there would be Vance!  Where did he come from?  Then you'd look up and he'd be gone again.  It was both comforting and a little alarming to know Vance seemed to be Omni-present around camp.  The fear of and respect for Vance kept us all out of trouble. 

When I was a junior in High School in Marble Falls, we asked Vance to be the speaker at our annual youth rally.  The rally was held on a Saturday and I had a basketball game the night before in Belton, TX.  Vance and Amy made the trip early and came along and watched me and a couple of others on our team who had attended camp.  It was so encouraging for the director of Blue Haven to take the time to watch one of my games!

Maybe that's what I remember most about Vance Crowe.  He was always an encourager.  I delivered some dreadful devotional talks through the years while attending Blue Haven as a camper, but I remember always being encouraged by Vance.  In part, his encouragement gave me the confidence to pursue ministry as a vocation.  One of my more fond memories comes from my final night as a counselor at Blue Haven in the summer of 2001.  He hugged me and then whispered these words in my ear, "Thank you for allowing the Lord to use you so powerfully this summer."  Those words were few, but coming from such a mentor in the faith, they meant a lot and have stayed with me to this day. 

I could go on and on, in fact, I could write a book about Vance, but I'm not the one to do that.  There are many others who were closer to him and knew him far better than I did.  Certainly, one or some of them should write a book about this fine man's life.  I'd love to read it!  Vance will certainly be missed, but as Jon Camp recently posted, our cloud of witnesses just got bigger!  And that part of Hebrews really sums up who Vance Crowe was.  He was one who fixed his eyes on Jesus and humbly followed his Master and Savior.  His life and example inspires me to want to do the same.  "Let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us..." - Shay



 

Monday, May 9, 2016

Live Out That Story

Have you ever re-watched a movie or re-read a book and discovered that there's more going on in the story than you initially had noticed?  Have you ever looked back on certain points in your life and discovered that there was more going on than your first impressions of a particular episode or event?  One of the reasons we tell stories is to discover the meaning within the mess of our lives.  Because stories, at least good ones, typically have a beginning, middle, and ending (or resolution), they give us the power to perceive connections that might otherwise go unnoticed. 

The more we read, study, and reflect on the story of God and his people, as recorded for us in the Old and New Testaments, the more we discover meaning and purpose within that epic narrative.  And because we're living in the late middle part of that story - after the climax, but before the final resolution - the more we read, study, and reflect on it, the more we will discover meaning and purpose for our own lives.  I often hear people talk about practicality and applicability when they refer to the study of scripture, as if God had simply given us a self-help instruction manual for life.  No doubt, our lives are greatly enhanced when we live within the flow of the overarching narrative from creation to new creation, but to treat this transcendent story as nothing more than a pop-psychology primer or a guide to greater spirituality, is akin to reading Shakespeare to simply increase one's vocabulary.  There may be some value in it, but it nevertheless misses the point.  And just as one's reading of Shakespeare will be greatly enhanced by a cultural and historical understanding of Elizabethan England, so too is our reading of the Bible blessed by Biblical scholarship.  But the point of the endeavor remains: to get inside and live inside the story that scripture tells.

This past week, I was blessed to sit at the feet of N.T. Wright and other Biblical scholars, theologians, and ministry practitioners at the Pepperdine Bible Lectures.  I'm always pleasantly amazed at how rich, deep, and wide is the story of God and his people.  None of us will ever exhaust the riches found in the pages of this brilliant saga, so the best thing for all of us to do is to live out that story through our limited understanding, wherever we find ourselves.  Let's continue to read, study, and reflect, as we get on with the biggest task of all - living it out! - Shay