Kingdom of the Crickets

I’m in the metropolis of Greenville, NY tonight.

There are virtually no people in Greenville, but as I sit, learning still how to be silent before the Lord, it becomes clear to me that there must be 100,000 crickets and frogs here with me.  We are not alone here.

And the Lord is here, too, as I keep silence before him.  Not for any impressive period of time, mind you, as I am again re-learning how to shut off the sound of my world and let the voice of the Lord enter into the conversation.

Today is a day that I need in particular to listen to that voice.  I need it most every day, but today is a day that even someone as thick as me recognizes my need to quit with easy answers and quick responses.  Today is a day to be as silent as Job’s friends should have stayed.  Today is a day to barely even ask “why?”, but to simply hear.

To remember that even if I were to ask “why?”, it might just be that the answer would be incomprehensible to my foolish ears and my untuned heart.  Before I listen to the Lord, really listen, and let his word enter me in ways I am not accustomed to letting it, even my “why” – let alone the answer I would then turn and offer to the masses – would mean less than the crickets and their chirping.

So, silence it is.  Lord, you are, and it is a miracle that you would speak to us at all.  But please, do speak to us, even if it strips us bare as the cedars of Lebanon.  We need your word, even here, in the kingdom of crickets and frogs.

Stop Making Sense

On Sunday morning, we talked at St. Paul Church about how Chuck Colson after his prison conversion was an example of what 1 John 3:1 was talking about: The reason why the world does not know us is that it did not know him. (1 John 3:1 ESV) The man who came out of prison didn’t look like the man who went in to prison, and rest of his life told a different story than the one that landed him in federal prison: it told the story of Jesus, the King who invites us into the family of God even while we are his enemies.  The link below is to a piece talking more about how this changed life is being wrestled with in obituaries.

What is the story that your life is telling?  Is it a story of self-service, or the story of Jesus?

Chuck Colson and the Conscience of a Hatchet-Man | Christianity Today | A Magazine of Evangelical Conviction.

What Only God Can Do

The Spirit of God showed up in our worship gatherings yesterday in a manner which I have seen occasionally, and which still always catches me by surprise.

Our focus in worship was celebrating the love of God, in particular through the lens of 1 John 3:1-3, which shows us how God’s love causes God to call people his children, and to make it so.  We are made part of the fellowship (koinonia)of God and of Jesus the Son, which begins the process of changing us into something entirely beyond our imagination – the image of Jesus himself.  We talked about the joy of being adopted by God into his family, and the way adoption is such a beautiful human way to emulate God.  We even remembered the joyous adoption of a little girl into one of our families in the last two years.

But what I did not remember – until Tony and Cristina reminded me after worship – was that yesterday was the two-year anniversary of that blessed adoption of Alicia.  Totally unplanned on my part.

We also talked about the power of God to set us free from the brokenness of the world in changing us into the image of his Son, which begins now but will be completed when we see Jesus:

Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is. (1 John 3:2 ESV)

Celebrating being set free and changed also came up after the service, when Fred Stockmeier pointed out to me that yesterday was the 67th anniversary of the day he was set free from a prison camp near the end of the Second World War.  Again, I had no idea – but the Holy Spirit of God knew what a perfect day this was to celebrate being set free, and to give thanks for being adopted into the family of God.

The most high-minded plans I ever make to try to craft worship with movements and coherence and thematic unity can’t hold a candle to the movement of God beneath it all, gathering us into this place together, young and old, to let the Word speak into our lives and bring us into his story.

May I never forget it.

Rescued From Life

Note: this is an adaptation of part of the preaching from our Easter worship gathering.  Sorry, if I’m irritating you with recycled content.  Oh, and if you want to see the entire worship celebration, with loads of music and celebration and lifting up Jesus, you can go here

Jesus didn’t come, and live, and die, and rise, just to save you from hell.

He also did it to save you from an ordinary life.

It’s true.  “I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.”  That’s Jesus, in John 10:10

He wasn’t talking about the future, about heaven.  He was talking about right now, in this lifetime.

Because Jesus is the Risen King, and you can believe it and act on it, you can have a life that is above the ordinary.

What characterizes our ordinary lives from which Jesus sets us free?

Bondage to Sin.  We church people talk about how people who don’t know Jesus are trapped in sin, but how many of us who have said we believe in Jesus still fall into the same traps again and again?  Eventually, we might not even be bothered by our failings; we tell ourselves that “nobody’s perfect” and this is our personal proof.  I’m just giving Jesus something to perfect at the end.

But Jesus wants you to be free.  Do not doubt that.  How will we be free from sin?  Francis Chan illustrates the solution in a great way in his book Crazy Love: “Imagine going for a run while eating a box of Twinkies.  Besides being self-defeating and side ache-inducing, it would also be near impossible – you would have to stop running in order to eat the Twinkies.

“In the same way, you have to stop loving and pursuing Christ in order to sin. “

If we know Jesus the Risen King, we can pursue him in love, and as we run to the one we love, we are free!

Ordinary lives are also Burdened by Circumstances.  Jesus told us “In this world, you will have trouble.  But take heart!  I have overcome the world”.  Some people come to Jesus hoping that the trouble in their lives will go away.  But Jesus basically guarantees that even when we follow him – and maybe especially because we are following him – we will have trouble.   But because Jesus is King, we know two things about our troubles.

First, Jesus will be a Righteous King, and will pay us back or reward us for our frustrations, our hardships, even our persecutions.  In Luke 6, Jesus says “”Blessed are you when people hate you and when they exclude you and revile you and spurn your name as evil, on account of the Son of Man!  Rejoice in that day, and leap for joy, for behold, your reward is great in heaven;” and Second, Jesus our King uses our trials to shape us into his image.  As Paul put it in Romans 5, “we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.”

Finally, ordinary lives are Beholden to Self; that is, we feel the need to create our own meaning, our own impact on the world, our own legacy and purpose.  Sadly, even the most high-minded of these efforts are prone to devolving into self-centeredness and ego-maintenance.  But in following Jesus the Risen King, we are invited to give ourselves to his purposes, and to enter into the greatest Story in the world, in which the Holy Spirit moves in us to enable people to see Jesus for who he is, and invite them into the community of his people, and love the people in the community so that they may be transformed and made whole by King Jesus.  We get to enter into the Story of people made whole, and we ourselves are made whole as we let go of our agenda and accept Jesus’ agenda.

Set free, in all circumstances and situations, to be strengthened, healed, and made whole by Jesus and his family – that’s the way more than ordinary life that Jesus offers to you and me.

Why wouldn’t you want to be a part of that, today?

Preaching about Singing, Singing about Suffering

Yesterday’s sermon came out of Jeremiah 31:31-34. It’s a passage of hope and beauty about the New Covenant. It’s also a text that’s pointing the reader forward. The original recipients, exiled Judah, were being pointed to a promise that even though they were going back into a wilderness, there was going to be something of God for them on the other side. In fact, there would be something better; unfortunately for them, we’re still waiting for that something. For us, too, we are wilderness walkers, even the best of us, on our way to a place where God’s law courses through our veins and worship is worship, not 3 songs and a prayer that we might learn something new from the preacher today.

So, having looked at that text yesterday and still steeping in it today, I was caught by surprise to realize that i was listening to the old song “Wilderness” by The Choir, one of my favorite bands since, well, pretty much forever, as far as musical tastes go. Here’s the chorus:

Is your faith so right
Are you so blessed
Everybody wanders in the forest
Is your heart so true
Are you that good
Everybody wanders in the woods
Everybody wanders in the forest
Everybody wanders in the wilderness

It’s true. Every one of us. Thank you, God, that we’re not alone.