Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Taking Up His Cross

Dear Friend,

On a Sunday morning in 1958 I was standing at the back of St. Thomas Episcopal Church. My heart was pounding wildly as I waited for the organist to begin the processional hymn which would be my cue to start slowly down the aisle. I was holding the cross and still remember well the weight and feel of the polished walnut pole and the heavy brass cross so shiny and bright that it seemed to cast a light of its own. Father Barnes stood behind me and behind him waited two older acolytes carrying the flags. Father Spicer-Smith, the candle bearers and the members of the adult choir made up the rest of the procession.  

This was my first service as an acolyte and I remember I was filled with a heady mixture of awe and joy along with some serious self-doubts. What a privilege to be allowed to serve God! And, Father Barnes had even trusted me to carry the cross my first day! And boy was I scared! What if half way down the aisle while carrying the cross, I tripped and fell! What if I turned the wrong way or forgot what to do during the service at the altar! After all, I was only nine years old and the youngest acolyte that my church had ever had. I was only a kid and the biggest responsibility I’d been trusted with was to clean my room! But Father Barnes had convinced both me and my parents of his faith that I could do the job. After 500+ services, dozens of weddings/funerals and after serving six ministers and two bishops, I had never tripped and never fallen. I had never turned the wrong way and I had never forgotten what to do. Even though as a youngster my faith in God was shaky, His gracious love was with me every time I took His cross in my hands and He never let me down!

Come, take up the cross, and follow Me.  Mark 10:21

Today my faith in God is no longer shaky and I certainly have wisdom and understanding in a greater degree than I had as a child. Yet still today I experience that same child-like awe and joy at serving the Lord on Sunday. I no longer take up a processional cross, but around my clerical collar I put on a heavy bronze cross that I wear over my heart. A cross that reminds me of God’s presence in my life. It bangs on my heart when I walk reminding me that as I stumble through life, God has never forsaken me. I have done everything to earn His wrath and done nothing to deserve or earn His grace and mercy. And looking back I see so clearly now His hand of grace upon me from when I first wrapped my hands around His cross as a small boy. 

The cross is the most powerful testimony of God’s love for us. Through the cross we have been restored and redeemed. When we pick up our own cross to bear and His cross, we find they are one and the same. The sins we carry on our own cross have already been nailed to His. Jesus said, “..come, take up the cross and follow Me.” When you take up His cross and carry out His will, your walk will be steady and true. His strong right hand will keep you from turning the wrong way and when you do stumble, He will keep you from falling. When you take up the cross of Jesus, He will never let you down.  AMEN?

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

The Secret Language of a Christian

Avast me Hearties!
Shiver me timbers! ‘Tis a foul storm approaching that be sending ye to Davy Jones Locker! Arrgghh! Today, September 19th, is International Talk Like a Pirate Day which happens to be one of my favorite holidays. When I was a young lad my career goal was to become a pirate and while things didn’t work out like I’d planned, it’s probably for the best since it would be difficult for me to type this with a troublesome hook in place of my right hand. But I still love watching the old Errol Flynn pirate movies, I live my boyhood dreams on the Pirates of the Carribean ride at Disneyland and every September 19th I can thoroughly annoy my loved ones by talking like a pirate. Aye, me Beauty, whars me grog? Yo Ho Yo Ho, a pirate’s life for me..

What does all this have to do with our Christian faith? Pirate jargon uses antiquated and obscure words with unclear meanings that make people laugh. Christian jargon uses antiquated and obscure words with unclear meanings that make people confused.

Christian Jargon:
Kingdom, Ransom, Born Again, Confess, Sanctification, Lamb of God, Gospel, Trinity, Tribulation, Theology, Spirit, Redeem, Lord’s Supper, Salvation, Reconciliation, Ministry, Minister (as a verb: “to minister to someone”).
The Lord is working on my heart.
Washed in the blood of Jesus.
 She has a fire burning in her heart. 
Lost sheep straying from the fold.
Baptism of the Holy Spirit. 
Pray for a hedge of protection.
I’d like to share a burden on my heart with you.

While us believers don’t yet have a secret handshake, the secret language that we use to communicate with each other can be just as exclusive and alienating to those who may be outside the clubhouse doors and trying to get in. If you’ve  been with other people who unintentionally excluded you from their conversation by speaking in a language you didn’t understand, you know what that feels like. Our “Christianese” can exclude the very people we are trying to reach. If I invite someone to “ask Jesus into your heart,” she may have no idea what I’m talking about. If I tell her that “Jesus was the propitiation for her sins,” she’ll need a dictionary to understand me. If I tell her that “Jesus made atonement for her so that she’ll be justified, redeemed and sanctified,” her eyes will glaze over. But what if I tell her that “Humans have been separated from God by our rebellious nature and Jesus, through His sacrificial death upon the cross, paid the penalty for our sins. When we accept and believe in Jesus, than our relationship is restored with God and we will have eternal life.” 

There is absolutely nothing wrong with our using the beloved words and phrases that describe our  beliefs and how we live out our faith. It’s all biblical and it’s the language that we use to effectively communicate with each other. But when we’re speaking to a non-Christian, or a new believer unfamiliar with Christian jargon, we should remember to speak their language, not ours. When communicating the “Good News,” always try to think about what you are saying from the perspective of the person to whom you are speaking. Aye! When ye parley with yer Matey, speak smartly that they savvy or ye’ll be walking the plank!  Arrrr..!  
I mean, AMEN?

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Taking Jesus With Us

Dear Friend,

For those of you close to my age, do you remember when “Buzz” Aldrin and Neil Armstrong walked on the moon? That was July 20, 1969 and the recent death of Armstrong led me to the Internet as I reminisced about such an enormously important event in America’s history. Armstrong was the first on the moon and said: “One small step for (a) man, one giant step for mankind.” Then, Aldrin stepped onto the moon’s surface and both men spent the next 2 ½ hours walking and exploring with our Nation transfixed in awe as we watched the camera feed and listened to the live broadcast.

As I scanned the various published articles about the voyage of Apollo 11, I read something that I had not heard before. As soon as the lunar module had landed, and before Armstrong’s historic moment, something happened of even greater importance that was not broadcast. What we heard was Aldrin saying: “This is the lunar module pilot. I'd like to take this opportunity to ask every person listening in, whoever and wherever they may be, to pause for a moment and contemplate the events of the past few hours and to give thanks in his or her own way.
“You have set Your glory in the heavens.. When I consider the heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars which you have set in place.. Who are we that You are mindful of us.. human beings that You care for us.”  Psalm 8
In the radio silence that followed, listen to Aldrin describe what happened next: “In the radio blackout, I opened the little plastic packages which contained the bread and the wine. I poured the wine into the chalice our church had given me. In the one-sixth gravity of the moon, the wine slowly curled and gracefully came up the side of the cup. Then I read the scripture, 'I am the vine, you are the branches. Whosoever abides in me will bring forth much fruit; for without Me you can do nothing.' I ate the tiny Host and swallowed the wine. I gave thanks for the intelligence and spirit that had brought two young pilots to the Sea of Tranquility. It was interesting for me to think: the very first liquid ever poured on the moon, and the very first food eaten there, were the communion elements."

Aldrin had wanted to broadcast the communion but NASA had refused for fear of lawsuits by atheists. Aldrin was an elder at Webster Presbyterian Church in Webster, Texas and his communion kit was prepared by his pastor. Webster Presbyterian possesses the chalice used on the Moon and commemorates the event each year on the Sunday closest to July 20. This astronaut – this man of God – took the Presence of Jesus Christ to the moon. The first supper served on the moon was the Lord’s Supper. Some of the first words spoken after the lunar landing were scripture – the words of Jesus from John 15:5 (underlined above) and also portions of Psalm 8.

Is there someplace we should be taking Jesus that we’ve never taken Him before? To our work? Our school? Our neighbor’s home? Our home?  Lord, forgive us when we’ve rushed off to go somewhere in our cluttered and chaotic lives and left You behind. For without You, we can do nothing...  AMEN?

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Am I Dead Yet?

Dear Friends,

Every so often I'll get in the mail an envelope the size and shape of an invitation. The only thing on the envelope, other than my name and address, are these words printed in elegant script on the lower left hand corner:

Free Cremation Offer ~ Details Inside 

I've never read the details. I’m always too scared to open the envelope. Why am I being offered free cremation services? I feel okay, but their offer makes me suspicious because I've been wrong about my health before. Do they know something about my current state of being that I'm in denial about? I'm fearful they could be right. But then again, if I was in immediate need of their cremation services, wouldn't a loved one be telling me that I was starting to stink?

I don't want what I'm about to say to sound harsh, so let me put this in Biblical language. Sometimes one of the most loving things a person can do for you is to tell you when thou doest stinketh. Because even us living believers can become a little odoriferous when we’ve stepped off the path of righteousness. When we mess up and something in our life starts to stink, we may need to hear what scripture calls a “fitly spoken word.” Only an emotional masochist would actually enjoy hearing criticism about themselves, but a wise man or woman welcomes a word that gives them an opportunity for a needed correction. King Solomon said it like this: "Timely advice is lovely, like golden apples in a silver basket. To one who listens, valid criticism is like a gold earring or other gold jewelry."  (Proverbs 25:11-12 NLT)

Solomon likens valid criticism to a precious gift that is of great value to one who listens. But truly sometimes this is a gift that's more difficult to give than to receive. Yes, he or she did indeed do something that stinketh. And we can err in two directions.  We can lash out in an anger that either immediately closes the spirit of the person we are trying to reach or escalates the issue into a hurtful argument. Or we can err by turning away, getting quiet, and withdrawing. Our irritation – frustration – annoyance – anger is carefully packed away into that secret place where we have always stuffed our anger and hurts. But in that emotional cesspool, those repressed feelings always seem to bubble back up to the surface and become "passive-aggressive anger." And when a resentful, negative bitterness becomes hooked into our soul, we become sickened spiritually.
Speak the truth in love...Eph 4:15

Paul writes that mature believers should “speak the truth in love to each other in order that they may grow in every way more and more like Christ.” (Eph 4:15) When a loved one’s behavior begins to stink, we need to be truthful and tell them that. And we also need to put a bow on it. We need to gift-wrap our words in such a loving, Christ-like manner that they receive our fitly spoken words as the precious gift that they are. When truth is told and received in love, than both giver and receiver grow in every way more and more like Christ. 

Let our prayer today be that our loved ones always lovingly tell us when our behavior doest stinketh.