God’s Love for Messy People

Good morning. Today is Sunday, March 29, 2020, and as promised I am sending out another devotional in the hopes of encouraging you. I know these days are strange but I trust the Lord is with us and will guide us in the days ahead. Today’s devotional is a bit more liturgical because – well I’m Presbyterian and that’s how we roll. But it is also the Lord’s day and I have included elements that are part of our time of worship at Bethel and at Windsor. Please know that the folks at Bethel and Windsor are praying and they would be happy to pray with you. If there are things you’d like us to pray for – just let us know (bethel37664@gmail.com or cowapc@btes.tv). Join me know in our call to worship.


Call to Worship: from Psalm 28:6-8

Christ is Risen!
Amen! Amen! Christ has risen indeed, and He is King and Lord.
Blessed be the LORD! For he has heard the voice of my pleas for mercy.
The LORD is my strength and my shield; in him my heart trusts;
My heart exults, and with my song I give thanks to him.
The LORD is the strength of his people;
He is the saving refuge of his anointed.
 

Hymn: Create in Me A Clean Heart

Create in me a clean heart, O God,
And renew a right spirit within me.
Create in me a clean heart, O God,
And renew a right spirit within me.

Cast me not away from Thy presence;
Take not Thy holy Spirit from me.
Restore unto me the joy of Thy salvation;
And renew a right spirit within me.

Corporate Prayer of Confession: Christ the King  

Lord, when the prophet Isaiah was confronted with your holiness, he exclaimed: “Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts!” Without your mercy, we, too, are lost. Forgive us for the sins that we commit toward other people; our neglect of our walk with you; forgive us through the blood of Jesus, our King, our High Priest, and advocate. Our hope is in Jesus. Lord Hear Our Prayer. Christ Have Mercy. Lord Have Mercy. Amen.

Assurance of Pardon: Based on Colossians 1:13-14

Through the crucified body and blood of Christ the King, we have been given a pardon from God. “For he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.” Friends – in Christ Jesus our King your sins and mine are forgiven. Thanks be to God.

Scripture Reading from Psalm 51

To the choirmaster. A Psalm of David, when Nathan the prophet went to him, after he had gone in to Bathsheba.

[1] Have mercy on me, O God, according to your steadfast love; according to your abundant mercy blot out my transgressions. [2] Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin! [3] For I know my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me. [4] Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight, so that you may be justified in your words and blameless in your judgment. [5] Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me. [6] Behold, you delight in truth in the inward being, and you teach me wisdom in the secret heart. [7] Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean; wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow. [8] Let me hear joy and gladness; let the bones that you have broken rejoice. [9] Hide your face from my sins, and blot out all my iniquities. [10] Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me. [11] Cast me not away from your presence, and take not your Holy Spirit from me. [12] Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and uphold me with a willing spirit. [13] Then I will teach transgressors your ways, and sinners will return to you. [14] Deliver me from bloodguiltiness, O God, O God of my salvation, and my tongue will sing aloud of your righteousness. [15] O Lord, open my lips, and my mouth will declare your praise. [16] For you will not delight in sacrifice, or I would give it; you will not be pleased with a burnt offering. [17] The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise. [18] Do good to Zion in your good pleasure; build up the walls of Jerusalem; [19] then will you delight in right sacrifices, in burnt offerings and whole burnt offerings; then bulls will be offered on your altar. (ESV)

Prayer asking God to help us as we hear his word:

Guide us, O God, by your Word and Spirit, that in your light we may see light, in your truth find freedom, and in your will discover your peace; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Reflection by Dr. Mark A. Hutton

These are crazy days indeed. I don’t have to tell you that. All of us are dealing with this viral interruption and it is THE TOPIC everywhere. And all of us are dealing with it in a variety of ways. In fact, everyone from the Pope to the President have asked people to pray. We know we ought to pray and most of us probably want to pray.

If you have a sort of nudge to pray about something or for someone, especially if the church or Christianity isn’t your thing – then you really should pay attention to that nudge because it means something spiritual is probably going on – and you ought to pay attention to that and maybe start asking some questions (by the way I’m always happy to take your questions – I may not have the answer but I may be able to help you find the answers).

But I know that a lot of people have trouble with praying. Prayer for a lot of people – even people who have been around church for a long time can be sort of tricky. People often have questions about prayer; they don’t know what to say or how to say it; they wonder if they have to use more formal language than they ordinarily do; some people aren’t sure if they are supposed to stand or sit or kneel or how to hold their hands (should they fold them, lift them) or if they have to keep their eyes open or closed, bow their head, or not.

But more than that – even – I know that some people just don’t feel like they can pray. It isn’t so much because they don’t have the words – but they don’t feel like they can talk to God because of who they are or what they’ve done or not done. I know there are folks who feel so overwhelmed by the mess of their lives that they just can’t see how they can pray.

Well, I’d like to point folks to the Old Testament book of Psalms because there is a powerful lesson tucked within that book. I think I’ve said before that I love Psalms. I love it because of all that it does.

The Psalms teach us who it is that can talk to God and how to talk to God – how to. They teach us who can worship and how to worship. But they do not give us formulas; there isn’t an “insider language” as Eugene Peterson said. Instead, the Psalms provide insights into just who can pray and how to pray.

In fact, some of the Psalms can get pretty raw in their approach to God – because – well – people go through tough times and those times don’t call for super flowery language that glosses over the real stuff a person is going through. The Psalms – however poetic some of it may be – are nevertheless chocked full of real language written by real people, at real moments, in real-time. They do not give formulas to follow other than equipping people to use their words to express their thoughts and feelings and experiences to God. And in that, they teach us to pray, and lament, and worship, and yell, and praise, and exclaim, and express frustration, and cry out in anxiety and fear, and even admit to God when we’ve blown it.

psalminternetIn fact, the Psalm that I read a few moments ago – Psalm 51 – is a Psalm in which David lets God know about something he’s done. And friends, it is not good – not at all. In fact, it is one of the worst stories in the Bible but it is also good in that it doesn’t gloss over the fact that David was – well – a mess.

Sometimes folks get this idea that the people mentioned in the Bible are special. But friends, outside of Jesus – outside of God – outside of the Holy Spirit and the few angels – everyone in the Bible is just like you and me. They weren’t super-human. They were a mess. They weren’t perfect. They were a mess.

A case in point is David. If you look at our text for today-in your Bible or printed out here – you’ll notice that it gives a little bit of information about the occasion for the psalm itself: To the choirmaster. A Psalm of David, when Nathan the prophet went to him, after he had gone in to Bathsheba. Well, that little bit of information has been part of the Psalm since they were written – a very long time ago – and within that information, we learn some things.

Not every Psalm gives us something like this but this one does – and it tells us David wrote it. David wrote a lot of the Psalms. He wrote a lot of songs and a lot of prayers, which is good. But Psalm 51 tells us something very important about David that helps us understand who can pray and just how to pray.

David has some good qualities and he had some not so great qualities. He was a successful leader – except at home, he didn’t do so well. He was a man who was brave and noble, he loved God deeply, and at the same moment, he was shallow, callous, prideful, lustful and capable of the grossest of offenses. He rose to the heights of power and trampled over people on the way.

He was also a man known as a “man after God’s own heart,” who also committed adultery and set the woman’s husband up to be killed in battle. That’s what this Psalm is all about. David wrote this Psalm – a prayer of confession – after he was confronted by Nathan about his affair with Bathsheba that led to Uriah – her husband’s – death.

David was a mess and yet David was also a man who understood that his only hope was God. David knew that God knew what kind of person he was but he didn’t let that stop him from praying to God. He couldn’t pretend that he was “all good” because people knew.

You see what I mean about how the Psalms teach us to pray? Not only do they give us the language, but they remind us that the people who wrote them weren’t perfect, spiritual gurus that were out of touch with humanity. The Psalms were written by people like you and me – people that recognize that they have faults, and fractures, and well – they know they are a mess. And yet even within their mess – there they were – reaching out to God – laying things out there in real language about real things that were happening to them and zeroing back in on God as the center of their world and the world around them.

Friends, you may not feel like you are good enough to pray but a large chunk of the psalms were written by a man that was a mess. And here’s the thing, he’s not covering his mess up. People knew. In fact, you can read about it in the Book of Samuel and in Kings. Oh, and not only that, you can read some of it here in Psalm 51.

David’s story is a powerful one because throughout the Psalms we have these prayers from a man who is a mess. God knew it. David knew it. A lot of people knew it. Nevertheless, there’s David lifting his heart to God. It is raw. It is real and it is clear from a man who was as human as you and me.

But being a mess didn’t keep David from praying. Being a mess didn’t keep David from crying out to God, or asking for God’s help, or from praising God, giving God thanks, or acknowledging that God is his hope, his refuge, etc. And being a mess shouldn’t keep us from doing that either.

And therein lies the biggest take away from all of this. The story of the Bible is one that human beings are a mess. All of us are a mess. But God loves the mess of humanity. In fact, God loves the mess so much he was willing to send His own Son into it – to redeem it – to restore humanity and all creation – to not only clean the messy people up but to make them new and spotless. Friends, we can’t make ourselves any less of a mess. Only God – only Jesus can do that for us.

God – through Jesus – through His Spirit- is in the business of cleaning people up. But we all know that cleaning up messy people takes time – it takes a lifetime and in fact – it is not one and done – there is no such thing as coming to Jesus one time and we are all good to go from that point on. Truth be told, we will probably not be all cleaned up this side of heaven. It is just the nature of being human. Oh, we might be less of a mess than we once were but there is always going to be a little residue hither and yon about us. But that doesn’t mean that God still isn’t at work cleaning us up.

And that’s the thing to bear in mind in how we think of ourselves and how we think of others and how we think about prayer. The Psalms were written over a span of time. David authored a lot of them over the span of his life. That means that there were times when the mess of his life was more prominent than others and yet he was still praying, still worshipping God, still connected to God.

Friends, God doesn’t turn away from us in our mess and we shouldn’t either. We shouldn’t hold ourselves back at all – no matter who we are – no matter how often you go to church or if you’ve never been. We shouldn’t let the fact that we are a mess hold us back from God at all.

I think people have either a tendency to hide the fact that they are a mess, or they tend to use the fact that they are a mess to stay away from God – from Jesus. But the lesson of the Psalms is that being a mess is part of what it means to be human and it can neither be hidden from God or anyone else – and it is never a reason that a person should stay away from God. After all, that’s the whole point of the Gospel.

Next Sunday is Palm Sunday, which means we will be leaving Lent behind and embracing Holy Week. I’d encourage you to take some time this week to prepare for that. palmBut anyway, for me one of the most powerful moments in the gospel accounts involves the reaction of two men who betrayed Jesus. First, there is Judas, who basically sold Jesus out for 30 pieces of silver. When Judas realizes what he’s done and the mess he’s made of things, he hung himself. It was pretty clear that Judas never really knew Jesus at all. That’s a shame, really.

Then there is the account of Simon Peter. I love Simon Peter. He’s impulsive; he said things he shouldn’t have said, especially when he said them; in fact, in one moment Peter went from confessing that Jesus is the Christ – the Son of the Living God – to trying to reprimand Jesus for something he said. That actually made Jesus say “get behind me Satan” to Peter. Simon Peter even cut off a guy’s ear out of loyalty to Jesus when the man came to arrest Jesus. Peter was all about Jesus but he was a mess.

Then, of course, came the time of Jesus’ arrest, trial, and crucifixion (and resurrection). Jesus warned the disciples that they would all fall away. Peter speaks up and in one moment both affirms his loyalty to Jesus and shames the other disciples. He said, “even if every one of these other guys fall away, I will not. I’d rather die first.” At which point Jesus told him that the rooster wouldn’t crow three times before Peter denied knowing him three times. And that’s how it played out, too. Peter betrayed Jesus in a critical moment. He even cursed in the process.

Peter was a mess. Jesus knew that and Peter knew that Jesus knew. And after Jesus’ resurrection, Peter was the first one to run to Jesus. Peter was a mess but he knew that God loves messy people. He didn’t let the fact that he was a mess keep him from walking peter and john runningwith Jesus. He didn’t let the fact that he was a mess keep him from allowing God to clean him up over a lifetime. And neither should we.

We shouldn’t let the fact that we are a mess keep us from praying. We shouldn’t let the fact that we are a mess keep us from reaching out to God at any and every moment of the day or night. We shouldn’t let the messes of our past, our present, or our future keep us from walking with the Lord.

Will you join me in reaffirming your faith? Christian, what is it that you believe?

Affirmation of Faith:

apostles' creed“I BELIEVE in God the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth, And in Jesus Christ  his only Son our Lord; who was conceived by the Holy Ghost, born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, dead, and buried; he descended into hell; the third day he rose again from the dead; he ascended into heaven, and sitteth on the right hand of God the Father Almighty; from thence he shall come to judge the quick and the dead. I believe in the Holy Ghost; the holy catholic Church; the communion of saints; the forgiveness of sins; the resurrection of the body; and the life everlasting. Amen.”

 Prayers of the people and the Lord’s Prayer  shadow-man-praying-thinking_40919-1113

Lord, in your mercy: hear our prayer. Almighty God, in Christ you taught us to pray and promised that we would receive all that we ask in his name. Hear now our prayers –

  • Hear now our prayers for the church around the world – help your people to bear witness to who you are in this moment of uncertainty and anxiety;
  • Hear now our prayers for our loved ones;
  • Hear now our prayers for those who work in the health industry…give them wisdom, hope, stamina;
  • Hear now our prayers for our church…as we look to you to hold us together and to help us be the light of Christ in this community;
  • Hear now our prayers for the healing of the world needs from this pandemic;
  • Hear now our prayers for peace and justice in the world;
  • Hear now our prayers for our nation’s leaders;
  • Hear now our prayers for our community;

Lord hear our prayer – for we pray in the name of Jesus who taught us to pray saying, “Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name; thy kingdom come; thy will be done; on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors. And lead us not into temptation; but deliver us from evil. For thine is the kingdom, the power and the glory, for ever and ever. Amen.

 

Benediction

Friends, God loves you. He’s made his love known to you through His Son, through His Spirit, through His word, and through the fellowship we have with one another. Now He sends us out into the world to bear witness to His deep and abiding love. He does so with this blessing, “Now may the Lord bless you and keep you. May the Lord make his face to shine upon you and be gracious unto you. May the Lord lift up his countenance upon you and give you His shalom.”

8.27.18_Shalom-1024x683

 

 

 

 

Take Care and Keep Your Soul Diligently

Welcome to today’s devotional. Thank you for being here. I hope you are finding encouragement in these devotionals. I plan to post one on Sunday, Wednesday, and Friday until – well – until after this viral interruption is behind us. I do want to tell you that these devotions are coming to you from your friends at Bethel Presbyterian Church in Kingsport, TN and Windsor Avenue Presbyterian Church in Bristol, TN. Those folks are kind enough to allow me to be their minister and I am grateful to them.

As we get started – will you join me in prayer –

Prayer / Confession / Thanksgiving for Pardon:

Father, these days are strange, and we are trying to figure out how to do something that most folks in living memory haven’t had to do. Staying away from one other – not gathering over meals with friends and family – not gathering to worship – not spending time in each other’s company isn’t something we are used to. Lord, I think we probably prayertook that for granted. But Lord, here we are faced with a weird set of circumstances and trying to make the best of it and trying to stay healthy and connected. We want to do this thing well. We want to love our neighbors and help them where we can – and we want to stay close to you and to each other. But Lord we need your help to do that. Will you draw us near to yourself through your Spirit and be with us as we take a few minutes to hear your word? We need that – help us, Lord. I ask this in the name of Jesus – Amen.

Text: Deuteronomy 4:9; Luke 18:1–8

I want to read a few passages of the Bible to you. It is coming from the English Standard Version. Here it is:

  • Deuteronomy 4:9 [9] “Only take care, and keep your soul diligently, lest you forget the things that your eyes have seen, and lest they depart from your heart all the days of your life. Make them known to your children and your children’s children—
  • Luke 18:1–8 [1] And he told them a parable to the effect that they ought always to pray and not lose heart. [2] He said, “In a certain city there was a judge who neither feared God nor respected man. [3] And there was a widow in that city who keptcoming to him and saying, ‘Give me justice against my adversary.’ [4] For a while he 54203-Text-Old-Bible-Study-Literature-Book-Christianity-2073023.800w.tnrefused, but afterward he said to himself, ‘Though I neither fear God nor respect man, [5] yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will give her justice, so that she will not beat me down by her continual coming.’” [6] And the Lord said, “Hear what the unrighteous judge says. [7] And will not God give justice to his elect, who cry to him day and night? Will he delay long over them? [8] I tell you, he will give justice to them speedily. Nevertheless, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?” (ESV)

This is God’s word. We are grateful for it.

Reflection:

I became a fan of Chris Pratt when he played Andy on the TV show Parks and Rec. He’s also been in a few movies. He was in the most recent Jurassic Park movies and he was in Guardians of the Galaxy as well. But I became a super fan of Pratt after his acceptance speech when he was awarded the Generation Award from MTV in 2018.

Pratt gave a list of 9 life essentials – some of which are goofy – but there are others that have significant depth and they have the ring of truth. For instance, Pratt said “You have a soul. Be careful with it” and “Learn to pray. It’s easy and it’s so good for your soul.”

I love that Chris Pratt encouraged people to pay attention to their souls and to the fact that we need to take care of them and a good way to do so is through prayer. Now I don’t want to get into any sort of debate about body and soul and spirit because that’s not my point. The point is we are more than flesh and blood and if we are honest, a part of us that often gets overlooked or neglected is our soul. But that’s not good.

Without getting overly philosophical or theological, the soul relates to the idea that we have an inner part / an inner life – it’s that part of us that responds to other people, responds to beauty, to relationships, to concepts – but more important the soul is that part of us that responds to God and the things of God – it is the part of us that responds to God’s Spirit and the work of Christ.

And – just like our bodies – a soul can be healthy or unhealthy. And – we need to pay attention to our soul – just as much – if perhaps not more than even our physical self. And – before I get too far down the road, and before you start to push back on me – let me point out that the Bible is clear that the soul is something that people ought to be diligent about.

cropped-img_0674.jpgIn the Old Testament book of Deuteronomy God’s people are given instructions on how to live. There are instructions on how to live in a relationship with God, with neighbor, and with ourselves. And in Deuteronomy 4:9 we read this admonition: “Only take care, and keep your soul diligently, lest you forget the things that your eyes have seen, and lest they depart from your heart all the days of your life. Make them known to your children and your children’s children.”

“Keep your soul diligently” is a strong admonition from God to His people. It is important to note that the soul here refers to everything that drives us as a person. It is the inner being, the self, the seat of appetites, emotions, passions, the activity of mind, the character – the thing that makes us human. And the admonition is to keep the soul diligently or in other words, to guard it, to watch out for it, to preserve and protect it. We know that there are things that can damage our souls and we also know that there are things that can keep our souls healthy and strong.

Chris Pratt was right. Prayer is good for the soul. Prayer is a way for us to keep our souls healthy and strong enough to respond to God and to others and even ourselves. But I don’t want to give Chris Pratt too much credit for this notion about prayer as means of being diligent about our soul because, well, he isn’t the first one to point to that.

In fact, look at Luke 18:1 “And he told them a parable to the effect that they ought always to pray and not lose heart.” Do you see how prayer and the notion of not losing heart are mentioned together? Well, there is a reason for that. Now – I hope you’ll pardon me for a second – but let me lay some New Testament Greek on you – but know I’m doing so only because it is a key to getting something out of this text. The word that is used here is the word ἐγκακεῖν (enkakein).

The word – means to be utterly spiritless, to be wearied out, exhausted. It is the idea of being discouraged and one of the places that we feel discouragement is in our soul / our heart.  In the Bible, often, the word heart means the seat of emotion which is how this word that Jesus uses here ties in with being more than simply physically tired. It is an emotional weariness where something has worn a person out from the inside. It has to do with – well – being worn out spiritually. The place where that happens is the soul.

So you see –Jesus is giving his disciples a parable about the fact that they ought always to pray which is a means by which they will not be utterly spiritless, wearied out, exhausted spiritually. In other words, prayer is a means by which we keep our souls diligently.

Christ Pratt was right. Prayer really is good for the soul. Prayer helps us to keep our souls diligently so that we don’t grow weary and lose heart.

Friends this interruption in our lives has actually given us space in our lives to do – what some people call – soul care and prayer is just the ticket to get that soul care going. I’d like to encourage you today to invest some of your time each day learning to pray in perhaps a deeper way than you’ve ever done before. Prayer is a means by which we diligently keep our souls.

I’m sure many of you – most of you – have a solid prayer life and don’t need much help from me. And I have to say that I have a lot to learn about prayer; in no way am I claiming to be some sort of expert when it comes to prayer. In fact, I am quick to say I am Surprised-by-Joy_CS-Lewis_620now and will always be an elementary student when it comes to prayer. In fact, I love C.S. Lewis’ advice to his friend, Sheldon Vanauken. Vanauken and Lewis met in Oxford and talked at length about the Christian faith. The two continued to correspond via letter for years afterward. At some point, Vanauken came to faith in Christ. In a letter to his friend, Lewis encouraged as new Christian to “be busy learning to pray.” That’s solid advice even for folks who have been Christians for years.

One of the keys to diligently keep our soul is to be busy learning to pray as Jesus tells us and as Pratt and Lewis affirm. But I must admit that sometimes learning to pray has some challenges to it. Not too long ago I was reminded of something that speaks into those challenges quite well and it comes to us from another guy named Pratt.

In his book Pray With You’re your Eyes Open, theologian Richard Pratt wrote, “Our concept of God affects every aspect of our prayer life. Many Christians, for instance, are pratt bookPratt_Richard_L_Jrbored with prayer largely because their perception of God is so narrow. It is no wonder that we lose interest in prayer when we severely limit our conception of God. By emphasizing one or two of God’s characteristics to the near exclusion of all the others, we unwittingly reduce Him to a two-dimensional, black-and-white picture.”[1]

What do you think about that? How does your concept of God impact that way you are diligently keeping your soul with prayer? How does your understanding of God shape the way you pray? Where does your concept of God come from? How closely tied to the Bible is your understanding of God?

I think that’s an important part of diligently keeping our soul in prayer. I say that because of what Deuteronomy 4:9 says. It says one of the reasons to keep our soul diligently is so we will not forget the “the things that your eyes have seen” so they don’t “depart from your heart (perhaps soul) all the days of your life.” What are the things that are mentioned here? Well, remember this is Deuteronomy and these are all people that God led out of bondage – out of slavery. They have seen God do amazing things and they are being told to keep their souls diligently by keeping that memory of what God has done in their soul – so that they don’t forget what God has done.

Richard Pratt encourages people to pray by keeping their eyes open to the things God has done so that their concept of God – who He is – what He has done – is at the forefront of their minds when they pray. A key part of prayer is being reminded that it isn’t just words going up in the air, but it is rather a conversation with God the Father – which is one reason why Jesus taught us to begin our prayer with “Our Father.”

Prayer is good for the soul because we are reminded of all that God has done in the past and that memory will give shape to our present and our future. Prayer that focuses on a biblical concept of all that God has done is a key part of diligently keeping our souls. We can pray and not lose heart because we recognize just to whom it is we are praying.

Will you allow me to wrap things up with questions – maybe just to get your wheels turning.

  • What things have you seen God do in your life and the lives of your family and friends?
  • How do those things come up when you pray?
  • How do the things that the Bible says about God and what God has done come up in your prayer life?
  • How does the memory of what God has done encourage you? How does it build you up?
  • How are you at diligently keeping your soul through prayer?

Speaking of prayer – let me pray and I’d ask you to pray the Lord’s Prayer with me in a moment.

 Prayer / Lord’s Prayer:

Father, Jesus told us we ought always to pray so that we don’t lose heart. Truth be told, we get pretty busy doing a lot of other things – but now Lord – we don’t have the excuse. Father, help us to use this time – this viral interruption – as a means of learning to pray all the time. But Father, as we learn to pray – as we diligently keep our souls – will you bring to memory all the things you’ve done? Will you remind us of what the Bible tells us about you? Will you remind us and show us all the things you’ve done in our lives and the lives of our family and friends? Will you help us to see you as our Great God?

praying handsFather – we pray now for our country and our community as we deal with this pandemic. It is cause for being anxious but we don’t want to be afflicted with anxiety. We want to remember all that you’ve done and promised to do. But we are human so help us to see you at work. Lord bring healing to our world. Lord help those who are ill and those who are caring for those who are sick. Prepare our health care workers. Lord be with us in tangible ways. Lord be with our leaders. Give them wisdom about what to do.

Father, we pray for your churches. We pray that you would help us to bear witness to the world around us, to be ready to sacrifice, to be ready to step in and do what you’d have us to do.

Lord, we pray that you’d help those who have been impacted by this virus – folks who have lost their jobs already. Lord all we can say is help them – and give your people wisdom about stepping into the gap to help. Lord – our constant prayer is help us.

Lord be with our teachers and school officials as they try to provide instruction to their students. Please give them strength. And Lord be with those who are making sure that people have enough food and water. Lord these days can become dark quickly – so help your people to be light.

All this we ask Lord – in the matchless, marvelous name of Jesus Our Lord – who taught us to pray saying, “Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name; thy kingdom come; thy will be done; on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors. And lead us not into temptation; but deliver us from evil. For thine is the kingdom, the power and the glory, for ever and ever. Amen.

 Apostles’ Creed:

Will you join me now in reaffirming your faith in Christ –

“I BELIEVE in God the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth, And in Jesus Christ his only Son our Lord; who was conceived by the Holy Ghost, born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, dead, and buried; he descended into hell; the third day he rose again from the dead; he ascended into heaven, and sitteth on the apostlescreed-1024x572right hand of God the Father Almighty; from thence he shall come to judge the quick and the dead. I believe in the Holy Ghost; the holy catholic Church; the communion of saints; the forgiveness of sins; the resurrection of the body; and the life everlasting. Amen.”

 Benediction:

Friends, God loves you. He’s made his love known to you through His Son, through His Spirit, through His word, and through the fellowship we have with one another. Now He sends us out into the world to bear witness to His deep and abiding love. He does so with this blessing, “Now may the Lord bless you and keep you. May the Lord make his face to shine upon you and be gracious unto you. May the Lord lift up his countenance upon you and give you His shalom.” Go now in the Shalom of Christ.

 

It Is Well Because Jesus Has Overcome the World: A Reflection on John 16:33

As I mentioned on Sunday, my hope was to provide devotionals throughout the week. I’ve spent the last couple of days preparing a few things and I want to start sharing them with you in the hopes that God will use them to encourage you and to help you in your walk with Jesus. I’ll be posting some videos and uploading a few things to my blog and to Facebook. In fact, you can find a video associated with this blog here:

Before we go any further though I want to tell you that what I am sharing with you in these devotionals comes from all sorts of places. Because what I am actually sharing with you is part of my life in Christ. In other words, I will be sharing things from my own devotional life. Some of what I share, I will have written. Some of what I share will come from other sources that I use in my devotional life.

I just wanted you to know that before I get started today.


Prayer

  • This prayer is from A Guide to Prayer for Ministers & Other Servants

prayerLord God, you who are the sources of all truth, wisdom, justice, and love, lead me through this time of worship and throughout this day of service to you. Help me constantly to rest my life upon the eternal foundations of your love and presence. Save \me from haste and confusion, from wrongful desire, and the net of evil. Through the inspiration of your Holy Spirit, enlighten, instruct, and guide me all day long. In the name of Jesus, Amen.

Text for Reflection:

54203-Text-Old-Bible-Study-Literature-Book-Christianity-2073023.800w.tn[31] Jesus answered them, “Do you now believe? [32] Behold, the hour is coming, indeed it has come, when you will be scattered, each to his own home, and will leave me alone. Yet I am not alone, for the Father is with me. [33] I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.” (ESV)

Hymn: It Is Well by H. G. Spafford. I encourage you to listen to this hymn and spend some time just thinking about the words. Also, you may be interested in knowing more about the hymn: https://www.staugustine.com/article/20141016/LIFESTYLE/310169936)

It Is Well

Reflection: Earlier today, I came across the words of Jesus in John 16:33. Jesus said, “I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world, you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.” You know as a pastor I am often asked what is my favorite book of the Bible – or favorite text. That is really a tough question because for me it is impossible to reduce 66 books down to one – or even down to one text. But I do have texts that largely speak to my soul: Psalms is a book I turn to often because it often gives me the words I need when I can’t find my own in terms of prayer or worship. But I also love to read the Gospels – because to be blunt – there is only one reason why I am the way I am – Jesus.

I’m not saying that to be trite or flippant. I am a minister of the Gospel – I am Christian – and I do what I do as a minister and Christian not because I am anything special or think of myself as a particularly good guy. Those of you who know me well – know I am a mess peter and john runningand I most identify with Jesus’ disciple – Simon Peter. That guy kept messing up and kept going back to Jesus. And Jesus knew that about Peter and loved him. I mess up all the time and find a great example in Simon Peter; I keep going back to Jesus. Friends, that’s what I do. I am drawn to Jesus; he is the only reason I do what I do and my hope is rooted in Jesus – alone.

And so, I turn to the Gospels – a lot – so I can read about Jesus. So I can be reminded that He takes messy people like me and does some good things with them. And so, this morning I came across this passage in John’s Gospel. John 16 is part of a section called upper roomthe Upper Room Discourse – which is from John 13-17. It is called that because that is where it takes place. Jesus and his disciples are in a room together celebrating the Passover – and it is the same evening that Jesus is betrayed by Judas and handed over and ultimately crucified; none of which was a surprise to Jesus. If you read the gospels, you’ll get the sense quick that Jesus was fully aware of what was in store for Him.

And so, listening in on Jesus’ final conversation with His disciples before the cross is powerful. And, there is a lot in there for us as well. But it is important to remember that as Jesus speaks to his disciples, they really don’t know what lays in store for them. Their lives are about to irrevocably change. They are about to see the man they thought of as their teacher and master, the man they presumed to be coming in to be like David – a great warrior – or like Moses – a great leader. But Jesus was coming like the Savior of the world. He wasn’t interested simply in overthrowing the Roman army and liberating God’s people from tyranny. Jesus was coming in like the Messiah who came to liberate humanity from the tyranny of sin and death.

But to get to liberation from sin and death, Christ would endure unimaginable suffering at the hands of sinful people and then rise from the dead three days later. Everything was about to change but the disciples didn’t realize it. And they didn’t realize that afterward – after Jesus’ resurrection and ascension – that those who have their faith in Jesus – those who belong to Christ – would participate in his suffering as well. They didn’t fully realize – like some Christian even today – they didn’t realize that participating in advancing God’s kingdom requires God’s people to step into the messy places of the world and often face – well – what Jesus said we would face. Remember, Jesus said, “In the world you will have tribulation.”

We don’t use that word often and so the meaning kind of gets lost. The word means affliction, difficulties, troubles. In other words, Jesus is trying to tell his disciples – then and now – you aren’t immune from troubles. You are going to have them and anyone – including a preacher – that tells you otherwise – is blowing smoke.

The late pastor, Eugene Peterson – did a marvelous job of providing a translation of the Eugene-PetersonBible called The Message. He translated John 16:33 like this: Jesus said, “I’ve told you all this so that trusting me, you will be The_Message_coverunshakable and assured, deeply at peace. In this godless world you will continue to experience difficulties. But take heart! I’ve conquered the world.”

Friends, today, for lots of reasons, that text bears more weight and assurance than it usually does. We are going to face difficulties, afflictions, troubles. But, in the midst of all those, Jesus reminds us to take heart – not in ourselves – but in Him. In Jesus we are unshakable, assured, deeply at peace because our trust is in the one who has conquered the world.

I can’t think of a better song to capture what all of this means than the hymn “It is Well With My Soul.” You may know the story behind the hymn – but it bears repeating even if you do. That hymn was written by Horatio G. Spafford. Spafford was a successful lawyer and businessman. He lived in Chicago. But Spafford and his wife dealt with a great deal loss due to illness and to a tragic accident. The Spaffords suffered financially when the great Chicago fire destroyed a huge portion of their business. Two of the children died due to pneumonia. But the song itself was born out of Horatio’s grief after four of his daughters died when the ship they were on sunk mid-way across the Atlantic. Spafford penned that song as he sailed from the US to England in order to be with his wife.

In his grief, he penned this amazing hymn that I think goes so well with what Jesus is saying in John 16. Friends, we are going to have troubles but praise the Lord – it is well with my soul – because of Jesus. May that be our prayer today and every day – that we as Christ’s people can say without hesitation – no matter what comes our way – it is well Lord – with my soul.

Prayers for the People and the Lord’s Prayer

Lord, we don’t want to face troubles of any kind. We spend a lot of time trying to make sure that we don’t. And so, when things do come our way, we can lose sight of you. We can start to question and wonder what we will do. We can start to worry and fret and get anxious. We can get consumed by all the troubles that we see. We can be like the young man who worked for Elisha. All he could see were the troubles.

constant_prayerBut Lord, you aren’t surprised by troubles and you’ve told us you’d never leave us nor forsake us – even in the midst of our troubles. So Lord, like Elisha prayed, help us not be overwhelmed by the troubles we see, help us not to be afraid. Help us to know that “those who are with us are more than those who are against us.” And Lord, “please open our eyes that we may see you” at work in us. Lord be with those who are struggling because of this virus. There are lots of people who are ill and lots of people who are losing jobs and they are fearful. God, hear our prayer for them and for your people. Help us, Lord, to be the church that you’ve called us to be for such a time as this.

All this we ask Lord – in the matchless, marvelous name of Jesus Our Lord – who taught us to pray saying, ““Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name; thy kingdom come; thy will be done; on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors. And lead us not into temptation; but deliver us from evil. For thine is the kingdom, the power and the glory, for ever and ever. Amen.

 Benediction

Friends, God loves you. He’s made his love known to you through His Son, through His Spirit, through His Word, and through the fellowship we have with one another. Now He sends us out into the world to bear witness to His deep and abiding love. He does so with this blessing, “Now may the Lord bless you and keep you. May the Lord make his face to shine upon you and be gracious unto you. May the Lord lift up his countenance upon you and give you His shalom.” Go now in the Shalom of Christ.

8.27.18_Shalom-1024x683

 

Head for the Mountains

Dear Friends,

These are unusual days; there is no doubt about it. Have you ever known a time in the US when anything other than weather or war has caused this scale of shut-down? But, here we are – all trying to figure out how best to move forward and navigate our world and our lives. Staying at home – staying out of groups larger than 10 – washing our hands a lot – is the new norm for a while.

And while this new norm may be odd, while it may crank up our uncertainties, it does afford us a chance to worship. It offers and affords us a chance to be quiet and reflective, to pray, to read our Bible, and to allow God by His Spirit to enrich us spiritually. While it was best for us to put off meeting together for a while, that doesn’t mean that we have to put off spending time with the Lord and even using some of the same devotional material to do so.

A few days ago, I started putting some things together and posting it on my blog and on a Facebook page set up for Windsor Avenue Presbyterian Church and Bethel Presbyterian Church. I will be updating those blogs every few days, hoping bethelWAPCto provide some encouragement and support for my friends and family. Today, I am posting a devotional which is a worship service – of sorts. It begins with a Call to Worship and carries on to a Benediction. I’ve included a hymn and a reflection on Psalm 91. My hope is that you can either share it with your family or simply use it in your personal devotions.

These days are strange – indeed – but they can also be days that God’s people bear witness to our neighbors. To do so, however, we should allow God to give us strength through fellowship with Him. My hope is that this small devotional effort may help you to walk more closely with Jesus – to see God as your refuge and fortress – even as you listen to the Spirit’s leading in how to show the love of Christ.

Please know that if you need me or know of any way that I can be of help to anyone, I am here. I will help to deliver food, or medicine, or serve in any way. There are a lot of people who are willing to step in and help; just let me know (mark.hutton58@gmail.com).

May the Lord Bless you and give you His Shalom –

PAX

Mark


Call to Worship

O come, let us sing to the Lord and shout with joy to the rock of our salvation! Let us come into God’s presence with thanksgiving, singing joyful songs of praise.

Hymn: How Great Thou Art

O Lord my God, when I in awesome wonder Consider all the worlds thy hands have made, I see the stars, I hear the rolling thunder, Thy power throughout the universe displayed:

how great thou artRefrain: Then sings my soul, my Savior God, to thee: How great thou art! How great thou art! Then sings my soul, my Savior God, to thee: How great thou art! How great thou art!

When through the woods and forest glades I wander And hear the birds sing sweetly in the trees, When I look down from lofty mountain grandeur, And hear the brook and feel the gentle breeze:

Refrain: Then sings my soul, my Savior God, to thee: How great thou art! How great thou art! Then sings my soul, my Savior God, to thee: How great thou art! How great thou art!

And when I think that God, his Son not sparing, Sent him to die, I scarce can take it in, That on the cross, my burden gladly bearing, He bled and died to take away my sin.

Refrain: Then sings my soul, my Savior God, to thee: How great thou art! How great thou art! Then sings my soul, my Savior God, to thee: How great thou art! How great thou art!

When Christ shall come with shout of acclamation And take me home, what joy shall fill my heart! Then I shall bow in humble adoration, And there proclaim, My God, how great thou art!

Refrain: Then sings my soul, my Savior God, to thee: How great thou art! How great thou art! Then sings my soul, my Savior God, to thee: How great thou art! How great thou art!

Confession:

Father, in you we live and move and have our being, your face is hidden from us by our sins, and in your mercy, we forget in the blindness of our hearts: Clean us up Lord, from all our offenses, and deliver us from proud thoughts and vain desires, so that we might humble our hearts and our stubborn heads so that we may draw near to you, confessing our faults, confiding in your grace, and finding in you our refuge and strength and fortress; we ask this through Jesus Christ your Son. Amen.

Assurance of Forgiveness (Rom. 8:34; 2 Cor. 5:17)

Hear the good news! Christ died for us. Christ rose for us. Christ reigns in power for us. Christ prays for us. Anyone who is in Christ is a new creation. The old life has gone; a new life has begun. Believe the good news of the gospel: In Jesus Christ our sins are forgiven. In Jesus Christ, we are forgiven. Amen! Thanks Be to God!

Gloria Patri:

Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Ghost; as it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, world without end. Amen, amen.

Psalms-Detail

Scripture Reading from Psalm 91(also good to use with Lectio Divina)

[1] He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High

will abide in the shadow of the Almighty.

[2] I will say to the LORD, “My refuge and my fortress,

my God, in whom I trust.”

[3] For he will deliver you from the snare of the fowler

and from the deadly pestilence.

[4] He will cover you with his pinions,

and under his wings you will find refuge;

his faithfulness is a shield and buckler.

[5] You will not fear the terror of the night,

nor the arrow that flies by day,

[6] nor the pestilence that stalks in darkness,

nor the destruction that wastes at noonday.

[7] A thousand may fall at your side,

ten thousand at your right hand,

but it will not come near you.

[8] You will only look with your eyes

and see the recompense of the wicked.

[9] Because you have made the LORD your dwelling place—

the Most High, who is my refuge—

[10] no evil shall be allowed to befall you,

no plague come near your tent.

[11] For he will command his angels concerning you

to guard you in all your ways.

[12] On their hands they will bear you up,

lest you strike your foot against a stone.

[13] You will tread on the lion and the adder;

the young lion and the serpent you will trample underfoot.

[14] “Because he holds fast to me in love, I will deliver him;

I will protect him, because he knows my name.

[15] When he calls to me, I will answer him;

I will be with him in trouble;

I will rescue him and honor him.

[16] With long life I will satisfy him

and show him my salvation.”

The grass withers and the flower fades, but the Word of our God will stand forever.

Prayer for Illumination:

Guide us, O God, by Your Word and Spirit, that in your light we may see light, in your truth find freedom, and in your will discover your peace; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

 Reflection on Psalm 91 by Dr. Mark A. Hutton

I grew up in Bristol, TN and our home was part of a valley that stretches all the way down to Bristol Motor Speedway – which is the fastest short-track in NASCAR and home BMSto the largest NCAA Football Game ever played. Our little neck of the woods close enough to the Speedway that we could hear the race cars and dragsters as they powered down the track, which one reason they call that valley – “Thunder Valley.”

BMS valleyI have to say that our piece of that valley was a little slice of heaven to my friends and me. I was fortunate enough to grow up with a bunch of other boys. Those rolling hills were to us – mountains. And the creek that ran the length of the valley was to us a river. We felt safe there among the trees. The hillsides – those mountains – loomed large in our collective imagination and they were a playground for my friends and me. We spent hours running up and down those hills, ducking behind fallen trees. We even built – what we thought – were elaborate, impenetrable forts – just like the ones we saw in John Wayne westerns and TV shows like Daniel Boone, Gun Smoke. We’d get inside our fort and wait – we’d pop up from behind the “walls” and pretend our BB Guns were everything from imaginary Winchesters to bazookas to M-16s.

stick fort
This is an awesome stick fort…wayyyy more awesome than anything we ever built but you get the idea – learn how to build one at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rdPR_hOt2ms

The enemy was always the same. Coming of age at the tail-end of the Cold War, we were always on the lookout for Soviet invaders. In fact, we were sort of conditioned to be prepared at any moment for the sky to be filled with planes – with enemy troops drooping in – or bombs to cascade down. It was a time to grow up but it was also a time cold warwhen people still built nuclear shelters in their back-yards, and elementary schools practiced nuclear drills – which never made a lot of sense. We’d duck underneath our desks – as if that was somehow going to save us.

Everyone – it seemed – was preparing for a Soviet invasion. And – in those days, every movie had a Russian as a villain. Today, if you watch the show Stranger Things you’ll get the idea that people believed the Soviets were behind stranger-things-season-2-recap-1148916every corner. And in Bristol, TN – there were all these stories that the Soviets had missiles aimed at us because of a plant called Raytheon.

Well, one afternoon, while my friends and I were playing, we spotted a small plane flying very low through the valley. The plane was a small plane – like a Cessna or a Piper. It was coming from the speedway, in fact, we could hear the cars roaring around the track. We noticed the plane for two reasons. First, it was flying low, not too far above the tree-line. That wasn’t normal. Second, it had something attached to it – a huge sign – a message – trailing behind it. Of course, none of us had seen such a thing.cessna pulling ad

Now again – my friends and I had been conditioned to be ready for WWIII to break out at any minute. And there we were, standing in my yard, BB Guns in hand and a plane flew over with a message – a message to all of us – to all Americans everywhere – the message we’d all expected and dreaded – and we – a rag-tagged bunch of 10-year-old boys were the first to see it. It said, “HEAD FOR THE MOUNTAINS” in big, bold, block letters.

We freaked. We thought – this is it – the Russians are coming, and we’ve got to get to the mountains. That plane was sent jut for us – alerting us to run for cover – to run for mountains!

And what better place to go than the mountains – for in those mountains we had constructed an impenetrable wooden fort. It made perfect sense.

Safely tucked away in our fort – BB-Guns at the ready – we waited for the tanks and trucks and soldiers and bombs to start (think Red Dawn with Patrick Swayze and Jennifer Red DawnGray). We stayed up there for what we thought were hours, but it was probably more like twenty minutes. We were there until my friend’s dad made the trek into the woods to tell him it was time to go get a haircut. We told him he couldn’t go – the Russians were coming – a plane had told us to “Head to the Mountains.”

Of course, he started laughing – because there was a race that day – and the plane we saw flying over was just an ad – you know – Busch Beer – at the time their slogan was “Head for the mountains…”busch beer

Yes, I know but I never said we were a bunch of smart boys. We weren’t all that smart – but you know what’s amazing? There wasn’t an adult in our group – not one – and yet these dumb boys – running from a beer slogan knew enough to know to not run for the mountains – we knew enough to run for shelter – to run to our fort. We knew enough to know that in the midst of what we perceived to be a near and present danger – we knew needed a fortress – a refuge – a place to be safe. We needed refuge and a fortress.

When we sensed that trouble was coming, we ran for a refuge and a fortress.

These days we aren’t really all that concerned about Soviets, well – not like we were in the 50’s to the 80’s – but we are concerned about an unseen foe. We are facing a pandemic and there isn’t a single state in our union that isn’t dealing with it in one form sars-cov-19or another. Scores of people worldwide are dealing with this virus and you’d be hard-pressed to find someone that hasn’t been impacted by it. We are living in strange times – times of a clear and present danger – and during times like these – instinctively – we look for a refuge – a fortress.

Friends – it is into that very thing that God speaks very clearly.

In fact, the Psalmists knew a thing or two about the need for a refuge and a fortress. The Old Testament Book of Psalms is filled with places where the Psalmist sees God as a refuge and a fortress. One such text is Psalm 91. There is such beauty and hope and strength in this Psalm. Ps 91 has helped me along in my walk with Christ – especially during the times that I have needed a refuge and a fortress. Perhaps it will help you as well.

Psalms-DetailHere is our text again – Psalm 91:

[1] He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High

will abide in the shadow of the Almighty.

[2] I will say to the LORD, “My refuge and my fortress,

my God, in whom I trust.”

[3] For he will deliver you from the snare of the fowler

and from the deadly pestilence.

[4] He will cover you with his pinions,

and under his wings you will find refuge;

his faithfulness is a shield and buckler.

[5] You will not fear the terror of the night,

nor the arrow that flies by day,

[6] nor the pestilence that stalks in darkness,

nor the destruction that wastes at noonday.

[7] A thousand may fall at your side,

ten thousand at your right hand,

but it will not come near you.

[8] You will only look with your eyes

and see the recompense of the wicked.

[9] Because you have made the LORD your dwelling place—

the Most High, who is my refuge—

[10] no evil shall be allowed to befall you,

no plague come near your tent.

[11] For he will command his angels concerning you

to guard you in all your ways.

[12] On their hands they will bear you up,

lest you strike your foot against a stone.

[13] You will tread on the lion and the adder;

the young lion and the serpent you will trample underfoot.

[14] “Because he holds fast to me in love, I will deliver him;

I will protect him, because he knows my name.

[15] When he calls to me, I will answer him;

I will be with him in trouble;

I will rescue him and honor him.

[16] With long life I will satisfy him

and show him my salvation.” (ESV)

This text is so timely. Here – the Psalmist not only affirms his faith – which is something we ought to do as often as possible – but he also lays out his troubles – but not in a whinny-sing-song sort of way. He lays things out as they are – as we should – but as he recognizes the dangers, he does so in light of God’s promise to be our refuge and our fortress. He knows that nothing touches God’s people unless by God’s permission. But the great surprise of this text comes in verse 11 and then again in verses 14-16 – where the Lord speaks.

Let’s take a quick look. In verse 1 & 2 the Psalmist begins with a sort of affirmation of faith, doesn’t he? Listen to him. He says,

[1] He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High (‘elyon) will abide in the shadow of the Almighty (El Shaddai). [2] I will say to the LORD, “My refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust.”

That is a statement of faith! It is a bold declaration of someone who knows that God is their refuge and fortress. In fact, look at the names the Psalmist uses for God in these two verses.

Most High – God – ‘elyon– “the divine title “Most High” pictures God as the exalted ruler of the universe who vindicates the innocent and judges the wicked” (Net Bible).

Almighty – El Shaddai “the divine name used here is “Shaddai” (שַׁדַּי, shadday). Shaddai (or El Shaddai) is the Sovereign God of the world who grants life/blesses and kills/judges” (Net Bible).

Notice too – what else is happening in these two verses. Notice that he is stating that God is his refuge and his fortress.

What’s the difference between a refuge and a fortress? A refuge is a place where your needs are met: food, water, relationships – all those things. A fortress is a place of protection. Notice, that God is his safe place; his security is in God.

That sounds to me like an affirmation of faith. It sounds like someone who is affirming his or her faith. I will say to the Lord – my refuge – my fortress – in you I trust. In other words, the Psalmist is teaching us that only God – God – himself – sustains and protects.

But there is something else tied in with this affirmation of faith. It is an admission of need. That is one of the toughest things to do for so many people. It is tough for some folks to admit that they need help or that there really are dangers around them.

But there is a lesson to be learned from our current situation. Our country – the world – is being brought to a halt – to a near stand-still – by something we can’t see with the naked eye.

Did you ever think you’d see a day when nearly every school in the country has closed for the remainder of the school year? Did you ever think you’d see a day when sporting events around the world are shut down? But here we are – things have closed – not for weather, nor war but because of a virus.

Friends – this sort of thing should make us stop and think and realize just how fragile and vulnerable we really are.

And these troubles aren’t imaginary troubles. They are very real. And he lists them out in verse 3-10. But he doesn’t whine. He is stating things as they are – real concerns – but notice he does so considering his faith in God as his refuge, fortress and his trust in God. He lists things out – not as one who fears – but one who knows that nothing will enter his life without God’s permission – nothing comes his way unless the Lord has ordained it.

The Psalmist lists his troubles out in light of his affirmation of faith.

Look at Psalm 91:3-10, you’ll discover that the Psalmist lists out some things that, well, were very real to him but he does knowing that God is his refuge and fortress.

What he lists out are very real concerns – and they are even concerns that we share. For instance, he says, “you will not fear the terror of the night.”

It is at night – just when we start to rest – that anxieties come creeping in for some people. Fear of running out of money, food, or some other trouble creeps in. But God as my refuge and fortress – I will not fear the terror of the night.

Nor will we fear the pestilence that stalks in the darkness. They dealt with pestilence in those days. You know, plagues, illness, disease. We are dealing with a pestilence. Thousands of people have become infected with this virus.

But God’s people – according to this Psalm – do not fear the pestilence – because God is their refuge and fortress – and nothing comes into our lives unless it comes through God first. That isn’t to say that God’s people aren’t impacted or don’t become infected. It is to say that we do not fear it because we know that nothing can come into our lives unless the Lord allows us – and intends to use it for His glory and to advance His kingdom.

In faith – the Psalmist is saying he will not fear it – because God is his refuge, his fortress – his trust.

Oddly enough, it turns out we have some of the same concerns – the same troubles – that were troubling the Psalmist all those centuries ago. But notice that he lists them out – just as we ought to list ours out – but with an understanding that God is our refuge, our fortress – and in him we place all our trust.

But now our text comes with a surprise. In a lot of psalms, the psalmist will affirm his faith – list out his concerns and return to faith. But here, in Psalm 91 – we get to hear from God himself!

Look at 11-13.

[11] For he will command his angels concerning you

to guard you in all your ways.

[12] On their hands they will bear you up,

lest you strike your foot against a stone.

[13] You will tread on the lion and the adder;

the young lion and the serpent you will trample underfoot.

This is part of the surprise of Psalm 91.

It is here that we get a glimpse into what’s coming because this part of the Psalm wasn’t simply meant for the Psalmist – it is what we call a Messianic Psalm. In other words, it is one of those places in the Old Testament that points to the future Messiah. This is a text that points – as we understand it – to Jesus. In fact, it is a text that Satan tried to use against Jesus when he tempted Jesus in the wilderness.

One of the best parts of Psalm 91 is that even as it reminds us that God is our refuge and fortress it points us to the way that God is our refuge and fortress and our salvation because it points us to Jesus.

That’s the reason we need not fear the terrors of the night, nor pestilence, nor plague. No matter what comes – it only comes into our lives with God’s permission – and ultimately – those who have their hope in the Lord are secure – because of all that God has done in and through Jesus.

Our hope is built on nothing less than Jesus and His righteousness. And this text points to the person, word, and work of Jesus. We need not fear. Our refuge and our fortress is secure in Christ – not just for now but for all eternity.

That is the ultimate care for us – the ultimate in way of making provision for us – protecting us – our refuge and fortress is in Jesus.

But wait – there’s more.but wait theres more

Within this Psalm, we have yet another surprise. If you take a look at verse 14 you’ll notice quotation marks. This is to indicate that we have another speaker – and we are to see that these are the very words of God.

Listen to what God says as an answer to the Psalmist affirmation of faith:

[14] “Because he (that’s you and me – that’s anyone who has put their faith in Christ) “Because he (a person) holds fast to me in love, I will deliver him; I will protect him, because he knows my name. [15] When he calls to me, I will answer him; I will be with him in trouble; I will rescue him and honor him. [16] With long life I will satisfy him and show him my salvation.”

Here is something you ought to do. Take that bit of text and insert your name there; any time you start to feel anxious – in any situation – put your name in there – like this “Because ______ holds fast to Jesus in love, I the Lord will deliver him/her; I will protect _______, because ________ knows my name. When ______ calls to me, I will answer ________; I will be with _______ in trouble; I will rescue _______ and honor him. With long life I will satisfy ________ and show him / her my salvation.”

There is great joy here because, first, notice that God meets us in our faith and in our troubles. God meets us there and He promises to be our refuge, our fortress. He promises to protect us. That means that nothing – and I mean nothing – comes into the life of the believer without God allowing it. That doesn’t mean that we will not have to face things but it means we enter things as God’s protected servant that has work to do to advance His kingdom and purposes no matter the circumstance. It doesn’t mean we are immune from a virus but it means we don’t fear them either – because God will see us through them – ultimately to our salvation.

In fact, as one theologian said, “It is the great faith of the speaker that evokes this response of assurance. Yahweh responds because the speaker had yearned passionately for Yahweh. Yahweh is faithful and responsive to those who rely on him…we can deal with “real life threats looking them straight in the face” knowing that “none will prevail against” our Lord (The Message of the Psalms: A Theological Commentary).

Second – there is something else here that is critically important. We need to notice that God gets the final word. And notice the final word: Not only does He say that he will be with us in trouble, he says I will “show him my salvation.” Friends, we have seen the salvation of the Lord in the person of Jesus.

Again, it does not say that we will not have trouble; it says God will go with us into those troubles and deliver us. We will see God’s salvation. It is in Jesus and in Jesus alone that we have our salvation.

In fact, Romans 10 tells us that salvation is in Christ. Listen to it, [9] because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. [10] For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved. [11] For the Scripture says, “Everyone who believes in him will not be put to shame.” [12] For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; for the same Lord is Lord of all, bestowing his riches on all who call on him. [13] For “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved” (Romans 10:9-13 ESV).

Let me conclude here.

There is a great quote from an old preacher. He said, “It is impossible that any ill should happen to the man who is beloved of the Lord…Ill to him is no ill, but only good in a mysterious form. Losses enrich him, sickness is his medicine, reproach is his honor, death is his gain.’ The earlier words of Paul, in Romans 8:28, are in the great preacher’s mind as he explains, ‘No evil in the strict sense can happen to him, for everything is overruled for good” (Wilcock 79-82).

We need not fear the terrors of the night – we need not fear pestilence – we need not fear anything at all- we need not fear a virus. We have God’s promises to us that He is our refuge and our fortress.

But friends there is something tucked within this that we must see as it is. And this is critically important.

It is the wise person who acknowledges that they need a refuge and a fortress. That’s a tough thing for a lot of folks. It can be tough to admit that there is something they can’t handle. It is the wise person who sees that it is only in God that we have a refuge and a fortress – even to withstand the insanity of our days – the fear and anxiety that is ravaging the security of so many – is real. This viral threat to so many in our country and community is real.

But God’s people need not fear – nor be anxious – even as we do the work of the church by helping those who can’t help themselves – by loving neighbor – serving Christ. God has made it possible for us to hide under the shadow of His wings and we know He is our refuge and our fortress.

God gets the final word. That final word is Christ – our salvation – our refuge – our fortress. We trust in him as our fortress in tough and strange days.

Just as the Psalmist reaffirmed his faith in troublesome days – I’d like to invite you now to reaffirm your faith with the Apostles’ Creed…

Affirmation of Faith:

apostlescreed-1024x572Christian what is it that you believe: “I BELIEVE in God the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth, And in Jesus Christ his only Son our Lord; who was conceived by the Holy Ghost, born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, dead, and buried; he descended into hell; the third day he rose again from the dead; he ascended into heaven, and sitteth on the right hand of God the Father Almighty; from thence he shall come to judge the quick and the dead. I believe in the Holy Ghost; the holy catholic Church; the communion of saints; the forgiveness of sins; the resurrection of the body; and the life everlasting. Amen.”

Prayers of the people and the Lord’s Prayer

It is important that we bow our hearts before the Lord and lay before him the concerns of our hearts and the concerns we have for all those around us. We do so – again – not as folks who fear but as folks who have faith and assurance that the Lord is our refuge and our fortress.

prayerFather, we bow our hearts before you. We want to trust you with everything and your word tells us that we should cast all our cares before you. So Lord, we do so now. We cast all our cares before you. So, Lord, in your mercy, we ask that you hear our prayers – as we lift up folks all around us. Almighty God, in Christ you taught us to pray, and promised that we would receive all that we ask in his name. Hear now our prayers Lord –

  • Hear now our prayers for the church around the world – help your people to bear witness to who you are in this moment of uncertainty and anxiety;
  • Hear now our prayers for our loved ones;
  • Hear now our prayers for those who work in the health industry…give them wisdom, hope, stamina;
  • Hear now our prayers for our church…as we look to you to hold us together and to help us be the light of Christ in this community;
  • Hear now our prayers for the healing of the world needs from this pandemic;
  • Hear now our prayers for peace and justice in the world;
  • Hear now our prayers for our nation’s leaders;
  • Hear now our prayers for our community;

Lord hear our prayer – for we pray in the name of Jesus who taught us to pray saying,

“Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name; thy kingdom come; thy will be done; on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors. And lead us not into temptation; but deliver us from evil. For thine is the kingdom, the power and the glory, for ever and ever. Amen.

Benediction

Friends, God loves you. He’s made his love known to you through His Son, through His Spirit, through His Word, and through the fellowship we have with one another. Now He sends us out into the world to bear witness to His deep and abiding love. He does so with this blessing: “Now may the Lord bless you and keep you. May the Lord make his face to shine upon you and be gracious unto you. May the Lord lift up his countenance upon you and give you His shalom.” Go now in the Shalom of Christ.

8.27.18_Shalom-1024x683

A Gift for Anxious Times

In December of 1776, Thomas Paine wrote, “These are the times that try men’s souls.” Although the circumstances were different, we can relate. The COVID-19 has impacted thomas-paine-9431951-1-402millions of people worldwide in a multitude of ways, not the least of which by raising anxiety levels. No one wants to be overly alarmed, but no one wants to be caught off guard or ill-prepared either. If grocery store aisles are any sort of social indicator, people are anxious. These are anxious times.

But we all know that anxiety isn’t good for us. On a very basic level, anxiety can cause a person to be restless, fatigued, irritable, tense; it can keep a person from falling or staying asleep. It can also lead to depression, accelerated heart rate, feelings of doom, etc. man-eyes-wide-gaze-distant-hands-clasped-768Anxiety can keep a person from being able to think clearly or act rationally. But telling a person not to be anxious in anxious times doesn’t do any good. Instead, people need something to replace their anxieties. It seems like the Apostle Paul knew that, too.

While Paul was in prison in Rome for advancing the gospel, he wrote his friends in Paul-the-Apostle-epistle-prison-EphesiansPhilippi a letter. It seems they were deeply concerned for Paul because, well, he was in prison. They also had some issues of their own. So Paul wrote a letter to them that was far from what a typical letter from prison might be; Paul’s letter was all about the joy of following Christ – even during anxious times.

Paul’s letter to the Philippians may be one of the most upbeat prison letters in the history of the world. From start to finish, Paul highlights what it means to be a follower of Jesus and the joy that goes with it. But it is important to bear in mind that Paul’s circumstances at the time were not so great; he was sitting in a Roman prison under Praetorian guard. And yet, tucked within that letter Paul passes along something to his friends that deserve passing on today.

Again, it doesn’t do any good to tell people not to be anxious in anxious times but it is good to help them focus on something that (or someone who) can overcome those anxious times; that’s just what Paul did. He wrote, “Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:5-7 ESV).3296

During anxious times – and our times are anxious – it is important for followers of Christ to be reasonable, for sure, and to keep their anxiety in check. The way to do that, according to Paul, is through prayer. But this is no ordinary prayer (as if such a thing exists) but rather prayer that is laced with asking and giving thanks and making your requests known. In other words, it is the sort of prayer where everything is laid out before God. No emotion is held back – and that includes our fears and anxieties. Paul isn’t simply saying “don’t be anxious.” Paul is saying, focus your mind and heart on communing with God – connecting with Him.

But, truth be told, connecting and communing with God during anxious times may not come as easily as it does at other times. It may be that a person may need a little more help getting there.

Years ago, during a particularly anxious time in my life – a dear friend – my pastor at the time – introduced me to Lectio Divinia. The practice of Lectio Divina (literally divine reading) is a monastic practice that dates from Saint Benedict in the 5 to 6th century. It probably dates back even further – given the fact that the Psalms often speak of benedictmeditating on God’s word and allowing it to frame every aspect of life. Lectio Divina is intended as a contemplative way of reading short passages of the Bible, slowly. It requires a person to slow down, read deeply, pray earnestly, meditate on the words of the Bible, and enjoy enough silence to be able to respond to God’s Spirit. It may help to think of it like sharing a meal with God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit.

Lectio Divina doesn’t have to take a long time – 30 minutes may be enough time to get a person-centered on Christ. It is usually done in 5 steps. I’ve included an abbreviated guide, but it begins with silence. That means more than simply turning off the TV and putting the phone far enough away that news notifications and texts don’t distract. It also means turning all attention toward God, getting quiet, detaching from busyness. Give yourself enough time to start slowing down and give yourself the gift of time. You may have to return to this step a few times during the process. It may help to simply pray, “Lord help me to quiet my mind and heart so that I can connect with you; Jesus, help me; Lord help me.”

The next steps will require a Bible and I’d suggest a pen and some paper or a journal as 54203-Text-Old-Bible-Study-Literature-Book-Christianity-2073023.800w.tnwell. I suggest finding a short passage of the Bible even before you start to settle into a comfortable spot. Short passages rather than entire chapters are recommended only because they are easier to focus on, but whatever works best is what’s right. Paul’s letter to the Philippians may be perfect for these days but the Psalms are fantastic as well. Reading the accounts of Jesus in the Gospels are always spot on.

Once a text has been selected, read it out loud, slowly, quietly, several times. Read the text at least twice. Allow the words, the images, the phrases to stand out where they will. There is no need to rush. This slow reading will lead to the third step, meditating, and the fourth step, praying. The truth is, it is sort of tough to separate meditating and praying through the text so they can be thought of together to some extent.

Once the text has been read several times, spend some time going over the text itself mentally trying to visualize each word. I often close my eyes and try to repeat the parts of the text that stood out to me; I do this either mentally or verbally. It may also help to visualize an image that came to mind from the text itself. For instance, take each word of the Lord’s Prayer or a Psalm and just think about each word for a moment or so. Sometimes it is helpful to imagine a biblical scene (like Jesus turning water to wine); think through the people who are present in the text; think about the context; think about the message that is being conveyed to the first people to read the text; think about how the text applies today. Think about how this text speaks to who you are and what you are going through or even what others are dealing with.

With the text in mind, quietly start to pray through the text. Try not to drift away from the text into other areas of your life but instead focus on the text and what it has to say. Pray the text constant_prayerback to the Lord. For instance, in Philippians 4:4, Paul encourages the Philippians to “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I say, Rejoice.” This text would allow a person to pray, “God I want to be able to rejoice in anxious times but it isn’t so easy. Help me to rejoice.” Or it may lead a person to worship – as they think of reasons to rejoice in the Lord. It may lead to praising God and rejoicing for the beauty of the day. It may lead to the singing of a hymn (“Praise to the Lord the Almighty the King of Creation”). In other words, turn the text into a prayer; use it as a liturgy that leads to confession, or worship, or petition. During this part of Lectio Divina, try to savor each word of the text and keep it central to your thinking and rest in it what it has to say.

Rest is the fifth and final part of Lectio Divina. In fact, one of the major benefits of Lectio Divina is how deep reading, meditating, and praying leads to rest in connection and communion with God. This final step is meant to bring a person to the place where they give God thanks for the way the text has given shape to their lives that day. It is also intended to be the place where a person begins to pray – not just for themselves – but for their loved ones, for their neighbors, for the concerns on their hearts, and for the world. But those concerns for others are to be tied, not to an anxious heart, but rather a heart that has been renewed through communion with God through a deep reading of the Bible.

praying handsA person can pray at this point because, hopefully, out of their communion with God, they are centered, calmed, and reminded that God is sovereign and at work in their world. This is also the point that it may be good to write things down. It is good to have a written reminder for years to come of what God has done. However, there is one final part that is critical.

It is important to know Lectio Divina doesn’t end when a person closes the Bible and returns to the business of the day. The Psalmist advised meditating on God’s word day and night (Ps 1:2). As part of Lectio Divina, it is helpful to set reminders (perhaps on the types-of-remindersphone) throughout the day that brings the text back to mind –as a means of redeeming the day, redeeming the time, as Paul said.

Ultimately, Paul was able to convey a sense of joy to the Philippians during an anxious time out of his communion with God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. It is clear from reading his letters that Paul’s focus wasn’t on the anxiety-inducing circumstances but rather on what God had done in his life through Jesus. Christians everywhere ought to do the same. That’s one of the great advantages of adopting Lectio Divina. While we live in anxious times, we don’t have to be anxious but it may require a bit of work on our part. We can reorient and re-center our focus on the Lord so that the joy of the Lord can become our strength during anxious days.

Abbreviated Outline for Lectio Divinalectio divina

LECTIO DIVINA: A Five-Course Feast  

1st COURSE: APPETIZER: SILENCIO (silence) “Be still and now that I am God” ~ Ps 46:10

  • Prepare yourself for communion with God
  • Calm and quiet yourself
  • Detach from busyness

2nd COURSE: LECTIO (reading) “Thy word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path” ~ Psalm 119:105

  • Read the scripture passage slowly, attentively several times.
  • Read the text out loud, slowly, and let each word time to resonate.
  • Re-read the text – at least twice.
  • Note the word, images, or phrases that “jump out at you.”

3rd COURSE: MEDITATIO (meditating) “Oh, taste and see that the LORD is good!” Ps 34:8

  • Ruminate on the passage, words, images, or phrases.
  • Do this Coram Deo (before the face of God).
  • Attend to God’s presence through the Holy Spirit.
  • Listen for what the Spirit is saying through the word.
  • Imagine yourself in the scene.

4th COURSE: ORATIO (praying)  “So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ” ~ Romans 10:17

  • Converse intimately with God.
  • Pray expectantly. Pray for others. Pray for yourself.
  • Pray the text – word for word – if it helps to keep you focused. If the text has raised questions, ask the Lord to help you understand.

5th DESSERT: CONTEMPLATO (communion with God) “The Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it, and said, “This is my body, which is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” In the same way also he took the cup, after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.”

  • Give God thanks by remembering all that He has done in your life, in the lives of those you love, in the beauty of creation. Give God thanks by remembering how Christ has worked by His Spirit in your heart.
  • Joyfully rest in the Lord and let the Joy of the Lord be your strength.
  • Glorify God and enjoy Him.
  • Write key thoughts and what you’ve learned down.
  • Redeem the day by keeping God’s word close to you. Choose times throughout the day to bring the text back to mind.

Suggested Texts for Lectio Divina:

  • Philippians 3:8-11
  • Philippians 3:12-16
  • Philippians 4:4-7philippians-bible
  • Philippians 4:8-9
  • Luke 10:38-42, Mary and Martha
  • Matthew 5:14-16 Light of the world
  • Mark 10:46 – 52 Blind Bartimaeus

Guest View: I voted no — for now | Opinion | heraldcourier.com

via Guest View: I voted no — for now | Opinion | heraldcourier.com

Here is my latest article with the Bristol Herald Courier. If you live in Sullivan County, you will want to read this. It has to do with an expected tax increase in 2020. Follow the link above – or check it out here.

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    It is always a risky thing to make a promise, especially if you hold an elected office. Last year, as I campaigned for a seat on the Sullivan County Board of Commissioners, I made a promise. I was frequently asked about taxes. I promised that I would not vote to raise taxes during my first year. This past July, I kept my promise, not that it made a difference. The commission voted to raise taxes. Barring some miracle, however, I do not foresee being able to vote no in 2020. I believe people need to know why so they can prepare for what is coming.

     

    I voted no for two reasons. First, because, while are jobs available, income levels haven’t kept up with the cost of living. Folks don’t have any more money in their pockets now as compared to last year. Economic recovery and good government keeps money in wallets, not government coffers. However, a second reason I voted no is because of an enormous, unfortunate, but necessary expense coming our way, which will require a tax increase.

     

    It is no secret we have a jail issue in Sullivan County. Sheriff Jeff Cassidy, Chief Jail Administrator Lee Carswell and others have shared about the situation. They also invited commissioners to come see for themselves. I, along with other commissioners, took them up on that opportunity and, although not the worst jail I’ve seen (as a pastor I’ve visited several across the country), it was bad, in need of attention and financial support. We have an overcrowding issue, which often puts our officers in harm’s way. That alone is unacceptable.

    The men and women of our sheriff’s department work hard, and they need to know that we are behind them as a community, not just when something tragic happens but in a proactive way. We should do all that we can to ensure that those who serve our community have all they need. Without a doubt, something must be done about our jail and some things are being done.

    The Board of Commissioners approved hiring MBI to provide consultation regarding the costs, and options for expanding or building a jail. Mayor Richard Venable formed five jail committees each with specific tasks around the jail issue. In fact, MBI will be giving an update to those committees in September. Additionally, I became the chair of the Criminal Justice Committee for TCSA.

     

    TCSA is hosting seminars on jail liability and criminal justice matters because jail issues are not just a Sullivan County problem. Several of our commissioners are attending those seminars. I can assure you that a lot is going on to try to figure out ways to address the current situation in our jail. As much as I would like to see alternatives to building a new jail and diversion programs, I believe the opportunities to do so are long passed. From what I can tell, it is becoming clear that our community will be faced with a large criminal justice expense in the next few years. One estimated figure is in excess of $50 million but the final numbers aren’t in.

    It does not do any good to look for someone to blame for our jail issues. It is also pointless to look back and contend that someone or a group should have fixed it in the past. It is simply an exercise in futility. The problem is here, and it must be dealt with now; it is expensive, but it is ours — Sullivan County’s — to fix.

     

    Knowing what I know about jail conditions, the impact it has on our officers, and the precarious position it places our county in with the state, I will be prepared to vote for a tax increase in 2020. I know that may seem like a long way off, but it really isn’t. My hope, however, is that this commission will have the foresight to plan better so that we don’t run into this again; so that in five years, we aren’t building another jail. But until then, I believe you should know what is coming so that you and your wallet can prepare.

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Living It Out – Christ and Pop Culture Style

capc25_2018a-e1547190963199A few days ago, I came across a list of the top 25 “most-meaningful cultural influences of 2018?” It was a list compiled by a website that I subscribe to called Christ and Pop Culture.

Christ and Pop Culture provides deeply researched articles and insights from film, literature, politics, sports, etc., and they do so from a Christian perspective; however, while they provide honest insight they are not critical or judgmental, which is evident from their top 25 list and its goal. The top 25 list looks at the “favorite people, works of art, or cultural artifacts” that the Christ and Pop Culture’s writers “feel best represent God’s truth and grace in the world.” But they don’t merely focus on things that are particularly Christian or from Christians. Their list is, by their own admission, “extremely weird;” it is “a meandering, whiplash-inducing product of the diverse perspectives of (their) writers.”

The list does have a goal, though, and I think it is a fantastic, admirable goal: “The goal of our list is to illuminate and appreciate the good both in and outside of the church, to show the way God uses Christians to shine a light on the world, and the ways God’s common grace spills out into the most surprising places.”

I read over their list of cultural influences and they are right; some of them are extremely weird – but their explanations do a good job of highlighting why they think something is good, or how God uses Christians, and or the ways God’s common grace spills out. For instance, they pointed out a pod-cast called Apocrypals – where two guys avatar_8aeed238b358_512who are not Christians read the Bible without being jerks about it. It is quite good. The podcast hosts do not make fun of the Christian faith; they simply interact with the Bible, dig into it, look at the history, and talk about it. They do a pretty good exegetical, hermeneutical job. I really enjoyed listening to them and I’d recommend others do as well.

The list also includes the movie A Quiet Place. This is a movie starring John Krasinski (Jim from The Office) and Emily Blunt. The two, real-life spouses, play a husband and wife in the film who are jim officetasked with protecting their three – soon to be four – children from alien creatures with no eyes but incredible hearing. The slightest sound can draw one of these creatures from miles away, which spells trouble for humanity. The movie falls into the horror category; it is intense, which may lead some to wonder why Christ and Pop Culture would include it as a cultural influence – especially one consistent with their goal. They do so, however, because of how the movie has “cultural indicators about the ways people approach child-rearing and marriage in the midst of unexpected and unforeseeable difficulties.”

a-quiet-place

Christ and Pop Culture also include the Netflix series The Haunting of Hill House on their list of 25 most-meaningful cultural influences of 2018. This is another spine-chilling inclusion that is about a family that moves in and starts to remake an old estate and house. The trouble is that the house is, as you’d expected, haunted house by some particularly possessive spirits; indeed, the house is alive and has plans of its own for the family.

As much as I hate to admit it, The Haunting of Hill House made me jump a few times, which was one of the reasons that I found it so entertaining and a reason that I thought the folks at Christ and Pop Culture had lost their minds. Then I looked at their reasons for the-haunting-of-hill-house-widemaking it one of their top 25. Frankly, I couldn’t agree with their point more. In Hill House they find an important message for people who are dealing with all sorts of grief, pain, loss, and suffering. According to Christ and Pop Culture, “Life is worth living, Hill House says, not despite the suffering in the world, but because of it. There are hagiographies that haven’t said it better.”

I brought Christ and Pop Culture’s list up because I think it does a good job of furthering a discussion I’ve been having with some friends of mine. Our discussion was prompted by some significant changes that are happening in our community – specifically – but our broader culture as well. As things change, we are wondering if, what, and how those cultural changes impact the way we live out our Christian faith.

I’ve known some Christians over the years who have pulled way back from culture, feeling it better to be disengaged than engaged. Most of the time they do that as a way of protecting their children. I understand that but it isn’t something I’m prepared to do. Granted, for some Christian folks changes on the national level can be difficult and it might seem wise to hide out – so to speak. For instance, in the past few weeks, several new faces took their oath of office on the Bible, some on the Quran, and some on books of law. What’s more – somewhere around 153 openly gay people were elected last November – including Colorado’s Governor Jared Polis – who is the first openly gay person elected governor in US History. These are the sorts of changes that have some Christian folks staggering or looking for a bunker to hide in.

The truth is, things have changed, which I believe prompts the discussion that I’ve been having with my friends. Personally, I believe that Christian people must think about how those changes give shape to the way we are to live as followers of Christ. I also believe it is critical that we do not try to simply ignore the cultural shifts; now I’m not suggesting that Christian people compromise the core of their faith to please others or to simply acquiesce. However, I do think it is critical that Christian folks recognize that with a change in culture comes a change in the way we live our faith, which I’m pretty sure is supposed to be a public faith and one that is known by its love for neighbor and its trust in God.

That’s why I brought up the folks at Christ and Pop Culture to begin with. I think they are on the right track. They are one of the few Christian groups out there that looks at the culture in, what I consider, a very Christian way. They certainly aren’t living in fear of being swayed or are they willing to compromise. They are on a solid, theological footing. At the same time, they are able to recognize beauty and goodness – even when it doesn’t emerge from a particularly Christian locus. I think that is incredibly important given the ways in which our culture has changed.

As I said earlier, I like Christ and Pop Culture’s mission / goal. In fact, as I continue to have the discussion with my friends I plan to harken back to Christ and Pop Culture a lot. I think it is the sort of goal that the church / Christian folks can share in; I do believe we need “to illuminate and appreciate the good both in and outside of the church, to show the way God uses Christians to shine a light on the world and the ways God’s common grace spills out into the most surprising places.”