Sunday, August 30, 2015

Reflections on two years in Dulce

August 26th marked a big milestone for Robin, Kat and I.  It was two years ago on that date that we arrived in Dulce.  Two years!  Already!  What an incredible adventure!  As I think back over that time and organize my thoughts I hardly know where to begin. 

Friendships.  We came to Dulce with deep roots in the Midwest.  With rare exceptions it was the only part of the country each of us had ever lived in.  Leaving there meant leaving behind many good friends.  But God has blessed each of us with new friendships here.  They aren't quite like the friends we left behind, but those friendships developed over time, and we've only been here two years.  We cherish the friendships we have been building in Dulce and we look forward to continuing to grow new friendships in the years ahead.

Events.  Into the rhythm of the year and the movement from one marker to the next, such as from Thanksgiving to Christmas, we have added some new things, such as Jicarilla Day, Little Beaver and Go Jii Ya, along with other, less formal, gatherings.  We treasure these new activities and the ways in which they have helped us to understand the culture of the Jicarilla Apache people.

Foods.  We have been exposed to a number of foods that a person just never sees in the Midwest, and it has been a delight.  Soup, of the Jicarilla variety, posole, red and green chili, and frybread come to mind as I write this.  And closely related to the foods has been the hospitality that has been shown to us in the sharing of food. 

Sorrows.  Since leaving Minnesota for Dulce we have a had several dear friends, a close uncle and a granddaughter leave this world for God's eternal kingdom.  In each case there is a unique sense of loss, a place formerly filled that for the remainder of this life will be empty.  And this community, this congregation,  has known loss too.  As pastor, I have sat and prayed with people during times of deep heartache and sorrow.  It is easy to see God's goodness when things are going well.  It may be harder to grasp but it is no less true, that God remains good even when hearts are breaking. 

God's providence.  I have been preaching through the book of Ruth and time and again in that book we see things take place that seem to be completely at random, and yet they have their place in bringing together the story of God' plan of redemption.   God is at work, behind the scenes, fitting together various parts of the story, not so much for the benefit of the people of the story, but for His grand story, which is fulfilled in His Son, Jesus.  And in a similar way Robin and I look back, at the last two years, and beyond, and see that God has been working in us, to bring us to this place, and to use us in this place. 

May our family and the people of the Jicarilla Apache Reformed Church continue to grow in the love of our Savior and Lord, Jesus.

Thursday, August 20, 2015

"How can this man save us?"

Yesterday I was reading 1 Samuel 10.  It's the chapter of the Bible where Saul is anointed as the king of Israel.  Anointing means that oil is poured on his head as a sign that he is being set apart for service to God as the first king of God's people.  He is not actually their king yet but anointing is the sign that he will be.

The anointing of Saul takes place at pivotal point in the history of Israel.  Frankly, they have been a mess.  Instead of having a king they have been led by judges, who were people that God would raise up at different times as their leader.  The book of Judges ends with these words:

"In those days there was no king in Israel.  Everyone did what was right in his own eyes."

They did what they wanted, when they wanted, a situation that then, and now, usually doesn’t end well.  When my wife and I occasionally see certain forms of this in our daughter we remind her that, "We're not going to let you grow up to be a tyrant."

So, Israel is a mess.  They have much trouble with their neighbors.  Their neighbors all have kings.  They want a king of their own.  God, speaking through His prophet, Samuel, tells them that this isn’t a good idea.  After all, He is supposed to be their king.  In their demand for a human king they are taking a step away from Him and from living as His people in the world. 

But, in the spirit of doing what is right in their own eyes, they persist in their demand for a king.  So God sends Samuel to anoint their king, and the person God has chosen is Saul. 

Saul is a somewhat unlikely candidate.  As far as we know he has no reputation to speak of.  He is a physically imposing person, being much taller than most men.  But beyond that he appears to be a nobody, the member of a minor clan in a small tribe of the Israelites.  And to top it off, when the people of Israel are gathered to anoint him and they are looking for him, he is hiding among the luggage.

This is the future king?  A no one from an insignificant tribe?  An apparent coward?  Small wonder that in the midst of their troubles some people respond,

"How can this man save us?"

When I read that phrase my mind was immediately taken to thoughts of Jesus, because the popular response He drew in His day was much the same.  Ignored, mocked, threatened.  And then it got worse.  Arrested.  Beaten.  Executed.

The words of 1 Samuel 10 just after the phrase above add that the people speaking those words of Saul "despised him."  And Jesus, hanging on the cross, with a sign above His head proclaiming Him as 'King of the Jews', received the scorn of those gathered as He took His final breath. 

This man?  A king?  How can this man save us?

The truth of the Bible teaches that it is only Jesus who can save us.  Acts 4:12 says,

"And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved."

Saul was anointed as Israel's first king and if you read the following chapters of his story you will see his failings come to light.  He started well but soon the failings common to all humans came to light, and he followed his own ways rather than the ways of God.  

Saul couldn’t save God's people because he was never called to that task.  Only one person was.  Only one person ever lived who could save God's people, and that is precisely what He did.

He did it for all people who would call on His name, Jesus, in faith as their savior.  He did it for me.  He holds out His salvation for you.

Salvation is found in His name. And nowhere else.  May you know the promise of His salvation today.  And to God be all the glory.  Amen.

Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version® (ESV®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Open my eyes Lord

It is Tuesday morning and I am working on my sermon for next Sunday.  I am preaching through the book of Ruth and the passage for this week is Ruth 3:1-5.  This will be the third time I have preached through a book of the Bible, working my way through 1 Peter last fall and Colossians this past spring. 

Chief among the reasons I have done this is because I was noticing a tendency to drift towards my favorite topics as I prepared to preach each week.  I was using the Revised Common Lectionary to choose texts and it seemed that more often than not I was going after my favorite themes as I read the options for each week. 

Not that there is anything inherently wrong with what my favorite biblical themes may be, but I am called to preach to a particular congregation and I should be bringing to them, and myself as well, a broader understanding of God's word than what I happen to like the best.

Preaching through a book may not seem to have much breadth, as books may have their own broad themes and be restricted by the specific things they deal with.  But staying within a book and a particular passage forces me to look more closely at the teaching of the passage, and then to bring what I find there to the congregation on Sunday morning.  I think of it as having the text drive the message, rather than the preacher's own personal preferences underlie the message. 

This method of selecting a text has its clear advantage in directing my sermon away from my hobby horses, but it also has its difficulties.  The primary difficulty emerged again as I began to prepare this week.  As I read the text my first question was, "What on earth is the message of this text and how can I can bring to the congregation on Sunday?" 

If you take a moment to read Ruth 3:1-5 you might see what I mean.  It isn't the kind of piece where something clearly stands out to bring as a word of comfort, or direction, or encouragement, or any other purpose a sermon might have.  At least it didn't for me.  Not at the first reading.  Or the second.  Or the third.

Maybe I should pick a different text.  Maybe this week I need to change my plan and expand the passage, until I find something I can clearly hang my sermon on.  Maybe.

As I wrestled to find the message within this passage, two other pieces of scripture were floating through my head.  One was Luke 24:27, where Jesus has been on the road to Emmaus and explains some things to the people He walked with.  Luke writes:

"And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself."

And the other one was 2 Timothy 3:16-17, where Paul writes:

"All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man[1] of God may be competent, equipped for every good work." 

The Luke passage doesn’t teach that Jesus is in absolutely every little bit of the Old Testament, but it does encourage us to dig deeply in each part of the Bible to find those things that increase our understanding of Him and nurture our love for Him. 

And the 2 Timothy passage reminds us that God gives us His word, all of it, so that we might grow as His children throughout our lives. 

So I went back to Ruth 3.  I prayed.  I dug a bit more.  I thought about it and prayed again.  And I think I have found something that speaks to me, and that I can bring to the congregation on Sunday. 

Open my eyes, Lord, that in your word I may see your Son.

[1] While the ESV translates the Greek as 'man' here the intent of the text is to speak equally to men and women.

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Happy birthday?

Last Saturday, August 1st, was my birthday.  It was number 58, in a series that began in 1957 and will run until…well, I don’t have the foggiest idea when it will come to an end.

Birthdays in our family are traditionally celebrated in some fashion, although the fashion in which mine was marked this year was a bit unusual.  We were on the road and out of town for a week, so the celebration was in multiple segments.

There was cake, a card and a gift with my in-laws last Thursday.  The on Saturday there was another card and some singing from a few of my family members.  And after returning home late last night the festivities will conclude this evening, with cake, ice cream and  a few gifts from my wife and our youngest daughter.

And, thanks to Facebook, my birthday this year had what must be the highest number of well-wishes that I have ever received.  All day long there were short notes of greeting and wishes for the best for me on that day.   

And in many ways it was a very good day, a day that of all my birthdays provided memories that will be particularly treasured.  For on my birthday I went to a funeral.

An uncle, the husband of my father's sister, died in mid-July, and the best date for our family to get together to worship God and remember him, was on my birthday.  And while a number of my relatives gathered on Saturday in Wisconsin for his funeral there was another group of relatives gathered the same day in Florida for the funeral of my mother's youngest sister, who died last week. 

I was unable to attend my aunt's funeral but saw that part of the scripture used on that day was from Romans 4.  Verses 23-24 say, 

"But the words “it was counted to him” were not written for his sake alone, but for ours also. It will be counted to us who believe in him who raised from the dead Jesus our Lord, who was delivered up for our trespasses and raised for our justification."

At my uncle's funeral we heard from Philippians, Romans, and John, which said,

"Yes, and I will rejoice, for I know that through your prayers and the help of the Spirit of Jesus Christ this will turn out for my deliverance, as it is my eager expectation and hope that I will not be at all ashamed, but that with full courage now as always Christ will be honored in my body,  whether by life or by death. For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain. If I am to live in the flesh, that means fruitful labor for me. Yet which I shall choose I cannot tell. I am hard pressed between the two. My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better. But to remain in the flesh is more necessary on your account. Convinced of this,  I know that I will remain and continue with you all, for your progress and joy in the faith, so that in me you may have ample cause to glory in Christ Jesus, because of my coming to you again."  Philippians 1:18b-26

What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us?  He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?  Who shall bring any charge against God's elect? It is God who justifies.  Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us.  Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword?  As it is written,

“For your sake we are being killed all the day long;
    we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.”

No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers,  nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.  Romans 8:31-29

“Let not your hearts be troubled.  Believe in God;1 believe also in me. In my Father's house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you?  And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also. And you know the way to where I am going.”  Thomas said to him, “Lord,  we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?” Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.  John 14:1-6

These are powerful passages from scripture that point to true hope.  They point to a hope found only in God, a God who never fails to deliver on His promises.  We may have gathered in Wisconsin and Florida with heavy hearts, remembering family members we loved dearly and will never see on this earth again. But at the funeral I attended we were reminded that God has greater things in store for His children than anything that this world may hold.

We were reminded that my uncle, my aunt, and all who pass from this life with faith in Jesus as Savior and Lord, are at this very moment in His very presence, and giving Him the praise and glory that only He deserves.  While it may run against the logic of the world, I found it to be a very precious gift to be able to gather with God's people, at a funeral on my birthday, in such a powerful time of worship of my Savior.  To Him be glory, now and forever.  Amen.

Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version® (ESV®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.