The Book of James, Impossible Standards, and Competitive Running

My 1st Race: A Very Hilly Presbyterian Home 5k

I know that is quite a mashup, but as we continue studying the book of James, a great discussion came up last night.  Here is the dilemma:

We are unable to fully reach the ethical and moral standards that Jesus models and James writes about. So, why should we reach for such out-of-reach standards?

I thought of my experience with running. Growing up, I despised running as an activity unto itself. The only reasonable purposes for running were either training for soccer or someone was chasing me. But, since we have lived near Lynchburg, VA (which appears the running capital of the world), my wife and I have started running. We have both run in a few organized races, and I have learned to enjoy competing against my own previous times and distances. I realize that either because of genetics, waiting until the age of 31 to start running, or a combination of these two factors, I am unlikely to win any of the races I enter. So, why do I run?

I am healthier and stronger. I eat a little better. I hope I am keeping medical issues like heart disease at bay. My times are dropping and my distances are increasing. I am learning to tame my will toward discipline and determination. Overall, I think running makes me healthier in mind and body, even if I never win a race.

I will never, this side of heaven, be able to attain the standard that Jesus has set for me. This much is crystal clear for me, but in reaching for standard of righteousness higher than my own, I become a slightly better reflection of the savior I claim to love. I reach for an unattainable goal because in the reaching, I am healthier in spirit and deed. So, literally and spiritually, I intend to continue running.

And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. Hebrews 12:1b-2a

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Some confessions and convictions about how we should read the Bible

How do we read the Bible? Not in what order should we read its individual parts or how much of the sacred text should we aim to engage at a given time. What I ask is how much should we consider context. Who is the writer? Do we know who the writer is beyond a reasonable doubt? If so, what has the writer experienced that colors and shades their understanding of God’s revelation? Who were the original readers of a particular portion of scripture? Does their experience of wealth for example, or persecution for another example affect how they experience reading and hearing scripture?

I confess my conviction that context indeed matters. I believe that God called particular men and women to give human and earthly translation to the divine story. He chose particular people knowing full well their education and background, their gifts and imperfections. He chose them on purpose, choosing to work through the uniqueness of his scribes. With our capacity to understand different styles of literature and to add historical context to our understanding of holy scripture, I’m convinced that holding a high view of scripture demands that we seek to understand such matters. The Bible deserves the use of our brains. It is too important a book to do any less.

I confess my conviction that if we do not consider context, we are sinful and arrogant. I believe that the orignal readers of holy scripture are not 21st century Christians seeking present day understanding of the will of God. God did have those modern Christians in mind as the themes of scripture we received by humanity and recorded, but we were not the first ones to read it. James wrote to dispersed and persecuted Jewish disciples of Jesus. James was a persecuted follower of Jesus living in Jerusalem. That context shaped the text. John, in his Revelation, wrote to 1st century Christians who experienced smothering oppression under a maniacal, Roman emperor named Nero. His writing protested that oppression, holding to hope that God was in control and Christ was truly victorious even though his readers’ worldly reality offered a different take. If we only read the Revelation as a present day playbook on how the end will go down, we arrogantly assume Revelation was written only for us and not for 1st century Christians who faced deadly persecution for their hope in Christ. To read the Bible without doing the hard work of considering context represents a rather shallow view of a book we claim to be of divine importance.

I deeply believe in the sacred nature of the Bible, and in the inspiration of the many people God used to record it and the devotion of the many people who have maintained it through the years. The Bible is a treasure, an extended love story of the great length to which God would go to bring humanity into a relationship with himself. The fullest extent of that love is revealed in the ministry, death, and resurrection of Christ. Because of that, when we read the Bible, we ought to give God the very best of our God-given intellect and scholarship.

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Does God Hate My Chicago Bears?

When I drive in the car by myself, I rarely listen to music.  Most of the time, I listen to ESPN radio while I drive.  Yesterday, as I drove, Mikes Golic and Greenberg, Colin Cowherd, and Doug Gottlieb all spent some time talking about the most recent incident where an opposing NFL team was “Tebowed.”

I had enjoyed the reporting on Tebow and the Broncos fourth quarter exploits during the run of winning seven out of eight games.  I like a good story.  I even like Tim Tebow. The problem this weekend is Tebow and the Broncos beat the Chicago Bears after being down 10 points with time running down.  I am a fan of the Bears and have been since they won Superbowl XX when I was six years old.  So I wonder, does God like Tebow better than the Bears?

His pastor believes Tebow’s winning streak is divine intervention. (http://profootballtalk.nbcsports.com/2011/12/12/tim-tebows-pastor-attributes-wins-to-gods-favor/). He is certainly not the only one. Predestination as a theological concept, taken to its logical conclusion, might say because he won, Tebow was preordained to win go 7-1 during his eight games as a starter this year. His nickname is the “Mile High Messiah” (http://jacksonville.com/opinion/blog/406107/wayne-ezell/2011-12-13/why-they-call-tim-tebow-mile-high-messiah). If God has favored Tebow over the Bears, does God not like the Bears? You would think God would like a good Superbowl Shuffle.

I am not convinced God is really that into football.  I think he loves football players.  My theology informs me that they are all “fearfully and wonderfully made.” No, I do not believe God favors Tebow over the Bears or any other team or player.  I do believe Tebow is gifted.  I believe God constructed his body in way that that allows for his physical exploits.  I believe God put people in Tebow’s life that encouraged him to work hard and have a winning attitude.  God may have even had a hand in Tebow’s will to win.

After that, I think Tebow does a lot with what he has, even if he can’t make every throw.  I think his coaches in Denver have embraced his unique set of skills and flaws.  I think he has a great offensive line in front of him, a great running back behind him, and great defense playing for the Broncos when he is not on the field. I think NFL defenses are slow to adapt to new offenses. I wish he played for the Bears, though not as a quarterback, because I also believe God put a rocket in place of Jay Cutler’s arm.

One root of the religious fervor over Tebow’s strict may lie in that many in Christendom want a poster boy for our faith. We want a role model for our youth groups. We want our next Kurt Warner. I remain a Bears fan even if they are not God’s favorite team, even if they have no poster boys for evangelical Christianity. Just because if happens on Sunday, do not mistake it for church. Nicknames notwithstanding, he is not Jesus. He just, by all accounts, loves him. Lets not make it more than it is.

 

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Bah Humbug: Your pastor’s thoughts and concerns about Christmas

Thanks to my wife, there has been much discussion at church and on Facebook about my innate Grinchness.  So let me explain myself.  These points, modified from something I wrote a couple of years ago, explain some of my joys and frustrations of Christmas.

  1. I think fruitcake gets a bad rap.
  2. It is a safe bet that Jesus was not born on December 25th.  I lean more toward sometime in the spring, and others believe it was in the fall. 
  3. I don’t have a problem with celebrating Jesus’ birth on December 25th. I would, however, rather not start the celebration in October.
  4. I would really like to find a Nativity scene that has figurines that aren’t caucasian. That would probably be more accurate.
  5. I am not a fan of the big, inflatable, yard nativity scene.  I think the Incarnate God deserves a little better than that. 
  6. I think Christians could do more to express the purpose of this holiday season by:
    a. buying less and incurring less debt
    b. giving simpler gifts that convey the Christmas story and spirit
    c. stopping all the complaints about stores saying “Happy Holidays” instead of “Merry Christmas”
  7. I think we (the Church) need more Advent hymns. There are only about 2 or 3 Advent hymns we know and sing. Advent is 4 weeks, and I really do enjoy a good Advent hymn. 
  8. I really love Christmas carols.
  9. Shocker – I love Seuss’s Grinch.  Even he came to understand Christmas better than we do sometimes. “And the Grinch, with his Grinch-feet ice cold in the snow, stood puzzling and puzzling, how could it be so? It came without ribbons. It came without tags. It came without packages, boxes or bags. And he puzzled and puzzled ’till his puzzler was sore. Then the Grinch thought of something he hadn’t before. What if Christmas, he thought, doesn’t come from a store. What if Christmas, perhaps, means a little bit more.”
  10. I despise eggnog. Why would someone come up with that vile concoction?

Our tree is up and decorated now (Grinchs’ hearts can grow if you remember).  Kim and I even struck a compromise to decorate on the 1st Sunday of Advent.  So there.  Despite rumors to the contrary, I do really like Christmas.

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“I plan on dressing up as their new preacher!”

A year ago today, we did not take the girls trick-or-treating.  In fact they did not even wear costumes.  By the time many people were taking kids house to house in search of candy we were driving back to Fayetteville, N.C. from Madison Heights, V.A.  I had preached a trial sermon that morning at Madison Heights Baptist Church.  They voted to extend a call to me to be their pastor, and I had accepted.  We had celebrated at lunch with the Pastor Search Committee.  It had been a busy and exciting whirlwind of a day

A few days before our trip to V.A., a ministry friend who knew of my upcoming trip to Madison Heights, joked about my plans to offer a trial sermon on Halloween.  He asked what I would dress up as.  I said “I plan on dressing up as their new preacher!”

I am glad that I was in fact, dressed as their new preacher one year ago.  A lot can change in a year.  We spent November and most of December preaparing to move and saying good bye to friends and parishoners.  We moved on December 20th and I led worship here in Madison Heights on Christmas Eve.

In these past ten months, we have settled into a place that feels like home, made friends, and bought our first house.  Ministry with this congregation and staff is energizing.  Kim and I continue to follow through on a committment to be healthier physically, mentally, and spiritually.  This morning, I have made pastoral care calls.  Later, I will talk with a widow who lost her husband last night.  She is also my neighbor, and together, we will plan a memorial service to remember her husband and worship God.  Hopefully later today, I will be able to see the newborn baby of a couple who are parishoners and have become close friends.  Tonight, we will eat pizza with friends, and then take our children trick-or-treating.

A lot can change in a year.  Tonight, I am dressing up as Batman.

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IT’S TIME…to Have a Passion for the Great Commission of Jesus Christ

The title of this post is our theme for this upcoming Sunday.  Passion for the Great Commission of Jesus Christ is indicative of a missional church.  On Wednesday evenings, we have been reading about the passionate people found in The Acts of the Apostles.  The transformative Gospel they had experienced fueled their passion for sharing the Gospel.  Jesus also said “go” so they went.  They were convinced others needed to experience the Gospel.

Last night I saw passion on display.  I went with some of our WMU ladies to Lynchburg’s juvenile detention center.  Even as we walked from vehicles to the building, their excitement was evident.  These wonderful missionaries passionately fed and talked with the young people at the detention center.  They shared encouragement and attentive ears.  They were literally the presence of Christ.

When we consider mission opportunities, ministry to incarcerated young people, is not on the top of everyone’s list.  But for this group from Madison Heights Baptist, each passionately embraced the opportunity to be sheep instead of goats.  For me, their passion was contagious, as passion often is.  I just want to know when we can again.

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IT’S TIME…to decide if we’re sheep or goats

“Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you?” Matthew 25:37a, NIV

On Sunday evening, September 18, our Acteens and their leaders shared with us all the ministries and mission in which they participate.  These young ladies are examples for all of us of what it means to missional Christians. 

As their presentation concluded, one of their leaders, Lesley Clark, shared with you all a new mission opportunity – Backpack Buddies.  Many students only eat the meals provided at school, leaving many hungry through the weekend.  Backpack Buddies will provide food for several students at Madison Heights Elementary School.  On each Friday afternoon, students will be given a backpack full of food in hopes of supplementing their diet until they return to school on Monday.  Our hope is that they will return to school after the weekend, nourished and ready to learn.  We and the administrators at the school believe this will improve both a student’s overall health and school performance.

I was asked by a school administrator, “What can we do to help Madison Heights Baptist Church?”  I responded, “We love Jesus.  All we want is to let these children know people who love Jesus, love them too.”

“For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat.” Matthew 25:35a, NIV

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IT’S TIME…to be on the lookout for what God may do

Even as we are now in the midst of our IT’S TIME journey, our spirit, vision, and mind must be looking beyond these eight weeks of IT’S TIME.  When we reach October 30, will you be changed as a disciple of Jesus Christ?  In what ways will our church be changed by immersing ourselves in this conversation?

Our hope should be set on discovering at least one (if not more) new, significant mission opportunity to be a part of.  It should be a God-sized task, one that is obviously bigger than our abilities.  It should be the kind of missional undertaking that requires faith along with our giftedness and resources. 

What will that new ministry look like?  I don’t know yet, but I know the one does.

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IT’S TIME…to consider that we are Christ’s ambassadors to the world

17 Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here! 18 All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: 19 that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. 20 We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God. 21 God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. (2 Corinthians 5:17-20, NIV)

Before we begin IT’S TIME this Sunday, consider these verses (they will come up again on Sunday night), give the following questions some time to take root in your mind and heart:

  • In what ways has God made you a new creation?
  • How does that change or define your purpose and identity?
  • What does it mean for you and for us to be given “the minsitry of reconciliation”?
  • What’s the weight of the statement “We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us.”?
  • What are you personally doing to act as an ambassador of Christ?
  • What are we doing as a congregation to act as ambassadors of Christ?

I am happy to be on this journey with you, and to wrestle with deep questions of mission and calling alongside together.

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IT’S TIME…to put action behind the faith we profess

I have spoken and written about placing an emphasis on celebrating missional faithfulness in the past, active missional engagement in the present, and expectantly looking ahead toward new missional opportunities in the future.  Today, I want to highlight opportunities for missional engagement in the present. 

On Sunday, September 25, from 2:00 P.M. to 4:00 P.M., we will host a Community Health Fair.  Nurses, a pharmacist, and healthcare professionals in our congregation and community will be on available to provide services, screenings, consultations, and screenings.  Our local EMS and Fire Department will have vehicles on site for display.  Local individuals and businesses have donated toothbrushes, toothpaste, hand sanitizer, and other items to hand out.

Saturday, October 8, beginning at 9:00 A.M., we will serving out in the community with our Make a Difference in Olde Town Day.  We have arranged several service projects in Olde Town such as window washing and yard cleanup to help our neighbors nearby.  On the same day, the Olde Town community will be hosting a yard sale on our upper parking lot.  We are heading in the right direction when on the same day, we are both hosting the community and heading out into the community.

Our Community Fall Festival is on the evening of our final day of IT’S TIME, Sunday, October 30.  This annual event allows us to again, invite the community to with us to celebrate, and allows parents to have a safe place to bring their children during the Halloween season.

One ongoing ministry we hope to begin during IT’S TIME is Backpack Buddies.  Many children at Madison Heights Elementary School come to school hungry on Monday mornings.  For many of them, the only meals they eat are the meals provided at school.  With Backpack buddies, we would provide a backpack filled with food to be sent home with children on Friday afternoon.  After the backpacks are returned on Monday, we will then re-pack them, ready for another weekend of nourishment for a child who needs it.

I want to thank each person that has helped to plan and prepare for these ministries:  Mary Ellen Bryant, Lesley Clark, Bonnie and Jerry Mayberry, Loretta Ragland, and Ellen Saunders.  If you would like to be involved, please contact any of these wonderful missionaries.

As IT’S TIME…a Journey Toward Missional Faithfulness approaches, I hope you are already prayerfully preparing for this missional journey we will go on together.  I hope you will consider getting involved in any or all of these missional opportunities.   God bless.

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