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A Prayer For The First Day Of School In The Age Of COVID

Today, 19 August 2020, is the first day of school for our local school district. Ours is not alone, as public, private, and home schools are beginning. It feels to me like a trembling time for prayer. And so I pray:


Dear Lord God, I first make the normal prayers about our children and their educators. I pray they learn the lessons they need in order to be productive members of society who fulfill the best purposes and plans for life. I pray their curiosity will grow; their hunger for knowledge will burn, and they will master the principles of successfully navigating adulthood. I pray you protect them from those who would do harm: abusers, the violent, the emotionally debilitating, and bullies. Lord, please let us have a year without school shootings. Please.

I pray for teachers to experience fulfillment in their noble calling. I ask for relationships with parents to be edifying, partnership oriented, and beneficial for everyone. I pray for bus drivers, nutrition experts, nurses, counselors, and those who make sure the swings are safe and the toilets stay unclogged to be joyful in labor and appreciated, both in word and in reward, for all they do.

I ask that the administrators, those who make policy and decisions, will be wise and generationally motivated by their decisions.

These are our children, Oh Lord. These are the ones upon whom we heap up our hopes. Protect and nourish them in their intellect, in their body and care, and in their spiritual awareness. May kindergarteners color outside the lines, may junior high students dream of being astronauts and presidents, and may all high school seniors experience the fullness of youth and the desire for the future.

Great Almighty God, we do not live in normal times. You know this full well, and for reasons beyond our understanding, you have chosen us as the adults right now to make decisions in the middle of a pandemic. Help us to not be foolish.

I pray you keep our children, teachers, and all those who work through the school free of COVID-19. Let it not darken the door of our schools and homes. Let us be on the downside of this disease as it wanes never to return.

Even as I pray this, Oh Lord, I know you can do this, but I also know it is more likely we are challenged by a longer ordeal than we want. This seems to be the nature of growth and life. So in that context, I pray you give those making decisions insight in how to minimize the effects and spread to keep as many safe as possible. And I do ask that if the disease does continue to shrink we will be able to joyfully reopen all avenues of our life — football games, sold out musicals, and young love holding hands (only holding hands!) in the hallways.

Yet, it might turn worse. We acknowledge this. So we ask if it does, you lead those people we trust with so much of our future, the superintendents, the principals, the politicians, to make swift decisions to protect if we need to send kids home and shelter longer on-line and at home. Let us be wise and not sacrifice the future for the moment. Let no child die, let no teacher die, let no lunch lady die, Precious Lord, because we were too impatient about getting on with life and meetings and mammon.

We do not know how this will work. None of us do. We do know that you are the Lord and this is not the first time disease has played a heavy hand in humanity. Allow us grace toward one another. Remove the enemy’s divisive tone and hateful anger that has caused us to distrust one another. Please work in and through us to bring unity, and I pray you use those of us who call you Lord in such work that we may be a Balm of Gilead to a sick world, a world sick with more than C19, but sick with the sin of pettiness.

Jesus, my heart is heavy. I am hopeful and horrified at the same time. And I am not alone. We need you to heal us. Holy Spirit, we are desperate for illumination and guidance. Father, we plead for your strength. Amen.

On Treasure and Pearls

For the past several weeks I’ve been preaching through the parables found in Matthew 13. The more I study them, the more fascinated I am by the choices Matthew makes in including these, how he stacks them, and exactly what it is that Jesus is getting at with each one individually but also cumulatively.

The last two Sunday’s I’ve spent on tiny parables. Two weeks ago it was the one about hidden treasure.

The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and covered up. Then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.

Matthew 13:44

It is pretty straightforward, and the next one after it I covered this past Sunday.

Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls, who on finding one pearl of great value, went and sold all that he had and bought it.

Matthew 13:45&46

Most commentators group these two parables together because they argue it is the same teaching in each parable. Their argument is the duality of the parable reinforces the lesson. Craig Blomberg summarizes the mainstream view by affirming, “Each contains one character and teaches one point, namely, that the kingdom is so valuable that it is worth sacrificing anything to gain it.” (New American Commentary: Matthew Vol. 22)

I see where Blomberg and others are coming from. The parables, or similes really, are very similar. Something of value is discovered and all resources are leveraged to get it. The problem is, Jesus chose to give two different parables, and they are couched in enough differences that I think they should be preached separately and appropriated separately. There are more differences than there are similarities. The similarities are more about our mind trying to categorize everything. If we will stop and evaluate I think we can see there is a lot more going on.

  1. One man ‘found’ the treasure accidentally in the field. The other man was looking for it.
  2. One man hid the found treasure until he could procure the property. The other man quickly secured the cash and bought it there in the open market.
  3. One man’s treasure was something he could use to live off of. By contrast, the pearl can only be admired.
  4. One treasure had been abandoned while the other was actively being sold.
  5. The purchase of the field with buried treasure comes with two benefits — the land is an asset as well as the treasure, whereas the pearl is unique and singular.
  6. The buried treasure actually has many characters — the one who owned the field, the one who left the treasure, and the one who bought all his stuff. These are implied characters where as the pearl comparison only has two man characters, the buyer and the seller.

In preaching these texts I didn’t highlight all these differences, but I did try to allow a complex hermeneutic ooze out. For me the key difference is the buried treasure is about stumbling across the kingdom of heaven. This is how some of us come to the Lord; a flashing light from heaven or a sudden realization in the midst of our hectic lives. If kingdom of heaven means spiritual enlightenment in general and not salvation in specific, then it can refer to any of those long illuminations we experience in our lifetime.

There is a randomness to the buried treasure story we can’t overlook.

By contrast, the pearl is dramatically different in feel. The buyer, who is meant to symbolize us, is actively in the marketplace searching for the pearl of great price. There is nothing accidental here at all. He knows what he is looking for. His eye is trained to identify the real deal and dismiss the phony baloney. If we take the verb at face value, then the seeker looking for the kingdom of heaven must be ready to buy it when it is found. I am reminded of Hebrews which teaches us the Lord is a rewarder of those who earnestly seek him. The parable also encourages ongoing discovery, seeking the Lord afresh in the morning or investigating the deep things in the darkness of night.

Here is something that I didn’t allude to at all in my sermons, but an idea that has been wiggling around in my mind. These two parables are stacked atop one another. Perhaps there is a flow in the logic here which Jesus intended. The kingdom of heaven for us is like the apparent randomness of buried treasure. This is probably how all of us feel about our experience with the risen Christ. It feels like we found something buried and obscure, but in reality someone buried it there all along knowing we would find it. The burier of treasure is Jesus. The second parable perhaps is the same man later looking for something specific. This is us in our lives of discipleship looking for the beauty, the enlightenment, the scope and breadth of the kingdom of heaven. This is us with books, prayer, meditation, and learning, yearning for a kind of treasure that we can’t live off it, but which is beautiful and meaningful.

What Makes You Thirsty?

At about 7:45AM yesterday (6 October 2019) I realized the sermon about John 7:37-39 was out of control.

On the last day of the feast, the great day, Jesus stood up and cried out, ‘If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.’ ” Now this he said about the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were to receive, for as yet the Spirit had not been given, because Jesus was not yet glorified.

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I’ve preached this passage before, usually with mixed results. This time I tried to weave a little light exegesis with a constant hammering of metaphor — what it was like to be dehydrated. In fact, I used eight different metaphors–everything from mummies to Mars. I was having a hard time putting in all of the different things I wanted to say along with a baseline exegesis of the text, which is important as well.

Something had to go for me to regain control. What I cut was a wandering speculation about when do we get thirsty? I came up with five, and I intended to draw out the spiritual implications.

  1. When I first wake up
  2. After I eat something dry
  3. After exercise
  4. If I am sick, I am thirsty
  5. When traveling

It would be a safe jump to move “when I first wake up” into a “when I first become a Christ-follower”. I have found this to be inherently true of people who turn on their spiritual lives — they have a near insatiable appetite for the anything about Jesus — worship, church, Bible study, reading the Bible, and serving. Often they can’t stop talking about Jesus. It is because they are thirsty.

Eating something dry is a harder parallel, but not impossible. It could be likened to whenever I am around stale people, crusty ideas, or hardened hearts. Too much time in these environments will make me thirsty for Jesus all the more. Being thirsty after exercise is the opposite, in many ways to eating something dry. Exercise is when we are spiritually serving — for me this is when my teaching schedule is heavy, lots of appointments with people, people in the hospital — and I have exerted myself spiritually so much that I’ve ‘sweated out’ all my liquid. That is when I need to rehydrate and spend some extra time alone with the Lord and drink in his presence.

Antibiotics always make me thirsty. Medicine, in general, does. I like to think of this concept as running alongside the way I can become spiritually confused or even displaced. A good example is when a contemporary issue seems to be running right into the teaching of Scripture. This is a certain kind of dissonance that makes me need to spend more time with the Lord to gather discernment. I need a drink, so to speak, before I know what the healthy path is.

If I am in an airplane I am always thirsty. The same is true when I am in car. I think most people are this way and it is because of the dry recycled air. Recycled air is the key here. One of the problems in my life is I get comfortable recycling and repeating same the same things over and over again, neglecting the Spirits call to sing a new song, start a new thing, or travel in a new direction. When the air is dry and recycled, it is time to spend time drinking in the Lord.

So there you have it, the bonus material that had to be cut from yesterday’s completely out of control sermon.

 

Tacos and Jesus

I don’t know whether I should file this one under food, preaching, or Bible? Probably it is a little of all.

Let’s start with tacos. There are few things in this world better than a taco. When I say taco most people think about the crunchy things you get at Taco Bell. That hardly qualifies, but it does indeed qualify. I prefer soft tacos–flour for most of mine but if it is a fish taco I prefer a corn tortilla. I also love breakfast tacos made with sausage, bacon, chorizo, or egg and potato. It’s all delicious.

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Most food can be described as a taco. This is really true of what we label as Mexican food. An enchilada is a soggy taco. A chalupa is a flat taco. Quesadillas are panini tacos. Nachos are de-constructed tacos. Chimichangas are deep fried tacos.

And for the record, there is no such things as a burrito. A burrito is just a pretentious taco.

But so many other foods are really tacos too. A sandwich is a taco with puffy bread. Think about it, Subway sells things called ‘wraps’ to substitute the fluffy bread, and a wrap is just a taco with different filler. The same is true of a burger–just a taco without the spices, but still a taco.

A hot dog is really a taco, too.

A gyro is a Greek taco.

A calzone is an Italian taco.

An egg roll is an Asian taco.

A kolache is a Czech taco.

I mean, if you get right down to it, a Twinkie is a Mid-Century American taco.

Eventually this gets me to Jesus. Jesus made seven of the apostles fish tacos for breakfast after his resurrection.

When they got out on land, they saw a charcoal fire in place, with fish laid out on it, and bread. Jesus said to them, “bring some of the fish that you have caught . . . Come and have breakfast.” John 21:9-10, 12a

Tacos are resurrection food! I wonder if Thomas brought along some guacamole or queso? I doubt it.

Tacos are the universal food. One way or another people from just about every culture can relate to a piece of bread wrapped around something. Jesus offers this universal food to his apostles as he leads them to consider the universal neediness we all have to dine with him.