Monday, May 31, 2010

the Annisquam

In case you're wondering, the photo above is the Annisquam lighthouse off the coast of Cape Ann/Gloucester where the Annisquam River merges with the ocean. It's a great place for kayaking. There are so many scenic paddling places in the north shore and this is one of the best. Though we're living in a fallen world we can still get some glimpses of Paradise and anticipate the new earth that one day God will bring about, Eden restored, and a Day when "the knowledge of God will fill the earth as the waters cover the seas" (Isaiah 11:9).

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Memorial Day

It is the soldier, not the reporter, who has given us freedom of the press.
It is the soldier, not the poet, who has given us freedom of speech.
It is the soldier, not the minister, who has given us freedom of religion (unless he's an Army Chaplain!).
It is the soldier, not the campus organizer,who has given us freedom to demonstrate.
It is the soldier who salutes the flag,
and whose coffin is draped by the flag,
Who allows the protester to burn the flag.
-Father Denis Edward O’Brien, USMC

Friday, May 21, 2010

True Followers

Are we true followers of Christ, or just believers according to contemporary standards? What does it really mean to be a “follower” of Christ? Jesus said, “If any of you want to be My follower, you must put aside your selfish ambition, shoulder your cross, and follow Me” (Matthew 16:25). Taking up our cross means putting to death any plans or priorities that are self-centered and out of line with God’s will. We discover the will of God by first being willing to yield to God, letting Jesus be our Lord and Master. Being a disciple may involve some self-denial. The closest contemporary word to “disciple” is “apprentice”. We learn the Christian life by living it, often guided by others and by the time we spend in the Bible and on our knees. We may want to follow Jesus, but we sometimes are apt to tell Jesus what we need instead of surrendering to Him. When we pray, do we issue orders or report for duty? Discipleship means learning how to listen to Jesus, not getting Him to listen to us.

Jesus was approached by a wealthy young man (in Mark chapter 10) who wanted to know how to get to Heaven. He was disappointed to learn that Jesus wanted total commitment. Jesus knew that this young man had made an idol of wealth, and before we can come to God, we have to be willing to forsake anything that’s in the way. An idol is anything we trust in and love more than God. We can make an idol of our possessions, our education, even our relationships. When we put Jesus first, everything else in life fits into place. But it takes discipline to be a disciple. We need to make time for Bible study, worship, fellowship and Christian service. A pro football player expressed his passion for the game when he shared his personal motto: “Go hard or go home!” We could use the same commitment.

The time to be a follower of Jesus is NOW. It’s ludicrous to think, “I’ll visit people in the hospitals and prisons and nursing homes when I get to Heaven and have the time. I’ll tell people about Jesus and I’ll hand out Bibles to the lost.” We show that we believe Jesus by making Him part of every decision, every project. A man went to pick up his wife from church one Sunday. When she got into the car, he jokingly said, “So I guess the sermon’s finally over, huh?” She answered, “No, the sermon is only half-over. The Pastor is done preaching it, but now I need to go do it.” If we’re not living what we learn in church, all we’re left with are unfinished sermons. Let’s give the Master our all!

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Anti-Semitism and self-hatred

I think it’s important that the we understand the roots of anti-Semitism, and why it goes against the teachings of Scripture, both Old and New Testaments...

Initial animosity towards the Jews among the early followers of Christ was not possible, because the overwhelming majority were Jews. The Messiah’s arrival was the culmination of Judaism, and the fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy. John the Baptist, who heralded the advent of Jesus, is often regarded as the “last Old Testament prophet” in that he was the last link in the prophetic chain. One has to only look through the Gospel genealogies to see the Jewish heritage of Jesus. The Apostle Paul, who was trained as a Pharisee, admitted that the Gospel was “for the Jew first” (Romans 1:16). Paul didn’t view Christianity as a religion distinct from Judaism. Faith in Christ the Messiah was the fulfillment of all Old Testament hopes and promises. Since Hebrew culture gave birth to Christianity, we find our true identity in connection with Israel. We could not exist without Judaism. The more biblical we become, the more Judaic we will be.

Jesus used Hebraic images to show His connection with Judaism: He stated that He was the true Vine, the Passover bread, the Temple and the atoning sacrifice. He declared that He was the embodiment of these Jewish symbols. Jesus did not start a non-Jewish Church.

Animosity towards the Jewish nation came for two reasons: First is the crucifixion of Christ. We need to understand that a small, special interest group, not the majority of Jews, but a faction in Jerusalem, put political pressure on Pontius Pilate, who lacked the integrity to refuse them. The Apostles’ Creed doesn’t blame the Jews, but states that Christ was “crucified under Pontius Pilate”. The buck stops in ancient Rome.

Although Jesus proclaimed Himself Israel’s Messiah, He was not theirs exclusively. He came for Gentiles as well, and gradually with massive conversions, the makeup of the fellowship of believers became increasingly non-Jewish. The move to Sunday worship was in part to focus on the day of our Lord’s resurrection, but also to distinguish Christian worship from Judaism and Sabbath traditions. Many Christians today believe we need to return to our Hebraic roots. Paul states in Galatians that when non-Jews receive Jesus as Lord, they become the spiritual seed of Abraham. This means that we are linked to the father of Judaism. To hate Jews is to hate one’s self. There is no room for hatred in any form in Christian thinking. We disagree with Jews regarding the Person and Work of Christ, but Scripture compels us to do so lovingly. Anti-Semitism is inconsistent with the love Jesus taught us to show towards all people.

God loves Israel. The Psalmist has declared, “the Lord has chosen Israel to be His treasured possession” (Ps 135:4). Zechariah records God’s warning to those who oppose Israel: “whoever touches you touches the apple of My eye” (2:8). The Jewish nation has maintained its ethnic identity in spite of numerous dispersions and persecutions, and according to Paul in Romans 11, God is not finished with His chosen people. He has a special future for them, in spite of their rejection of Jesus. They have stumbled, Paul states, but they have not fallen “beyond recovery” (vs. 11).

We see Christianity as a “Western religion”, but it is not. We have westernized Christianity by imposing our culture onto it. But Christianity is Jewish. As we study the First Testament, we Gentiles should see it as part of our story. From our Western/American cultural perspective the culture, customs, and traditions of Israel may seem strange, even alien to our experience. Yet when we trace our spiritual roots, we find the rich heritage of our father Abraham.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Vicinage Councils and Mentored Ministry

Today our church convened a Vicinage Council to appraise the gifts and calling of a young man for the US Navy Chaplaincy. A diverse group of pastors, chaplains and seminary professors gathered to ask some challenging questions after the reading of the candidate's ordination paper, an overview of his theological positions and pastoral vision.

It is a wonderful thing when a local church can participate in the preparation of future clergy. We've been investing in our time to mentor and encourage two young men training for ministry. The Army used to have a slogan, "We don't ask for experience, we give it." I am convinced that this future chaplain will be better equipped to serve effectively in the Navy and manage to meet the unique challenges of military ministry.

Churches that are near seminaries should open their doors to seminarians and offer them an opportunity to learn by doing. Pastors should take the time to teach the skills that seminaries often don't cover. I think back on my seminary days; I learned theology but when called on to conduct my first funeral, I had no preparation whatsoever. I want to make sure this doesn't happen to others.

Being a mentor is an important work. The Apostle Paul was careful to develop Timothy, and seasoned clergy should be generous with sharing the wisdom of their experience to the next generation of clergy, to the glory of God

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Natural Selection & the Fall

I've been reading about how Darwin's natural selection contradicts the notion of God creating a world that He would call "good". Why would any Creator fashion a world in which animals prey on others and disease and death reign? Because this world isn't the world God originally fashioned. The world as we now see it isn't what it was originally. The Fall of humankind turned a garden into a grave. We have no concept of an innocent, pre-fall world. Yet in spite of it all, even our fallen world is pretty amazing, as secular nature videos can attest. When Jesus returns, He will right every wrong and the New Earth will be most unlike the present corrupted planet in which we live.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

-order and complexity-

I've been reading about Intelligent Design and atheism lately, and I've been wondering if atheists believe that the world has merely the appearance of purpose. It simply doesn't look like an accident (or series of accidents) caused the world to be as it appears. I also wonder on what basis atheists choose to be ethical rather than amoral, since if there are no fixed moral absolutes, why bother to be good (in fact, "good" is a non-issue in such a world). I've probably said this before, but a world without God is left with arbitrary preferences at best and anarchy at worst. The world may function better with standards, but without a fixed moral basis, every value may be questioned and rejected outright. The other day I read in the newspaper a letter to the editor declaring a questionable activity as moral. On what basis? Personal opinion? That is hardly an adequate criteria. Let's get back to a theistic worldview.