Posts Tagged ‘Bible’

The Import of Story

I recently told you about a great a superlative book I read recently called The Monster in the Hollows by Andrew Peterson (pick up a copy here) (It’s the third in the Wingfeather Saga).  I thought I would let you know about how it helped me in a sermon and in a hospital visit.  As I was preaching on Sunday it came to me – a quote from the book.  I held up my finger (indicating that everyone should wait a moment) walked over to the piano and picked up a pen and wrote a note to myself in my notes…where I could use this quote.  I was preaching on the story of Joseph.  Actually, I’m trying to preach a spring/summer series on the larger story we’re a part of.  We started with Adam and Eve, hit Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and this week was Joseph.  Kind of hard to do.

You have to tell a long story and then land on one particular scripture passage in the middle or at the end and draw out of it what God has to say.  Anyway, it was Joseph this week.  I told his long up and down story: Up – Dad’s favorite, Down – Brothers sell him into slavery, Up – become slave-owner’s favorite, Down – thrown in jail for not sleeping with someone, Up – become head prisoner/warden, Down – have to tell someone that their dream means they’re going to die soon, Up – Become lord of all Egypt.

After telling the story we read the part where he was reunited with his brothers and says, “So then, it was not you who sent me here, but God.” (Gen. 45:8).  And in the middle of the story I remember this line from The Monster in the Hollows, “Evil digs a pit, and the Maker makes a well. That is His way.” ~Artham Wingfeather.  Dang! I wish I could write like that.  It fit well into the sermon, but then, on a hospital call it worked well, too.

The 6th floor of the hospital has a wing for mental health.  I was on the 6th floor of the hospital on the last day of May visiting a friend.  She asked me why all this was happening to her, and why God would put all this hardship in her life.  What possible good could come out of it all?  As is the case in many situations like that, I don’t have a good answer.  Not sure there is a good answer – at least not a good one that can come from people.  God’s got a lot of explaining to do in my opinion. 

With Joseph and Artham fresh on my mind we talked about the Bible story – one she had never heard.  Sometimes story is the only thing to tell in the middle of hardship.  Sometimes explaining things away only makes everything worse.  Take Job’s friends for instance: they did everything right until they opened their mouth.  So it was story for us on the 6th floor, and I let Joseph’s tale just hang there.

Thank God for story.  And thank God for storytellers.  And thank God for the larger story we get to participate in.


Preaching a God you do not like

May 10, 2011 1 comment

I suppose if I did the math (and I did do the math) a person who is my age has had 1,836 Sundays.  I was a camp counselor for 6 summers: that’s about 300 campfire times.  I’ve also had chapels at both college and seminary.  That’s 7 years of chapels making roughly 910 chapel services.  Then there are all the worship services after that which break down to probably 750 where I’ve preached or participated in leading worship.  A rough total of about 3,800 corporate worship services.  I’m not trying to brag.  I know my heart, and I could have used twice that for sure.  But I want to make a point with the number.

I have never once heard a preacher, including myself, say the thing I want to say this week.  “I don’t like the God I see in this passage.”

Why is that?  Well, it’s either because the person preaching does like the God they see in the passage, or they’re afraid of admitting what they feel, or it’s just taboo to be honest in that way from behind the pulpit, or church politics would usher them out the door afterwards, or they are stuck on the idea that a worshiper must be in a perpetual state of praise.  I understand all that.  I do.  But the fact of the matter is that this week I’m preaching on Genesis 22.

It’s where God asks Abraham to take his son, his only son, Isaac, the one he loves and sacrifice him on an altar.  What kind of a person does that?  What kind of a God does that?  This is the son God promised an old barren couple.  This is the son who is to be the beginning of a world-wide blessing.  This is Abraham’s flesh and blood.  What kind of misuse of power is this by God?  Why test someone like that?  I don’t like the God I see here.  I would not want to go out to lunch with this God.  This kind of God should not expect my love and gratitude and worship.

You might be thinking, “Yah, but God supplies a ram before Abraham can go through with it.”  So?  The boy was bound, laying on a pile of wood, and the knife was on its descent toward his lifeblood and it’s supposed to make it OK that God stopped him at that point?  Not for me.  I don’t like it, and in this story…I don’t like God.

I have to be able to say that.  I have to be able to say it in church on Sunday because of the kind of faith community we want to be.  We desire to be a place of authenticity – where you can be yourself and honestly engage scripture and the living God who breathed life into both the words and into us.

Pastors are given a big responsibility – be honest with God’s word and with God’s people.  And while I have great love and respect for Bill Wayland, my boyhood pastor, camp chaplains, college chaplains, seminary speakers, Perry DeGroot and others who have preached God’s word to me in the past, I’m hoping to break the cycle in a healthy way.  I don’t think any of them ever lied to me, but they protected me, and I’m not sure that’s a service to the hearer.

I’m no homeletics professor, but I know this: preachers are not only teaching God’s word, they also are teaching how to honestly engage God.  And in a church plant I’m surrounded by people who can sniff a half-truth better than most.  And if I ease past something like this, I’ve lost them…and I really shouldn’t be surprised if they never came back.  People are looking for a lot of things: comfort? yes. inspiration? yes. But they also look for truth – and not the “we can stand in the face of the world holding this truth to their noses” kind of truth.  Sometimes just a little “I don’t like the God I see in this passage” kind of truth goes a long way.  It’s permission, basically.  Permission to feel what they feel – or maybe just what I feel.

This story may not show a God I like, but it’s the God I have, and…the God I dearly love.  I think I may need to end there both today and on Sunday.


February 11, 2011 1 comment

I am making a new friend.  She walked through the doors of the church building on Sunday – and it takes a lot of bravery to do something like that.  She was quickly befriended by two or three women.  I heard Claudia say to her, “Do you have someone to sit with?”  “No, I don’t.”  “Well, you’re welcome to sit with us.”  I was so proud.  I was so happy to hear it.  It’s exactly what I hoped for and what we need to be like.  Way to go Claudia!

Then brave thing number two: my new friend asked if we could get together and chat.  “Of course!”  And Thursday she joined our Bible 101 course.  Then tonight we had a cup of coffee and talked.  God is clearly up to something in her life.  She can’t explain some of the good things she’s feeling or the changes happening in her.  All of a sudden she feels like good things just might be able to happen to her.

“There’s a word we have for that.”  I said to her, “We call that hope.”  “Hope,” she said, “yah, I guess that’s what it is.  I’m finding some hope.”

THAT is why we’re here.  THAT is why we started Embody Christ Fellowship.  There will come a time when my new friend starts to understand the hope she’s finding, and when she does, she will be able to spread it around with power…her quiet, unassuming self will spread it with power.  Not because she’s powerful (which I have no doubt she is), but because hope is powerful.


December 9, 2010 Leave a comment

The red bird in my back yard that caught my breath the other day has gotten me thinking.  Here’s part of my plan for a sermon this week on Luke’s story of the angels’ appearing to the shepherds:

Angels were, among other things, God’s messenger system.  Like power lines spreading from the source to every lightbulbed room they go forth from the throne of God to spread word – the things God would say to humans if the hearing of it wouldn’t break their eardrums or God’s very presence destroy them by sheer purity and righteousness – holiness – complete otherness.  But they must hear.  Some things can’t be guessed at, and must be revealed: good news.  Great joy.  For all the people.  Today!  A Savior!  Born to you.  The Messiah.  The Lord.  A baby.  A manger.

 Clarity.  Such clarity.  Then as if there was just one question left hanging in the air the angel is joined by a dynamic, exploding crew of messengers bursting forth with the one large answer left in the mind of the hearers.  The question must have been, “Is this God?”  Or “Do I worship this being?”  And the answer came back resoundingly, in a way I can only imagine would have shaken the very innards of boys, girls, young and old men alike along with the sheep they feebly guarded in this pasture, “Glory to God!”  Not us.  Don’t lift us above the one who sent us so that you wouldn’t die in the holy presence.

 Oh, and by the way, “Peace to those on whom God’s favor rests.”  Peace.  “I’ll know peace when you stop terrifying me with your otherworldliness and leave me to contemplate your message,” they must have thought.  Then, in what must have felt complete darkness in the angels’ absence, the least of these looked at each other and exhaled with a nervous laughter – a smile that said “we’re alive” and teeth that parted to say, “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.”

Clarity.  Such clarity.  Everything else wiped aside.  All other thoughts, concerns, pains, arguments, worries about the future, brokenness from yesterday – everything blurred and pushed to the side in the precision and laser-focused clarity given by the news from these…these…voices, these figures, these messengers.  Their brightness, their electric presence, when extinguished left all else in darkness except their message – still burning phosphorous in our minds: The Messiah!  A manger!

Clarity.  Such clarity.  Here is a God who knows how to speak to people in a pre-fireworks light show and using language every Israelite knew “The Messiah” and every shepherd understood “A manger.”  Just people doing what they do in the middle of their every day, every night life.  And God breaks in with clarity and burns off everything else in dramatic power leaving a heart pounding his message in the silence of his messengers’ absence.

Has this happened to you?  Let us listen more closely, for while the night sky may not light up the way it did that night in the pastures, God still wants to give clarity.  And we shouldn’t be surprised to find ourselves hijacked in the middle of the night or in the middle of our figurative night.

Communion Police

December 7, 2010 1 comment

I’ve begun asking some questions about communion or The Lord’s Supper.  I know what my professors at seminary would say, and I respect them a lot, but is there something beyond what we can explain in textbooks?  I would venture a guess that many of my professors would probably say, “yes.”

In a church plant you have to walk some fine lines when it comes to church order and practical theology.  There are certain rules and ways of practicing the institution of communion that make good sense and make for a healthy life together as a church.  They can,  however, make things tricky in our setting.

For instance, when you create a welcoming space for worship where those who don’t believe are welcome to participate in the life of the body without believing, it can sound odd to then say, “everything but this.”  Now, you can say, it’s like a carrot, but at the very least it’s tricky.

There’s a part of the liturgy that invites all people who are baptized and members of a Christian church to participate in the meal together.  Confession time: I don’t say that.  I say something like this: “If you believe Jesus is the Son of God and put your faith in Him for salvation, you’re welcome to participate.  If not, that’s OK, because that’s where you are right now – you can feel free to come foreward also and receive a blessing.”

We don’t have communion police, and I don’t withhold the meal from those who I know to be questioning those very things.  I understand there are many who might say we are eating and drinking condemnation upon ourselves, but my hope is this: that there is something mystical in the elements or in the act of coming forward or in making the move with the feet and hands and mouth that creates a connection with Christ.  Is there something in the this non-Christian taking that step?  I think God blesses that and meets them there – somehow.

I’m holding the cup and as each person comes forward I’m praying for their faith and for the efficacy of Christ in their life.  What happens in holy Communion?  I’m not sure, but I’m praying for some miracle in the lives of those who participate.

Bible 101

September 27, 2010 Leave a comment

I met a neighbor tonight.  She lives down the street from me, but I have never seen her before.  Her driveway is kind of hidden down a side street, and her neighbor is congressman Peter Hoekstra (R-MI)…so you know her driveway is probably not overly accessible .  She came to a course I’m offering called “Bible 101”.


There were 7 of us there tonight, and when we went around the circle telling about our history with the Bible and a little of our background, I was encouraged because the stories were exactly what I was hoping for.  There were people who had grown up in the church but never really read the Bible.  There were others who had grown up away from the church and had no history with the Bible.  These are the people I was hoping for.

Their questions were great: Can you say you believe in the Bible if you haven’t read it in its entirety?  Where does the guilt come from?  Why isn’t the Bible chronological?  What’s with all the different versions?  How did we get the Bible?  How can you know you can trust it?  Did God really tell each person to write the Bible, or were they stories told and passed on?  When was the last writing to the Bible and why haven’t there been any since?

My neighbor was quiet.  I don’t know her story, but I’m sure she had some of these questions…and more.  She must have, right?  I mean don’t we all?  And here’s something else: when do we stop asking questions?  I am sure that there are many people (perhaps you) who looked at the questions posed in just the first class session and said, “Good question.”  For some reason we stop asking questions.  Shouldn’t we be always gathering more and more questions as we go deeper and deeper?

Maybe that’s it.  Maybe we don’t go deeper.

Let’s not be 1000 miles wide and 1/2 inch deep.  I know some great question-askers who can lead the way.

Categories: The Slow Grow Tags: ,

Into The Wild, Blue Yonder

August 26, 2010 1 comment

I’ve been sitting on this entry for weeks and weeks.  I thought that if I didn’t post it, it wouldn’t come true, but…I have to share it with you because I need your prayers – all you cybercapable friends:

Since day one, I have had a partner in the gospel here at Embody: Lee Heerspink.  He and I have worked from the beginning on starting Embody.  We’ve prayed a lot, and used our machetes to cut through the question marks that are church planting to give birth to a place that is authentic to who God has made us to be.

We’ve been honest with each other and vulnerable with each other.  He’s one of the few I can call a part of my band of brothers…a true friend who would do anything to help me walk in faith and maintain the long obedience in the same direction.  He is the type of guy who’s willing to ask me the hard questions and let me ask them of him.

He told me months ago that he may be leaving…pursuing a dream of his to play music in the Air Force.  That was painful to hear for multiple reasons: he’s a good friend, he’s been with me from the very beginning and we share that history.  We share, also, a united vision for worship.  Then there’s the obvious: he’s awesome at what he does, and there’s no way to replace him.

Since the moment he first told me about the possibility of him leaving, I made a conscious decision: pray for him and don’t try to sway him.  I have my desires, but they are selfish.  I don’t know what God wants, but I can hear in my friend’s voice that he is hopeful.  I would never want to take that away from him.  He’s a loyal friend, too, so I knew that if I were to try to lay on guilt it would sadly work.  I don’t want to be that guy.

He has one more month with us, then…he’ll be playing with the Air Force.  His last Sunday is September 19, which is our one year anniversary as a church.  It will be bittersweet.

When I tell people this they always ask the question: “What are you going to do?”  My answer is always, “Not quite sure, but I’m not worried about it.”  I know that God has a plan, and it will be good.  There is someone either inside or presently outside the body of believers we worship with who will become for us exactly what God intended.  Ephesians says, “We are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.”

There really are two stories here that connect in Christ.  The first is the loss of a musician in our midst…one who has a vision for worship and leads by quiet, humble service.  He has helped to create an atmosphere where people are comfortable.  He’s an authentic person who hates being noticed and is a little shy.  It’s not just part of his charm…it’s God’s gift to Embody.

The other story is also one of loss, and one that is much more accessible to people: losing a friend to distance.  I’ve had friends move away before, and more commonly been the one moving away, but this is a strongly felt loss by me.  I think it is because, besides Dana (my bride), Lee is the one who has been at every step and lifted every stone and painted every wall and sweated and bled and cried with me.  He’s my friend born by challenge. I’ll miss him, but we are connected through Christ and the body of Christ, though separated by distance meets at the heart of God…often in worship and always at the Lord’s Table.

I am planning on this being a great opportunity for God to show up and make something truly awe-inspiring happen.  Here’s the plan: You pray and I’ll keep my eyes open.  That way when God lands something great in our path I’ll see it and you’ll hear about prayers answered.