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Welcome! The primary purpose of this blog is to explore and encourage around what it means to be winsome and sent into the world for God's glory. If you are new here, the definition of "lighthouse-searchlight" or our missional journey is a good place to start. Come peruse the blog and add me to your RSS feed!

Thursday, May 25, 2017

ten commandments - more than a list of rules

Re-run blogpost from several years ago, and from a sermon on the Ten Commandments.

I realize that most often we look at the Ten Commandments (Exodus 20) as a list and consider each one as a self-contained unit.  But the Commandments function as a whole, as a legal and moral whole.  Formally, they are presented as a covenant document.  There are several covenants in the Bible, but at heart each is God graciously reaching out toward humanity and offering to intervene and help in the human condition.  If you look at the Ten Commandments as a whole, you can see the way they describe an order to life – a pattern of living in obedience to and relationship with God.  And it is that ordered life, which would also be understood in Scripture as a blessed life that is in view for all who would trust God.

A God-ordered Life

I-III.  The first three commandments describe a God-ordered life with God alone as priority, vision, and worthy of worship, love, and service.  They speak of God alone in the highest place, the place of worship, love, service, and obedience.  Nothing is to take God’s place or even compete.  It is the supreme and sole priority of God in our lives that orders all the rest of life.  So these commandments speak to idolatry and worship, to obedience and disobedience, to service and to selfishness. 

IV.  The fourth commandment (Sabbath) describes a God-ordered life in terms of work, rest, and time.  Often you will hear the commandments sub-divided into the first four about God and the last six about human relationship.  But the Sabbath commandment bridges between.  Most importantly, it speaks not just of one day in seven, but of all seven days.  It marks out our time as all belonging to God, subject to the commandments already given.  And part of ordering our life under God is to not to over- or under-prioritize work, rest, or the balance between the two.  Issues of work, recreation, family time, personal time, exercise, health, rest, and worship are all addressed in this commandment.  It is a prime example of how the Commandments bring order and structure to our view of time and life.

V.  The fifth commandment (parents) describes a God-ordered life in terms of home and family.  So submitting our lives to God’s leadership and worship not only affect our use of time, but also our relationships.  The commandment to honor parents is more than respecting mom and dad.  It requires something of children, but also of parents.  It gets at all of family life, from respect to obedience to communication to how parents and children should relate throughout life.

VI-IX.  The sixth through ninth commandments describe a God-ordered life in terms of our neighbors, not taking from them selfishly, but loving them selflessly.  Murder, adultery, stealing, and lying all take from those around us.  Their inherent selfishness breaks the first commandments and the community implications breech what Jesus will later call “love of neighbor.”  In these commandments, we see that God’s design for humanity is not just individual and internal, but societal and missional.  Indeed, you do see in the Ten Commandments what will be lifted up clearly in the New Testament, that the greatest commandments are love of God and love of neighbor. 

X.  The tenth commandment uniquely points towards a New Testament perspective, where we must even guard our interior thoughts, guarding against temptation and the sinful attitudes that lead to sinful actions.  This aspect of the Ten Commandments is often overlooked; we think of the Ten as major crimes or sins of commission.  But here we see that continued longing for what we don’t have is itself sin.  Is this not Adam and Eve’s original sin in the Garden?

What God holds up to us in these Commandments is a picture of life ordered according to God’s wisdom, justice, and love.  The Law may be compared to a parent’s rules for children.  You may play in the yard; but not in the street.  It is not only the rule, it offers safety, security, and in the extreme, even life over injury or death.  So also, the Ten Commandments are not rules to hamper us, but rules to set us free.  Keeping or breaking the Ten Commandments isn’t about salvation.  Breaking them doesn’t take you out of consideration; keeping them doesn’t purchase you a ticket to Heaven.  Rather, they form a description of what a God-ordered and blessed life looks like.  To the extent that we experience that, we begin to get a sense of how good God’s Word and will are for us.  To the extent that we fall short and live in disarray, we realize just what was lost in the Garden.

These are not rules by which we should measure and ask, “Am I good enough?”  The answer to that question is that we are ALL dead in sin – dead in sin!  Rather, the Ten Commandments are an example of God COMING AFTER US, to breathe life and hope into us – to offer us boundaries and a home and a place of safety in a fallen world where we are already at play in the street.  God is already initiating His rescue plan.  So our attentiveness to the Commandments at once shows us how lost we are and how God is already coming to find us through His Word.

God’s Law cannot save from death, but for those living in the ashes between Eden and the End, the Commandments offer a temporary shelter in the present world, with all the hope of a God who is coming to save us from death itself.

Sunday, January 01, 2017

2016 Round Up

2016 has been the subject of much commentary from the election to the seemingly full spate of celebrity and other deaths. After fourteen years of ministry at Good Shepherd, the session also gave me a second sabbatical, which I used primarily to write and record original music (more below). Last year at this time I wrote about leaning back into "core ministries" as the church re-captured its vision after focusing on a capital campaign for several years. Like the previous two years, we also had some staff transition with our youth director, Joanie, leaving to get married, and with our children's ministry director, Melissa, stepping away from her church role at year end. So we enter 2017 still in staff transition. I have named several areas of new ministry and focus (men's ministry, racial reconciliation, youth ministry w/new staff), but also still look forward to seeing where God is leading us in 2017. As in past years, I would name some highlights (and benchmarks) for this past year.

Sermon Series: I don't always preach in series, but when I do, I often enjoy the cumulative effect of building on a theme or digging deep into a topic. We had several this year:

  • "Dark Season of the Soul" - looking to Lamentations and Psalms of lament to see how people have called out to God in the most challenging seasons of struggle, loss, and discouragement
  • "Things We Leave Behind" - a series focusing on what it means to trust and follow Jesus as disciples
  • "God As... in the Pentateuch" - series by Kathy Larson during my sabbatical, focusing on the character of God as revealed in the first five books of the Bible
  • "Doers of the Word" - series from the book of James by guest preachers in the congregation while I was on sabbatical
  • "Summer Series" - various themes and sermons during the summer after returning from sabbatical
  • "Lessons from Philemon" - series on race and identity in Christ
  • "The Good Shepherd" - series on Psalm 23
  • "Stewardship" - series on our stewardship, consecration, and thankfulness as God's people
  • "Advent/Christmas" - this year's Advent series and Christmas sermons, focused on knowing God through Jesus, as seen in his teaching and relationships
Individual Sermons: three sermons that stood out as "most downloaded" as well as meaningful to me. It is interesting to me that two of them came from our 'number' series early in the year and that the three represent a nice range of interests (spiritual struggle, spiritual discipline, spiritual health).
  1. "Leaving Our Culture" - we are "dual citizens" of our nation (and culture) and the Kingdom of God, but our first allegiance must be to the Kingdom of God
  2. "Three Compassions" - compassion is a necessary first step to living and loving beyond ourselves and what we and the whole of the human race needs to survive and flourish; written in response to the racial conflict manifesting in the summer of 2016
  3. "While the Nations Rage" - God's sovereignty is an anchor in the midst of the unrest, anxiety, and issues swirling around us in the world today
Testimonies: this was a year of meaningful testimonies shared in and with the church; some are included below; I started to note "this is amazing!" next to them, but they are all amazing and really significant testimonies of God's goodness!
Music: one of the goals/habits I cultivated in 2014 was trying to regularly write or record music; I called this "Sundays for Singing," trying to post something each Sunday. I certainly didn't generate a post weekly, but it did get the wheels turning again. I was also excited for my friend, John Duncan, to get a life-long dream up and running in Beathaven. It brings the opportunity of professional interaction, review, and submission of ideas to amateur musicians. I was pleased that John used several of my instrumental tracks (here's one example) in setting up the site and interacting with him around the Beathaven service has spurred some enjoyable musical creativity.

    Monday, August 29, 2016

    New CD

    I am excited to announce the release of The Depth of Worship, vol.1 - you can download for free on bandcamp (enter $0 when you name your price) and you can give it a listen there or in the player below. A short link for sharing is bit.ly/rmacd16

    Some of these songs started more than 10 years ago; most were recorded in my first sabbatical in 2008, and I was able to finish the mixing and mastering this past summer during a second sabbatical, thanks to my wonderful congregation at Good Shepherd Presbyterian Church. (I also have about 8 new songs in the hopper... but still some work to do on them!)

    Here are the liner notes, and explanation of why the project is sub-titled, "A Journey Home":

    The album began as a collection of contemporized hymns, most of which are early on in the album. As original songs were added and organized, a theme emerged of journeying home. Like the father in the prodigal son parable, the songs reflect the persistent, merciful, gracious, and abundant love of God for His children, even when they are far from home. The song lyrics move from the nearness of worship at the beginning to the presence of God during the wandering, to the joyful return to a loving Father's welcome. While I hope the hymns are useful in worship, I also hope the album as a whole will offer an opportunity to reflect on God's extravagant love that welcomes even the most prodigal wanderer home.

    Tuesday, June 21, 2016

    Preview CD

    I started contemporizing hymns back in the 90s. During my first sabbatical in 2009 I recorded several of my favorites along with some original music and got within spittin' distance of a full-band CD. Then I went back to my day job.  :)   I had every intention of completing the CD in a matter of weeks and to tide me over, I released an acoustic "preview" EP of five of the twelve tracks. I've given 100 or so of those away at conferences and to friends. Well, I'm winding down a second sabbatical now in 2016 and one of the things I was determined to do was to finish the first CD project.  (I was actually more like a short bus ride, medium hike, and spittin' distance away... but nonetheless am preparing to release it.) I also was able to write about 10 new songs, but that's a story for another day.

    I'm going to put the CD on bandcamp.com and in order to get the hand of how that works I have uploaded the preview EP from several years ago. It's free to preview or download and there is a link below. I hope to have the full CD up by the end of June. I am listening through the masters now and working on artwork, charts, and lyrics for the bandcamp page.

    We already sing a number of these at Good Shepherd and at conferences where I lead the worship music; I hope this project will enable them to find wider usage and bless the Body of Christ.

    Wednesday, March 16, 2016

    communication and community

    In this election cycle I am reminded of a post I wrote five years ago at the time of the NC Amendment One vote. I re-post it in hopes that it will encourage, challenge, and embolden those who read it and desire the best for our community and country.  

    The North Carolina Amendment One vote has been on my mind and heart. My heart goes out to all who are personally grieving the outcome of the vote. I have a particular grief as well, a grief over our apparent inability or unwillingness to engage each other productively and compassionately. This was (and still is) nowhere more apparent than online, particularly on Facebook and in comments of various articles and sites. Now before you dismiss this as one more pitch for civility, here’s what I see as the grievous issue: we are fighting a war with each other and we ALL are losing!

    Neither “side” on the amendment issue was exempt from this. Even the word “sides” indicates only two tribes: for or against, with the other as the enemy. My Facebook wall was plastered with descriptions of a “war on marriage” and “hateful bigots” and the like. And tragically, these were not only friends of mine, but friends of each other. It’s so easy to post a sentence, label, or ‘like’ something and not have in mind the 100, 200, or 1000 friends it goes out to. I understand that we have strong opinions and feelings, but is that really what we think of each other? What is grievous to me is that we’ve lost the sense of compassion toward the other. Particularly in the last week leading up to the vote, just about every post I saw was some form of bullying (on both sides) – brute exertions of power and force to generate a desired outcome.

    “If you don’t vote ____, then you are against God!” (saw that on both sides)
    “If you don’t vote ____, then you are against families!” (also saw that on both sides)
    “If you don’t vote ____, I don’t ever want to speak or see you again!” (again, both sides)

    And this goes out to… all our friends?

    I’m not saying that strong opinion or feeling is wrong; it’s not. And I’m not saying that those who lost this vote should not be grieved or even angry; that’s human and natural. What I am saying is that if anger, force, bullying rhetoric, and political enemies are all we can muster, then it’s not going to get better for anybody. If this vote was “tyranny by the majority,” then the opposite vote in another year will be the same in the other direction.

    There is a better way. It is simply this: listening and understanding the other deepens community, and that is of benefit to everyone.

    I did not post my position on Facebook. What I did do was sit down with the 7-8 people who asked me what I thought and listen, ask questions, and reflect together. I’d like to think they then did the same with 7-8 friends. Some of us agreed; some of us differed; each of us learned and grew in the context of friendship and respect. 

    I’ll also go so far as to say that in the context of that kind of conversation, one can actually express far more of one’s deeply held beliefs and opinions than in the kind of salvos I saw regularly on Facebook and other online forums, because if you see me coming already declaring you the enemy, you are either going to fight or run. It turns out that there are a number of complex questions that we need to wrestle with as a society. That’s not going to happen in a tweet or status message. It might happen if we sit down to listen and understand. That doesn’t require you to change your mind or your vote, but it sure helps you put yourself in the other’s shoes, and that is what builds community and a common society.

    If you want to know how I voted, let me buy you a cup of coffee.

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