Archive for December, 2009

Fast Food

Over the next month the sermon series at Granada follows the eating ministry of Jesus.  Yes, a survey of the ministry of Jesus reveals that much of his ministry was conducted over meals.  Why?  The table is the focus of community life.  Food and drink shared together create a gateway for community interaction and community building.  This explains much of our struggle with community today, and why so many of us feel lonely and disconnected.  We just do not spend significant time eating together.  Eric Schlosser in his convincing work Fast Food Nation, reveals how we have been won over to a way of living that takes the social aspect out of meals.  Yes, meals are for fueling.  But, they are also the most significant times we have for social engagement, for sharing our lives with each other.  Today we do much of our eating on the run.  Consider the statistics: According to Schlosser, in 1970 Americans spent about $6 billion on fast food.  By 2001 that number jumped to $110 billion.  We spend more on fast food than higher education, personal computers or new cars.  We spend more on fast food than movies, books, magazines, newspapers, and recorded music combined. A generation ago three fourths of all money spent on food was spent on food prepared at home.  Today about half of all food money is spent at restaurants–mostly fast food restaurants.

Okay I must admit, the book was pretty revealing.  But, the other side of the issue for us Jesus-followers is God’s way.  God seems to be always sitting down with his people for a meal.  When God ratified the covenant of the law with his people, he invited the elders to a meal with him.  When God liberated his people from their Egyptian slave drivers, he chose to bring it about through an extended family feast.  If you were to enter into the temple, you would find a dinner table with fresh baked bread on it.   When Jesus prepared to go to the cross, his last act was to share supper with his disciples.  At this meal, he told them that he was looking forward to eating with them in the kingdom to come.  The book of Revelation tells us that when Jesus returns for his people, the first official event will be a wedding banquet.  It couldn’t be clearer.  God is pursuing community with us.  He is inviting us to his table.

The questions for me: have we forgotten the joy and power of sharing the table with each other?  Are we benefiting from dining together? Or, do we see our meals as nothing more than a refueling operation?  How can we recapture the wonder and joy of dining together?

Resolved

I have mixed emotions about New Year’s Day, not just because one year has gone and another is upon us. It is resolutions.  Sandy and I are very different in this.  She takes each New Year as an opportunity to review and plan ahead.  She then writes detailed resolutions. At year’s close she reviews her performance.  No, she hasn’t forgotten her beginning-of-the-year plans. She sticks with them.  That doesn’t mean that she succeeds in everything.  But, she makes a plan and tracks her progress.

Jonathan Edwards, father of the first great awakening in colonial America and also a pastor, sat down in the winter of 1722 and began writing his resolutions.  He penned his first 21 during his sitting.  Then over time, he added more bringing his list to completion in the summer 0f 1723.  He began saying…

1. Resolved, that I will do whatsoever I think to be most to God’s glory, and my own good, profit and pleasure, in the whole of my duration, without any consideration of the time, whether now, or never so many myriad’s of ages hence. Resolved to do whatever I think to be my duty and most for the good and advantage of mankind in general. Resolved to do this, whatever difficulties I meet with, how many and how great soever.

The list went on to his last.  #70

Let there be something of benevolence, in all that I speak.

Edwards was a scholar (briefly serving as president of Princeton before his untimely death) and one of the brightest minds ever produced on this continent. Yet, he was immensely practical. His stated his commitment to these plans up front saying that he would read them once a week.  Now Edwards was a champion of grace.  This is what gave such power to his preaching and writing.  But he also believe that for God’s glory and our happiness we should follow hard after Christ.  The goal of his resolutions was not pride before God but a humble desire to obey and serve the living God, to God’s own glory.  His preface stated:

Being sensible that I am unable to do anything without God’s help, I do humbly entreat him by his grace to enable me to keep these Resolutions, so far as they are agreeable to his will, for Christ’s sake.

Edwards did not believe that one needed New Year’s day to review one’s life.  It can be done anytime.   Yet we are at the turn of the year.  Why not use this time to review where you have been and consider where you are going.  That you might glorify and enjoy God during 2010. I think I shall make some resolutions of my own!

When a Plan Comes Together

This past Sunday the entire church came together.  Three worships services unified.  Two languages and a whole array of musicians (brass and orchestra) joined with our church’s children and the entire congregation to worship God at Christmas.  The traditional Lessons and Carols with scripture readings tracing the Fall to the Birth of Jesus became the pallet for celebrating together.  Musical selections were shared from each of our worship services, traditional, contemporary and Spanish.  At the conclusion, the congregation was invited to join in the singing of the Hallelujah Chorus.

One visitor commented after the service:

I want to thank you so much for inviting us old choir folks to join in the singing of the Hallelujah Chorus in Granada’s worship service this morning.  I was visiting Granada with my mother (a semi-invalid and former Granada member) and sister (visitor from out of town) because we had looked at Granada’s website while we were searching for a Christmas service.  The service was beautiful…and something I had been missing for many years.  In the past I have been in many large churches with good choirs and good music, and this brought back such wonderful memories.  (I was the one humming.)  Plus, I realized that all over the world people are celebrating the birth of Jesus and singing the same great choruses.  The fact that we were invited to join all of your choir people, other church members, and other visitors–people who knew each other and were total strangers–was so wonderfully unifying.  Thank you again for allowing us–me!–to join in.  It truly “made” my Christmas!

We have Jesus to thank for joining us together in one Body, and giving us the unity of the Spirit and the bond of peace.  This signals that Jesus has come.  Let us go to Bethlehem and see this thing that the Lord has told us about.

May God bless you and yours this Christmas season.

Here’s the link for the video of the Hallelujah Chorus at Granada: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DzbJywNr52M

Together@Christmas

One of the joys of Christmas is the experience of community.  Families separated by distance travel to be together.  They share a common table, a common meal.  No one wants to be alone for Christmas.  Years ago, Sandy and I were asked to take a pregnant teen into our home during the Christmas holidays.  She couldn’t stay home because her mother was angry with her.  At the same time her mother was carrying a baby of her own.  The young girl had a boyfriend and the relationship was on and off again more than once.  One night Sandy and I fell asleep to the sounds of her sobbing as she wondered what her future and the future of her baby would be.   But on Christmas day, we shared a common meal around a family table.  Not our family, but it was the table of Christ.  All of these circumstances brought home to us what Jesus had done on our behalf.  It gave the story of Jesus’ birth texture we had not seen and emotion we had never experienced.  It also reminded us that Jesus came to save, and as his people, we needed to constantly be opening our lives to community with others.  With whom will you share your table this Christmas?

1 A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse;
from his roots a Branch will bear fruit.

2 The Spirit of the LORD will rest on him—
the Spirit of wisdom and of understanding,
the Spirit of counsel and of power,
the Spirit of knowledge and of the fear of the LORD –

3 and he will delight in the fear of the LORD.
He will not judge by what he sees with his eyes,
or decide by what he hears with his ears;

4 but with righteousness he will judge the needy,
with justice he will give decisions for the poor of the earth.
He will strike the earth with the rod of his mouth;
with the breath of his lips he will slay the wicked.

5 Righteousness will be his belt
and faithfulness the sash around his waist.

6 The wolf will live with the lamb,
the leopard will lie down with the goat,
the calf and the lion and the yearling together;
and a little child will lead them.

7 The cow will feed with the bear,
their young will lie down together,
and the lion will eat straw like the ox.

8 The infant will play near the hole of the cobra,
and the young child put his hand into the viper’s nest.

9 They will neither harm nor destroy
on all my holy mountain,
for the earth will be full of the knowledge of the LORD
as the waters cover the sea.

10 In that day the Root of Jesse will stand as a banner for the peoples; the nations will rally to him, and his place of rest will be glorious. Isaiah 11

Looking for Jesus at Christmas

One Christmas morning tradition we have at the Carson house is searching for baby Jesus.  Over the years we’ve collected dozens of Nativity scenes.  Some miniature or of coal, or olive wood from Israel.  Some paper or ceramic.  Each Christmas morning, Jesus is taken from the manger of a half dozen of the scenes and hidden somewhere in the house.  The children must locate each Jesus before the festivities of Christmas morning can begin.  This tradition reminds me of the struggle of Christmas.  Where is Jesus to be found?  The church has long had a strained relationship with Christmas. According to Skye Jethani, in his book Divine Commodity, in 1855 New York City newspapers announced that Baptist, Methodist, and Presbyterian churches would not celebrate Christmas.  In the 1860s only 18 U.S. states recognized Christmas as a holiday.   When I was in Scotland for Christmas in the early 1980s the Scottish people remained reluctant to celebrate Christmas.  A 1931 survey by the New York Times reported that many believed “that Christmas could not survive if Christ were thrust into the background by materialism.”

We are years downstream from that survey today.  Materialism has won the day.  So, how can we keep Christ at the forefront?  The whole season must be a Jesus hunt.  This means talking about Jesus and his coming as a family.  Reading from the narratives of Jesus’ birth over the family dinner.  Focusing on serving others, especially the poor of your community. Daily thanking God for grace through Jesus helps.  Putting time into building spiritual community with others.  And, walking away from the unnecessary stuff in our lives.

After a hearing a sermon on materialism, one close friend recently came to me and said: “What would you think about not exchanging gifts this year?  Neither of us need anything that we do not buy as needed. Why not spend time together instead, perhaps dinner out?” I loved the suggestion, not just because it would save me the trouble of shopping.  It shows how much he values Christ and also his willingness to invest in friendship.  I was grateful.  What simple changes can you make to change the focus of this season and see Jesus?

Unexpected–Gifts

Christmastime brings memories of unexpected surprises.  True gifts communicate.  They speak.  They tell of love and concern.  They demonstrate understanding.  They meet deep needs.  They are undeserved.  During the days of my college poverty, I had difficulty keeping my car gassed and in good repair.  A family at the church I was serving, the Neely’s, had taken me into their home.  They shared their lives with me, and came to know my heart.  One day to my surprise, Bill Neely managed to sneak my car keys from my office.   At the time I was driving a old 1967 VW Beetle.  It was well-worn and rarely had a full tank of gas. I’d had troubles with it off and on the whole time I owned it.  I couldn’t complain.  I purchased it for $375 two years earlier on Christmas break.  I nicknamed my rattle-trap “Herbie” hoping this little car might have the same determination as the movie car. It was not to be.  Bill knew.  Not because I told him. He was interested, and genuinely cared about me.

Unbeknown to me, he took my car, had it checked out and repaired, and then returned it gassed and ready to go.  He arranged to have my secretary return my keys to their original location. I had no idea what had happened until I put the key in the ignition.  Hey, where did that gas come from?  Is the gauge broken?  Then I turned the key, and Herbie purred like a quiet kitten.  It normally sounded like a spoon had fallen into the disposal. At first, I didn’t even know who had taken care of it.  Later in the day, I ran into Bill at the house and his smile gave him away.  Gifts.

True gifts of love all point to the gift given by the lover of our souls,…

6Who, being in very nature God,
did not consider equality with God something to be grasped,
7but made himself nothing,
taking the very nature of a servant,
being made in human likeness.
8And being found in appearance as a man,
he humbled himself
and became obedient to death—
even death on a cross!
9Therefore God exalted him to the highest place
and gave him the name that is above every name,
10that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
11and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father. –Philippians 2

Living out of the Gospel

As people come to understand the gospel, I often hear the question: How can I know that I am on the right track?  Once you have discovered grace (or better, once God has captured you with his gospel of grace), how can you know you are living out of a gospel perspective? I like the three points made by Scotty Smith (pastor of sister church in greater Nashville area).  The first indication is:

Gospel astonishment rather than theological cockiness.  Do we feel superior to others because of our understanding and application of grace?  Or, do we continue to experience astonishment over what Christ has done for us, that he has loved us?  Do we find ourselves continually astonished by his love for us?  Or, do we grow more in pride over our theological correctness?

Christmas season is always a time of gospel astonishment for me.  Seeing God’s purposes unfold at the birth of Jesus and realizing that what Jesus has done for us bursts the old wineskins of legalism in me. This is a source of joy and constant surprise.  God is constantly moving me from pride toward gratitude for his grace. He pushes me from my self-satisfied awareness of the truth to marvel at how he has accomplished his purposes, and that he has done this for me.

Chief repenter rather than former sinner.  Pastors are supposed to look good.  Be the model case, a picture of the “after” not the “before” picture.  But, gospel health is seeing our sin.  Not seeing what we used to be but being honest about who we are right now. God is constantly revealing to me my anger and pride.  Yes, I have his grace, and yes, I need it every day.  He shocks me by showing me my selfishness and superficiality.  He reminds me that it is not all about me. Everything is for him and his glory.  How can I know I am living out of the gospel?  Am I the chief of sinners?  Or, do I have to look good and together, even though I know it is not true?  Paul, the Apostle of Jesus, called himself the chief of sinners.  Do I see myself in this way?  Am I the chief repenter, acknowledging my struggle with sin?

This leads naturally to the third indication: Am I preaching Christ to myself or preaching myself? When we understand the gospel, rather than putting ourselves forward, we are constantly preaching the gospel to ourselves…reminding ourselves that we need grace, and and that God has provided it to us. Healthy gospel living requires living in the gospel, and reminding ourselves of Christ’s love for us.  It works like this.  We acknowledge every day that our sins are far worse than we ever thought, but God’s love is greater than we ever hoped for.  It leads us to say, “Look at Christ,” not “Look at me.”

Are you seeing these characteristics in your life?  I thought Scotty Smith’s points were spot on. You can check out his article from Tabletalk at:

http://www.ligonier.org/learn/articles/genuine-life/

It’s a Small World After All

One of the not-so-pleasant memories of my childhood took place in the early days of Disney’s Magic Kingdom in Orlando.   The rides were few in the early days and the park wasn’t a one-price-gets-you-everything proposition.  There were to A, B, C, D, and E tickets.  The “A” tickets were for the simple kid’s rides. The best rides required an “E” ticket. I remember towards the end of one day in the park most of our best tickets were long gone.  My mother managed to talk her three boys into taking the “It’s-a-small-world-after-all” ride.  If you’ve never taken this ride, it is actually a boat ride through rooms where the nations of the world are represented by their dolls.  The song “It’s A Small World After All”  plays during the entire ride on a repeating track.  Our boat got stuck behind another boat that had become wedged in the wrong position in the channel.  We were stuck in place for over half an hour until the maintenance crew arrived to free us from our repeating-song prison.  (I think the song is still repeating in my head.)  Indeed, our world was small after all.

I am reminded time and again that through Miami has grown into a world class city, it’s a small world.  I regularly bump into people from my high school class at Palmetto.  Recently through the wonder of connections made via Facebook, I reconnected with friends from my high school Campus Life (Youth for Christ) club from high school.  We gathered for a reunion in Orlando. Mind you, we hadn’t seen each other in 30 years.   The degree of unity and the closeness we experienced surprised us all.  Where did it come from?  It’s a small world, right?  Not exactly.  What had bound us together for so many years was Christ.  In Christ, it’s more like a big family after all.  Sandy and I drove home from Orlando after this time together  wanting these relationships for our kids.  Desiring the people in our church to know the strength of such bonds in Christ.  We feel privileged to have enjoyed this big family for a lifetime. One can’t imagine a better ride.  This is one reason we are such advocates of sharing community in the church.  The spiritual friends from our past are a reminder of the riches that God has given us in his new family, his church.

Tim Keller Wants to Save Your Yuppie Soul

That’s the title of the article in the New York Magazine on our sister church pastor Tim Keller.  Keller has been pastoring Redeemer Presbyterian Church in Manhattan for more than two decades.  But, the release of his latest book (he’s published three in the last year) got the public’s attention. Why?  He dares to think that the gospel has the cure for what ails New Yorkers (and the rest of us not lucky enough to be living in the Big Apple).  His book entitled:  Counterfeit gods bears the sub-title:  The Empty Promises of Money, Sex, and Power, and the Only Hope That Matters. The magazine took note when this book began to rocket up the best-seller list. What is Keller saying that has gained such notice? This little book demonstrates that money, sex, and success promise to give us the things our hearts desire.  We are so wrapped up in these things, giving our hearts and attention to them.  It’s like they are false gods.  We worship and serve them because we think they will give us life.  But, each falls miserably short.  Keller suggests that each of these false gods point beyond themselves where we can find hope.  He makes a compelling argument from scripture and from culture. Where can we find hope?  In the one who alone can meet the deep needs we have.  In the person of Jesus and in the way opened by him for us to have life with God.Now, I’m going to stop short of providing his arguments because I’d rather you read the book for yourself.

This is a book I’d heartily recommend. It’s cogent and good material for friends who understand the deepest human longings but who are looking in the wrong place to have them filled.

http://nymag.com/news/features/62374/

For Richer, For Poorer

I will be officiating this weekend at a wedding, actually two of them.  I love weddings because I can see how God delights to bring people together in love that comes from him and that points to his all-surpassing love for his people.  We’re familiar with the vows:

to have and to hold from this day forward, for better for worse, for richer for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish, till death do us part, according to God’s holy ordinance; and thereto I give thee my troth.

These are words that not only join two people, but they also unite two people in the presence of God.  They are the words that signal their entrance into a new community.  A community where they no longer live for themselves, but for the other.  Where they are not alone but in relationship.  As the late chaplain of the U. S. Senate Peter Marshall called it: the hallowed halls of human happiness.  Marriage.  The Bible tells us that marriage is the lens God created to give the world a glimpse of his love for his people.  He wanted his people to see faithfulness up close and personal.  He wanted his people to understand service and love and sacrifice and common life that’s involved.  The best lens he could provide for us was marriage.  Now granted, the lens can become foggy, or clouded such that it can be tough to see through at all.  But, this was God’s purpose in it.  I always wonder if people get it, if I get it. When we attend a wedding will we look beyond the altar to the throne to God’s intention, to his devotion, to his faithfulness?  I hope so.  That what God wants for us as his people.  It has always amazed me, that though God made us for himself, there is a day when he allows us to give ourselves away to someone else.  Why does he do this?  Not because he is willing to give us up.  He’s not.  He does this to better prepare us for himself.