Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Top Ten Questions God Asks Us- Number Seven

The seventh question of the Top Ten Questions God Asks Us is: Who do you say I am? We move deeper into the New Testament now. Jesus is with his disciples at Caesarea Philippi in Northernmost Israel. This incident is the turning point in the Gospel story. Jesus, on his way to Jerusalem, stops here with those he loves best, with his best followers.

Jesus asks first: “Who do people say that I am?” The disciples respond with what would be for the Jews obvious answers: “Some say you’re John the Baptist returned from the dead. Some, Elijah, Jeremiah or one of the prophets.”

Even Herod thought Jesus to be John the Baptist come back from the dead. Elijah, it was said, would return before the great and terrible day of the Lord and the coming of Messiah. Jeremiah wept for the sin of his people and God’s judgment of them. All of the prophets confronted the powers and were rejected, just like Jesus.

Jesus is one of the most fascinating people in history. It should not surprise us that people have such strong opinions about him still. You hear people say all the time in our culture about Jesus: He was a good man, a great teacher, a social reformer, a prophet, or a sage of wisdom.

These identifications of Jesus are true as far as they go. If we have these opinions, we can go our merry way. Jesus is a good teacher and, so are others. I have heard Jesus, in our day, called a myth and a metaphor.

Now, you see, Jesus didn’t ask what others were saying about him just to see what the polls were saying. He asked this question to lay the foundation for the next question, the question. Who do you say that I am?

Of course, it’s Peter who answers: “You are the Christ, the son of the Living God…” Jesus is not someone that we can make into whatever we want. We would like that. Some still do this- refusing to name who Jesus is. But it takes faith to say what Peter said. We should expect that people without faith and the Holy Spirit could say this. It’s only with faith that we can say that Jesus is Messiah and Son of God.

Just in the last few years, I found myself in a class at one of our Methodist places. The teacher was talking about leadership. He was a good teacher. He spoke with conviction and tears some of the time. Then, we started talking about God and Jesus; and suddenly it was all metaphor. He said: “Jesus was not the Son of God; that’s just how we think of him.” And, we were encouraged to think of Jesus any way that we wanted, not bound by revelation or anything passé like that.

No, Jesus was Messiah, the One, who was to come and will come, the One who saves, heals, reconciles. He is also Son of God. Not that Jesus was adopted to this, no, he was from the very beginning God in flesh. Mysteriously clothed in flesh he walked among us and gave himself for us.

I weary with those who would speak with any understanding about Jesus who do not have faith. It’s a gift of faith to see him as the One, the Son of God. If the church proclaims anything or anyone else, let her be silenced.

The great Dallas Willard, professor of philosophy, was leaving class one day when a student stopped him and asked: “Dr. Willard, how can you an educated, intellectual, man follow Jesus?” Willard answered: “Who else did you have in mind?”

That’s it! There is no other. He is the One. Know him; follow and find life. If you’ve been with Jesus, there is simply no other place to go.

Dave Nichols

Monday, September 27, 2010

The Top Ten Questions God Asks- Number Six

The sixth question in the “Top Ten” Series of sermons on God’s questions of us is: “What are you looking for?” And, we’re into the New Testament and John’s Gospel. John the Baptist is standing near the Jordan River where, of course, he’s been baptizing people when Jesus of Nazareth passes by. John points to Jesus and says: “The lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world…” Some of John’s disciples go with Jesus. Jesus asks these new followers: “What are you looking for?”

Recently on Cable TV I saw the replay of the 25th anniversary of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. It was a live concert that lasted for hours. Great musical artists came through. Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel, Stevie Wonder, Sam (of Sam and Dave), Bruce Springsteen, and many others sang and played together. It was wonderful to me because it was the secular musical narrative of my life. I knew most of the songs and sang along. It was great.

One of the greats who performed was U2 (Bono). He sang with Springsteen one of the his songs: “I still haven’t found what I’m looking for…” Here are the lyrics:

I have climbed highest mountains
I have run through the fields
Only to be with you
Only to be with you
I have run
I have crawled
I have scaled these city walls
These city walls
Only to be with you

But I still haven't found what I'm looking for
But I still haven't found what I'm looking for

I have kissed honey lips
Felt the healing in her fingertips
It burned like a fire
This burning desire

I have spoke with the tongue of angels
I have held the hand of a devil
It was warm in the night
I was cold as a stone

But I still haven't found what I'm looking for
But I still haven't found what I'm looking for

I believe in the Kingdom Come
Then all the colors will bleed into one
Bleed into one
But yes I'm still running

You broke the bonds
And you loosed the chains
Carried the cross
Of my shame
Oh my shame
You know I believe it

But I still haven't found what I'm looking for
But I still haven't found what I'm looking for
But I still haven't found what I'm looking for

You notice toward the end the mention of the cross. Bono is a professing Christian and it has led him to confront politicians and to get involved in serving those who are most needy in the world. He sings: “But I still haven’t found what I’m looking for…”

In one sense he has found what he’s looking for in Jesus. And, yet our restless hearts move us to keep looking. In fact, our faith compels us to keep looking for Jesus’ kingdom coming here. We wait; we look for it. We live on tip toe in hope that God will keep coming to us and to his world.

What are you looking for? Celebrate that it’s Jesus. But, keep looking.

Dave Nichols

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

The Top Ten Questions God Asks- Number Five

Back to the series of sermons and thoughts about the Top Ten Questions God Asks Us. I said earlier that this series is based on a book by Trevor Hudson called Questions God Asks Us. The notion behind this series is a challenge to look at the Bible in a new way. We are accustomed to looking at the Bible as an answer book. You have questions and you go to the Bible looking for answers. That’s certainly legitimate.

But, what if we came to the Bible to listen for the “right” questions? Questions are a way of calling us to the right agenda, a way of shaping our lives. So, over these weeks we’ve been letting the Bible gives us the questions. Sitting at prayer, Bible in hand, what is it that God is asking us?

We’re at the fifth question here: What are you doing Here? It comes from the story of Elijah, the great prophet, who stands up to King Ahab and Queen Jezebel and the prophets of Baal. You remember that Ahab married Jezebel in a kind of political arrangement to keep Jezebel’s father’s armies at bay.

The price of bringing Jezebel into Israel was high. She brought her gods with her and her Baal prophets. “Baal” means “lord” and there were hundreds of lords and gods to be worshipped. This crass paganism corrupted the “one God” religion of Israel. So, Elijah railed against it.

It all comes to a head on Mt. Carmel when Elijah challenges the Baal priests to a duel. A sacrifice is laid out and the challenge is given: “Let’s see who the real god is. Let’s see who lights the sacrifice.” The priests cry out to their gods but nothing happens. Elijah makes fun: “Maybe they’re on vacation.” Then Yahweh in power and might lights the sacrifice. Elijah is so empowered that he sets out with sword to kill priest after priest.

This so angers Jezebel that she threatens Elijah, and he runs out to the desert. He runs to Mt. Horeb, which is, of course, Mt. Sinai, the last place that God spoke to his people. In a cave, Elijah calls out to God: “I’m the only one left who cares anything about you, O God. Let me die.” – a familiar refrain from prophets. And then the text says that Elijah heard: “a still small voice.”

Scholars are not quite sure how to translate this Hebrew word. It actually means “utter silence.” Elijah hears silence. So do we.

Then God asks: “Elijah, what are you doing here?” Elijah continues to cry out for help.

So, you’re out there in the desert as you often are. And, you are overwhelmed with disappointment, discouragement, pain. You are out there looking for a word from God. And, the word: “What are you doing here?”

Let this question be a chance to answer truthfully. What are you doing in your spiritual life? What is your discouragement? What is your pain about? What are you doing here?

Then, God tells Elijah to get up and eat. God says: “Go back to your people; there is more for you to do. And, eat this food to keep you on your journey.”

When I preached this, it was communion Sunday at Bethel. So, I said something like: “Come as you are out of your cave, out of your disappointment, depression, whatever. Come and eat and get on with it.”

Dave Nichols

Monday, September 13, 2010

Another Wedding- Another Day

I am reflecting this week on the wedding from which we just returned. This was our second wedding (both daughters) in a year. Many of you know that our middle daughter Frances got married to Chris last October. Now, our eldest daughter Betsy got married to Jeff last Saturday, 9/11.

My friend Randy who just married off a daughter reminded me by text message on Saturday that this is very rough on the daddy. Remember that I am the only male in my family- wife and three daughters. I have one sister and was raised by my mother and grandmother, mostly. So, here I was awash in emotion. Tears were everywhere.

The groom’s parents were crying. The mother of the bride was crying. All the women were crying. Good grief! And I…

I, as my wife said, was charged with the responsibility of “holding everything together”. Now, that might not sound like a huge responsibility, but it is. Sure, everyone jokes that Dad’s job is to write checks and keep his mouth shut. I know. And, I have to admit that my hand is sore from writing checks, and my mouth hurts from keeping my mouth shut.

But, as usual, I was obedient and hung in there. Holding everyone together is a huge responsibility. Everyone looks to you like you know the answer. And, even if you do, you keep it to yourself.

Of course, it isn’t that clear-cut, not really. I actually was trying to hold me together. And, now that it’s over, I will spend some time unpacking what it all means- working my way through the emotions of it all. Parental love is all about rearing this child so that one day he/she will go away. We know that when we begin. We rear them to be as independent as we can make them. We teach them to work hard, and live well. We give them our faith, our love, and our hope. We invest so much of our life and time in them that when they are gone we are left asking: “What do we do now?”

Now, that this part of life is passed…we wait on grandchildren.

But, we people of faith know that no matter what our age, or our children’s ages, we are still children of God whose mission and daily life is bound up in the love of God. There is still much to do; I’m confident of that.

Here we were- Betsy and me- at the top of the stairs looking at the people (family, friends, everyone)- It was a wonderful scene. Betsy was crying and I… Well, my masculine ego forbids me to say I was crying. Let’s just say I was misting. Down the stairs, and across the lawn, we walked down the long aisle and up to the pastor.

Jesus, you remember, was with his mother and disciples, at a wedding in Cana of Galilee. Emotions filled the air. A party started. It was a grand celebration. Jesus was there. He always is present at all our services, events, and rituals. He is the one who makes whatever we’re going through joyful. He is the wine saved until last.

There’s no way to get through the sadness but to go through it. And to know that in the midst of it all, we’ve added another son (thank God for another man). And, to remember that all our lives are blessed by the presence of the Savior of the world.

Dave Nichols

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Two More Questions God Asks

We are still working on the Top Ten Questions that God Asks Us. The first two questions, of course, were: 1. Where are You? – the question asked of Adam and Eve in the Garden, after sin; 2. And, Where is your brother?- the question asked of Cain, after murder. Remember that we are using as our guide a book written by Trevor Hudson called the Questions God Asks Us. And, he says that so often we go to the Bible with our question, sometimes good questions, expecting that the Bible will give us answers. That’s certainly a way to go to the Bible.

Hudson suggests that we go to the Bible listening to what God asks us. Here we are at the third and fourth questions. The third question is: “What is that in your Hand?” This question is, of course, asked of Moses when he is called to go confront Pharoah. As all those who are called in scripture, Moses is hesitant and makes excuses. God promises to send Aaron that silver-tongued devil with Moses, but that doesn’t seem to help. So God asks: “What is that in your Hand?” It was a shepherd’s staff. God says: “Throw it down.” And, if you know the story, it turns to a snake. Then, God asks Moses to pick it up- the snake that is. Moses hesitates again (I bet), and picks up the snake which turns to a staff again. We worked that Sunday on the notion that God has given us whatever we need to do what he wants us to do. Whatever your gifts and graces, throw them down and God will turn them into a living thing.

The fourth question we worked on last Sunday is: “What is your Name?” This question, of course, grows out of the story of Jacob. It’s night and Jacob sends his children and wives and possessions across the Jabbok Stream. Someone comes running toward him. He can’t see. A man stops close. Jacob and the man (an angel?) square off. A wrestling match ensues until the dawn. The man ( a messenger of God)- theologically it’s God) tells Jacob: “Let me go; the day is coming.” Jacob will not let the man go until he blesses him. The man asks: “What’s your name?”
We know that his name is Jacob. You remember the story. Jacob, Esau’s twin brother, is born with his hand on Esau’s heel. Jacob means “supplanter” or “grabber”. In scripture, names mean character. Jacob grabs his birthright, and his wives and his possessions. He has woven a tale of grabbing. Jacob hears that his brother is coming; so, he sends gifts to soften him. Then, this man in the night comes wrestling.

The man gives Jacob a new name: Israel, which means “one who wrestles with God”. Sinners make good servants of God. Jacob will now use his shrewdness in the service of God. He will leave his old name and claim a new name.

On Sunday, we looked at God who comes to us in the night to wrestle and puts our hips out of joint. You don’t mess with God easily. What name do we claim? Our Confirmation material was called for years: Claim the name. We are given a new name, a Christ name. It’s a hard name to live up to, but all who are called are given this name.

Parents should be careful what they name their children. Sometimes they/we spend their whole lives living up to or down to that name. In church, we are given a name like no other name. We are given a name, the only name given under heaven by which persons may find salvation. Claim the name and let your life be brought up or down to it.

One of the great theologians of the last century said about this text: “O how small is that with which we wrestle; O how great is that which wrestles with us…” (Moltmann)

Dave Nichols

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