The Ambassador – a little riff on 2 Corinthians 5:20

 USEmbassy

Report on assignment; Dated April 28, 2013.

I want to thank you, Mr. President, for giving to me the chance to represent our great nation. I know it is not the most elegant assignment, to bring civilization to these backward thinking obstinate foreigners, but we do what we can.  If only one of them becomes a friend, then our time and effort has been worthwhile.

As I arrived, I made sure to bring lots of things that represent our culture.  We have such a great history and such wealth and success, the more we show what we can do, the more impressed these people will be.    I spent the first month arranging the offices of the embassy. We brought in the best works of our own literature and history to the library.  We brought in great works of art to decorate our public spaces– actually they are copies of greats works because we are not sure how safe they would be out here.  We positioned, inside the walls that separate this outpost  from the city, a large and prominent flag pole and  raised our great banner so it is seen even in the evening, with lights shining up from the ground.

We have been careful to bring in from home food and forms of entertainment for our employees.   They have everything they need without having to expose themselves to the outside city.

I have taken a great deal of my time in reading from our own historians and sociologists on the culture of this country.  This way I do not need to learn the language here. Since we want them to become like we are, it is not important to learn what they are doing.

For security reasons, we let go all of the local staff that were hired from foreign nationals and have brought over bring young American college interns to do these jobs.  We have had no more of those misunderstandings that used to happen.

I can report that I have found things here to be just as I expected.  They are backward. They are wrong thinking.  They do everything in an un-American way here in this country.  As I look out from my high office through the telescope I had mounted, I can observe the people from a safe distance. Nothing has changed in my thinking, I am glad to say.

This is what we have accomplished.  We have reduced the number of contacts and visitors to only those who are prepared to speak to us as we are accustomed.  So while that is a reduction in the number of interactions, from what were 1000 calls and visits each week, to a mere 25 now, we feel these are of a greatly improved quality.

Protesters-outside-the-Is-007          Some have accused us of being of no help to the recent anti American protests here.  I am able to say that we did use our loud speakers to play patriotic music from home towards those crowds who were shouting “Americans Go Home.”  That is, until they for some reason cut the power to the embassy.

I thank you for your continued trust, and hope to continue here until you find me an assignment in a more congenial country

Yours sincerely,  Ambassador Alexander B. Strong.

Presidential-Seal-727499

 

Reply:  April 30, 2013

Dear Ambassador Strong.

You are fired, effective immediately.

Please return home at once.

Your Commander in Chief.

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Sticks & Soil – Making Connections

walking stickIn the last two days I was able to speak to a group of ex-offenders and to a group of kids at church at an awards banquet.

I took a walking stick to the first group.  this was carved in a piece of curly willow that I had harvested from my front yard. It is a joke that I walk a little on the slow side – mainly because I am looking at things – gardens, trees, birds, bumper stickers.  So I put on there a tortoise and a hare.  The verse is from Ecclesiastes 9:11

The race is not to the swift
    or the battle to the strong,
nor does food come to the wise
    or wealth to the brilliant
    or favor to the learned;
but time and chance happen to them all.

The point is that we can not expect to rush, rabbit like, to the finish line, but it will take some time.  This lead to several interesting conversations about wood carving.  It was a nice way for folks to connect.

At the awards banquet the decorations were pots and seeds.   I talked about what was needed besides the pots and seed packets. The Kids figured out we needed good soil – not the sand and rock salt I had first suggested.  The point here was that we need to be receptive soil to the scriptures – as Jesus taught int he parable of the sower. (Mark 4)

So in these examples a stick and some dirt became ways to connect.  We all do things that help us connect to the scriptures – areas of interest in our lives that connect to specific scriptures.  Walking Sticks and Ecclesiastes 9 or Psalm 1.  Gardening and a number of parables of Jesus and Isaiah 55.

Think about what connects with you? What do you know that helps others make connections?

My new adventure is this http://www.twobookretreats.com

Three Versions of Psalm 119:8-16

I am preaching a series called ABC, where the B stands for read the Bible richly.  So I decided to take the second 8 verse section of Psalm 119.  This Psalm is an acrostic, working through the 22 Hebrew letters.  Each verse in the 8 verse sections start with the same letter as the writer worked through the alphabet – in the case of Hebrew it is the Aleph-Beth.

The three versions below show some creativity in translation.  the NIV is more fluid, as usual. the ESV is helpful in that it retains the distinctive words of the psalm, there are at least 8 synonyms for the scriptures (word, statute, decree, etc).  In the Knox version, the translator used the English alphabet to try to reproduce the Acrostic feel. You can find the whole psalm on http://www.biblegateway.com.

 NIV

How can a young person stay on the path of purity?
By living according to your word.
10 I seek you with all my heart;
do not let me stray from your commands.
11 I have hidden your word in my heart
that I might not sin against you.
12 Praise be to you, Lord;
teach me your decrees.
13 With my lips I recount
all the laws that come from your mouth.
14 I rejoice in following your statutes
as one rejoices in great riches.
15 I meditate on your precepts
and consider your ways.
16 I delight in your decrees;
I will not neglect your word.

ESV –  Beth

How can a young man keep his way pure?
By guarding it according to your word.

10 With my whole heart I seek you;
let me not wander from your commandments!

11 I have stored up your word in my heart,
that I might not sin against you.

12 Blessed are you, O Lord;
teach me your statutes!

13 With my lips I declare
all the rules of your mouth.

14 In the way of your testimonies I delight
as much as in all riches.

15 I will meditate on your precepts
and fix my eyes on your ways.

16 I will delight in your statutes;
I will not forget your word.

Knox

Best shall he keep his youth unstained, who is true to thy trust.

10 Be thou the whole quest of my heart; never let me turn aside from thy              commandments.

11 Buried deep in my heart, thy warnings shall keep me clear of sin.

12 Blessed art thou, O Lord, teach me to know thy will.

13 By these lips let the awards thou makest ever be recorded.

14 Blithely as one that has found great possessions, I follow thy decrees.

15 Bethinking me still of the charge thou givest, I will mark thy footsteps.

16 Be thy covenant ever my delight, thy words kept in memory.

Click to read about the KNOX translation –

Bilingual Devotions in the Psalms – Psalm 76:4

31 PsalmsI have been working on Spanish for a number of years, an embarrassingly large number of years.  One of the things I try to do is read the Psalms in the morning in my Spanish/English (NVI / NIV) bible.  I have two methods:

  • A list of top 31 Psalms that I follow according to the day of the month. 31 Psalms (downloadable)
  • Pastor Dave’s Guilt Free Method:  Simply multiply today’s date by 5, read from the five Psalms that end in that number.  eg  April 16 – 16 x 5 = 80, read from Psalm 76 to Psalm 80.  On day 31 read wherever you wish.  It is guilt free in that you  don’t have to check off any boxes.

What I find is that the two translations are interestingly different.  Sometimes dramatically different in their choice of textual variants.  Consider Ps 76:4

You are radiant with light,

    more majestic than mountains rich with game.  (NIV)

Estás rodeado de esplendor;
    eres más imponente que las montañas eternas. (NVI)

(you are surrounded with splendor, you are more majestic than the eternal mountains

– my translation)

The NVI follows the LXX (Greek Text); the NIV follows the MT (Hebrew).  It would seem that the glory of a game filled mountain is less suggestive of God’s radiance to some that the mountains themselves.  I suppose a Montanan might prefer the game filled mountains and the New York resident the majesty of the mountains themselves.

This is a Psalm that celebrates conquest, so the comparison to hunting seems to fit. It is perhaps disturbing to those with more sensitivities than an ancient Israelite such as Asaph.

John’s Two Endings – John 20, 21

shepherd with crookIt would see as John 20:31 is the perfect ending of the book.  It summarizes John’s overall message very clearly:

“These are written that you might believe that Jesus is the Christ, And that by believing you might have life in his name.”

But the book has one more chapter.  Is it an appendix of some sort?

I think that Chapter 20 summarizes the response of faith to the Gospel.  We focus on John, Peter, Mary Magdalene and Thomas as they come to believe that Jesus did rise from the dead.  Each person responds differently, but each comes to faith.  Then in effect, John turns to the reader and says, “these (chapter 1-20) are written that YOU might believe…”

This explains why Mary Magdalene is singled out, when in the other gospels we find that other women were also at the tomb.  John is not telling all that happened, he is telling us how faith happened for these four people.

John 21 is about following the Lord.  If we ended with John 20 we might conclude that the faith is merely personal and that when I meet the Lord, I am done.  But the brief call to mission found in John 20:19-22 is expanded in Chapter 21.

There we find two images – fishing and shepherding.  Both of these are strongly tied in the Gospels to leadership.  Peter, Andrew, James and John were called to become fishers of people.

In chapter 21 we find three commands – all directed to Peter.

“Throw your net there…”  In a replay of events recorded in the synoptic gospels, Jesus suggests a fishing strategy to fishermen.  They had caught nothing until they followed his instruction.  We are to read this larger than the story.  In being “fishers of people” the apostles will only be effective when they follow the Lord’s command.

“Feed my sheep.”  Three times, because Peter had denied the Lord three times, he is asked if he Loves Jesus.  When Peter replies that he does, he is called to feed and tend the sheep.

Fishing is associated  in our minds with fishhooks, though these fishermen used nets.  Shepherding is associated with shepherd’s crooks.  So ministry is by tradition done “by hook or by crook.”

“Follow me.”  Peter’s initial call to follow is restated.  It is also made clear that Peter should follow the Lord and not worry about what the Beloved Disciple was doing.  The calling is individual and the Lord decides how to call each individually. It is not wise to envy or to compare.

John 20, in sum, is a call to faith in Jesus as the Savior.  John 21, in sum, is a call to follow him in service.

 

Seven Words for Pastors – #7 “Sheep”`

 sheep   How do we show truly our love for Jesus.  Is it in eloquent words of a sermon or poem or in prayer or worship?  Jesus defined it here as taking care of the needs of his sheep.  Sheep are exotic to us in the city, but to Peter there could have been nothing more ordinary.  Feed them, guide them, heal their wounds, defend them, know them by name, be with them constantly.  That is how you take care of sheep.

In the first part of chapter 21 Peter was frustrated with waiting, and so he and 6 others went fishing.  We see that they were just killing time, because when Jesus appeared, they forgot all about fishing.

After Jesus had cooked bread and fish for their breakfast, he turned to Peter and addressed him three times formally.

First he said, “Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?

Peter had once pledged to give his life up to death to serve Jesus.  So Jesus was asking if Peter truly loved him.  Did Peter love him more than the other disciples, because that is what Peter had implied.  Did Peter love Jesus more than his fishing boat, and nets, and the Sea of Galilee?

Peter replied, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.

Jesus replied, “Feed my lambs.”

Ministry is not about raising the sword in battle for the glory of Jesus, it is being a shepherd.  Peter would need to overcome his hero-complex.  He would need to quit thinking of himself in heroic terms, but to think in terms of a shepherd.

Second Jesus said, “Simon Son of John, do you truly love me?”

Peter replied, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.”

Jesus said, “Take care of my sheep.”

Third Jesus said, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?”

Peter was hurt this time wondering why Jesus keep asking him this question.  So he said, “Lord you know all things; You know that I love you.”

Jesus said, ”Feed my sheep.”

Three times Peter denied Jesus (ch 18).  Despite his vow of courage and loyalty, Peter denied Jesus before an unarmed servant girl and the other bystanders outside the house of the High Priest.  The rooster crowed and Peter went out weeping and defeated into the night.

Three times Jesus questioned Peter.  Peter’s denial was public.  It was the scandal of his life.  When he put his foot in his mouth by being too eager, that was not so bad.  But to deny and then run in the face of trouble.  Who could forgive Peter, and accept him as a leader? Could Peter even accept himself?  Maybe that is why he tried returning to fishing.

Three times Jesus said “Feed my sheep.”

Pastors are Shepherds.  Pastors are supposed to feed and care for the sheep.  The people of God are sheep.  We are in need of guidance.  We need to be led to the green pastures and to the clear waters.  We need to be protected from wild beasts.  When we stray, someone needs to leave the 99 and come and find us.  Moses was a shepherd of sheep before he shepherded Israel through the desert and to the Green Pastures of Israel.  David was a shepherd, before he was anointed as the future King and Shepherd of the Nation.

Jesus went on to tell Peter that he would die a death to glorify God. V. 18, 19.  This wasn’t to be the death of the sword wielding defender of Jesus, but the death of a shepherd who gives his life for the sheep.

After telling Peter the good news, that after a life of service to the sheep, he would be able to fulfill his boast and die for Christ, then Jesus re-issued the challenge that Peter had heard before, “Follow me.”

In chapter 1 of John, some of John the Baptist’s disciples left to follow Jesus.  One of these was Andrew, who went to get Peter, who also followed Jesus.  We see in this that the first quality of a disciple of Jesus, of a Christian, is to be a follower of Jesus.

In Luke 5, Peter and the others were out fishing and had caught nothing.  Jesus came and taught the crowd from Peter’s boat.  He then asked Peter to cast the net over the side.  Peter at first objected, but then complied.  They caught such a large catch that the nets burst with the weight.

Peter felt at Jesus feet and said, “Go away from me, for I am a sinful man.”  Peter knew he was in the presence of a Holy Man.

Jesus said….”Don’t be afraid; from now on you will catch men.”  So they pulled their boats up on shore, left everything and followed him.”

As Moses the shepherd was called to shepherd Israel, so Peter the fisherman was called to fish for men.

In I Peter 5:1-4 we see the mature reflection of Peter upon his calling.  This book is written long after this account in John, when Peter was a leader of the Church.  The call to Peter to feed the sheep is gathered up here and passed on as instruction to other leaders.  Elders are to be good shepherds

“To the elders among you, I appeal as a fellow elder, a witness of Christ’s sufferings and one who also will share in the glory to be revealed: Be Shepherds of God’s flock that is under your care, serving as overseers–not because you must, but because you are willing, as God wants you to be; not greedy for money, but eager to serve; not lording it over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock.  And when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the crown of glory that will never fade away.”

The Seventh and final word to pastors is John 21:17:

 “Take care of my Sheep.”

 Feed my sheep…and die.

Follow me…not the other guy.

  John was following after Jesus and Peter during this conversation.  And Peter, having received his commission, was curious about John.  So he said to Jesus,

“Lord, what about him?”

Jesus replied, “If I want him to remain alive until I return, what is that to you?”

Maybe Peter wanted to have some comfort.  He wanted to know what Jesus call was to another servant.  Would John also have to die?  Would John also have to be a Shepherd.

Jesus answer really is this: ”Peter, this is none of your business.”

This word is the cure for three sins that besiege the church today.

The first is comparison.  It was not for Peter to compare his calling to John’s.  How we love to compare!

Pastors make comparisons.  We compare the size of our flock with the size of others.  And either we get proud or we are ashamed. We compare other things too.  We say, If only I had a style like Billy Graham or a mind like Walter Kaiser or a warm personality like Jill Briscoe or organizational ability like Bill Bright, ad infinitum.  This is a sin.

Churches make the same comparisons.  If only we were big like Church X or had a staff like Church Y or had powerful worship like Church Z, then we would really have something.  This is a sin.  If we don’t repent there we will fall into two other worse sins

Envy is next.  It has absolutely nothing to do with faith, hope or love.  If we envy what another servant of Christ has, then we have no faith in God’s provision for us.  If we envy, we show that our hope is not in the Lord, but in what we possess.  If we envy, we are not loving.  For the envious would love to take from the other whatever they have.

Judgment is third.  When we compare, we might rather decide that we are superior to Church X or Y or Z.  If I compare, I might decide that I am superior to Pastor A or B or C.  This also is sin.

Who am I to Judge the Lord’s servant?

If there is a fault, I should go to my brother in Christ, aware of my own tendency to sin, and point out the error.  I should pray, and seek the best of God’s blessing for him and his ministry

Seven Words to Pastors – #6 “Models”

washing feetJohn did not tell us the birth story of Jesus, but in two locations he affirmed the theology of the Incarnation.  The most well known is in John 1.

“The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us.  We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.”  1:14

We find it again as John mixes narrative and image in his account of the Upper Room.

“It was just before the Passover Feast. Jesus knew that the time had come for him to leave this world, and to go to the Father.  Having loved his own who were in the world, he now showed them the full extent of his love.

The evening meal was being served, and the devil had already prompted Judas Iscariot, son of Simon, to betray Jesus.  Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under his power, and that he had come from God and was returning to God; so he got up from the meal, took off his outer clothing, and wrapped a towel around his waist.  After that, he poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped around him.”  13:1-5

Was it John mixing image and narrative, or was Jesus acting out a parable of his own ministry?

Jesus is close to his death, as we are reminded by the Passover reference and the reference to Judas’ impending betrayal.  Having loved these disciples, he now was to demonstrate to them his love.

Was foot washing the full extent of his love?  I think it was a sign.  Jesus left his exalted position as teacher to wash their feet, just as the Eternal Son of God had left eternity.  Jesus took off and laid aside his outer garment, just as Jesus had not grasped onto his equality with God.  He put on the garment of a servant.  The towel of the slave that washes feet is representative of Jesus servant-status.  He was not born as a King of the earthly type to rule by force.  He was born as a Servant.  He then went from disciple to disciple washing their feet.  Their feet were soiled from their walking on this earth.  Jesus washed away the soil and dried their feet with his own garment.  Just as he would about 24 hours later have washed their sins by his blood, and taken their sin onto himself.

 Should we have ritual foot washing in church as some say?  Is it another sacrament or ordinance?

It is a model of ministry.

For our sixth word for pastors is found after Jesus resumed his position of authority.  That resumption was also a sign of his exaltation that followed his humiliation on the Cross.  He took up his place of authority and spoke again to the disciples.

“Now that I, your Lord and Teacher have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet.  I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you.  I tell you the truth, no servant is greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him.”    v. 14,15.

Models for ministry are big.  I explained to another pastor that Bethany was called to be a city church reflecting in it’s fellowship over time the same variety of people as are in our community.  His immediate reply was, “Do you have a model?”

In his way of thinking, it was a foolish thing to set out on a ministry that differed from the standard methods, unless we had a model of someone who had done it successfully.

The borough of Queens taught me at least one thing.  The models that I could find in books of what other churches have done did not fit.  The lesson has been reinforced by the experience in central Madison.

We have models for inner-city churches, but the neighbors are affluent here.  We have models for social action churches, but this city already has three social service agencies for every one social problem.  We have a few models for racially diverse churches, but I can’t find one that speaks of the interaction of Norwegian-American, Lao-American and Mexican-American cultures.

Queens and Madison have taught me of necessity the art of eclectic imitation.  We borrow from a variety of sources because no one source ever has ever fit what we wanted to be.

There is a source of Models that is much more fitting.  The Bible has models.  The art form needed for scripture models is not eclectic selection.  We are not free to pick and choose from scripture, for all of it is profitable that we might be fully trained.  Instead, the art form is patient, prayerful reflection.

The lure of book store models is that it provides quick answers.  We can avoid having to think deeply about the purpose of things.  We can avoid having to think theologically as well if we just take the pattern of another ministry and put it over ours.  Where our ministry does not fit the pattern, we take a pair of scissors and cut off the parts that stick out.  The places where our ministries do not fill out the pattern are hidden from view and we don’t have to think about them.

So we borrow a model that Evangelizes on Sunday and builds by teaching on Thursday.  So we cut away teaching on Sunday because it sticks out from the pattern.  However, we neglect the teaching on Thursday and are left with neither what we were doing, not with what the model was doing, but a half measure.

The sixth word is this:

“I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you.”

There are several parts to this model.

Service.  The descent from Lord to Slave as Jesus set out to wash their feet was a descent from authority to service.  It was a descent from honor to almost indecent servitude.  Peter was so offended by this descent that he almost refused to be part of it.

Whom do we serve?

The answer is found in the old Sunday School acronym JOY.  “Serve Jesus first, Others second and Yourself last.   Jesus, Others and Yourself —  JOY.

Real Needs.  We hear that we should serve felt needs.  That is the motive for polling the audience.  But Jesus did not poll the apostles about their need.  He knew their need and how to serve it.  When Peter objected, voicing as usual the unstated thoughts of the others, he showed that Jesus would never had come to this ministry by polling the disciples.

Sheep might desire to wander in new paths or walk on the mountain trails.  But that is where sheep get into trouble.  Their felt need is freedom, but their real need is guidance and protection.

The felt need of the disciples was to be attached to Jesus greatness.  They debated about greatness from time to time.  Their real need was to be served by Jesus humility.

The felt need of our sheep might be entertainment or feel-good words or the appearance of success.  We know the real need.  We have to speak from the authority of the Word without compromise and at the same time serve them gently.

Purification.  The curious metaphor results from Peter’s objection.  He did not want to have his feet washed.  Jesus insisted that he have it done or Peter could not be part of him.  Peter offered his head and hands as well.  But Jesus said, “A person who has had a bath needs only to wash his feet..”

They had been bathed.  By Faith in Jesus, we must conclude, they had been justified of their sin.  The first need is to bring the soiled in body to the washing and regeneration of the Spirit through the Cross by Faith.  There can be no ministry if the people have not come to Christ.  The work of the Evangelist must precede the work of the Pastor.

They needed a foot wash.  As they walked on dirt paths with sandaled feet, they collected dust and dirt.  This is what Jesus washed off.

We are always needing to have the ministry of the word where the things we collect as we travel this world of sin can be removed from us.  This is not the once for all time salvation event.  It is the every day washing of confession and redirection.

This model of the Authoritative Servant is one all pastors can follow, in Queens or in Madison or wherever the Lord has placed us.