Saturday, May 30, 2015

Idiot...

Yep, that's what I'm feeling like--an idiot! Why? Didn't bring my camera. A little while ago I got on the 4-wheeler and traveled through the canopied trail that follows Standing Boy Creek and snakes through sweet gum and oak trees that spill out into enormous hayfields to our west. Shutting down the 4-wheeler, I stretched out with my feet hung over the handlebars. My head leaned back on the carrier rack. Slashing the deep blue skies above me, zipper-like streaks of jet fuel streaked the otherwise pristine skies. On the horizon was a line of trees, and a storage barn that provided sage-haven for the giant round-bales of hay that will feed cattle once winter sets in.

Dragon files--the size of hummingbirds--buzzed over my head. Bats swooped. As the sun slowly sank toward the distant horizon, it silhouetted the undulating landscape; the modified A-Frame barns will  house enormous bales of hay. Sitting there in the silence, a herd of young beef-critters slowly raised their heads, and curiously stared at me. I was but a momentary distraction as they grazed on the healthy green pastures.   

Monday, May 25, 2015

From The Edges To The Center

Raphael's painting of Luke's narrative (Sandy saw this at Victoria and Albert Museum in London)

One day as Jesus was standing by the Lake of Gennesaret, the people were crowding around him and listening to the word of God. He saw at the water’s edge two boats, left there by the fishermen, who were washing their nets. He got into one of the boats, the one belonging to Simon, and asked him to put out a little from shore. Then he sat down and taught the people from the boat.When he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, “Put out into deep water, and let down the nets for a catch.”Simon answered, “Master, we’ve worked hard all night and haven’t caught anything. But because you say so, I will let down the nets.” When they had done so, they caught such a large number of fish that their nets began to break. So they signaled their partners in the other boat to come and help them, and they came and filled both boats so full that they began to sink. When Simon Peter saw this, he fell at Jesus’ knees and said, “Go away from me, Lord; I am a sinful man!” For he and all his companions were astonished at the catch of fish they had taken, and so were James and John, the sons of Zebedee, Simon’s partners. Then Jesus said to Simon, “Don’t be afraid; from now on you will fish for people.” So they pulled their boats up on shore, left everything and followed him. ~ Luke 5:1-11
From Scripture, we know that Luke was its only Gentile writer, a missionary companion of the apostle Paul, and a doctor. Church tradition hints that Luke's contemporaries knew Luke as an artist, also. If you look at the way he wrote, he was at the least an artist with words. His writing is beautiful, lively, and colorful. His detail suggests the eye of an artist. 

Many of us, when we drive an automobile or hike through the wilderness, use focal points or landmarks for navigation, a sort of picture map in our minds. You know what I mean: turn left at McDonald's or turn right when you come to the ledges. We pull up photos of experiences and they become muses that help us recall an adventure. If Luke were an artist, then the pictures in his memories could later serve as metaphorical prompts, major points for his descriptive stories. Luke would tell the story of the life of Christ in words but also in word-pictures. Christ transcended vocabulary. Powerfully crafted images helped. Indeed, “A picture paints a thousand words.”

At Hamilton Baptist Church, I have started a series of messages from the Gospel of Luke. Luke's story of the calling of the disciples follows Jesus' announcement as the fulfillment of Isaiah's promise of the coming Anointed One. Talking through Luke's images, I saw three:

From The Edges To The Center
From The Shallows To The Deep
From The Simple To The Complex

Having fleshed out the palette, on Sunday, May 31, we will begin by seeing what it means for today's Christ-follower to move From The Edges To The Center.

Saturday, May 16, 2015

The Ripple Effect (Intro to May 17, message)

The Spirit of the LORD is upon me [Jesus], because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the LORD'S favor…when they heard these things, all in the synagogue were filled with wrath. And they rose up and drove him out of the town and brought him [Jesus] to the brow of the hill on which their town was built, so that they could throw him down from the cliff. But passing through their midst, he went away. ~ Luke 4:18-19; 28-30

During the Chinese New Year break, while Sandy and I were teaching in China, we flew to Bangkok, Thailand. Then, via boats and busses, we went further south to Krabi and Ko Lanta, Thailand—a welcome reprieve from the smog and cold of China. Once there, we took deep breaths of the fresh sea breezes, soaked up the warm tropical sun, and walked miles of beautiful beach. It wasn’t hard to imagine we were in the Garden of Eden. 

One day, with about 25 other tourists, we took a boat cruise that carried us to several different islands. At some of them we snorkeled in crystal clear water among reefs and swam with neon-colored tropical fish. The big finish of our day-trip was to drop anchor just offshore an island that formed the platform for a volcano that had been dormant for hundreds of years. What remained were the petrified remains that shot upward like a chimney for hundreds of feet. To see its innards, though, we had to put on life jackets, tumble out of the boat, and swim through an underwater cave. Emerging from the dark tunnel we waded ashore, and through squinting eyes beheld fruit-bearing trees that had taken root in the grainy sand. Brightly feathered birds flitted among their branches. From a circular blue heaven high above, sunlight illuminated the gray ragged walls revealing veins of lush green vines. It was exotic.

At one point, Sandy asked our guide, "Were there any people in this volcano when the tsunami hit in 2004?" 

"Yes, I was here with a group of tourists." He responded. 

Elaborating, he said, "Surprisingly, for those in boats out in open water it was barely noticeable…like a ripple that raised and jostled them a little bit. For us in this volcano, there was a roar, the water surged about 20 feet, and we scrambled for our lives up trees and the volcano walls. My partner was outside the volcano with the boat, which was dashed onto the rocks and destroyed. Nobody with us died."

An imperfect metaphor…the tsunami, so powerful, yet it could move along nearly undetectable, until it came ashore…

Two New Testament books were written by a gentile named Luke. Luke was a highly educated man, a missionary, a physician, and a companion of the apostle Paul. Luke, out of great concern for his friend, Theophilus, and under the direction of the Holy Spirit, meticulously chronicled a detailed and thoroughly researched account of Jesus' earthly ministry in his Gospel. Dr. Luke’s backstory includes details neither Matthew nor Mark recorded. In his sequel, the book of Acts, he outlined with equal precision the work of the ascended Christ through the Holy Spirit extending his Kingdom throughout the world. In both of his books he speaks to the work of the Spirit of God—a work that went undetected and unnoticed by most of the world. Barely a ripple… 

In Luke's Gospel, the work of the Holy Spirit begins as ripples in the grand scheme of things. Most of the world is oblivious to his Presence. His first mention comes when the angel of the Lord appeared to Zechariah, the father of John the Baptist, announcing that he and his wife, Elizabeth, who had been barren, would have a son. They were to name him John. He would be filled—that means saturated and fully influenced by—the Holy Spirit from birth. In days ahead, John’s Holy Spirit anointed preaching would turn many of the children of Israel to the Lord their God. But for years nothing is mentioned of the Spirit’s presence in John’s life. Barely a ripple… 

Next, the angel Gabriel was sent from God to Nazareth to announce to Mary and Joseph that Mary would conceive a child by the Holy Spirit who would be great and would be called the Son of the Most High…he would reign over a kingdom that would have no end—spiritually, literally, and one day geographically. 

At the birth of Jesus, we are told of a holy and devout man, Simeon, to whom it had been revealed by the Holy Spirit, would not leave this world without first seeing the Lord’s Christ. It was Simeon to whom Mary and Joseph took Jesus to the Temple to be dedicated. Under the Spirit’s direction Simeon prophesied to the young couple, “Behold, this child is appointed for the fall and rising of many in Israel, and for a sign that is opposed (and a sword will pierce through your own soul also), so that the thoughts from many hearts may be revealed.” But for the next 30 years the Presence of the Holy Spirit in Jesus of Nazareth was nearly imperceptible. 

Luke’s chronology then takes a leap in time. John the Baptist has come of age and out of the desert he marched. He preached with the force of a spiritual tsunami calling everybody to repentence. God’s people were to prepare their hearts and lives for the coming of Messiah, he declared. It was in this general time frame, that John baptized Jesus, and again we see the Holy Spirit’s activity, but it’s subdued. The Holy Spirit descended on Jesus in bodily form, like a dove; and a voice came from heaven, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.”  Barely a ripple in the big picture. 

Next, the Holy Spirit leads Jesus into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil for 40 days. But out of the wilderness Jesus comes, sustained by the Power of the Holy Spirit. Reinvigorated by the same Spirit, into the backwaters of Galilee he goes, powered of the Holy Spirit, preaching in synagogues, performing miracles, and moving out of obscurity.  


About a year later in Luke 4:16 we read that Jesus returns to Nazareth where he had been brought up. Why? The time and place had come for him to publically declare his Messianic mission. The ripple of the Spirit’s work was about to come ashore… the tsunami was coming... 

Sunday, May 10, 2015

Babies On The Way.

At dusk, two does foraged in the field just beyond the living room windows. Quietly and slowly I opened the front door and raised the binoculars to my eyes. One of the pair, its head hidden by the tall grass, continued to feed and meander off. The other, however, caught a glimpse of my movement in the door frame and stood as still as a statue. Rotating her ears toward me, she didn't move a muscle. It was clear that a baby, or babies, will be arriving any day now. Her belly sagged under the weight of the little one (or perhaps two little ones) that has yet to leave its mother's womb. Soon, though, mama will be accompanied by a spotted fawn that will bounce around feeling carefree and completely naive to the dangers of life in the wild.

For me, it's a time of vigilance. I will do what I can to increase its chances of survival. If I have any say in it, no coyotes will make a meal of the wobbly and helpless babies. The .308 that my father gave me will be at the ready...