Reminding Parishioners: You are Cleansed, Clothed, and Comforted

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“Shower! Clean clothes! Right away!” This is something we say quite often around the Early home now that the Big Dark has settled back in here in Seattle. Yes, the sun goes down at 4:45 and it is completely dark by 5pm. Most days the weather will change from dark grey to a lighter grey, then back to dark grey, then fade to black. Our kids don’t seem to mind. They were outside yesterday at 5:30, in the rain, under the Christmas lights strung up in the backyard, kicking a soccer ball for over an hour. They enjoy getting messy and being kids. I like that about them a whole lot.

However, when Jana and I hear the back door slide open and their little laughs bellowing out, we shout from somewhere in the house, “Get a shower and put on some clean clothes!” They’re filthy, and it’ll soon be time for dinner, board games, stories, and bed.

As I visit with the people of our parish throughout the week in restaurants, coffee shops, pubs, or on walks through the neighborhood or around Greenlake, I find myself reminding the sheep of the cleansing and clothing we receive in Christ. The people of Redemption Church are precious people. Imperfect? Of course. But are they sheep Jesus died to save? Absolutely. Every person in our church (pastors included!) struggles with battling temptation to sin and the consequences of living in a fallen world and we long for the second Advent of our Lord Jesus.

One day, the phone won’t ring with someone in tears on the other end. One day, there won’t be a long, quiet walk around the lake, with frigid fingers, scattered thoughts, and deep-seated regrets. One day, there won’t be a late-night-sit-down working to reconcile two people. One day… the Second Advent… one day…when Jesus returns…But what about right now? What do we do with dirtiness before and distance we experience between ourselves and God, as it relates to our sin?

Lately, I have found myself reminding our people (and certainly myself) “In Christ, you are cleansed, and you are clothed.” In our sin, we see our nakedness and feel shame. Sometimes we feel guilt. Other times we feel a sense of terrible fear before our Holy God. We long to feel cleansed, covered, and comfort. We need good news daily. As the hymn goes…


I need Thee every hour,
Most gracious Lord;
No tender voice like Thine
Can peace afford.
– Annie Hawks (1835-1918)


Every hour we need him–and that is precisely what we receive through Jesus. Because the gospel is true, we don’t just hope for cleansing, wish that we could be covered, and dream about being comforted somewhere far off in the distant future. Rather, because Jesus died in our place for our sins, was gloriously resurrected from the grave, we are now justified before God and the Great Comforter, the Holy Spirit is now present with us.

In Christ, we are cleansed (1 John 1:9).

In Christ, we are clothed (Gal. 3:26).

In the Holy Spirit, we are Comforted (John 14:26).

I Still Need You, Jesus

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I still need you, Jesus.

That’s something I find myself saying several times throughout each morning, afternoon, and evening. These simple breath-prayers are not merely cognitively acknowledging my place in creation as one who is finite, dependent, and completely “prone to wander.” They’re a confession. I simply can’t do it on my own. I can’t lead myself. As much as I’d like to think I can, I just can’t. Sure, I’m very disciplined, motivated, and can see through tasks to completion. However, I don’t always know what is best, and even when I do, that doesn’t mean I’ll choose the best. I’m familiar with the ups and downs of sanctification. It’s beautiful and exhausting. At 38 years of age, I’m growing increasingly interested in that whole glorification thing Paul was on about.

I’m an imperfect husband. I sometimes put myself first. As a dad, every night after putting the babies to bed (I still call them my babies even though they are 7 and 9 years old!), I wonder if I could’ve said something different to them throughout the day, asked a better question, been more creative, and given one more encouraging word. As a pastor, I get a front row seat to some of the greatest highs and greatest lows within a day, sometimes within an hour.

Jesus said, “Apart from me, you can do nothing” (John 15:5). It’s true. Apart from him, I can’t resist temptation to sin. Apart from him, I can’t serve my neighbor with a pure heart. Apart from him, I can’t even love myself rightly. That statement by Jesus can feel so crushing. And in fact, it is.

But that’s not all he said. Jesus isn’t one to dangle a carrot on a string. He’s invited us to a feast a the table! Just before he shows us our need, he summons us to "abide in him” (John 15:4). When Jesus tells us to abide in him he’s essentially inviting us into a space of holy familiarity. He’s saying, "I want you as comfortable with me as you are in your living room, in your sweats, lounging on the couch with no phone to distract you, no clock to hurry you, and with nowhere else to be. In my presence, I want you to be you and me to be me so that we can be us.”

Perhaps you’re feeling quite needy today? Maybe a simple breath-prayer confessing your need of him would be a great place to start.

A pastor-theologian that I’ve come to really admire published this in an essay last year and it strikes at the core of our neediness. Dr. Heistand writes:

“Yet there is limit to how this power can be transferred. Christ does not transfer his power to the church in a way that makes the church independent of and no longer in need of Christ–as though Jesus were able to give away his power to the church like a rich person gives away money to a poor person, who now being in possession of wealth, is no longer in need of the rich person. Rather Christ’s empowerment of the church comes in the form of his Spirit, which is his own presence. In this way, Christ shares his power only insofar as the church dwells in relation to and lives in dependence upon Christ. The church’s strength is always borrowed; we never become a divine person, eternal and uncreated.”
— Gerald Hiestand, “Put Pain like That Beyond My Power: A Christocentric Theodicy with Respect to the Inequality of Male and Female Power” in Beauty, Order, and Mystery: A Christian Vision of Human Sexuality, 116.

Bernard, Calvin, & the Name of Jesus

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I wish more Calvinists would actually read Calvin. There. I said it. He gets quoted quite often, but I’m not so sure that he’s actually been read by so many these days. Most of my life growing up in the Church, when I’d hear the word “Calvinist,” I knew that was my cue to run for the hills because “those people think we’re all robots and don’t believe we have a free will” or some kind of remark would be made. Then, during my college years, I was properly introduced to Calvin, Luther, Zwingli, and the whole gang. Since then, I found out that Calvin isn’t a monster after all. As it turns out, he loved Jesus and the Church a whole heck of a lot.

Back in when I was in my post-grad studies at the London School of Theology, one of my professors, Dr. Tony Lane sparked my interest in St. Bernard’s influence upon the Protestant Reformer, John Calvin. The relationship between these two saints has been much of Lane’s focus, beginning, I believe, during his days in Oxford. St. Bernard of Clairvaux lived from 1090-1153. Calvin (1509-1564) leans heavily on Clairvaux’s thoughts especially surrounding what we commonly refer to as “justification by faith.”

This year I have been working slowly, devotionally, if you will, through Calvin’s Institutes of the Christian Religion. To know that Calvin was 27 years old when he penned this incredible gift to the Church, truly is remarkable. What I love about this work is that the reader can clearly discern Calvin’s pastoral heart. His love for Jesus and the people shines and causes me to love Jesus and want to serve the people of Redemption with all my heart. Calvin systematically works through key doctrines of the faith not for the sake of theologians in a library somewhere but he articulates truth in plain terms, though he’s not saying “simple things.” Unfortunately, when the name “Calvin” is mentioned, many tend to shudder because someone somewhere who is completely out of touch with Calvin and the Jesus he loved, spoke crudely, attaching Calvin’s name to something ugly or divisive.

Perhaps beginning over the holidays or at the turn of the year, you might consider purchasing a copy of the Institutes and working through them slowly? I’ve found both my mind and heart genuinely enriched this year as a result of Calvin’s pastoral influence upon my life.

I’ll leave you today with this beautiful line first penned by Bernard, then by Calvin on the name of Jesus…

The name of Jesus is not only light but food. It is oil without which food for the soul is dry and salt without which is insipid. It is honey in the mouth, melody in the ear and joy in the heart. It has healing power. Every discussion where his name is not heard is pointless.
— Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, Book II, Part VI, ch. 7.1 eds., Lane & Osborne








A Brief Theology of Serving

 Our sanctuary was particularly beautiful this past Sunday afternoon.

Our sanctuary was particularly beautiful this past Sunday afternoon.

A Serving Community (Mark 10)

As deacons, we want to ground everything that we do in service to Jesus and the church body out of what Jesus has done for us both personally and collectively. The following isn’t intended to introduce anything particularly “new” to you but rather this is a short piece honing in on a couple of common temptations we face as deacons. This is also a simple reminder of the ground upon which all Christian discipleship is founded, namely, the cross of Jesus. This is particularly important for those who focus so closely on the serving the church as deacons. 


Serving Does Not Justify Sin

Paul admonished the Galatian church "to not grow weary in doing good" (Gal. 6:9). Lots of things can happen when we grow weary. One is the fact that we easily lose sight of what the gospel is all about and begin thinking about our relationship to God and serving others in ways that reflect more of the culture of this world rather than the Kingdom of God. As leaders, we have to consistently remind ourselves of the fact that as we serve, we do so not out of mere obligation but out of God’s grace and empowered by His Spirit, for His glory. It can sometimes become easy to see our good works of serving God and others as some sort of currency to spend on justifying private sins. The thinking goes, "I did all of these good things for God and others. I taught Sunday School so if I overindulge in ______ area, that’s perfectly OK.” Or "I get to church early to set up and serve in hospitality, and because I sacrifice a bit, my bad attitude at home later is justified.”

When we fall into this type of temptation, it reveals we’ve lost our way and have mistaken our relationship with God as a contract rather than a covenant. When it comes to sin, God is no sucker. There is no bartering, no schmoozing, and certainly no “5-good-works-entitles-me-to-1-private-sin" idea in Scripture. Serving the church does not earn currency to spend on future sins nor does our serving atone for past sins. Jesus paid it all–past, present, and future. Our serving is born out of gratitude for this reality. 



Jesus: The Key to Joy in Serving Others

Another temptation that we can often face is to remember these moments of sacrificially serving to turn then and wrongly judge others who "aren't pulling their weight around here.” Recall Martha’s condemnation of Mary for sitting at Jesus’ feet while Martha worked frantically around the house. Martha was concerned about good things. Washing the dishes, tending to the cleanliness of the home, and making guests feel comfortable are all good things. She was aiming towards hospitality. However, Mary had chosen the greatest thing, to sit at Jesus’ feet and get to the dishes later. That was Mary’s choice and it “would not be taken from her” according to Jesus (Luke 10:42). When our eyes are fixed on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith (Heb. 12:1-3) rather than keeping score with others, we’ll actually enjoy serving because it is in serving that we sense the nearness of our Savior.  

Even Jesus' disciples had incredibly misinformed views of what it meant to be a servant. In fact, it wasn't even on their radar. Mark 10:35-45 is one of the more famous passages in the gospels for several reasons. In the conversation between Jesus and the Sons of Thunder, James, and John, we get a clear picture of how Jesus thinks of the relationship between power and acts of humble service. He punctuates his point by saying that his sacrificial death (“ransom”) was going to be an act of service and was intended to mold the hearts and give shape to those who would come after him as obedient disciples. Mark records,

And James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came up to him and said to him, “Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you.” And he said to them, “What do you want me to do for you?” And they said to him, “Grant us to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your glory.” Jesus said to them, “You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, or to be baptized with the baptism with which I am baptized?” And they said to him, “We are able.” And Jesus said to them, “The cup that I drink you will drink, and with the baptism with which I am baptized, you will be baptized, but to sit at my right hand or at my left is not mine to grant, but it is for those for whom it has been prepared.” And when the ten heard it, they began to be indignant at James and John. And Jesus called them to him and said to them, “You know that those who are considered rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. But it shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:35-45).  


The brother’s request to be seated in a place of future eschatological glory is met with a question by Jesus regarding “baptism” and “the cup.” What does Jesus mean by “the cup,” exactly? "The cup" is one way the Old Testament repeatedly speaks of the “wrath of God” (Jer. 25:15-17; 49:12; 51:7; Ps. 75:8; Zech. 12:2-3; Lam. 4:21; Hab. 2:16). In the apocalypse, John also references “the cup” as in direct relation to the wrath of God (Rev. 14:10; 18:16). The disciples clearly do not understand the metaphor and answer Jesus, “We are able” (Mark 10:39). Jesus then instructs the disciples, teaching them that greatness in the community of God is not accomplished through lording authority over others as the pagan Gentiles were notorious. Instead, greatness is measured in terms of service to others. 


Did God Strike a Deal with the Devil?

The use of the word ransom here has been the subject of much debate and oftentimes been used to speak inaccurately about the meaning of the death of Christ. To whom was this price, this ransom, paid? Did God actually strike a deal with the Devil? Origen, in the 3rd century, popularized the idea that the ransom was paid to Satan. Jeffery Russell summarizes Origen’s thoughts succinctly. 

“In order to rescue us from Satan’s power without violating justice, God was obliged to pay the Devil a ransom. The only ransom the Devil would accept was a perfect man, so when God offered him, Christ, he seized him eagerly, and in turn handed him over to vicious humans to torment and kill him. Death and the Devil exulted in their triumph, but only for a flicker of a moment, for the ransom was a trick. Since Christ was God, the Devil could not hold him, and since Christ was without sin, it was a violation of justice to try to hold him, a violation that annulled Satan’s claim to keep the rest of us in bondage. The slate wiped clean, meant that we were free. Satan had been duped, gulled, cheated, and made a fool of.”
— Jeffery Russell, Satan: The Early Christian Tradition (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1987), 140.


Origen's theory, however, is greatly flawed. James Edwards responds to this theory by exposing the flaws therein and sustains the penal substitutionary view of the atonement. Satan…

...is not mentioned in v. 45, nor even in Mark’s passion account. Satan was last mentioned in 8:33, and there he attempts to avert Jesus from suffering and death! The death of the Son of Man on behalf of “the many” is a sacrifice to obedience to God’s will, a full expression of his love, and full satisfaction of God’s justice.
— Edwards, Mark, 328. William Lane writes in his commentary, “The Son of Man takes the place of the many and there happens to him what would have happened to them.” Lane, Mark, 384; italics in original. See also Jeffery, Ovey, and Sach, 67-73 for details surrounding Jesus’ death in the dark, the cry of dereliction, and the prediction of his own suffering and death, thus emphasizing the ransom paid to God is indeed a penal substitution.


The Way “It Is"

Thus, Jesus anchors his penalty-bearing sacrifice in the context of teaching the disciples about true servanthood. Edwards hones in on the Greek text of verses 43-44 and offers profound insight as he demonstrates the way “it is” in the Kingdom of God. He writes,

the best textual evidence suggests that is it the presence of the verb “to be” (Gk. estin), not the future (Gk. estai), that is, “’It is not the way among you,’” as opposed to “’It shall not be this way among you.’” V.43a is thus not an admonition to behave in a certain way as much as a description of the way things actually already are in the kingdom of God, and even among disciples of the kingdom. Thus, to fail in being a servant is not simply to fall short of an ideal condition but to stand outside of an existing condition that corresponds to the kingdom of God.
— Edwards, Mark, 325.

So catch that! The serving community that Jesus establishes is not merely a moral population with a virtuous ethic attached to it. Instead, love is made manifest with the acts of service that flow out of the community who rightly understand their position within the Kingdom of God.  The juxtaposition to the Romans in the text is also significant. “In the Greek world “service,” was the opposite of happiness, as Plato says: “How can one be happy when he has to serve someone?” Jesus has effectively introduced his upside-down kingdom through his sacrificial serving nature and actions (See Evans, Mark, 119).  


At Redemption, we want to stay mindful that our acts of service from lugging televisions upstairs for kids ministry in the rain, to setting up signs around the lake, to hosting Life Groups, to practicing music and leading in corporate worship on Sunday, to making sure that audio, visual, and the podcast is up and running smoothly, to website, and on and on... we are not following in the way of Plato. We are following Jesus in his upside-down kingdom where the first seek to go last. 


A constant prayer of mine this year for myself, is simply "God, help me to be the best foot-washer in the room today. Please help me identify needs and serve joyfully. In my moments of weakness or frustration, help me to stay mindful of Jesus who loves me and has served me, giving me eternal life." 













Henri Nouwen on The Trap of Self-Rejection

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“Over the years, I have come to realize that the greatest trap in our life is not success, or popularity, or power, but self-rejection. Success, popularity, and power can, indeed, present a great temptation, but their seductive quality often comes from the way they are part of the much larger temptation to self-rejection. When we have come to believe in the voices that call us worthless and unlovable, then success, popularity, and power are easily perceived as attractive solutions. The real trap, however, is self-rejection…As soon as someone accuses me or criticizes me, as soon as I am rejected, left alone, or abandoned, I find myself thinking: “Well, that proves once again that I am a nobody.”… My dark side says , “I am no good …. I deserve to be pushed aside, forgotten, rejected, and abandoned.

Self-rejection is the greatest enemy of the spiritual life because it contradicts the sacred voice that calls us the ‘Beloved.’ Being the Beloved constitutes the core of our existence.”


The Vice of Busyness

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– Duthie Hill Bike Park, Issaquah, Washington

"How are you doing, Alex?" My response? "Busy." This was the standard answer I'd give people from 2008-2015 working as a pastor. That's right. Typical busy pastor. After all, there were sermons to be preached, classes to be taught, pastoral care appointments to attend to, disciples to be made, funds to be raised, buildings to be acquired, the mission to be advanced, and on and on it goes. (Notice things like Sabbath, prayer, and friendship were not included in my very important list of things to be done). Therefore, I was busy.

Sadly, like so many, I would preach passionately a message I wasn't willing or able to appropriate for myself. "Come to me all who are weary and heavy burdened and I will give you rest." What beautiful words and an even more beautiful reality for everyone else except me! I was a "leader," and nobody could really understand what I was going through because, in my mind, I had a unique calling in life that required more of me than anyone else. Besides, I was fine. I didn't necessarily *feel* weary and heavy burdened. After all, how "weary" can a 28-year-old be? Plus, at that age, a combination of caffeine and adrenaline rushes can get you pretty far while requiring little sleep and downtime. And while 28-year-old Alex without kids didn't feel as tired as 38-year-old Alex with two kids, the reality is that there's never been a moment of my life that I didn't need the rest Jesus offers and provides.

The Bible never speaks favorably of the busyness that I and so many like me are prone to wander into. This doesn't negate the commands to work hard, be diligent, see tasks through to the completion, and provide well for oneself and family. Don't hear me saying that slothfulness is the remedy for busyness. The remedy for busyness is holiness. After all, Moses taught us that keeping the Sabbath holy is the meat and potatoes of true piety. Slow down but don't stop.

But what is it about our busyness? Though we complain about it, I think we actually like it more than we're willing to let on. This is because the alternative to busyness provides us with real challenges. When we're still and without a phone in hand to distract us, left alone with our thoughts, we get anxious because we feel like we're somehow missing out on whatever is happening online.

In addition to missing out, our busyness helps us feel like we matter. When we are able to say that we're busy, we're essentially saying that we matter to someone somewhere and what we produce is needed in this world. This is because more often than not, we are what we do.

Yet, the scrambled, maxed-out, hectic life in the name of getting ahead continues to make us lonely and discontent. In fact, mentors of mine used to say to me regularly "Leadership is lonely." I bought into that mentality, and it cost me dearly. I know what they were trying to say. However, a lonely leader is unhealthy. At what point did loneliness become just "part of the job?" Oh, and a lonely pastor is an oxymoron. The call to lead is not a call to loneliness. It is a call to humility, servitude, community, and vulnerability.

Busyness produces loneliness and loneliness produces pointlessness. Sounds a little like like Ecclesiastes, doesn't it?

Meaningless! Meaningless!”

says the Teacher.

“Utterly meaningless!

Everything is meaningless.”

What do people gain from all their labors

at which they toil under the sun?

(Ecclesiastes 1:2-3)

Most people who are incredibly busy will tell you in a moment of gut-level-honesty that constantly running 90 miles per hour feels far more like a vice and less like a virtue. In Psalm 127 we read "It is in vain that you rise up early and go late to rest, eating the bread of anxious toil; for he gives to his beloved sleep" (Psalm 127:2). Again, this is not a call to laziness. This is a call to happy holiness in which we are truly present to God, ourselves, our families, friends, and coworkers.

Call to Worship

If you are spiritually weary and in search of rest, 

if you are mourning and you long for comfort, 

if you are struggling and you desire victory,

if you recognize that you are a sinner and need a Savior,

God welcomes you here in the name of Christ.

To the stranger in need of fellowship,

to those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,

and to whoever will come,

Redemption Church opens wide its doors

and welcomes all in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ.

Christopher Wright on Being "Sent" by God

 I love this picture. Jana took it this summer when we were camping with some good buddies in Steamboat Rock, Washington.

I love this picture. Jana took it this summer when we were camping with some good buddies in Steamboat Rock, Washington.

“The Bible tells us that God did send many people. But the range of things for which people were sent is staggeringly broad. “Sending’ language is used in all the following stories. Joseph was sent (unwittingly at first) to be in a position to save lives in a famine (Gen 45:7). Moses was sent (unwittingly at first) to deliver people from oppression and exploitation (Ex. 3:10). Elijah was sent to influence the course of international politics (1 Kings 19:15-18). Jeremiah was sent to proclaim God’s Word (e.g., Jr. 1:7). Jesus claimed the words of Isaiah that he was sent to preach good news, to proclaim freedom, to give sight for the blind, and to offer release from oppression (Lk 4:16-19; cf. Isa. 61:1). 

The disciples were sent to preach and demonstrate the delivering and healing power of the reign of God (Matt. 10:5-8). As apostles, they were sent to make disciples, baptize and teach (Matt. 28:18-20). Jesus sent them into the world in the same way that the Father had sent him, which raises a lot of interesting questions and challenges (John 17:18; 20:21). Paul and Barnabas were sent with famine relief (Acts 11:27-30). Later they were sent for evangelism and church planting (Acts 13:1-3). Titus was sent to ensure trustworthy and transparent financial administration (2 Cor. 8:16-24). Later he was sent for competent church administration (Titus 1:5). Apollos was sent as a skilled Bible teacher for church nurture (Acts 18:27-28). Many unnamed brothers and sisters were sent out as itinerant teachers for the sake of the truth of the gospel (3 John 5-8).

So, even if we agree that the concept of sending and being sent lies at the heart of mission, there is a broad range of biblically sanctioned activities that people may be sent by God to do, including famine relief, action for justice, preaching, evangelism, teaching, healing, and administration. Yet when we use the rods “missions” and “missionaries”, we tend to think mainly of evangelistic activity.”




John Stott on Evangelism

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“Non-Christian people are watching us. We claim to know, to love and to follow Jesus Christ. We say that he is our Savior, our Lord, and our Friend. ‘What difference does he make to these Christians?’ the world asks searchingly. ‘Where is their God?’ It may be said without fear of contradiction that the greatest hinderance to evangelism in the world today is the failure of the church to supply evidence in her own life and work of the saving power of God. Rightly may we pray for ourselves that we may have God’s blessing and mercy and the light of his countenance–not that we may then monopolize his grace and bask in the sunshine of his favor, but that others may see in us his blessing and his beauty, and be drawn to him through us.” 


Brennan Manning on Evangelism

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“The Ministry of evangelization is an extraordinary opportunity of showing gratitude to Jesus by passing on His gospel of grace to others. However, the ʻconversion by concussionʼ method with one sledgehammer blow of the Bible after another betrays a basic disrespect for the dignity of the other and is utterly alien to the gospel imperative to bear witness. To evangelize a person is to say to him or her: you, too, are loved by God in the Lord Jesus. And not only to say it but to really think it and relate it to the man or woman so they can sense it. This is what it means to announce the Good News. But that becomes possible only by offering the person your friendship; a friendship that is real, unselfish, without condescension, full of confidence, and profound esteem.”


Emil Brunner on Missions

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The Word of God which was given in Jesus Christ is a unique historical fact, and everything Christian is dependent on it; hence everyone who receives this Word, and by it salvation, receives along with it the duty of passing this Word on; just as a man who might have discovered a remedy for cancer which saved himself, would be in duty bound to make this remedy accessible to all. Mission work does not arise from any arrogance in the Christian Church; mission is its cause and its life. The Church exists by mission, just as a fire exists by burning. Where there is no mission, there is no Church; and where there is neither Church nor mission, there is not faith. It is a secondary question whether by that we mean Foreign Missions, or simply the preaching of the Gospel in the home Church. Mission, Gospel preaching, is the spreading out of the fire which Christ as thrown upon the earth. He who does not propagate this fire shows that he is not burning. He who burns propagates the fire. This 'must' is both things – an urge and a command. An urge, because living faith feels God's purpose as its own. 'Woe is unto me if I preach not the gospel,' says Paul. Necessity is laid upon him. But also he ought to preach; with the gift, he receives the obligation. 'Go ye into all the world and preach the gospel.’ Whether Christ's command was uttered just in these words, we do not know exactly. But there can be no doubt that He had sent out His disciples with the strict order to preach the gospel of the Kingdom to all the world. Even if Jesus had not done that, it would still be a divine command for everyone who receives the message; for he knows that the divine remedy must be made accessible to all. The classical expression for this propagating activity is not doctrine by kerygma, i.e., the herald's call. The Herald, the keryx, is a man who in the market-place of a city promulgates the latest decree of the king. He is the living publicity organ of the sovereign's will. The herald makes known what no one could know before what the king has decreed. It is just this that the Apostles mean by kerygma. They brought not only good tidings but new tidings as well.


Emil Brunner, The Word and the World, 108.


Thomas Merton on Knowledge, Love, and Charity

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"God knows us from within ourselves, not as objects, not as strangers, not as intimates, but as our own selves. His knowledge of us is the pure light of which our own self-knowledge is only a dim reflection. He knows us in Himself, not merely as images of something outside of Him, but as "selves" in which His own self is expressed. He finds Himself more perfectly in us that we find ourselves. 

He alone holds the secret of a charity by which we can love others not only as we love ourselves, but as He loves them. The beginning of love is the will to let those we love be perfectly themselves, the resolution not to twist them to fit our own image. If in loving them we do not love what they are, but only their potential likeness to ourselves, then we do not love them: we only love the reflection of ourselves we find in them. Can this be charity?"  


Thomas Merton, No Man is an Island, 168.

What Are the Ascension Psalms?

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Have you ever noticed a little superscription the book of Psalms that says, "A Psalm of Ascent" and wondered "What does that mean, exactly?" Here's a little bit about these very special hymns of worship. 
 

First, there are fifteen Ascension Songs, and they are Psalms 120-134. Second, of the fifteen in the collection, ten of them are penned by anonymous authors. Third, they were initially likely a smaller hymnbook that eventually was incorporated into the larger collection of the Psalms. 
 

Why Are they Called 'Ascension Psalms?'

Traveling worshipers would sing these songs as they made their way to Jerusalem three times a year to celebrate the feasts of Passover, Tabernacles, and Pentecost. The people of God would ascend up the mountainous terrain as they neared the sacred city of Jerusalem. Jerusalem itself sits at an elevation of about 2,700 feet. Hence, Psalms of Ascent. 
 

During Passover (Exodus. 12:15-20), God's people remembered what YHWH had done in the deliverance of the Hebrew children out from under the tyranny of Egyptian bondage and slavery. The Feast of Tabernacles (Leviticus 23:33-44) was held in memory of God's faithfulness to his people as they wandered in the wilderness for forty years. The feast of Pentecost/Feast of Weeks (Exodus 34:22) was held fifty days (pente) after the grain and barley harvest.  
 

Progressing Towards Jerusalem

As you begin reading through the Psalms of Ascent, you will notice that at first neither Jerusalem nor their travels are mentioned. However, that is by design. Old Testament scholar, Derek Kidner comments,
 

It appropriately begins the series in a distant land, so that we join the pilgrims as they set out on a journey which, in broad outline, will bring us to Jerusalem in Psalm 122, and, in the last psalms of the group, to the ark, the priests and the Temple servants who minister, by turns, day and night at the house of the Lord.

— –Derek Kidner, Psalms 73-150, p.430.  

Gospel Ties

Lastly, don't forget  Jesus himself would've traveled to these festivals, singing these songs amongst family and friends, participating in worship. After rising from the dead, Jesus said something that powerfully transforms the way in which we interpret, engage, and apply the Old Testament. 

 

He said to them, “This is what I told you while I was still with you: Everything must be fulfilled that is written about me in the Law of Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms.”
— Luke 24:44

Give yourself some time to reflect on what we see revealed in the gospels.

Remember that at Pentecost, Jesus is our Bread

Remember that at Passover, Jesus is our Lamb

Remember that at Tabernacles Jesus is our Home

 

 

 

 

 

Eugene Peterson: We Are Preserved

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"The Christian life is not a quiet escape to the garden where we can walk and talk uninterruptedly with our Lord; nor a fantasy trip to a heavenly city where we can compare blue ribbons and gold medals with others who have made it to the winners' circle… The Christian life is going to God. In going to God Christians travel the same ground that everyone else walks on, breathe the same air, drink the same water, shop in the same stores, read the same newspapers, are citizens under the same governments, pay the same prices for groceries and gasoline, fear the same dangers, are subject to the same pressures, get the same distresses, are buried in the same ground. The difference is that each step we walk, each breath we breathe, we know we are preserved by God, we know we are accompanied by God, we know we are ruled by God; and therefore no matter what doubts we endure when accidents we experience, the Lord will preserve us from evil, he will keep our life."


The Lord is Not My Shepherd

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– Steamboat Rock, Washington

About ten years ago I first learned what Psalms of Disorientation are through reading Walter Brueggemann's The Message of the Psalms. Recently I came across this very sad modern rewriting of Psalm 23 by an anonymous author. Why share something so sad? Keith Anderson of the Seattle School of Theology and Psychology responds,

“Where you start matters. You can start, as did the revisionist poet, without belief in a caring shepherd who walks with you. You can start, as do some with a belief that we are alone in the universe. Spiritual mentoring starts with a conviction that God is Author, writing on the days and nights of our lives. Spiritual mentoring is a bold act of faith that God is active in the unfolding moments of our story.” 

— Keith R. Anderson, Reading Your Life's Story: An Invitation to Spiritual Mentoring, 39.

The Lord is not my shepherd
I am in want
Rest evades me
I cannot resist the tyranny of the urgent
My energy is sapped
I am without direction on some aimless path
Bringing nothing but dishonor to myself and those around me
Especially when I run through the dark valley of death
I am terror filled
For I am alone
Your absence leaves me barren and inconsolable
I am famished and sounded by vultures
I am an unwelcome burr in your saddle
Dust kicked from a shoe
My cup is empty
Your love keeps missing me
Day after day
I will live alone, in an empty apartment forever. 
 

Christ's Sacrifice Provides Reconciliation of Persons to One Another

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– Space Needle, Seattle, Washington

One of my favorite things about getting to do what I do serving as a pastor-theologian is study Scripture and theology alongside one another and seek to apply God's word by His Spirit in our local context here at Redemption Church in Seattle. I came across this piece today and it blessed me tremendously as I was thinking about how Jesus' death accomplishes reconciliation not only with God but with one another. The following excerpt is wonderful.

Christ's Sacrifice Provides Reconciliation of Persons to One Another

“Christ died so that believing sinners may enjoy also reconciliation to each other. Christ’s sacrifice provides for a new community, a fellowship of sinners at peace with God and so at peace with one another. Because of the cross Samaritans and Gentiles could be united with Jews in Christ’s body, the church. Having put to death their hostility, he made the Jew and Gentile one, destroying the dividing wall by abolishing the law and giving both access to the Father by the Spirit (Eph. 2:14-18). At one time we were “uncircumcised,… separate from Christ, excluded from citizenship in Israel and foreigners to the covenants of promise, without hope and without God in the world” (vv. 11-12). “But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near through the blood of Christ.” So he is “our peace” (v.14). “Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her” (5:25). Commitment to life under the cross–not race or economic status–reconciles sinners to one another. People living under the cross should not be expected to meet extraneous requirements for membership in a church.

Because they are forgiven by grace, church members seek to be graciously forgiving. Because they are liberated from the reign of sin (Rom. 6:12), God’s people rejoice in making peace with others who have been reconciled to God through faith in Christ. The crucified Christ provides the one foundation on which to build a church (1 Cor. 3:10-15) because he bought the Church of God “with his own blood” (Acts 20:28). Christian homes, churches, and organizations enjoy reconciliation and peace to the extent that they’re just and loving communities. Families and churches respect members’ dignity and rights, and lovingly families and churches go beyond justice and accept mercy and love.”[1]


[1] Lewis and Demarest, Integrative Theology: Historical, Biblical, Systematic, Apologetic, Practical, 406-407.

Walter Brueggemann on Psalms of Disorientation: Expressing the Experience

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It is no wonder that the church has intuitively avoided these psalms [of disorientation]. They lead us into dangerous acknowledgement of how life really is. They lead us into the presence of God where everything is not polite and civil. They cause us to think unthinkable thoughts and utter unutterable words. Perhaps worst, they lead us away from the comfortable religious claims of "modernity" in which everything is managed and controlled. In our modern experience, but probably also in every successful and affluent culture, it is believed that enough power and knowledge can tame the terror and eliminate the darkness. Very much a "religion of orientation" operates on that basis. But our honest experience, both personal and public, attests to the resilience of the darkness, in spite of us. The remarkable thing about Israel is that it did not banish or deny the darkness from its religious enterprise. It embraces the darkness as the very stuff of new life. Indeed, Israel seems to know that new life comes nowhere else. 

Whether this speech articulates, illuminates, or evokes experience, it does move the awareness and imagination of the speaker away from life well-ordered into an arena of terror, raggedness, and hurt. In some sense this speech is a visceral release of the realities and imagination that have been censored, denied or held in check by the dominant claims of society. For that reason, it does not surprise us that these psalms tend to hyperbole, vivid imagery, and statements that offend "proper" and civil religious sensitivities. They are a means of expressing that tries to match experience, that also does not fit with religious sensitivity. That is, in "proper" religion the expression should not be expressed. But is is also the case that these experiences should not be experienced. They are speech "at the limit," speaking about experience "at the limit." 


A Call to Worship

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– Redemption Church, Seattle, Washington

Almighty God, we pray for your blessing

on the church in this place.

Here may the faithful find salvation,

and the careless be awakened. 

Here may the doubting find faith,

and the anxious be encouraged. 

Here may the tempted find help,

and the sorrowful find comfort. 

Here may the weary find rest,

and the strong be renewed.

Here may the aged find consolation

and the young be inspired; 

through Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen. 



Presbyterian Book of Common Worship, #5 (1946)

Hans Urs von Balthasar on Keeping Time Like Children

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"The child has come to take time as it comes, one day at a time, calmly, without advance planning or greedy hoarding of time. Time to play, time to sleep. He knows nothing of appointment books in which every moment has already been sold in advance. When Paul exhorts us to 'buy up the time' (Col. 4:5; Eph. 5:16) he probably means precisely the opposite, that is, that we ought not to squander hours and days like cheap merchandise but that we should live the time that is given us now, in all its fullness: but the point is neither to 'enjoy it to the full' nor to 'make the most of it', but only that we should receive with gratitude the full cup that is handed to us. The moment is full because in it all of time is gathered up, effortlessly as it were. The present moment contains the memory of already having received as much as the hope of receiving time now. This is why the child is not afraid at the fleetingness of the present moment: stopping to consider it would hinder us from accepting the moment in its fullness, would keep us from 'buying it up', from ransoming it. 

Play is possible only when time is so conceived, and also the unresisting welcome we give to sleep. And only with time of this quality can the Christian find God in all things, just as Christ found the Father in all things. Pressured man on the run is always postponing his encounter with God to a 'free moment' or a 'time of prayer' that must constantly be rescheduled, a time that he must laboriously wrest from his overburdened workday. A child that knows God can find him at every moment because every moment opens up for him and shows him the very ground of time: as it if reposed on eternity itself. And this eternity, without undergoing change, walks hand in hand for the child with transitory time. God defines himself as 'I am who I am', which also means: My being is such that I shall always be present in every moment of becoming."

Hans Urs von Balthasar, Unless You Become Like This Childpp. 53-55.