Leaving Your Jar Behind

In our Gnosis class this past Sunday (we meet Sunday mornings at 9:00 AM for anyone interested), we studied John’s story about Jesus’ encounter with the Samaritan woman at the well.  The story is fascinating on many different levels, especially the inclusive actions taken by Jesus to embrace someone so different.  However, what struck our class more than anything was the transformation of the woman after experiencing the grace and acceptance of the Messiah.

Now, we may have been reading way more into this story than John intended, but stories often take a life of their own after the author publishes them.  When the woman realizes Jesus is not going to condemn her for her past mistakes, acknowledging them without judging her, she seems to be set free.  She is a  person so longing for community, so desperate to be noticed and not ostracized, she sheds her past before our eyes.  When John writes, “The woman left her water jar,” we gain a sense she has left more behind than meets the eye.

In fact, after learning of Jesus’ identity, she runs back to the people who have shunned her.  The woman rejected and excluded from gathering water with the rest of the women, chose to embrace and include those whom had spurned her.  When she left that jar setting at Jesus’ feet, she left behind her loneliness, frustrations, and anger.  An embrace from the Messiah can do that I guess.

What jars do we need to set down?  What burdens in life are holding us back?  What emotions are pulling us down?  What situations are destroying us from the inside out?  The Messiah is calling.  He seeks to embrace us, no matter our pasts.  He seeks to engage us, no matter what others thinks about us.  When we encounter the Christ, we are transformed enabling us to set down our jars and live a new life.

What is your jar?  What holds you back from setting it down?

Finding Living Water

The dog days of summer are upon us, as the warmest weather of August arrives.  These days are filled with temperatures nearing 100 degrees, sending everyone looking for a cool place to relax.  While adults seek shelter in the air conditioned indoors or under a large shade tree, children look for the cold refreshing feel of splashing water.

They may find it at their local swimming pools, in their front yard water sprinklers, or if they are lucky, a small pond on the outskirts of town.  Whatever their discovery of water, they all know the same truth, during these hot days of August any kind of splashing water feels great.

This past Sunday, the sermon came from the Old Testament book of Jeremiah.  The prophet was preaching to a people distraught by their circumstances.  The scorching heat of exile was parching their souls, so they were needing something to provide them spiritual refreshment.

Jeremiah offers (17:7), “Blessed are those who trust in the Lord, whose trust is the Lord. They shall be like a tree planted by water, sending out its roots by the stream.  It shall not fear when heat comes, and its leaves shall stay green; in the year of drought it is not anxious, and it does not cease to bear fruit.”

We all need the fresh waters of heaven from time to time.  Life can get so draining.  The heat from life’s pressures can mount up, sending us into a spiritual exhaustion as though the August heat conspired with life to make things even hotter than usual.  During those times, remember we have the ability to be nurtured.  We have at our disposal the cool waters that infuse the soul and refresh the spirit.

These cool waters come in many different vessels, but they all quench our thirsts.  Prayer, worship, Scripture, and good relationships are but a few vessels from which the heavenly waters pour out.  These waters encourage us, inspires us, and offer us hope to press forward through the heat.

So whatever your vessel might be, find the living waters that Christ provides and drink up.  Summer is almost over and a new season is close at hand.

What has come of life?

In Oklahoma, we are attempting to come to grips with the senseless murder of Christopher Lane, an East Central University baseball player from Australia.  Lane was out jogging this week, when three teenage men drove up behind him and allegedly shot him in the back.  When questioned by authorities why they had committed such a random act, one of the young men responded, “We were bored.”

This reasoning has sent a chill up-and-down the spines of everyone in our state.  How can boredom be an excuse for committing any sort of crime, especially an act as egregious as murder?  Why did these teens think their boredom was somehow reason enough to shoot a young man in the back who was just out taking a jog in the neighborhood?  It has left us all pondering, “What has come of life?”

When God created life in humans, he did so by using his own image (Genesis 1:27).  Each of us bear that image on our physical and spiritual beings.  We are called “like” creatures of our divine master, as though we were a reflection of him in the water.  What this means is that we are made in his likeness with  God’s presence infused within us.  In the second creation account of Genesis 2, we even witness God breathing his soul into our bodies.  Life is sacred because God himself not only created it, but gave it to us as a manifestation of himself.

Thus, when we choose to regard life as something cheap and to take the life of another, we must understand that we are not only committing a crime against someone else, but we are violating the very presence of God.  We are attacking his image and his presence, thus attempting to circumvent him as God.  We are not God and do not hold the authority to bring death to another.

What has come of life?  Sadly, it continues to be seen as something cheap.  It continues to be understood as something another can take, as though it were a penny laying on the ground.  Life is sacred because God has given it and blessed it with his image.

Our thoughts and prayers are with the Lane family, his teammates, his friends, and his fellow Aussies, as they mourn the loss of a bearer of God’s image.

Breaking Commandments

The American Civil Liberties Union filed a lawsuit yesterday on behalf of Dr. Bruce Prescott (NorthHaven Member) and two other plaintiffs, asking the court to remove the Ten Commandments Monument at the Oklahoma State Capitol.  The monument was placed there last year, after private donations were used to construct and place it on capitol grounds.

The suit cites that by using state resources, in this instance, land, to house this religious symbol the state is in violation of the establishment clause found in the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.  The First Amendment reads, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.”  Therefore, when the government conspires to promote religion, then they stand in violation of the establishment clause.

Proponents cite the monument does not have a religious purpose, but promotes a cultural and historical significance.  Really?  The Ten Commandments, honored and cherished by billions of Jews and Christians throughout history, has no religious significance?  Seriously?  The Ten Commandments, found in the sacred text of the Bible, has no religious overtones or purpose?  Do the proponents of the monument even read it?

If they did, they would realize they were possibly breaking the first and second commandments, “(1) You shall not have any other gods before me, (2) You shall not make for yourself an idol, whether in the form of anything that is in heaven above or that is on earth beneath” (Exodus 20:3,4, NRSV). When people of faith begin to place more emphasis on our monuments rather than making certain our lives reflect biblical teachings, then we are dangerously close to breaking the very words we think we are protecting.

The Ten Commandments Monument does not belong at the Oklahoma State Capitol for several reasons.  It clearly violates the First Amendment.  In addition, it is extremely religious, with its first two commandments citing the importance of worshipping God and the consequences for not doing so.  To say it’s not religious is a violation of another one of the commandments.  We should not bear false witness either.

If the Ten Commandments does not belong at the state capitol, then where does it belong?  The Ten Commandments belong in the hearts and lives of every believer, making certain they live by their religious convictions without any perversions or interferences from the government.  The Ten Commandments are a sacred set of teachings by which Jews and Christians claim as their guiding principles for their faiths.  Put the monuments in your synagogues, churches, and homes, but don’t ask the government to endorse them.

Dumpster Diving

This morning as I was ciphering through my Facebook newsfeed, I noticed a frantic post by a good friend.  The friend had just sent her husband to the side of the house where the dumpster was located.  He was instructed not to come back inside until his objective had been met.  There would be no excuses accepted and failure was not an option.

So, dear old hubby trotted outside before work, rolled up his sleeves, and went dumpster diving.  As he wadded through the muck of last week’s trash, he discovered a variety of items: empty toothpaste tube, remnants of Monday night’s dinner, dirty diapers, and last month’s copy of Soccer Digest his wife might have “accidentally” thrown out.

Finally, after a very strenuous morning, the husband finally found the tiny object of his search.  He found his daughter’s baby tooth.  No one will admit how it got there, but somehow it did.  I heard a rumor it might have been an elf.  Thankfully, though, Dad was there to save the day.

How often do we throw things away, only to later wish we had them back?  Money?  Jobs?  Relationships?  Words?  Decisions?  There are so many instances when we toss these things out in life, only to wish we could dive into the dumpster to retrieve them.  We would find them, we would clean them up, and we would redeem them.  But, the search is so difficult.  So tedious.  So large.  So unfathomable.

If only we had a dad who could do it for us.

Wait….I guess we do.

Wrestling with Strangers

Last week, I concluded my summer sermon series entitled, “Games We Play.”  We explored different board games throughout the years and how they truly mirrored life in many ways.  From the game of LIFE to Monopoly, we examined how those games are part of our lives and how our faith can influence each of those instances.

The final installment in the series was about the game of Twister.  The premise of Twister is the attempt to stay balanced even though you are constantly being challenged to twist your body in many different ways.  In addition, there are other players who are doing the same thing.  All of you are attempting to keep your balance, while contorting and bumping into one another.  Needless to say, it is extremely difficult to stay on your feet.  If you fall, you’re out of the game.  The last one standing wins.

How often does life twist us into knots?  Are there people with their words and deeds who turn our stomachs?  How many issues attempt to knock us off our feet?  How many situations have do we fight just to keep our balance?  How many issues?  How many relationships?  How many nights have we wrestled with darkness?

When Jacob arrives at the Jabbok in Genesis 32, we find him at his breaking point.  He has lived a life on the run.  He helped trick his father into gaining the blessing of his older brother Esau.  When fearing for his life, he fled.  Then, he met Laban and his daughters.  He fell in love with Rachel, but Laban tricked him into marrying her older sister, Leah, instead.  After finally gaining the hand of Rachel, Jacob prospers.  However, the sisters’ brothers gain a deep jealousy for their brother-in-law.

Jacob sees a vision and believes God is telling him to return home.  Yet, Jacob can only imagine he will not be welcomed by the brother he betrayed.  Esau would surely kill him, but whether out of obedience to God or out of fear for his life Jacob feels he has no choice but to return.  While on his journey home, he arrives at the Jabbok to encounter a stranger.

The stranger seems to wrap everything Jacob has done over his life into this one moment.  Just across the river awaits his bother and his four hundred men who are on their way to meet Jacob.  He believes he will surely die for his sins.  Jacob is struggling.  He is wrestling with his soul.  He is wresting with God.  What should he do?  Flee to save his life or move forward to an unknown future?  The wrestling match at the Jabbok demonstrates the depth of our struggles, which can be a blessing and a curse (Jacob’s limp).  Thus, with both, Jacob decides to move forward.  The reality of his decision hits him full force with the next sentence after this story, “Now Jacob looked up and saw Esau coming, and four hundred men with him.”

Jacob did not die at the hand of his brother.  Instead of reaching out with hands of anger or jealousy, Esau reaches out to embrace his bother with warmth and graciousness.  The situation that had Jacob all twisted up in knots and wrestling with God gave way when his brother threw his arms around him and welcomed him home.

No matter how twisted we find ourselves.  No matter how difficult life can get.  No matter how we feel as though we are about to fall off balance.  No matter how long we wrestle with our souls and with God, as long as we are willing to take the next step with him, a gracious end awaits.  Love, forgiveness, graciousness, peace, and hope can prevail if we allow them.

Doctor Who

Last Sunday, the BBC introduced Scottish actor, Peter Capaldi, as the 12th Doctor in their long-running television show, Doctor Who.   Capadli will be replacing Matt Smith, who will be stepping down later this year during their 50th year anniversary show.

Now, I know what you might be saying, “Why is this important and why should I care?”  Great questions, I admit, but the revealing of the new Doctor did attract more than 6.2 million viewers on Sunday, four of which were the Randalls.  It is a global phenomenon.

For those unfamiliar with Doctor Who, the show centers around an eccentric character named the Doctor, who is a Time Lord from another galaxy.  The Doctor usually has a companion with him and they travel around the universe in his Tardis (time machine) drifting in-and-out of time and space.

On their adventures, there is always some sort of predicament they must endure lending itself to a larger narrative running throughout the story.  It is brilliantly written (kudos to Steven Moffat) and wonderfully acted.

Doctor Who is a lot of fun to watch, but even more fun to analyze.

The Doctor is a “Time Lord” offering great wisdom throughout the universe, but has a deep affection for earth and her inhabitants.  There are times when the doctor and his companions are forced into moral quandaries, making it almost impossible to live in a black and white universe.  For that element of the show, I absolutely adore it.

The Doctor helps those in the quandaries find a way through them.  There is never really a “solution” to their problems, but only a mysterious path getting them through the darkness.  The show is not about right verses wrong or good versus evil, but learning to take the next step even when the next step is unpredictable or unknown.  In other words, it is about faith…faith in someone larger than life and faith in those you choose to travel with in life.

So far, I like my journey.  How about you?

Seriously, It’s August?

No way, can’t be.  Someone just tried to convince me it’s August 1st already.  I told them they did not know what they were talking about because summer just started a few weeks ago, right?  No.  Well, I’ll be, it is August.  Wow!  Where did the time go?  Did I miss the string of 100 degree days?  Did I miss the grass turning brown?  Did I miss the late evenings watching the neighborhood children play outside in the sprinklers?  Did I miss summer?

For some reason, this summer has flown by.  Of course, there are numerous reasons why this seems to be for me.  First, May 20th, 2013, set into a motion a flurry of activity.  When the tornados during that two week period touched down, our city went into overdrive.  While much of the relief efforts have settled down, the work continues and the constant reminder of the tragedy is still all around us.

Second, I have not been home much this summer.  For three weeks, I was either at family functions or attending Baptist meetings.  Living out of a suitcase accelerates time into warp drive.  Home.  San Antonio.  Greensboro.  San Antonio.  Home.  All of a sudden, a month is gone.

Finally, this has been one of the strangest summers in the last several years.  The cooler temperatures and rain have been a nice break from the scorching heat of the last two summers, but without the hot temperatures it seems as though we have been stuck in a warm spring for three months.  Nevertheless, I will take this weather in July and August any day.

Well, the calendar doesn’t lie, so I guess I have to admit it’s August and only three more weeks of summer remain until school ramps up once again.  So, even though the first two months of summer have flown by, I plan on making the last three weeks slow down a bit.  I plan on finding a cold glass of lemonade, sitting outside on my back patio, and listening to the cicadas serenade me with their summer aria.  Life is too short to let summer fly by without slowing down.

Enjoy the rest of your summer!  And I still can’t believe it’s August 1.