Monday, November 29, 2010

Promise and Power

For the first Sunday of Advent our pastor Clay Thompson launched into a study of the Lord Jesus’ human genealogy as recorded in Matthew chapter 1. “The son of David, the son of Abraham.” This amounted to one of the best sermons Clay has delivered. His theme was, “the coming of Christ frees us from the fear of what we are in the flesh.” There is nothing quite like the holiday season to remind us of the sin and dysfunction that exists in our families. Tackling this subject headlong, Clay pointed out - beginning with Abraham and the story of Ishmael’s conception - that the genealogy of the Lord is strewn with human frailty and sin.

That line of frailty did not thwart the Redeemer. In His coming Christ redeems all that came before Him; for us He redeems all that comes after. There is no situation, no predisposition, nothing inbred that is too hard for Him. As Clay pointed out, the apostle Paul came to this conclusion at the end of Romans 7, an experience that brought him to the end of himself, his religion, his ancestry. The redemption of the body to come in Christ releases him from the fear of his own body of death.

C.E.B. Cranfield would add that Romans 7 is the experience of the believer this side of the redemption of the body. The more mature the believer, the more he feels the anguish of “what I will to do, that I do not practice; but what I hate, that I do” (NKJV). There is now no deliverance from the present condition. There is, however, the joy of knowing that Christ will deliver us from this body of death (7:24-25). “The joy of the LORD is your strength.” Moreover, there is power from on high. As Cranfield puts it, the believer is given power to “rebel” against the flesh. This we do, day in and day out, as the Holy Spirit animates us to study the Scriptures, to pray, to share the Gospel, and to do the good works the Father has placed before us.

Clay made the point that Abraham’s faith was entirely in response to God’s promise and power. “Abraham believed God, and it was accounted unto him for righteousness.” There was no merit in Abraham’s faith per se; rather, it laid hold of God’s specific promise. In the weakness of his own wisdom he acquiesced to Sarai’s suggestion to conceive through Hagar. But Abraham’s confidence, his faith, was strengthened by God’s demonstration of power at various critical junctures in his life, particularly through the miraculous birth of Isaac: “[not considering] his own body, already dead (since he was about a hundred years old), and the deadness of Sarah’s womb” (Rom. 4:19). By the time he came to the foot of Mt. Moriah, Abraham’s faith had come to maturity by God’s exercises.

It is confidence in the God who gives life to the dead and calls into being things which did not formerly exist that sustains and empowers the believer through this life. The coming of Christ frees us from the fear of what we are, left to ourselves.

Sunday, November 28, 2010


This table was made in Jackson, Tennessee over a hundred years ago. It was used for many decades in a church in Sledge, Mississippi. It found a new home at St. Jude's Mission, Huntersville, NC, on the first Sunday of Advent, 2010.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Confirmation Day

To quote a favorite song from a favorite band, “this is my confirmation day.” Actually, it’s confirmation day for my entire family. This evening we will gather with other confirmands from our regional AMiA network and be formally received by Bishop Terrell Glenn with the laying on of hands.

This is a pretty dramatic step for a family whose Christian background has been outside the historic, creedal Church. But weary of a postmodern culture that no longer tangibly marks and celebrates anything, we felt this was the logical culmination of nearly five years of patient exploration of the Anglican tradition.

We just completed 12 weeks of study as confirmands at our little mission in Huntersville. Our pastor brought the study and examination to a climax this past Wednesday evening when he asked each of us to recount our experience of personal faith in the faith once delivered to the saints. There were no rehearsals. I was as eager to hear what my children had to say as he was. They were beautifully awkward and perfectly sincere. I pray they stay on the path.

What will be exceptionally precious this evening is that the former Episcopal minister who baptized our two youngest will also be there with confirmands from his fledgling mission in nearby Kannapolis. It will be good to see him again and talk about our journeys.

Happy as this time will be, it’s a stretch to say all is well within our network. Rumor has that three of the missions may soon be shutting down. The AMiA takes a Wild West approach to missions, each minister/evangelist sent into the by-ways as a lone prospector with a little grant money and not much else. Liturgical worship and hierarchical structure are hard sells in a culture hip to minimalism – and some of the AMiA missions have conformed to the culture. And frankly, this will be the first time we have laid eyes on Bishop Glenn, who is stretched thin.

But we’ve struck a nice balance at St. Jude’s. We have a pastor who wears the collar and a down vest when the heat isn’t working. It remains a place where old guys in neckties and young hipsters in jeans mingle seamlessly. And we’re glad to finally make a public, commemorative stand with our brethren.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Taking His Name in Vain

It is habitual in my workplace to hear the name of “Jesus” shouted in anger. Two hands aren’t sufficient to count the number of times this occurs on a daily basis. I can assure you that those who say it aren’t calling for his help. It has become standard of postmodern, post-Christian vernacular.

The great irony here is that I work in an environment that is extremely politically correct, culture-sensitive, and “diverse” (whatever that means). I’m fairly certain that if I went about yelling “&%@#! Muhammed” or “&^*#@! Buddha” or “&$#@%! atheists!” I would be canned – or carted off for psychological evaluation before being canned.

Let me insert that I would never want the government to outlaw the public screaming of Jesus’ name in anger. The Lord does not need the state to protect Him or His followers. Over the centuries His followers have been corrupted by state power and privilege. However, I do believe in common decency and decorum; so I find the naked hypocrisy of my office, as in other public places in America, pitifully embarrassing.

That said, I think I better understand the “filling up of sufferings” that Paul wrote about. To this day, Jesus continues to “turn the other cheek” to those that mock him and take his name in vain. His followers have to bear along with this.

Paul also said that at the name of Jesus, “every knee shall bow…and every tongue confess that [He] is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”

That day hasn’t yet come. When it does, it will be to the “shock and awe” of every human being, each of whom will give account for every idle word.