Monday, August 3, 2015

Church For WE

Love is no simple task. We cannot manufacture or mechanize love. True love finds its source in Jesus Christ. So the Apostle Paul prays for the Thessalonian church that Jesus would extend and multiply the church's love for one another and all people, just as they learned love from him, Timothy, and Silvanus (1 Thessalonians 3:11-13). This serves as a model prayer for the church of WE, set on seeing its love expand, include, and reciprocate. Love, Jesus taught, must be the uncontested ethic of the church (John 13:35). Fortunately, at Leesburg Grace there is evidence that We love a lot... and a little bit more.

God Gets Flesh - John 1:1-18 sermon

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Blisters and other Flinch Reflections - Part 1 of 4

I had blisters on my heels and the balls of my feet. I'd traversed five miles of pavement in the Big Apple with no socks or sense of direction. I was alone on a balmy day taking a risk for Jesus.

This was the third day of the Flinch Conference for the Fellowship of Grace Brethren Churches. Our leaders had heavily promoted the Saturday excursions (called Riskursions) to New York City. Initially, I had balked at the idea of going to the metropolis. A nap in my air conditioned hotel room sounded rejuvenating. However, because the theme of conference was risk, I boarded the Staten Island Ferry and immigrated from Newark.

The plan was travel with twenty-five other people to Bowery Mission. We agreed to lead chapel and serve food. I was slated to speak at the Mission, discussing the fear of loss and the relentless love of Jesus. But our plans fell through. The Mission double-booked, so our team dispersed. Most of our members divided into family groups or couples. I had come by myself. And after playing the third (and fifth) wheel enough in recent days (and nothing makes me feel lonelier), I ventured out alone.

Lower Manhattan became my refuge. I watched old men playing chess, protesters protesting, homeless people sleeping, cultists chanting, and tourist taking selfies. I posed for my own shot at the Empire State Building, shopped for souvenirs, and ate a Shakburger in Bryant Park.

During my hike many thoughts circled through  my mind. I considered the scale of the city and its diversity of smells, socio-economic levels, and cultural offerings. I noticed the incessant blare of horns and sirens. I pondered the graffiti and garbage in the streets. I looked for landmarks and celebrities. I lamented the blisters on my feet.

And, of course, I thought of risk and the relentless love of Jesus. God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son. (John 3:16). I can think of no greater risk than the story of Jesus, who came and bled and died.

My blisters are but a flesh wound. By His wounds we are healed.

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Church for ME

If we're honest, the "what's in it for ME?" mindset pervades the church. Does the music fit MY style? Does the preaching satisfy MY needs? Are the people like ME and will they take care of My kids?

Our culture doesn't help the Me-mentality: we sell selfie sticks and customized ads on Googles. It's all about me. Me. ME.

So if you're going to be a bit self-interested anyway, what's the best thing you can look for in a church? Truth-telling (program-selling).

Fortunately, we tell the truth at Leesburg Grace. And you'll find the best church for ME (or You or Grandma Shirley) is the kind that tells the truth and holds you to it. That's hard work. Hear about it.

God Gets Flesh - John 1:1-18 sermon

Monday, July 13, 2015

Who's Afraid of God?

It was neither exile nor the threat of loss that caused the elderly John to fall on his face as if dead (Revelation 1:17). Rather, a face-to-face encounter with the risen Jesus siezed John with terror. All other fears melt at the fear of God, whose holy justice and holy love are enough to stop our hearts or keep them beating at His word. Fortunately, God does not wield His power flippantly, but He exercises awesome, loving, and gracious authority over His church. This sermon calls us to bow before the risen Jesus, elevating our awe of Him to eradicate all lesser fears.

God Gets Flesh - John 1:1-18 sermon

Monday, July 6, 2015

Who's Afraid of Loss?

Loss meets us at every tage of loss. We lose teeth and hair, time and money, games and battles, energy and sleep, loved ones and, finally, life. As losses compile, they do not become easier to accept. King David began his life on a violent winning streak. Sadly, the final years of reign were marked with grave losses. His story teaches us about counting armies, confession, and God's character. Most importantly, he teaches us to hold our assets loosely to soften the fear of loss.

God Gets Flesh - John 1:1-18 sermon

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Giving My Son a Voice - An Adoption Reflection

I have a son whom I've never met. He lives on the other side of the globe. My wife and I have pieces of his life, patched together through doctor's reports, photos, and video snippets.

He weighs forty-six pounds, stands forty-five inches tall, and goes to the bathroom on his own. He follows rules, plays with others, kicks a ball, and completes puzzles. He waits in line, feeds himself, and takes his medication.

Our son does not speak English. Nor does he speak his native tongue. Our son does not speak much at all. His lost voice grieves me. I didn't know the extent of my sorrow until a recent breakdown in front of my biological daughters. It was bedtime, and I was reading them a story.

E.B. White's classic, The Trumpet of the Swan, tells the tale of a Trumpeter Swan named Louis who was born without a voice. His loquacious father, the cob, tries to assure his "dumb" son:
"Remember that the world is full of youngsters who have some sort of handicap that they must overcome. You apparently have a speech defect. I am sure you will overcome it in time. There may even be some slight advantage, at your age, in not being able to say anything. It compels you to be a good listener... The world is full of talkers, but it is rare to find anyone who listens...

Some people go through life chattering and making a lot of noise with their mouth; they never really listen to anything--they are too busy expressing their opinions, which are often unsound or based on bad information. Therefore, my son, be of good cheer! Enjoy life; learn to fly! Eat well; drink well! Use your ears; use your eyes! And I promise that someday I will make it possible for you to use your voice. There are mechanical devices that convert air into beautiful sounds. One such device is called a trumpet. I saw a trumpet once, in my travels. I think you may need a trumpet in order to live a full life. I've never known a Trumpeter Swan to need a trumpet, but your case is different. I intend to get you what you need. I don't know how I will manage this, but in the fullness of time it shall be accomplished."

My reading had stuttered and stalled, coming out in chokes and tears. Claire and Margot laughed at me; they live with a fullness that makes laughter come naturally.

My son whom I've never met, who lives on the other side of the globe, has not experienced such fullness--the kind that comes from having a family and a voice. He may be "frightened" and "scared" like Louis, the "dumb" swan, wondering "why he had come into the world without a voice." Perhaps, like Louis, he thinks "Fate is cruel to me."

Mostly, I hope my son finds the comfort Louis found when "he remembered that his father had promised to help..."

I want to help my son whom I've never met, who lives on the other side of the globe. I want to give him a voice.

See Sprankle Adoption information and financial need at Village to Village International.

Monday, June 8, 2015

Who's Afraid of Success?

The fear of failure likely affects more people than the fear of success. But the dark side of success has touched many. Those who have tasted success, or watch others experience it, have noted themes that emerge from Gideon's life. After gaining confidence from God of certain victory over the Midianites (Judges 6:11-7:23), Gideon gives chase to his enemies. In the following narrative (Judges 7:24-8:35), we find three reasons to fear success: it breeds critics, feeds conceit, and leads to change/corruption. While we cannot control our critics (and we better not be one), we can fight conceit and resist corruption, so that our work retains its virtue. For true success is leveraging our work for God's glory, not ours (Psalm 115:1).

God Gets Flesh - John 1:1-18 sermon