Sunday, September 02, 2018

Nothing can stop You

God has not given us a Spirit of timidity or fear, but of power and love and sound judgment.[1] That’s really great news, but it’s a lot better than we might
tend to think. It’s not just any old spirit of power and love and sound judgment God has given us. It’s not like a pretty flower arrangement, to brighten our day. The Spirit God has given us is His Own Holy Spirit! It’s the Spirit of the Living God that is at work in you – if you have united your life to the life of Yeshua the Messiah through faith – both to will and to act according to His good pleasure.[2] It’s not a spark, like the sparks inside the engine of that little Nissan pickup I used to drive. You don’t have a “divine spark” in you. You’ve got a nuclear bomb in a paper bag. When you get a hold of this, you see it’s not a little something to encourage you, to jump-start your day. When you see this for what it is, you realize your job is to rein this bad dog in. Like Richard the New Yorker transplanted to Seattle: “I put out 75% less energy and people still back away,” he told me. Power wants to roar out of you[3] like a mighty river. You better be careful, or you’ll be healing everyone you touch! You’re gonna be like Moses, when he came down from Mount Sinai, after meeting there with God face to face. His face was so radiant he had to cover it, because everyone was afraid to look at him.[4] Though even that doesn’t really compare, because even Moses wasn’t united to Christ, the way you are, if you’re a Christian. You and God are United![5] Nothing can stop You.[6]

[1] 2 Timothy 1:7
[2] Philippians 2:13
[3] Luke 8:46
[4] Exodus 34:29-35
[5] John 17:21-23
[6] Isaiah 14:27

Monday, April 09, 2018

"Come and have breakfast."

Joy Tabernacle
2501 N. Chevrolet Ave.
Flint, Michigan  48504
Sunday School
April 8, 2018

Appearance of the Risen Lord
Lesson: John 21:1-14

This morning in Sunday School we didn’t get to talk about my favorite part of our text!

We talked about Jesus’ tender, playful reintroduction of Himself after His resurrection to His disciples and especially to Peter, who after all his boasting about how he was ready to die alongside the One he himself had recognized first as the anointed Son of the living God, had completely failed the test! Despondent, probably wondering whether the mess he’d made could ever be cleaned up, Peter decided to go fishing (v. 3).

Whether it’s fishing, or biking, or walking, or working with your hands, or going off by yourself to pray, the way Jesus did, we agreed it’s good strategy to have a way to process things when difficulties come and problems need to be worked out.

In a gesture of loving solidarity, knowing however badly they felt, Peter must have felt much worse, his friends went fishing with him.

Jesus wanted to lovingly reinstate Peter and relaunch the ministry that was now destined to become greater than any of them could have imagined. Because He did not have Facebook, Jesus could not post a message saying, “You and Jesus have been friends on Facebook for three years,” with a video of their first encounter in Luke 5, back when He first told them they were going to be “fishers of men.” So He had to reenact the whole affair!

“You guys got any fish,” Jesus asks (v.5), playfully reminding them of just how much they were capable of apart from Him (John 15:5), much as He did with you and me when He first called us: “Say, Jord,” He queried, “how’s that ‘doing things on your own’ thing working out for you? You getting a lot of mileage out of ‘taking control of your own life,’ are you?”

Out of control as usual, Peter dives overboard as soon as he realizes it’s Jesus (v. 7). We agreed if Peter had been from Flint he would have been dead or in prison long before this. And yet, Jesus turned him into one of the great leaders of the church! Jesus’ message in this to you and me is, “Jord, you may be crazy, but I worked with Peter, and you ain’t as crazy as Peter! I can work with you, too.”

And then the big finish, those tender words spoken by your Friend and Savior, Who from the very beginning of time has enjoyed nothing more than spending time with the likes of you and me (Proverbs 8:30-31). This is what it’s going to be like in Glory: you’ll wake up, to the smell of bacon and coffee, in your new body. All the men will be built like LeBron James, but those who are first will be last, so LeBron himself will have to get a job delivering mail, because those of us who don’t start for the Pistons will start for the Cavaliers. We’ll lightly spring up to get the blood circulating and gently brush the ceiling of the mansion Jesus has prepared for us (John 14:2-3) with the tops of our heads. 

Down in the kitchen, Godfrey will ask, “Jesus, will You give me a hand with these eggs?”

“Bro, I only do fish and bread.” Then He’ll go to the bottom of the stairs and holler up, “Hey, Aaron, just because it’s Heaven don’t mean you can sleep all day! Come and have breakfast!” (v. 12)

Monday, February 19, 2018

Reflections on Presidents Day

     It’s impossible for me to generate much enthusiasm for our presidents this year, having learned from writers like Ta-Nehisi Coates (Between the World and Me) and Randall Robinson (The Debt) how many of them have contributed to the plundering of African Americans (a story I’m embarrassed to have not learned long ago), but when it comes to certain groups being excluded from the full protections and benefits of citizenship it seems to me the really colossal failure lies with the church. Unbelievers are only being true to their creed when they win at all costs, when they step on other people to get to the top. They don’t expect Anyone to provide for them. For them, it’s every person for themselves. The church claims to be different, but where is the evidence? Western Christians simply amass wealth against the uncertainties of the future, living a life of fear, just like everyone else. The first thing we ought to do is take some of that wealth and buy groceries, and begin having dinner with the downtrodden and the marginalized. I don’t mean serving them dinner! That only maintains the clear delineation between the haves and the have-nots, makes the haves feel better and deepens the resignation of the have-nots. I mean sitting down with them, looking them in the eye and listening to their stories. When I have dinner with you and learn your name and the names of your children and what they’re studying in school, your welfare ceases to be a matter of indifference to me. I become aware of what has been true all along: you cannot suffer without me also suffering; you cannot benefit without me also benefiting. My well-being is integrally connected to yours. What marginalized people need is not money or food, it’s exactly the same thing all of us need to confront the exigencies of life: the personal resources – like courage, support and opportunity – that come from friendships with people who are integrated into the community. This is the work of the church!*
     I worked 3rd shift last Saturday at Carriage Town Ministries, an emergency shelter, so I was there when the men got up. At breakfast a resident said the 2nd-best thing anyone’s ever said to me:** “I love me again,” he proclaimed. “You guys have shown me the light.” I exalted. That’s the goal: to show people their reflection in light of God’s word, their reflection as the image and the beloved of God. “Therefore, as God’s chosen people (You’re chosen if you’ll just hearken unto the Shepherd’s voice (John 10:3)), holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.” (Colossians 3:12).

      *This is what Serve the City has been doing in Lisbon, Portugal, and other European cities, since 2010. The City of Lisbon said years ago that it changed the way they deal with homeless people. (Video)

     **The best thing anyone’s ever said to me wasn’t actually said to me, it was said to my son-in-law when I happened to be over at his house: My daughter was modelling for him a new blouse she had bought for herself, wanting his opinion. “Did you show your father? What does he think?” he asked.
     “He’s my daddy,” she explained, in a tone indicating there was no sense asking. “He thinks I’m beautiful."

Sunday, February 18, 2018


     Last September I moved from South House to a house that belongs to my church, Joy Tabernacle, and is located two doors north of the church building. I share the house with four other men from the church and I rent a small – 10 feet x 11 feet – room. Like a good German, I’ve engineered the space for efficiency. There’s a loft bed; I think of it as an upstairs bedroom. Beneath the bed there’s a library, consisting of desk, chair, file cabinet and book shelves. The library is separated from the kitchen by a curtain my mother made me. Another curtain separates the kitchen from the dressing room/closet. Beneath the window sits a tiny round glass table and a chair. Here I take my meals.  
Outside the window chickadees light on the neighbor’s bushes as if to cheer, amuse and keep me company. Dozens of them. The other morning, sitting down to coffee, I was disappointed to find them missing, but within seconds the miniature maelstrom fluttered in, as if delayed by air traffic. They seem to respond to my movements. This afternoon I went over to the window to see if they were there. At first, it appeared they were not, but then they slowly emerged, blinking, from the bushes’ leafless interior. Oddly, they all faced forward, like a legion of tiny soldiers presenting arms, in little grey helmets with black visors and filigree chain mail bibs. I counted twenty-seven. We stood facing each other, rather than giving each other the side-eye, as we usually do, though presumably this meant they weren’t looking at me at all. They reminded me of my students, who sometimes appear attentive though their minds are far away. Other times, they appear distracted while gauging every move. Why attend to chickadees? “Nothing touches your life but it is the LORD God Himself speaking to you,” claims Oswald Chambers. “Upon the head of the righteous [Christ is our righteousness], blessings rain down,” says Solomon. Chickadees are a blessing.
     People ask me why I’m in Flint. The answer, first of all, is to be within chore-distance of my parents, who live 60 minutes away in Midland. Secondly, according to scripture, there’s much to be learned from the downtrodden (for example, Proverbs 28:11, Luke 6:20-21) and much to be gained in their service (Proverbs 19:17).
     People ask me how my parents are doing. They’re 82 and have been married 62 years. Last week, rather than enjoying our standing Tuesday dinner date at their place, we went to their church, St. John’s Episcopal in Midland, for their pancake supper. Afterwards, on our way back to their home, we all agreed the pancakes had been very tasty. “Yes,” opined my mother, “but all that frying makes your clothes smell.”
     “Well I would say to you,” returned my father, who moves with the speed of an energetic snail, “as soon as you walk in the house, throw off all your clothes.”