Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Joshua 5.1-6.5, Acts 10.1-17 – Lectionary for 6/30/10

Today's readings are Joshua 5.1-6.5 and Acts 10.1-17.

In our reading from Joshua today we have the famous passage where Joshua meets the "commander of the army of the LORD" (Joshua 5.14, ESV). We might expect to see the heavenly commander of God's army make some sort of command, like, "Surround the city" or "draw up your troops over there." On the contrary, this divine commander orders Joshua to take off his shoes. He is on holy ground. His job is to recognize the holiness of the presence of God.

I would propose that in this New Covenant age we are commanded the very same thing. We don't show it by the cultural motion of removing our shoes. But we are called to be a people who recognize the holiness of God. The Christian life isn't about living according to a moral code. It isn't about being busy about Bible study. It isn't about having a great worship band, or, for that matter, a wonderful pipe organ. It isn't about community service. It isn't about any of the things we are told to be busy with. The Christian life is a life of repentance, realizing that our sin drove Jesus, the Son of God, to give himself into death on our behalf. The Christian life is a life of hope, realizing that the resurrection applies to us now and gives us a living hope of our resurrection in the future. The Christian life is a life of deep recognition of the holy power of our Lord. It isn't about what we do. It's about whom we believe.

May the Lord guide our eyes today to look upon him in his holiness.

Dave Spotts
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Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Joshua 4.1-24, Acts 9.23-43 – Lectionary for 6/29/10

Today's readings are Joshua 4.1-24 and Acts 9.23-43.

When God brought the children of Israel across the Jordan He had them set up a monument, one stone for each tribe of Israel, gathered from the middle of the Jordan, set up as a monument where the priests stopped as the people crossed the river. Our Lord uses memorials as ways to teach subsequent generations what happened in the lives of their ancestors.

Unfortunately recent generations in the West have taken on a view that an "enlightened" person will simply let his children decide what to value, what to believe. This has contributed to the fact that in Europe museums have to put up signs explaining the basic Christian symbolism in historic artwork. I remember several times teaching a vocabulary class at a local college and having to go to great lengths to explain how the "cross" and "crucial" were related. We have raised up a generation of people who don't know what that monument their ancestors understood could possibly be for. Nobody has ever pointed it out to them.

Joshua 4.21 assumes that the monuments will be kept before the children. May we also point to the important symbols of God's deliverance of His people through the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ. May the Nativity scene be something other than a cute and touching family gathering. May the solemn celebration of Lent be more than just a time when some people choose to give up a few of their pleasures to show they can. May we recapture the "good" in Good Friday. May we see that Easter is the time of resurrection, not merely the chance to eat chocolate for breakfast and dress little girls up in fancy dresses. May we walk through the Christian year seeing it as a constant reminder of how our Lord has revealed Himself.

Does this mean we have to do some homework? Does it mean we would do well to look around a traditional church building and look up or ask what some of the symbols mean? That can only enrich our worship and nurture our chldren in the faith. There's nothing bad about that.

Dave Spotts
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Monday, June 28, 2010

Joshua 3.1-17, Acts 9.1-22 – Lectionary for 6/28/10

Today's readings are Joshua 3.1-17 and Acts 9.1-22.

As the people of Israel prepare to enter the promised land, across the Jordan River near Jericho, their marching orders are very important. They are not to go ahead or even very near to the ark of God. Rather, they are to follow it, and follow it by a substantial distance, about two-thirds of a mile. Joshua gives a reason,: "Do not come near it, in order that you may know the way you shall go, for you have not passed this way before" (Joshua 3.5, ESV).

Let's reflect on that a little. Like Israel, we do not know the way we will go, what we will do, how we ought to face the struggles before us in our day. Like Israel, we see that our God is going before us. There is no challenge we will face that Jesus has not already faced. There is no temptation to sin that our Lord has not triumphed over. There is no discouragement our Lord has not felt. There is no physical suffering that our Lord does not know. There is nothing we will face that Jesus has not already faced. And we see throughout the New Testament that he did it voluntarily and for us. We see the passing of the ark through the water, a symbol of death and burial. We see that the ark and the people of Israel pass through the Jordan river between walls of water. Death and burial do not touch those who believe. Likewise we can look to Jesus and see that he has faced death and the grave, rising triumphantly, just as the ark reached the other side of the Jordan and went up the bank. The people of Israel pass through death and rise victorious. We too will rise victorious. Death no longer has dominion over us. Finally, we notice that God is promising the Israelites entrance into a place of rest. Our Lord also promises those who believe in the finished work of Christ a place of rest, the presence of the Lord in heaven.

Let us rejoice and be glad! Let us look to our Lord who has gone before us. Let us long for that protection he has provided. Let us trust that he actually does know the way. He leads us. He has accomplished everything necessary for our life. We need only look to him, following him along the path he has cleared for us.

Dave Spotts
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Sunday, June 27, 2010

Joshua 2.1-24, Acts 8.26-40 - Lectionary for 6/27/10

Today's readings are Joshua 2.1-24 and Acts 8.26-40.

When the Israelites are invading the promised land through the area of Jericho, Rahab summarizes the situation quite well. She tells the spies that everyone knows of the presence of the Israelites. Everyone fears them. Everyone knows God is going to bring Israel into the land. She fears for her well-being, even her life, in the conflict to come.

What do the spies tell her? They have received help from her. They in turn will guard her, protecting not only her life but also the life of the people of her household. All will be safe as long as they act in good faith, not departing from her home during the time of the invasion.

This plan is consistent with what Israel did throughout history. People are always invited to join with the people of Israel, to become part of their nation, to seek shelter and protection within their boundaries, to be adopted into the people of God. Yet those people never find protection on their own terms. God adopts us into His kingdom on His terms.

It seems when we are told we need to accept someone else's terms for our own good we rebel. We don't like to be told what to do. We don't like following directions. Yet that is the way our Lord works. He has provided life and salvation. He has done it through Jesus' life, death, and resurrection on our behalf. He does not allow us a way to work to our salvation. He doesn't allow us to make up the terms. He has given the terms and done all that is required. If we don't like it, we, like the residents of Jericho, will ultimately get to deal with the consequences.

May the Lord draw us to himself on the terms he has provided, working in us the salvation that he has promised.

Dave Spotts
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Saturday, June 26, 2010

Natural Hair Color

I was looking for something in a natural food store about a week ago.  While wandering around a little, I saw "Natural Hair Color."  So is this dye to make your hair its natural color?  Why would you want to do that?  Would it have any effect at all?  Is it dye made of natural products?  Come to think of it, what are unnatural products?  I'm trying to think of compounds that don't or can't appear in nature when different components are mixed.  I can't think of any that wouldn't be highly unstable, such as an atomic bomb.  Anyone?  Justin, can you help?

Dave Spotts
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Sermon Outline for Galatians 5.1, 13-25

First a confession and some quick blame-casting on this post.  As you could read from a post earlier today, it was a very busy and eventful week at the AALC Convention.  I had worked out everything carefully.  There was a time slot I had seen I would have a few hours to write a sermon out in detail.  About the start of that time slot, I was suddenly invited to a meeting by someone whose invitation bears the weight of command (Yes, Frank, I know what it means when the commander invites someone to go somewhere.).  As a result, I have a sermon outline, not the entire text of a sermon.  Were I preaching somewhere this Sunday, it would still be from notes, not a complete text.

We look together at Galatians 5.1, 13-25.
We have been set free - - 
(sing) "I was sinking deep in sin" - - Whee!!
(sing) "My sin, oh the bliss, of this glorious thought..." 
  Wait a minute!  We are not set free from good works.  We are set free from the works (of the flesh).
  We are set free to something as well, free to bear the fruit (of the Spirit).

Notice the juxtaposition there?  And yes, I love that word "juxtaposition" which is just the right word.  It means "setting two things opposed to each other so you can see how different they are.  Justaposition.  Good word to use.  Looking at the things next to each other to observe the differences.

Notice the juxtaposition?  We have "doing works" opposed to "bearing fruit."  

When we strive to DO, what seems to happen?  Look at those works of the flesh.  See how when we try to do what is right we seem to end up blundering into what is wrong?  Sometimes we don't blunder, either, sometimes we head into it full speed ahead, knowing what's going to happen.  

(Look at some of the works of the flesh and see how we enter into them.)

But let's remember something from Galatians 2.20 (read).  I've been crucified with Christ.  I'm dead.  In Christ my flesh doesn't do the work any more.  I have a different nature than I did before.  What's that nature like?

(Read the fruit of the Spirit.)
On the contrary, like a fruit tree, we who are in Christ simply live that life, nourished by our Savior, bringing forth fruit, allowing people to pick that fruit.

Think about the fruit again.

See how the fruit is expressed in day to day living? 

Let me ask a specific question.  Does the tree bring forth fruit on purpose?  Does it get up in the morning and say, "I'm going to have apples today"?  Not at all.  It is unaware of what it is doing.  It cannot do it on purpose.  No, it is in the nature of the fruit tree to bring forth its fruit.  Likewise, it is in the nature of the Christian to bring forth the fruit of the Spirit.  

What's that fruit of the Spirit good for?  It might be good for me on one level, but in the most important ways, it is good for my neighbor.  Let's get this straight.  Look at the specific fruit of the Spirit.  How does it help my neighbor?  Isn't it good for my neighbor?  Sure is.  This is how I love my neighbor.

Let me ask another question.  What of the fruit of the Spirit is illegal somewhere in the world?  None of it.  Are there laws against being loving?  Any laws against joy?  How about against peace?  No, never.  What country will deny you access because you are gentle?  Is anyone going to convict you because you had self-control?  What if you do good things for people?  Any complaints?  Who is going to give you a hard time because you are patient when you are in a difficult situation?   Nobody. 

When we live as Christians, the Lord produces this fruit in our lives.  It's for our neighbors.  It points our neighbors to Christ, as it is fruit of the Spirit, and the Holy Spirit always points people to Jesus.  This is life-changing fruit.  And the good news is that we can't make it grow.  We just let it grow.

May the Lord fill us with His fruit.  May He nourish our neighbors through it.  May He work His good pleasure, bringing glory to His name, as he uses us to love and serve our neighbors.

Dave Spotts
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Rostered . . . what?

On Monday, June 21, I had an interview with the Clergy Commission of the American Association of Lutheran Churches.  My goal in meeting with these six gentlemen was to let them rummage around in my life and find out if I was someone they would like to have serving a church within the denomination.  The interview was preceded in late April by an extensive questionnaire, a copy of a sermon I had written, and several reference letters.  It was quite a process, preparing the information and thinking through some of the issues of doctrine and practice that showed up on the questionnaire.

After about an hour and a half of fielding interview questions, including a few sweaty-palm and white-knuckle moments, we prayed and they sent me away.

Apparently the interview went well.  The commission, which eliminates many applicants with their application forms and then rejects about a third of those who come before them, accepted me.  So now I'm called a "Rostered Licensed Lay Pastor."  What does that mean?  In its essence it means that I'm approved to minister in Word and Sacraments in an AALC congregation, under supervision of another area pastor, while continuing to take course work within the AALC seminary.  They have an extension program in which I'll be taking close to thirty classes within the next seven years.

I learned of the commission's decision to accept me on Tuesday the 22nd.  On Wednesday the 23rd, the head of the denomination approached me to talk with me about working in parish ministry at a location I can't yet disclose.  The discussion is too preliminary as yet, but it seems fairly positive.  A few minutes after this discussion I was asked by the head of the seminary to come on staff teaching Greek.  On Thursday the 24th I was introduced to many people publicly as someone who is allegedly an expert in Greek and Latin (time to crack those grammars open again).  On Friday the 25th, we took a detour through the town where I may be serving as a pastor.  It looks like an interesting place to live and work.  So that brings me to today, a day dedicated to catching up on email, letting my head stop spinning, and seeing what kind of work I can get done around the house.

It looks like we are headed for some serious life transitions here.  We covet prayers, particularly that we may hold steadfastly to God's Word and trust that our Lord will work in and through our family according to His good pleasure.  I'll try to keep posting updates.  There have been many sudden changes after a time of waiting, seemingly static.  We never know what will happen or when it might happen.

Dave Spotts
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Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Art Center School of Dance 39th Performance

I had the opportunity to go to a ballet recital on Saturday evening.  Unlike the stereotype, the Art Center (Huntington, WV) puts on an incredible show each year.  Classes of young children are integrated into a ballet with a cohesive structure.  This year they had a humorous version of Jack and the Beanstalk.  Older dancers played the primary characters, including the various riches the giant had.  The theatre crew at Marshall University, which hosted the event, showed themselves to be thoroughly professional, as always.

After an intermission, a couple of tap dance numbers, and another intermission, students performed Stravinski's Firebird with the original choreography, used when the ballet premiered 100 years ago, though slightly modified in places.  Again, costuming and production values were extraordinary.

One of the striking characteristics of Ella Hay's work at the Art Center is that everyone can dance.  I've said that to people before and received responses that indicate that, yes, everyone can dance, but the vast majority of them shouldn't do so and will be hideous on stage.  As I was watching the performance, I would affirm quite the opposite.  Several of the ballerinas are significantly over five and a half feet tall.  Quite a few of them are not people you'd call "willowy."  As with the general public, most of these students will never be professionals in the field of ballet.  But every one of them knows how to look beautiful.  Every one of them has poise.  Every one of them is strong, nimble, and well balanced.  Every one of them has exposure to movement, fine music, and the act of contributing to a larger production.  This is absolutely not wasted!

For several years I participated in classes at the Art Center.  I gave it up because of problems with my knees.  But seeing this show makes me wonder if I can take up a little dance again.  Maybe so.  Maybe not.  But it was a good show.

Go dancing, everyone.

Dave Spotts
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