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Old Testament scholar Walter Brueggemann says there are three different types of psalms in the Bible: Psalms of Orientation, Psalms of Disorientation, and Psalms of Reorientation. The Psalms of Disorientation give words to those periods in our lives when everything comes crashing down around us. While we would all like to avoid these painful times, reality tells us that life is full of these moments. Why is that the case? The first thing we must acknowledge is that life, often times, brings pain and suffering our way because of our own rebellion and sin. Psalm 51 is a psalm that shows us the correlation between pain and sin. Tradition tells us that David wrote this psalm after being confronted by the prophet Nathan for committing adultery with Bathsheba and murdering her husband, Uriah. In this psalm, we are forced to confront the darkness in our own hearts, while simultaneously being reminded of the Gospel that Jesus brought to this world.
One of the primary and reoccurring images we see throughout the New Testament when describing the Church—or the people of God—is the image of a human body. This metaphor is an important one because it builds upon the fundamental belief in Jesus coming “in the flesh” in the Incarnation. It is also important because the body is a picture of what unity in diversity looks like. The body, as the Apostle Paul says, is made up of different parts, but is also one. This is the case for the Church, as well. In Romans 12, Paul shows how we are collectively called to reflect the image of our triune God (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit in loving community) through the way we relate to one another. Paul says we are to each fulfill our unique role and realize that we each belong to the body.
Harris Creek is a church that has a lot of potential and seems to be on the verge of making some courageous decisions. For many reasons, Acts 20:28 is an important Scripture passage for the church as we discern where God is calling us to go. First, it contains a charge for anyone serving in leadership to stay spiritually, emotionally, and physically healthy. Ministry requires “fuel,” so we need to be careful to not run out of gas. Second, this verse says to respect your leaders. Finally, it gives the encouragement to be a strong church in an “anti-church” world. This means something different to each person in the congregation. It may mean you need to stop “dating” the church or serve as a bridge to the future. It requires everyone to respect, love, and learn from each other. The challenges before Harris Creek are big, but God intends for us to sail in the deep waters and to trust in His ability to help us navigate whatever may be ahead.
America is the birthplace of true democracy, and we hold to it as one of our highest ideals. Since the 1960s and the cultural revolution of the period, most Americans demonstrate a high distrust of any type of authority figure. It’s safe to say that most Americans are skeptical of authority and the role it plays in our lives. However, when we read Scripture, we encounter a different tone when it comes to the role of authority. Authority is not to be seen as a necessary evil; authority is God’s provision to us as human beings so we can enjoy maximum freedom and so we can flourish. That’s one reason why God has built authority and leadership structures into the Church: so His people and His mission can flourish. As we see in Acts 6, the Church functioned within authority structures from the very beginning. As New Testament scholar Ben Witherington says, “[The Church] was never, and was never intended to be, a leaderless meeting or movement of the like- minded.”
Harris Creek’s mission statement is seeking the welfare of the city. Derived from Jeremiah 29:7, this mission statement is built on the understanding that followers of Christ are called to “produce fruit” and live on mission with God. After all, Jesus clearly says in John 15:16 to His disciples, “You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit—fruit that will last.” While we are called to bear the fruits of discipleship, Scripture is also clear that we cannot manufacture such fruit on our own. So how do we produce the necessary fruit that Jesus has commanded us to produce? Acts 2:42-47 clearly spells out what the life of discipleship looks like and how we can live on mission. Luke, the author of Acts, tells us the key to producing fruit is living in biblical community with one another.
When people think about “missions” within Christianity, many people think of crossing a border or door-to-door evangelism in your own community. In many ways, what comes to mind when we think of “doing missions” is more of a transaction than a relationship. While this transactional approach to missions has been a standard for the last hundred-plus years, this has not always been the case within the Christian tradition. In fact, when the Apostle Paul wrote the Christians at Thessalonica in a letter we call 1 Thessalonians, we see that early Christians approached sharing the Good News in a much different fashion. Paul says the Christians at Thessalonica were missionaries by the way they put down deep roots and lived a transformed life within their native community. In a mobile culture like ours today, the opportunity exists for the Church to live counter-culturally by putting down deep roots and living a transformed life where God has planted us for the sake of sharing the Gospel with the entire world.
One of the pioneers in psychology in America, William James, was someone who specialized in studying human behavior surrounding religious experiences. When describing human nature and the state of our soul, James says everyone is born with a “divided self.” In short, he says we as humanity are naturally at war with our “self,” or soul, and are all looking for a “unifying experience.” The way William James describes the state of humanity from a secular point of view sounds a lot like Cain’s description of his state of being in Genesis 4:14. Cain describes himself as a “restless wanderer,” implying he is not at peace within his soul. As odd as it may sound, Genesis 4 is saying one form of exile we experience in this life is being exiled from our true self. During Advent, we remind ourselves that Jesus came into the world to save us from ourselves. Specific instances like the story of the Gerasene demoniac in Luke 8:26-37 show us how Jesus redeems us by bringing wholeness to our divided self.
In Genesis 4, Cain describes the results of his sin and rebellion against God. One way he says his life has changed is that he is now “banned from the soil.” Cain is expressing the fact that he is alienated from creation (or the earth). More importantly, because Cain was a farmer, he is also exiled from his vocation in being banned from the soil. While this may not seem to be as devastating as some of the other components of Cain’s punishment, this exile actually strikes Cain (and all of Adam and Eve’s children) to the core. Genesis 2:15 says we were created with the intention of having meaningful work to do. After sin became part of the equation, humanity began to experience “labor” pains. In Luke 5, we see that one reason Jesus came into the world was to redeem us from the pains of exile and restore our sense of vocation. Christ wants us to experience the dignity of taking part in meaningful work by using our gifts to advance His Kingdom.
For centuries, Christians have called this time of year “Advent.” In America today, Christians and non-Christians alike frequently refer to this commercialized time of year as “Christmas.” While there are some similarities between Christmas and Advent, there are also major differences between the two. The primary difference between Christmas and Advent is that Christmas wants us to rush around and maintain a surface superficiality; where as Advent forces us to slow down, take stock, and face the reality of life. The Apostle Paul in Romans 8 and a man named Simeon in Luke 2 accurately describe what the season of Advent is about. In doing so, they reference the larger story of Scripture, particularly calling to mind the account of Cain and Abel from Genesis 4. In this passage, we see that each one of us is born into exile and lives in a land “east of Eden,” like Cain. During Advent, we embrace this reality while also maintaining hope for our liberation that the coming Christ brought to this world.
We are coming off of a holiday that challenges us to pause, reflect, and be thankful for the many blessings in our lives. We are entering into the season of Advent, which ushers in the incarnation, God’s physical presence with us. In the person of Christ we have a witness of who God truly is. In 1 Samuel 7:12, the prophet Samuel sets up a large stone called an Ebenezer, meaning “stone of help”. Samuel does so because he and the Israelite people are thankful for God’s assistance in their lives, specifically their victorious battle against the Philistines. However, Samuel also places this stone so that future generations would be reminded of what God had done. In our lives it is important to pause and reflect on the way God has been present with us. It is also important that we bear witness to what God has done in our lives.