By Nikki Finkelstein-Blair
Over the past couple of months our family has been on a roller coaster. As a Navy family, we are relocated every three years; we move to a new city, a new job, a new church, a new life–and for two years we can simply Be There. But at that two-year mark, we have the opportunity to look at the available job openings and to make a request for our next duty station (and city, job, church…. and life). We recently hit that two-year mark of our time in San Antonio, so we excitedly scoured The List of jobs that will be coming available next summer, when it will be time for us to move again.
We painstakingly shaped a Top Six list, taking into consideration every possible aspect of the decision: the best career options for Scott, the best choices for our family, our dream jobs and dream locations. We submitted our list, and then waited.
And when the Navy finally came back to us to offer us—we knew—one of those six best-possible-options…. they offered us exactly NONE of them. And of the three choices they gave us, two of them were located in a place we have never wanted to live, and the third didn’t hold any particular interest or promise.
Our immediate reaction was anger. Questioning. A sense of waste for all the time we’d put into our requests. Our instinct was to argue, to complain, to make a whole new list and ask for new options.
But over the course of a few days, I believe God spoke. He spoke through a couple of internet blogs I occasionally read. He spoke through friends we consulted. He even (I believe this!) spoke through a fortune cookie. And this is the message I heard, again and again: “What if you say YES?”
What if you say YES; a big, loud yes? Not just a “Well, okay, if you say so” yes, not just an “I guess I don’t really have a choice” yes, not just a brooding submission of a yes… but a yes full of hope, a yes of anticipation, a yes that says “I’m all in!”
“Yes” doesn’t dispel fear. “Yes” doesn’t mean everything’s going to be easy or rosy. But when we say “yes” we’re affirming that our anxieties aren’t going to rule us. With “yes” we confess our trust in the God who can convert our greatest fears into powerful expressions of faith. With “yes” we proclaim that our frightened, human, instinctive “no ways” can be transformed by the One who is the Way, and that along that Way we, too, are willing to be transformed.
By Glen Schmucker
Someone once asked an elderly black minister what he tended to pray about most as his life grew closer to the end. The old gentleman thought for a moment and then said, “I pray for three things. I pray that my body won’t outlive my mind. I pray that I won’t outlive all of my mourners. And, I pray that I won’t drown in shallow waters.”
It’s those shallow waters that are the trickiest part and the only part of those three prayers in which we have some power to fix the outcome. The shallow waters to which I think he was referring were the choices we too often make to live petty lives, lives that are not given fully to what matters most or allow ourselves to be drug down paths to places that are of no account because they are not the road of our true calling.
Awakening this morning, I realized that one of the shallowest of all waters in which we can drown is the shallowness of unforgiveness. Part of our problem with not forgiving is that we are, too often, waiting for something to change in others so that we will find them more forgivable.
I’m reminded of the way Eugene Peterson once put it. “It has always been more difficult to come to terms with Jesus as the way than with Jesus as the truth, more difficult to realize the ways our thinking and behavior” must become “fused into a life of relational love and adoration with neighbor and God, God and neighbor.” Yet, “only when we do the Jesus truth in the Jesus way do we get the Jesus life (Eugene Peterson, “Transparent Lives,” Christian Century, November 29, 2003, pp. 21-22).”
The Jesus truth and the Jesus way involve extending forgiveness before it is sought or earned. If we wait for an apology from the person who has offended us in order to forgive them, then we are not living the Jesus truth much less walking in the Jesus way.
Most all of our problems in life have some form of unforgiveness in the mix. And, the reason problems remain impossibly unsolvable problems is because we tend to think of forgiveness as a place toward which we are headed instead of the place we are to begin. It is the very character of God, as revealed over and over in scripture, to forgive first and ask questions later, if ever.
Some years ago, dear friend George Mason spoke at a Christian Life Commission conference on capital punishment. This is what he said that helps get the order of things in the proper Jesus order.
God’s forgiveness of us is “not the result of human repentance and confession that might allow us to be right with God and with one another. It is the beginning . . . While we were yet sinners, Christ died for us, Paul says. Not, once we prove ourselves sorry enough for our sins and provide enough restitution to our victims,” will God then forgive us (George Mason, “Capital Punishment,” BGCT Christian Life Commission Seminar, Trinity Baptist Church, San Antonio, Texas, May 4, 2004).
Waiting atop the hill of piety and condescension until someone climbs to our presumed height of holiness, thereby proving themselves worthy of forgiveness in our estimation, is taking God’s place, or trying to. It is also coming at forgiveness from the wrong direction. Remember, before Jesus climbed Calvary’s mountain he first came down from heaven, to walk where we walk. Then, and only then, did Jesus climb the hill that would have proven impossible for us to summit.
God so loved the world that God forgave us before we were born into the world for which Christ died and, thereby, made God’s eternal forgiveness, past, present and future, possible. That’s not the question.
Repentance is nothing less than the choice to stop walking in shallow waters and to start walking on the higher ground of Jesus’ way.
The question is not the existence of God’s forgiveness for us and for the world, paid for before we even knew we needed it. The only question is whether, no matter how young or old we may be, we’re running the risk of drowning in the shallow waters of unforgiveness.
New International Version (NIV)
18 “Forget the former things;
do not dwell on the past.
19 See, I am doing a new thing!
Now it springs up; do you not perceive it?
I am making a way in the wilderness
and streams in the wasteland.
20 The wild animals honor me,
the jackals and the owls,
because I provide water in the wilderness
and streams in the wasteland,
to give drink to my people, my chosen,
that they may proclaim my praise
By: Bob Flynn
John the Baptizer and Jesus were about the same age. John was a bit older and began preaching first. “Repent for the Kingdom of God is at hand.”
Repent is an interesting word. In biology it means to creep or crawl. In religion it means to be contrite, to confess your sins and change your ways. It also means to change one’s mind. To re-think your past, your future, your goals. Some do that on birthdays, tax days, anniversaries, New Year’s day.
John called the people to demonstrate re-calculating their way by baptism. When Pharisees and Sadducees came to be baptized, John said, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee the wrath to come?” Who among us would say that was good preaching?
There were three major religious sects in Israel at the time: Pharisees preached a strict interpretation of the law and rigorous observance of the rites and ceremonies. Pharisee means separatist, and they were called “those loyal to God.” Biblical scholars who study the religious influences on Jesus believe he was most influenced by the Pharisees and was most critical of them. That shouldn’t surprise Baptists who are often more critical of other Baptists that of other Christians and nonChristians.
The Sadducees were the aristocrats of Judea, often priests and high priests, and involved in political matters. They presided over sacrifices, and maintained the temple and its centrality to Jewish worship. They collected taxes and mediated domestic disputes. They did not believe in an afterlife for individuals except through the preservation of the tribe.
John the Baptizer is believed to be most influenced by the Essenes who denounced riches and physical comforts, including marriage, baptized, devoted themselves to charity, and prohibited anger.
That prohibition didn’t stop John. He insulted the religious superiors who came to him to be baptized. Then he twisted the knife. Having Abraham as their father counted for nothing. God could turn stones into children of Abraham. He told them they had to re-think their religious tradition, to re-calculate what the law and the prophets said.
Some are too old for new ideas from young people. And young John introduced an idea that could subvert an ancient tradition. That was a personal insult to God-favored people. They reacted as expected. “You little crumb snatcher, who are you to tell us something new? Sonny boy, when you have studied the law as long as we have, crawl back and we may listen to your childish babble.” (K-Bob Translation)
None of the religious sects came to John’s aid when he was imprisoned for speaking truth to Herod. But young John’s courage to speak the truth, encouraged young Jesus to make his own shocking statement. He read from Isaiah 61, and said, “Today this Scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.” And those who believed in him had to recalculate their Scriptures, their traditions and their lives.
By: Garrett Vickrey
What could be worse than the smell of wet carpet? Wet carpet that still hasn’t dried three days later.
San Antonio was blessed (or blasted) by rain a few weeks ago. Around the church we had about ten inches of rain. David, Mylene, and Mike Elliot came up to the church Saturday to change out the sanctuary banners for Sunday morning. Thankfully, they came Saturday night and not Sunday morning. They came in through the administration building and found the floor to be sloshy. Before long we had a group assembled at the church to assess the situation. Ramiro was out of town this past weekend. So Debra Arredondo, Joe Manuel, and I met up at the church to try to make a plan. Joe started cleaning up and putting out fans. David Elliot began sucking up water with the carpet cleaner. I brought my brother-in-law with me, and he took a turn on the carpet cleaner too. Debra worked the phones to try to get carpet cleaners out to the church ASAP. Within 2 hours we had carpet cleaners in the building setting up fans and humidifiers.
We decided to go ahead with Sunday School the next morning. Thankfully, the sanctuary was dry so worship was not affected. But, we had Sunday School classes meeting in every nook and cranny of the church. Ellen and Lance ran around putting up signs and directing people to classes. Classes moved, classes combined. All in all, it was a pretty crazy morning.
We got through it and church happened. Church happened because Woodland is flooded with the Holy Spirit. I’m reminded of it constantly. I was reminded that Saturday night when I met Joe, Debra, David, Mylene, and Mike at church. And I was reminded the next day when a father and son showed up in the middle of the afternoon on Sunday to clear the sidewalks of mud and sweep the sand and rubble from the prayer garden path back in the garden and off the parking lot. I was reminded that our church is flooded with the Spirit yesterday as I read a thank you note to our church from Buckner International in response of our gift of $7,500 to them for ministering to children at the Community Transformation Center down on the border.
The Spirit is here. May we never dry it up, fan it out, or dehumidify it. Lets dive in together.
On another note: The Spurs are headed for the finals. That’s not lost on me. I’m considering a few blog posts on basketball during the NBA Finals. I’m feeling good about the Spurs chances, and feeling great about cheering against the Heat.