Sunday, October 15, 2017

WHAT I SAID TO THE GRADUATING CLASS OF PASTORS IN CUBA


Love and Competition

Several years ago I was asked to travel to the island nation of Cuba as part of a humanitarian aid group. There I was to give the commencement address for the graduates of a small pastoral training school. There were twenty or so graduates.

I had no idea what an appropriate message should be, and I was given no advice concerning things that I should or should not say in that communist society. Before that time, I had given commencement addresses in other Latin American countries, but Cuba was its own case.

For most of us in the United States, Cuba has been a closed country. At least, it was for me. I had not known much at all about what was happening on that island nation. However, as I prepared my sermon, I was drawn to Paul’s letter to the Ephesians because some of Paul’s words seemed to express what I was also feeling at the time.

Sunday, October 8, 2017

AMBASSADORS FOR CHRIST (Part 3)

To help us understand part of what it means to be a Christian, the Apostle Paul likened our position to being an ambassador for Christ.

In the previous two posts, I spoke much of what that position entails. However, there is another aspect in the life of an international ambassador that helps us to understand the Christian life. When considering what it means to be an ambassador for Christ, it is also helpful for us also to consider the existence of the foreign embassy. 

The Embassy as an Overseas Extension of Home

Embassies are interesting and rather unique places. The embassy is the seat of representation of a foreign country within another country. It is also often the dwelling place of the ambassador.

The first embassy that I ever visited was the US Embassy in New Delhi, India, when I was not yet even twenty years old. I remember my visit well. I was living in a small village in northern India in a situation far different from the life I had left not long before in Wisconsin.

After being in my village in India for some months, I made a trip to New Delhi and visited the embassy. I had spent the months before in my village and the neighboring areas eating the local food in dark, little tea stands and in the homes of friends. I had grown to like the cuisine of the country folk well enough, but by now I was eager for some American food. So upon my arrival on the embassy grounds, the first thing that I did was to go to the restaurant there. To my great delight, the embassy restaurant looked a little like a Denny’s or a Perkins restaurant in the US, and had a real menu that was printed in English.

Because of local customs and religious beliefs in the village where I lived, and because meat simply was not available, I had eaten no meat for all those months. So as I sat down at the table, I did not need to look at a menu. I already knew what I wanted before I entered. I ordered a steak and a baked potato. As I looked around me and saw the food that was being served, it appeared to me that everything that the restaurant served had been imported from the states: the meat, the coffee, even the catsup. I still remember being impressed by the catsup. Certainly, I must have been American.


Sunday, October 1, 2017

AMBASSADORS FOR CHRIST (Part 2)

Moses the Ambassador: One Who Intercedes

In the final part of the previous post, in discussing the personality of God, we strayed somewhat from our subject of being an ambassador for Christ. However, in order to see this role of Moses, it is important to understand some of these concepts concerning who God is as our authority. We cannot be God’s representatives without understanding him as well as we can.

But returning now to our topic of being ambassadors for Christ, and using our example of Moses, we see in the story of the golden calf and the giving of the Ten Commandments that Moses was acting as a representative of the people before God. When God threatened to destroy the people, Moses intervened. Moses interceded for the people and he also identified with them. 

As ambassadors for Christ, we also have this ministry of intercession. In another incident, when the judgment of God was again falling on the people of Israel by means of poisonous vipers, the people pleaded with Moses.

“We have sinned,” the people said, “because we have spoken against the Lord and you; intercede with the Lord, that He may remove the serpents from us.” And Moses interceded for the people (Numbers 21:7 NAS, emphasis added). 

“Pray for one another, so that you may be healed,” James tells us. “The effective prayer of a righteous man can accomplish much” (James 5:16 NAS).

 When we pray for people—for their health, for their salvation—is this not the ministry of intercession? Are we not bringing their case before the throne of God? We are, as Moses was, acting in this role as an ambassador for Christ. We are coming before God, representing the interests of others before him. As Moses spoke with God on behalf of the people, we see him in this role as intercessor.

Moses the Ambassador: The Representative of God before Men

Standing on the peak of Mount Sinai, we have seen that Moses represented the people before God. However, when he came down off the mountain, his role as ambassador changed. When he approached the people and stood before them, he was now representing God before the people.
Do you see the difference?

Sunday, September 24, 2017

AMBASSADORS FOR CHRIST

The Apostle Paul says of Christians in 2 Corinthians 5, “We are ambassadors for Christ.” It is a phrase that we hear spoken from time to time, and usually we do not give it much thought. Perhaps we should.

We live today in a time of great internationalism, when the role of the international diplomat has become very important. Even in the day of Paul, ambassadors played an important role. Some of the functions of various kinds of diplomats have changed through the centuries with changing situations, but the responsibilities of ambassadors have largely remained constant.

Taking this office of ambassador as an example, it may be helpful for us to consider, for a few moments, how this relates to being an ambassador for Christ. 

Responsibilities of an Ambassador

Ambassadors are the official representatives of their sending country. Their major task is to represent the interests of their sending government. What the ambassador may or may not feel or believe personally on any specific matter is not as important as what the official position of their government is. In fact, an ambassador normally does not have the freedom to speak his or her own mind on important matters. They receive the position from their home country, and that is what they must speak.

I am sure that this is sometimes very difficult. An ambassador, living in a foreign country, most certainly often sees matters differently than his home government. His view is affected by what he sees and experiences in his day-to-day life in the foreign country.

Sunday, September 17, 2017

HIDDEN LIVES

The Apostle Paul has written this:
If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.  Colossians 3:1-4 (ESV) 

In regards to our lives in this world, what we learn here from what Paul has said is that, as expatriates in a foreign culture, our true lives are hidden from the world. The people of the world cannot see or understand us as we truly are.

It is much the same as when I am living in another country here on earth apart from my home in Wisconsin. The people in another place see me as I am in their country, but they can never fully understand how I am when I am in my homeland. I can tell them about the place from where I have come and even show them pictures, but my real citizenship is largely hidden from them. It is something that is beyond their experience.

“We have died,” Paul says, “and our lives are hidden with Christ in God.”

In order to live well in the world, we must first remember this fact. The important things that we do in this world are things that those who are not of our same homeland cannot see. The goals of our lives that matter to us are those goals that have to do our citizenship with Christ, even if these aspirations are now hidden from the view of others.

It seems so simple, and yet it is at this point that we often fail so miserably. To our own disgrace, it often seems as though our greatest plans and our greatest projects are for this world. Most of our effort, it often seems, is to do the best that we can in this present life. We try to make the most money that we can, and accumulate the most material goods that we can. These seem often to be the driving forces behind our efforts.

However, the Scriptures tell us, “Set your mind on things above, not on the things that are on the earth.”

Sunday, September 10, 2017

LIVING WELL IN THIS WORLD

As you might suppose, one’s view of life is affected in many ways by living in a foreign country. At least mine has been. I am not talking about mere travel.  I am not referring to tourism. What I mean is when one needs to settle down for an extended period in a foreign land, long enough where he has to buy or rent a house and set up a residence. I have had to do this (I just counted) six times in six separate countries of the world other than the United States.

This is different than travel or tourism, for in settling down, a person must learn to live in a culture that is foreign to anything that he has ever before experienced. It is possible to exist, certainly, but to live in a content manner is a different matter entirely, and it is not always easily accomplished.

I suppose almost all expatriates (as these foreign dwellers are called) must struggle with this difficulty of living contently while overseas. This especially seems to be true for us fortunate ones—we individuals who have come from loving and caring homes in our home countries.

There are different ways that people find to deal with this inner conflict of living in a foreign culture. It is interesting to note the various ways in which people respond to this change in their lifestyle.

Sunday, September 3, 2017

OBEDIENCE: THE ROAD TO BLESSING

 There are some words that tend to bring about within us an immediate negative or defensive reaction. The word obey is one of these words. A child is often introduced to this word brusquely, accompanied with a wagging index finger in his face from a harsh parent. “You obey me, now!”

The word command may be another, and “I order you to do it!”

One of the first words many children learn is the word no. The child wants to do something or have something, but Mommy and Daddy say no! We learn that we must obey.

Since our first reactions to these words may be largely negative, the words themselves have come to have a negative connotation. In the military, we learn the proper response to an order. Obedience. It is not important in the least if we want to fulfill the order or not, or even whether or not it is a good order. We really have no choice in the matter.

With this backdrop in the formation of our personalities, we then have the danger of having the same frame of mind when we read these words, “You shall therefore obey the LORD your God, and do His commandments and His statutes which I command you today” (Deuteronomy 27:10, NAS).
 

Sunday, August 27, 2017

THE SALT OF THE EARTH

“You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled by men” (Matthew 5:13, NIV).
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We today use the phrase “the salt of the earth” to speak of a person who lives his life in a wholesome and unpretentious manner. When we say that someone is “the salt of the earth,” it implies that he is honest and forthright, and living without deceit. In the verse quoted above, Jesus used it in the same way. Unlike many other phrases that have been passed on through the generations and for thousands of years, the meaning of this one seems not to have changed much since Jesus spoke it in the first century.

Actually, as far as what we have in recorded history, the use of this phrase by Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount was the very first time that it was used. Nevertheless, because of the important role that salt played in the daily lives and in the thinking of the people of that day, the meaning of the phrase would not have been difficult for his hearers to understand.

Salt was something that these people saw as indispensable. It was, above everything else, a preservative—something that was used to keep food from spoiling and putrefying. 

Salt in History
 Despite the fact that we call it “common table salt,” it was not so common in those days. No doubt in the immediate area of Palestine it was not so difficult to obtain because of the proximity of the Mediterranean Sea (and of course the Dead Sea, or as it was actually known in those days, the Salt Sea).

Nevertheless, throughout history, in every part of the world, “Where to get salt?” has been an important question for entire nations of people. Many of the world’s ancient trade routes were first established for the purpose of trading for and obtaining salt.
 

Monday, August 21, 2017

THE LOG CHURCH - INTO THE SECOND CENTURY

(This is the message that I gave at the centennial celebration of the Log Church)


One hundred years ago the town of Tripoli was a booming community. There was a great sawmill on the bank of the millpond. There were stores, hotels (more than one), taverns (pretty sure more than one), a lumber yard and railway station. Tripoli had schools and even a theater. There was everything that a growing town would need.

Someone gave the town the name of Tripoli. The name sounds like it came from the Greek, and so it did. It means “three cities.” In this nascent town of Tripoli, there was great hopes of promise. Perhaps the community would one day grow to include even the town of Clifford, and possibly even Brantwood. The three cities.

Now we turn the calendar twelve hundred pages – one hundred years. The stores are gone, the hotels and taverns are no more…oh, I think there is one tavern yet, in case someone has a real thirst, but it is not one of the original taverns. The theater is gone, and the train now just speeds on by Tripoli without even so much of a thought of stopping. The schools are gone. Even the sawmill, the enormous engine of the community, is gone.
 

Sunday, August 20, 2017

BUILDING WITH LOGS

For a few years of my life I worked as a log builder. That is to say, I learned the art (that is really what it is) of constructing buildings using whole, round logs.

Building with logs is a world of building not only for form and function, but also for beauty and posterity. It is a world of learning to choose a certain log for a specific purpose, and of discussions about how to cut the notches and the grooves in the logs. It is about how the building will settle after it is constructed. These are discussions that only come up in log building construction, since these issues have no relevance in other types of buildings.

The log builder comes to learn the grain and knots of every log of the building he is working on and to take pleasure in how he is able to shape one log to fit snugly as it is placed on top of the log beneath. The worker must be familiar with the specialized tools and techniques that are a part of building with logs. The windows and the doors, for instance, must be installed by connecting them to “sliders” instead of nailing them directly unto the logs themselves.

As I mentioned above, the log walls in a house will settle in the first couple of years after construction. A wall may decrease in height as much as eight or nine inches. If any window or door were connected directly to the logs, the glass would surely break, and the doors would not open. To prevent this, each window and each door must be specially installed in a manner that only log builders must use. 

The Process of Scribing and Fitting

Building with logs is an incredibly slow process if one is to do it correctly. The form of the top of a log lying horizontally must be carefully drawn with a pencil onto the bottom of the log that is to fit over it. This work of drawing on the top log is done by placing this log over the log beneath and bracing it so that it will not move. Not even a hair.
 

Sunday, August 13, 2017

TODAY, I WILL BAPTIZE A BABY


Today, we will be having a baptism service in our church. To be baptized is something that Jesus has instructed all of his followers to do. In that regard, it is like the observance of the Lord’s Supper. We are told that we should do this.

Also, just as Jesus shared in the first communion with his disciples, he himself was also baptized. Jesus did these things as examples for us, so that we should continue in what he taught us.

However, we as a church have not been good at remaining faithful to his intentions in these traditions. It is an unfortunate development that baptism, like communion, is a custom that has historically caused controversy among church denominations.

Last week I spoke of how we in the churches have hijacked the observance of the unity Lord’s Supper to create division within the body of Christ. We allowed this to happen rather than allowing communion to be a sign of the oness of the church, as Jesus intended it to be. It is a sadness for me to say that it is much the same concerning baptism.

Both of these practices are meant not only to represent for us deep spiritual meanings (the greatest portion of which none of us understand completely), but they are to both also be a demonstration of our unity in the body of Christ. But again, like communion, because the entirety of the all of the spiritual implications and meanings concerning baptism is beyond any of our abilities to comprehend and appreciate as a whole, some churches choose to emphasize one certain aspect of baptism, and other churches choose other things.

Thus, as it is in the Lord’s Supper, instead of listening to and learning to appreciate various viewpoints and to learn from them, we have used these different perspectives to draw lines of division among the churches. The sad result is that, in our different church denominations, it is our tendency to arm ourselves with arguments about how our own denomination has the “right” understanding of baptism, and those who do it differently are “wrong.”

Again, baptism is unfortunately much like communion in this regard. If we do take the time to listen to the perspectives of another church, we often listen in the same sense as one would listen to his or her opponent in a debate. We are not really trying to understand the motives involved with what another church believes, but we are instead only listening with the sense of building a counter argument against each one of their points.

Primary and Secondary Beliefs

Because of our upcoming centennial of our church, I have been asked by a number of people in recent weeks if the Log Church is “non-denominational.” My response, of course, always is, “yes, it is.”

I do not know what that phrase, non-denominational church, means to you, but to me it means that when it comes to the secondary beliefs of the church, like communion and baptism, we take time to consider the traditions of others. I call these “secondary beliefs,” because to me, in these there is some room for latitude.

Sunday, August 6, 2017

CONCERNING MY WOUND THAT WILL NOT HEAL

Some months ago an old wound of mine opened up again, and even though by now a good deal of time has passed since this latest episode of the old infliction has come to me, the pain has not abated. In fact, in some ways it has gotten worse. This time, it has set itself deeper within me than it has in the past.

Before this latest occurrence, I thought that this injury would one day be healed in my lifetime. But now, I fear that it will not. It is beginning to look like I will take this pain to my grave.

This is a wound not of my body, but a wound of my soul. It is one that begins to ache when I see the Holy Communion being used to bring separation between believers in Christ. The pain comes when I see that the Lord’s Supper is used for division instead of being a sign of unity in fellowship, as Jesus intended it to be. The wound that has come to me is one of my heart, and is an affliction that actually drains me even of physical strength.