“Who Reads Titus?” – Ending the Lenten Journey

“Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.” Psalm 119:105

“Who reads Titus?” was a tongue-in-cheek question that was recently asked in our Fellow Travelers Sunday school class as we tried to discern what we would study next. The question wasn’t asked to suggest that we shouldn’t study Paul’s letter to Titus, but to make the point that there are those stories/books that we know well and those that we don’t.

titusWe’ve spent the last three Sundays studying Titus, and will probably spend many more. This short letter is proving to be a real thought provoker. Long after the class is over the question, “Who reads Titus?”, will stay with me. Mostly because it was pretty funny, but also because it reminded me how important it is to spend time exploring the remote corners of God’s holy scripture. I’ve spent the last few weeks re-reading The Epistle of Paul to Titus several times over and I have been amazed at how God has used this short letter to both encourage and challenge me.

That’s exactly what we need, isn’t it? To be both encouraged and challenged? Encouraged to look beyond our circumstances and trust God who lead us, and challenged, to “take up our cross” and follow the one who gave himself for us. In a profound and mysterious way, scripture does that. Not because there is something inherently magical about the words on the page, but because the words on the page point us to the Mystery beyond; the Mystery who calls us beloved children and delights in our child-like wonder. But it’s easy to lose that sense of wonder when we search scripture, not for a relationship, but for answers.

Someone asked me once, after I confessed to really knowing very little about God, “How can you be at peace with all the unanswered questions.” My response was simply that, “Unanswered questions don’t really bother me, because it’s not answers I’m looking for. I’m looking for a person, and his name is Jesus. And in him, I have all the answers I’ll ever need.”

So, as your Lenten observance comes to a close and we prepare to celebrate the resurrection on Easter morning, I’d encourage you to spend some extra time searching the scriptures, not for answers, but for a relationship, a relationship with the one who loves you perfectly, the one who knows you intimately, the one who comes to show you a better way.

Blessings on you and yours, Allen

What Does It Mean To Be Easter People

Empty TombOver the last several weeks, we have journeyed through Lent and Holy Week. Now on this side of the resurrection, we can faithfully proclaim, “We are an Easter people.” So now what? Is it business as usual or does being an Easter people mean something?

“Thy kingdom come, thy will be done,” is a prayer that has been central to the Christian faith from its inception. But what is it that we envision God’s kingdom to be? It is easy for us to superimpose upon our image of the Kingdom ideas that come from our understanding of earthly kingdoms. The quest for kingdom (little k) in our world has always come with violence; physical, social, economic, etc. In our quest for kingdom, peace has been fleeting at best and at worst merely an illusion. The violence done on the part of one person or group of people in an effort to establish their own vision of kingdom leaves behind nothing but brokenness, even when the intentions are good.

The “Good News” is that we have a promise from God that “a new heaven and a new earth” will replace all of our insufficient attempts at kingdom building. Where we will dwell eternally with God and God “will wipe every tear from [our] eyes. Death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more.” (Rev 21:4) When we pray, “thy kingdom come,” that is what we pray for. However, we must never forget that Jesus proclaimed that the Kingdom of God has drawn near. That means that we can experience the coming Kingdom of God as a reality now. It is more than just a future hope, but also a present reality. Jesus not only proclaimed the Kingdom had come, but then he showed us what it looked like to live into that reality. As he went about dismantling the power structures that had arisen out of our broken attempts at kingdom, he showed us what it meant to live the Kingdom of God. No longer was “power over” an acceptable way of being in relationship with others. It was no longer acceptable to seek positions of power or privilege, but servant-hood was the basic component in the new order.

The resurrection verifies for us the veracity of Christ’s claims. Nothing else proves so clearly that God’s Kingdom is our present reality like the resurrection of Christ. The enemy of humanity, death, has been defeated and Christ calls us to live a resurrected life. It is the resurrected life of Christ, in which we participate, that is the assurance of our present and future hope. Paul says, “For if while we were enemies, we were reconciled to God through the death of his Son, much more surely, having been reconciled, will we be saved by his life” (Rom 5:10).

A Lenten Reflection

“For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” Luke 12:34

“Don’t let the vehicle fool you, my treasure is in heaven.” That was the pithy phrase on the bumper sticker on the back of the Hummer in front of me as I sat stuck in traffic after leaving Memphis Theological Seminary one rainy Tuesday afternoon. Having just come from a class on the Gospel According to Luke, I wondered what Luke would think of the idea that our accumulation of material possessions says nothing about our ultimate affections.

I began to try and visualize the type of church this individual must attend and the sermons he or she would hear. “It must be one of those ‘name it and claim it’ ministries,” I thought. It must be one of those with the large opulent sanctuaries, video screens projecting sermon outlines, and praise bands keeping the people entertained. But those thoughts didn’t last long. Instead they turned to my own Hummer.

No, I don’t actually own a Hummer, but I do have “things”. You know, things that cost too much or take up too much valuable time. Computers and mobile phones, TVs and iPods, mortgaged homes and financed education – none are necessities, so I could put a “Don’t let this thing fool ya” bumper sticker on any of them. And what would Luke say to me? I say “Luke,” because I am not real sure I want to have that conversation with Jesus.

I am sure a conversation with Jesus would include something about an ox in a well, salt and manure, or maybe even about a narrow door. Whatever he says, I am sure it will leave me examining the life I live and the choices I have made, wondering what to do now, and praying for the courage to make the changes that being a faithful follower require. These are important ideas to reflect on during the Lenten season.

We began our Lenten journey last month on Ash Wednesday and will continue until Holy Week begins on Palm Sunday. The season of Lent offers us a time to reflect on who we are as humans and why we so desperately need a savior. We look into our hearts and see the darkness that would quickly overwhelm us. We gaze out across the landscape of humanity and see the evil that would overtake use. The season of Lent could be one long miserable “Crucifixion Friday,” where the depths of human depravity threaten to suffocate the last breath of hope we have. But look, off in the distance, on the horizon of your night, is that the breaking dawn?

“It’s Friday
Jesus is buried
A soldier stands guard
And a rock is rolled into place
But it’s Friday
It is only Friday
Sunday is a comin’!”
From a sermon by S.M. Lockridge

Looking Forward

The Holiday Season is behind us and, if you are like most people, you enter the New Year with a huge sigh of relief. You settle into your easy chair, kick off your shoes, and thank Your Maker for a much-deserved rest. I know, you probably enjoyed the holidays; decorating, cooking, entertaining, visiting, eating, buying, wrapping, giving, getting, unwrapping, cleaning, singing, worshiping, and everything else, that I’m just too tired to remember. How did we make time for it all?

Yes, you deserve a rest, or at least the chance to slow down just a little. However, just as we begin to make ourselves comfortable, the cares and concerns of our everyday life come knocking at the door and rouse us from or resting place. Back to school, back to work, manage the household, pay the bills, clean the kitchen, wash the car, wash the kids, wash the dog… you get the picture. Our days are filled with the seemingly mundane tasks that are necessary just to make it from one day to the next; tasks that, while sometimes necessary, leave little time for physical, emotional, and spiritual renewal. So we trade the busyness of the holiday season, for the grind-it-out, day-to-day, living that leaves us empty and yearning for something better.

We look to the new year as a time of new possibilities (resolutions anyone?), yet we carry with us many of the same responsibilities, attitudes, and habits. We want to look forward, hoping that this year will be better than the last, but a glance over our shoulder reminds us that we’ve been wrong before. There is a simple answer to our dilemma. In Matthew chapter eleven, Jesus said, “Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.” And it really is just that simple.

Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not one of those who say, “If you just have enough faith, everything will be alright.” It’s a complex world we live in and being a person of faith doesn’t negate the challenges we face, but faith is our connection to the one in whom we place our trust. And through that connection comes a “peace that passes understanding,” because…

“We always see through a glass darkly, and that is what faith is about. So I will live by the best I can discern today. Tomorrow I may find out I was wrong. Since I do not live by being right, I am not destroyed by being wrong. The God revealed in Jesus whom I call the Christ is a God whose forgiveness goes ahead of me, and whose love sustains me and the whole created world.” – Verna Dozier

May God bless you this year as you purpose in your heart to know Jesus in a meaningful way.

Blessings on you and yours