Wednesday, December 25, 2013

A thought from Christmas Eve

A Birthday Gift
December 25, 2013
Christmas Eve
Woodmont Baptist Church

I have been thinking this week about one of our senior adult ladies who passed away about a year and half ago.  Her name was Jenelle Flynt.   Most of you in the room will remember her well.  She was kind and gracious.  She carried herself with an air of Southern refinement and charm.  She had that beautiful silver hair and sported those Harry Potter glasses long before anyone ever heard of Harry Potter.  She was my friend and I still miss her, as do many of you.

I will never forget the occasion of her 80th birthday.  She popped in my office on that morning and announced, “Dr. Roebuck, today is my 80th birthday and I want you to celebrate with me.”  I got up from around my desk and gave her a big hug and asked, “And how shall we celebrate?”  She reached in her purse and pulled out an envelope.  It had my name written on the outside and she handed it to me with a lilt of excitement in her voice and said, “Open it!”  So I did.  Inside I discovered 80 one-dollar bills.  80 bucks.  “What’s this money for?” I asked.  And she said, “It’s for you to celebrate my birthday.  I want you to go out and buy yourself a present or take Linda out to eat.  I just want you to enjoy my birthday by doing something fun.”  As soon as I realized that she was giving me a gift even though it was her birthday, I said, “And may you live to be 100!”

I protested briefly.  I tried to explain to her that what she was doing was counter intuitive.  People give you things for your birthday, not the other way around.  But she insisted that I keep the cash and enjoy “her” day.  I won’t soon forget… I won’t forget her gift, her life, or her faith lesson.  Her action has actually caused me to think differently about my own birthday and how it is spent.  I have begun thinking about the ways in which I can give myself away on my birthday, rather than being the recipient of too many gifts.  Last year I spent my birthday working at a Habitat for Humanity build.  Volunteered all day, pouring out my energy to help someone else and it was a good day.  I kind of like the idea of giving a gift to someone to celebrate your own birthday.  Thanks, Jenelle for your inspiration.

Jenelle Flynt was not the first person to give away a gift on her birthday.  Isn’t the idea as old as Christmas itself?  When Christ was born, gifts were exchanged.  Yes, there were the three gifts presented by the Magi… gold, frankincense, and myrrh.  They brought those gifts and laid them at the feet of Jesus.  But there was an even greater offering of a gift to celebrate the birth of the Savior.  It is not a gift given to Jesus, but rather, His gift to us.  He gave us a gift to celebrate His birthday.  Counter intuitive, right?  We should be bringing our gifts to Him, but He gives His gift to us and says, “I want you to celebrate with Me!”

The writer of the book of Hebrews goes to great lengths to help us understand the gift.  The writer devotes a lot of time in describing the role of Christ as our “perfect Great High Priest.”  Long about chapter 9, the writer describes the way things with God used to be.  In the Tabernacle, there were two rooms.  The first had a lampstand and a table and sacred loaves of bread on the table.  This room was called the Holy Place.  And then there was a curtain or veil, and behind the curtain there was a second room called the Holy of Holies.  In that room there was a golden incense altar and that golden box called the Ark of the Covenant, which contained the Ten Commandments, a jar of manna, and the rod of Aaron.  And once a year, on the Day of Atonement, Yom Kippur, the High Priest would leave the front room and pass through the curtain and there offer a sacrifice for his own sins and for the sins of the people.  That went on for hundreds of years.  The people were separated from the presence of Holy God by the thick curtain, but mostly by the separation that sin causes.

But then Christ came and everything changed.  He became, as the writer of Hebrews states, “The Perfect Great High Priest,” because He offered a perfect sacrifice for our sins.  He writes, “For Christ did not enter into a holy place made by human hands… He entered into heaven itself to appear now before God on our behalf.”  And rather than offer a sacrifice over and over again, the offering of His own life became a “permanent and lasting sacrifice.”  The curtain of sin that separates us from Holy God has been forever torn and we boldly come into the presence of God, forgiven and loved.

Do you understand the birthday gift?  Christ came to offer us a gift.  He came to offer us forgiveness.  He came to offer us eternal life.  That’s the gift He makes to us on His birthday.  And that is what we celebrate.

This week I was introduced to a wonderful painting of the Nativity through a blog written by Donald Miller.  The painting is called, “Nativity,” and it is the work of an artist named Brian Kershisnik.  (You need to Google.)  The scene is one of a crowd of angels or saints huddled in mass around Christ.  Those in front of Him press toward the child, but not to stop and gaze, but rather to move through and beyond toward something else.  The crowd only gazes at the mother and child for a moment, they move on to worship God, as though Christ came to point us toward the Father.  Everything in the painting is in motion.  The worshippers, once past the Mary, Joseph, and the baby, lift their faces toward heaven.  Many of their mouths are open as though they are singing with praise to God.  The message of the painting is that we move through Christ in order to enter the presence of God.

It’s funny, tomorrow is not your birthday, but you are the one who will get a gift, maybe several gifts… new pair of shoes, the latest electronic gismo, maybe a necktie.  You will also get an even greater gift.  It’s from the Birthday Boy Himself.  It’s called grace.  And with that gift, we get to celebrate forever.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Making Peace

"If you present an animal from the herd as a peace offering to the Lord, it may be a male or a female, but it must have no defects." (Leviticus 3:1 NLT)

         The third chapter of the book of Leviticus begins with yet a third type of offering that could be presented before the Lord.  This type was called a "Peace" offering.  A peace offering was just what it appears to be... an offering which strives to bring peace or reconciliation.  It could be offered as a thanksgiving offering, or at the completion of a vow, or as a freewill offering.  It carried a couple of distinctions from a grain offering or burnt offering.  A peace offering could involve meat from either a male or female member of a herd.  It could also be shared by all involved... God, the priests who facilitated the sacrifice, and the person offering the animal.

Most of us are familiar with the concept of a peace offering.  In one way or another, we have attempted make peace with an adversary through the giving of a reconciling gift.  For example, when friends get into a squabble, it is not uncommon for the offending party to do something nice for the one whom they injured... maybe bake a cake, or send a greeting card.  When nations need to be reconciled to peace reparations are offered or binding treaties are signed.  The concept is simple... offer something that promotes forgiveness, goodwill, and of course, peace.  A peace offering declares, "the battle is over, it's time to live in harmony with each other."
What I like about the Levitical concept of a peace offering is how it can be shared by all involved.  God and sinner meet at the table when the animal is sacrificed.  Holy God and sinful man declare peace and man is welcomed again in His presence.  In terms of how we relate to and seek peace from God, things have changed.  No longer does God require an animal sacrifice to bring about peace.  He has offered the sacrifice of His Son.  The remarkable thing to point out is to discover which party offers the sacrifice.  You would think that the offending person would be the one required to make the first move toward peace.  But with God, things are different.  "While we were yet sinners, Christ died for us."  (Romans 5:8)  Do you find that amazing?  I do.  Though we have sinned, and though we should be the ones to make the first move toward reconciliation, God offers a peace offering.  And because of His love, we are welcome to sit at the table again and to enjoy His presence.  Maybe there is a message for us in God's example.  Rather than wait for those who have offended us to come our way with fresh cookies, or a baked cake, maybe we should make the first move.  What if we offered the olive branch?  What if we took the initiative to act like our Father?  Blessed are the peacemakers...

          Father, call us today into the peacemaking business.  May we be quick to heal and forgive those who have trespassed against us.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Mentor Worthy?

Paul writes to young believers in the Corinthian church who are struggling with issues like faith-formation, attitude adjustments, and the demands of the Christian faith.  These immature believers had yet to "put it all together."  He actually challenges them in 1 Corinthians 4:16 to look to his life as an example.  He writes, "So I urge you to imitate me."  (NLT)

I wonder how many of us would dare to say to someone younger in the faith, “Imitate my life.”  Would our faith-example bear-up under such scrutiny?  Would our words, lifestyle, and dedication be Christ-like enough to welcome someone's imitation?  Probably not.  In fact, most of us would be petrified with the notion of welcoming someone's close watch of our conduct and faith.  And yet, such role modeling is vitally needed.  In fact, I would suggest that it is our inability to mentor those younger in the faith that continues to weaken the witness of Christ to our culture.  In other words, many of us are not “mentor worthy” because we don't want to be “mentor worthy.”  We don't want to be held to such a high standard because such faith would require so much of us.  We would have to be disciplined in our words, our conduct, and our relationships.  Authenticity and consistency would be required of us and most of us simply are unwilling to pay such a price.  We shirk our responsibilities in exchange for an easier, less-demanding lifestyle.  May God forbid.  And may God forgive our casual Christianity.  The world needs mentors.  Your children need mentors.  Your co-workers need mentors.  There is great competition for the very souls of your friends and family.  Are you willing to simply concede the battle to the enemies of faith?  Or will you take on the challenge of being a worthy mentor?  Whether you want them to do so or not, people have already begun to imitate your faith.  Be worthy.

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

In the midst of the storm...

Most of us spent last night huddled around our television sets as a severe line of storms whipped through middle Tennessee.  The emergency alert first started sounding around 3:00 a.m. and kept most of us up for much of the next hour.  I hope you were able to weather the storm without too much difficulty and that you were able to return to bed for a few much-needed hours of rest.

Not all the storms that come are way appear in the atmosphere overhead.  In fact, most of the storms we face don't.  Most come from a variety of other sources.  Some face the storms which are caused by ill health.  An odd feeling in the gut suddenly erupts into a series of tests, meds, and keep-you-up-at-night concerns.  For others, the storm may be caused by too many bills and not enough pay.  January is one of those months when most of us feel the pinch of having too many days left in the month and too little cash in the bank.  The worry over finances brings stress and tension to us all.  Still for others, the storm is one of relationship.  Sometimes even the most essential, foundational relationships get strained or even broken.  Marriages break-up and friendships sometimes dissolve.  At times the storms are self-inflicted.  We make bad choices and poor decisions and the consequences begin to pile up and we are all but spent.  The list of other destructive storms can be long in our lives.  In the midst of all of our storms, we seek our "safe place..." that spot where we can run for cover, security, and maybe grace.

I recently read a quote from Pastor Rick Warren.  He wrote, "When the way is unclear, stop waiting to hear a voice and start searching for a verse."  He's right, you know.  If the Bible is indeed the "inspired Word of God," then doesn't it make sense to search the Word to discover how God longs to answer your prayers and relieve your fears?  So this morning, I stumbled across this verse, not by accident, but by God's providence.  Psalm 57:1 - "Be gracious to me, O God, be gracious to me, for my soul takes refuge in You; And in the shadow of Your wings I will take refuge until destruction passes by."

I would strongly encourage you to find your "safe place" in shelter of His wings.  The storms will come.  He waits to offer refuge.

You asked for it...

About a month ago, I used the following poem that I had written in a sermon.  It apparently struck a chord with many of you and many have asked to have a copy.  So here it is.  I hope it is meaningful for those of you who have requested it.  It was written in the context of what it means to connect to each other in significant ways.

Just Walk With Me...

When I am sick...
Don't tell me how much worse your illness is compared to mine,
Don't pat me on the hand and tell me it's nothing to worry about,
Don't lose patience with me or offer some trivial, meaningless platitude,
Just walk with me.

When I am scared,
Don't tell me that my fears are somehow stupid or irrational,
Don't tell me to just pray or to simply shake it off,
Don't tell me what works for you when you are afraid,
Just walk with me.

When I am young,
Don't treat my thoughts or ideas as though they are without merit or value,
Don't lose patience with my uninformed and yet to be fully educated opinions,
Don't expect me to always behave like an adult,
Just walk with me.

When I am old,
Don't pity my weak limbs, failing mind, or slow gait,
Don't treat me like a child or act as though I am no longer important or relevant,
Don't patronize me or push me to the margins of significance,
Just walk with me.

When I have made my mistakes,
Don't add to the guilt I already feel,
Don't assume I will always be a failure,
Don't shun me or exclude me from your life,
Just walk with me.

When I am discouraged,
Don't act as though I've got some disease and ignore me,
Don't tell me me to simply "cheer up,"
Don't ignore my tears or belittle what I am going through,
Just walk with me. 

Jon R Roebuck
December 2012

Friday, December 14, 2012

A Time To Mourn...

A Time To Mourn…

Matthew 1:18 – “A voice was heard in Ramah, weeping and great mourning, Rachel weeping for her children; and she refused to be comforted, because they were no more.”  (Taken from Matthew’s story of the events surrounding the birth of Christ.)

It’s Christmas time… we should we celebrating the joy of the season.  We should be talking of peace and goodwill.  We should be thinking of Christmas pageants, mistletoe, and eggnog.  But instead, today we think of pain, tragedy, death, and evil. 

This morning, children at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newton, Connecticut should have been thinking about Christmas plays, the holidays, and presents under the tree.  Instead, they were forced to think about the sound of a gun, a crazed gunman, and diving under their desks for survival.  By the end of the madness, 27 people lost their lives… 18 of them children, mostly kindergarteners.  It is a tragedy of unthinkable proportions.  For families across that community, Christmas will no longer proclaim a time of peace, joy, and gladness, but instead, horror, pain, and unending grief.  It is such a perversion of what Christmas should be about.  It is a reminder that evil is still very real in the world in which we live.  How much we still need the Prince of Peace to come.

I’m not sure that any of us can make sense of today’s events.  The shooting was a tragic, senseless, and horrific act.  It hurts the human soul and boggles the mind.  Like Rachel, we weep and refuse to be comforted, “for our children are no more.”  Let us pray for those families.  Let us pray for our families.  Let us pray for the day when evil will finally be defeated and peace will reign.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Prison Break

"But the Scriptures declare that we are all prisoners of sin, so we receive God’s promise of freedom only by believing in Jesus Christ." (Galatians 3:22 NLT)

In this third chapter of Galatians, Paul goes to great lengths to illustrate why freedom in Christ is better than the oppression of the Law.  The Law can only point to our sinfulness.  It can only tell us what we have done wrong.  It can do nothing to correct the problem and provide forgiveness. Only in Christ can our sins be erased and our lives find grace and forgiveness.

For years, Alcatraz was said to be the most "escape proof" prison in the country.  Because it was constructed on a island, there was only one way of escape.  Too far to swim, prisoners could only escape by boat.  Many of course tried to escape through the years but very few ever had success.  In fact, during the 29 years the prison was in operation, 36 attempted to escape, but none were known to survive.  (Five are stilled listed as missing and are presumed to have drowned.)  By all accounts, it was a very secure prison that offered no real hope of escape.  

       Paul writes about a different kind of prison in Galatians 3.  He reminds us that God's Word declares that we are all prisoners of sin and have no way, in our own strength and intellect, of having any hope for escape.  Our sins, our past mistakes, and our failures enslave us and keep us from experiencing the life that God longs for us to know.  But, there is hope...  The promise of freedom comes through only one source, Jesus Christ.  Apart from His grace extended to us through the cross, we have no hope of freedom and no hope of eternal life.  John 8:36 reminds us, "That if the Son sets us free, we shall be free indeed."  A lot of us struggle in prisons of doubt, despair, guilt, loneliness, anxiety, fear, and grief.  But Christ has come to offer us new life, joy, hope, and freedom.  Through our faith in Him, all the barriers and chains that keep us separated from God are removed.  We escape the past to live expectantly in the present.  How long have you been in your private prison?  How long will you choose to stay there?  Christ offers you a better life... a life of freedom.  Put your trust in Him and ask Him to break the chains.  A better life awaits you.