Lamentations

The other week I finished teaching through the book of Lamentations in our Sunday morning student hour. It was a part of our larger, seven year teaching plan that includes walking students through every book of the Bible. It is a fascinating book, one I have not been able to stop thinking about. Essentially, if you’re not familiar with it, it is five poetic laments written and/or collected by the prophet Jeremiah, which the Israelite people would gather each year to read out loud together as they processed their grief from having been utterly defeated by the Babylonians. They had lost their independence, their capital had been destroyed, and perhaps the most devastating to their identify, the temple had been reduced to rubble. Over the course of three weeks we explored three significant themes that are throughout the poetry of Lamentations; God’s judgement, God’s compassion, and God’s sovereignty. What is particularly powerful about Lamentations to me is that it does not wrap up with a happy ending; they are still just as ruined at the end of it as they are in the beginning. The writer(s) are brutally honest with their pain, their loss, their suffering and their grief. And its final words – recited together as a community annually – ends with the question of whether or not God will help them or has He completely rejected them.

It’s powerful because it puts into words what so many of us feel during our times of suffering but are often times afraid to speak. Lamentations gives us permission to take all of our pain and suffering in its fullness and bring it out into the open to God. It gives us words to our heartbreak. Ultimately, it is a powerful lesson on how to grieve, something that I think our culture does not do well at. We tend to bottle things in, to celebrate those who are able to get back to normality quickly with comments like, “Wow, he’s handling it really well,” when in reality, that burying of pain is the opposite of handling it well.

If you want, you can find the audio to all three weeks on our iTunes podcast feed, or on our podcast website.

Celebrating the Reformation

This summer we tried something new with our adult Christian education program by having a unified theme and offering it during both worship hours (my role expanded a few months back to include adult Christian education). Essentially, we tackled the Reformation in honor of its coming 500th anniversary. Over the course of ten weeks we had local seminary professors, members of our congregation who work in area colleges, as well as our former senior Pastor and myself, each tackle different aspects of the Reformation. Overall, I think it ended up becoming a really solid resource for those who want to know more about the Reformation and its impact on modern Christianity and the world. I’ve also been recommending it to parents who homeschool as an option to consider as well; there were several middle school and high school students who attended the series and enjoyed it. We did record each of the sessions, as well as save all the powerpoints/handouts from the series. Here’s where you can find it all:

Check it out and let me know what you think!

Caleb and Micah’s Mission Trip Report

On June 25th, the student ministry took over both worship services at our church, Brandywine Valley Baptist Church, to share their favorite moments and what God taught them during the mission trips to Maine, Detroit and Peru. I was particularly proud and excited to hear what Caleb, my 13 year old son, would share about his trip to Maine, and what Micah, my 15 year old son, would share about his trip to Detroit.

I actually led the mission trip to Peru, so this was the first year that McNutt’s were on all three student mission trips. It hit me a few days before the trips were to leave that I have incredible youth leaders; it never even occurred to me to worry about sending my sons with the leaders on either the Maine or Detroit trip. My trust and confidence in them is that high! Our volunteers love God and their calling to work with young people – it’s an incredible team to be a part of!

Forgiveness and Abuse

forgiveness

Back in May I did a sermon on Colossians 3:12-17 and the call to Christians to forgive one another. If I’m honest, it was one of the more difficult sermons I’ve ever done. The first half was easy; the message of Colossians is pretty clear – but it is not a simple one to live out and my struggle is that too often sermons on forgiveness come across as too simplistic. God told us to do it, so just do it. And for many of the offenses in life, that is simple enough. But what about the deeper wounds? The scars that are still painful years or decades later? So I spoke about the physical and emotional abuse I experienced as a student at a boarding school for missionary kids in the early nineties. The years long process of navigating forgiveness and healing that I pursued in my early twenties.

You can listen to the sermon here; we had some technical issues so there is no video from that week. It’s the May 7th, 2017, sermon entitled “Out with the Old, In with the New, Part 2.” You can also find it on iTunes.

My notes are below; they are shortened versions of what I actually said, and in places probably only make sense to me:

Unshakeable | Out with the Old, In with the New (part two) Col. 3:12-17 | May 7, 2017

We are working are way through Colossians, the letter written by Paul while he was in prison in Rome. Epaphras founded church in Colosse, when a dangerous heresy erupted in the church, he made the journey to Rome to get Paul’s help and advice.

  • COLOSSIAN HERESY:
  • God/spiritual is good, matter is evil. This translated to either sin or extremely legalistic lifestyles trying to control the flesh.

Colossians 3:12-17 (NIV) (read the passage)

Do you see the end goal in this section of the letter? Unity. Paul is challenging them to recognize that in Christ, a body of believers should demonstrate a divinely powered unity to each other and the world around them. But how does he get there?

“THEREFORE”

Paul has been beating the drum of spiritual maturity, of unity, of being a new creation in Christ throughout Colossians.

Chapter 2 – zeros in on legalism, the demands of following all sorts of rules.

Colossians 2:22-23

22 These rules, which have to do with things that are all destined to perish with use, are based on merely human commands and teachings. 23 Such regulations indeed have an appearance of wisdom, with their self-imposed worship, their false humility and their harsh treatment of the body, but they lack any value in restraining sensual indulgence.

Chapter 3 continues this thought …

Colossians 3:1-3

Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God.

Last week Nate focused on 3:8-11; where Paul tells the Colossian Christians to stop interacting with each other in the ways of the world; anger, rage, malice, slander, filthy language, to stop lying to one another – if we have put on this new self, this new life, if we are becoming like Christs, then that should not mark how we treat anyone, let alone members of the body of Christ.

Colossians 3:12-14

The fundamental attitude is bearing with each other and forgiving one another. For Paul, this is the natural outgrowth of the previous five virtues.

The ‘bearing with each other’ is funny; normally it has a negative connotation, but the Greek here indicates a positive meaning. He’s acknowledging that the body of believers in Colossians are a wildly different group. We saw that in verse 11 last week:

Colossians 3:11

11 Here there is no Gentile or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all, and is in all.

He’s saying, you are an incredibly diverse group … but Christ in us erases that. As Christ changes our hearts to be like His, these differences disappear; we bear with each other in a joyful way. WE are a diverse group! We have different backgrounds, different ethnicities, different politics, different views on so many things – and yet, because of Christ we find ourselves here, worshipping together in spite of our differences!

Natural result of all these virtues, in spite of us being imperfect, sinful people – is that we will forgive each other and pursue unity.

Forgive as the Lord forgave you.

Forgive = charizomai (Greek); means forgiving others as an act of grace, freely offered, often not ‘deserved.’

This is a reoccurring theme throughout the New Testament. This idea that because we have been forgiven by God, our natural response should be to forgive others.

Matthew 18:21-35 The Parable of the Unmerciful Servant

Peter asks how many times should we forgive, 7 times?

Fool me once, shame on you, fool me twice, shame on me.

10,000 bags of gold; 100 silver coins

  1. 33: “Shouldn’t you have had mercy on your fellow servant just as I had on you?”

British lottery winner. The reality of what he had won had not sunk in yet.

Ephesians 4:32

Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.

We are to forgive as God forgave us.

  • Paul is essentially saying that it is utterly inappropriate for one who knows the joy and release of being forgiven to refuse to share that blessing with another.
  • Perhaps more significantly, it is incredibly presumptuous to refuse to forgive someone who Christ Himself has already forgiven.

What is it to forgive? To stop feeling anger, to stop blaming, to stop wanting revenge/payback, to release them of whatever it is you may feel they owe you – however small or big. It’s not pretending it never happened, it’s letting it go, releasing its hold on you. It is an act of grace, given regardless of whether or not they deserve it.

In some cases, forgiveness is an easy grace to extend;

  • To those who apologize
  • The offense was minor, a simple misunderstanding
  • When we are self aware enough to recognize we are overreacting

Sometimes forgiveness is far more difficult;

  • 27 years ago moved to Tambo
  • Graduated 24 years ago, spent next several years filled with rage at even the thought of what went on there.
  • Reached out for help in my early twenties, about two decades ago.
  • I chose to forgive. Does not mean I condone what they did, does not mean I will pretend it didn’t happen, does not mean that they are pardoned from real world consequences to their actions, it does not mean that I have to allow them to hurt me again – but I released its hold on me.
  • Did not happen overnight. I had to choose to forgive over and over, until gradually, it became more natural.
  • This past Christmas, two and a half decades after the fact, after a five/six year investigation, the mission finally acknowledged and gave a hollow apology to me. The decision to forgive happens over and over.

Why share that? Because I don’t want to oversimplify what I’m preaching. We live in a world full of sin and failure. Large percentages of our country have been wronged, abused, assaulted in horrible ways – yes, much of the conflict that happens in a church body can be forgiven through simple steps, but there are other times where it is critical to bring in stronger help, to process and walk through the pain that was inflicted.

Sometimes we can forgive simply through prayer and going to the person.

Sometimes to forgive, we need to enlist the help of others, and recognize that it will be a daily process of committing to that decision.

2016 Student Missions Slideshow

I’m sure I’ll post more thoughts soon … but I’m still slightly fried from the mission trips and all the buildup to them! The above is a slideshow I threw together late Saturday night (technically, early Sunday morning) giving a little bit of a taste of our three student ministry mission trips to Maine, North Carolina, and Nicaragua, which we shared during our reports Sunday. We got to take over both services Sunday morning and the congregation heard from all of the teens and leaders over the course of the two hours! It was a blast!

Song of Songs series

We completed a five week series on the Song of Songs (or Song of Solomon, depending on your Bible) the other week which ended up being a lot more fascinating to me than I originally expected. It’s an interesting book, with a lot more complexity to it than it may seem at first glance. One of the reoccurring themes in our series centered around the three Hebrew words that are translated ‘love’ in our English translations; they refer to friendship, commitment, and the physical. I had a few different sources to lean on, but Tremper Longman’s commentary is my favorite.

If you’re curious, you can find the audio from the five weeks on either our podcast page or the iTunes podcast section. And yes, we were reading graphic passages from Song of Songs, so there is some giggling in the audio …

Praying for Missionaries

3-27

During the month of March my church is doing a 31 days of prayer challenge. The other pastors, myself, and some of the key leadership all contributed short devotionals to form a booklet we’ve been giving to our congregation and emailing daily devotionals from. This is one I wrote for last Sunday, the 27th:

Missionaries
1 Thessalonians 3:6-10 (NLT)

But now Timothy has just returned, bringing us good news about your faith and love. He reports that you always remember our visit with joy and that you want to see us as much as we want to see you. So we have been greatly encouraged in the midst of our troubles and suffering, dear brothers and sisters, because you have remained strong in your faith. It gives us new life to know that you are standing firm in the Lord. How we thank God for you! Because of you we have great joy as we enter God’s presence. Night and day we pray earnestly for you, asking God to let us see you again to fill the gaps in your faith.

Reflection

Paul the Apostle is one of the church’s greatest missionaries. He knew the scriptures, had a confidence in his calling, and saw tremendous results wherever he went. And yet he had troubles, he had suffering. He was blessed to receive these messages of support and love from the churches.

During my family’s time in South America we loved our calling, but there were times when it was difficult being so far from home. We missed family, friends, and a culture that we understood and could navigate with confidence. One of my favorite memories from those years was the day I discovered our mailbox crammed with letters all addressed to me! My youth group back home in the States had showered me with notes of encouragement, tangible reminders of their prayers and thoughts of me even from so far away. In the words of Paul, it gave me new life and encouragement!

Some are called to serve abroad, others are called to serve in the local church, but we are deeply connected and part of our calling here at home is to be both strong in our faith, and to encourage our brothers and sisters called to serve far from home.

Prayer

Lord, we pray for our missionaries serving throughout the world, that they would be encouraged, that they would have new life, and that they would know and feel our support and earnest prayers for them. Please give them the strength and wisdom to continue serving You in this way. Amen.