Tuesday, November 25, 2014

They're Rioting in Ferguson

 They Aren't Protesting 

I used to watch "Cops" and "Jail." Three things made me stop. (1) My wife hated the shows. (2) I got bored with them. (3) They made me mad. You assume that a television documentary show made with the cooperation of the police is not going to show them in a bad light or reveal things that could get them sued. Despite that, I found myself pulling sometimes for the bad guys. It seems to me that some police are too ready to have situations develop into confrontations, too quick to use their tasers, too ready to perform take downs. 

I also used to watch "48 Hours." Though it is approved by the Supreme Court, I didn't like the interview technique that allows police to lie to suspects. If they tell you they have your fingerprints or that witnesses place you at a crime scene, they mess with the minds not only of the guilty but of the innocent. 

So I was prepared to hear that Officer Darren Wilson had unnecessarily provoked a confrontation with Michael Brown, that the situation got out of hand, and that the officer drew his firearm and killed a young man whose life might have been spared. I also would not have been surprised to learn that the officer lied about the incident and that fellow officers tried to cover up the the truth. 

The police do form a thin blue line between law abiding society and criminals. But cops are no angels. We need them to protect us. But we need to hold them accountable. We need to respect their authority. But we need to be sure they do not abuse it.

However, all my skepticism about the Ferguson case went away as I watched and listened as the District Attorney laid out the process followed, the evidence gathered, and the conclusions reached by the grand jury. Another young black man died. Another family lost a son. But this was not a case of injustice.

This brings us to the protests that began just after the decision was announced and continue even now. What do you protest? You protest injustice. You protest when people because of their skin color are convicted of crimes they did not commit. When they are denied the right to vote. When crimes committed against them are not prosecuted as vigorously or punished as severely as crimes committed by them.  

But this was not that. Michael Brown was killed, but he was not murdered. He was killed because he, an 18 year old 6' 4" 292 lbs. young man, reached inside the police car and attacked officer Wilson and because, when pursued, he turned and charged at the officer. I could wish that he had got away with the stolen cigarillos that day rather than his being killed, which would have given time during which his life might have been turned around. But his killing was just.

The people who have engaged in mayhem in the streets of Ferguson
are not protesters. They are not protesters against injustice in the case of Michael Brown because there was no injustice. They are looters and arsonists.They are not even protesters against a history of racism and discrimination, because burning and and looting are not acts of protest but acts of crime. Criminals need to stop committing crimes. And, if they won't stop, they need to be stopped. You don't fix societal problems by committing crimes. You don't promote justice by demanding injustice.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

The Hardest Sermon to Prepare and Preach

The Hardest Sermon

Epistle Reading: 1 Timothy 6:6-16 (KJV)

6 But godliness with contentment is great gain.
7 For we brought nothing into this world, and it is certain we can carry nothing out.
8 And having food and raiment let us be therewith content.
9 But they that will be rich fall into temptation and a snare, and into many foolish and hurtful lusts, which drown men in destruction and perdition.
10 For the love of money is the root of all evil: which while some coveted after, they have erred from the faith, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows.
11 But thou, O man of God, flee these things; and follow after righteousness, godliness, faith, love, patience, meekness.
12 Fight the good fight of faith, lay hold on eternal life, whereunto thou art also called, and hast professed a good profession before many witnesses.
13 I give thee charge in the sight of God, who quickeneth all things, and before Christ Jesus, who before Pontius Pilate witnessed a good confession;
14 That thou keep this commandment without spot, unrebukable, until the appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ:
15 Which in his times he shall shew, who is the blessed and only Potentate, the King of kings, and Lord of lords;
16 Who only hath immortality, dwelling in the light which no man can approach unto; whom no man hath seen, nor can see: to whom be honour and power everlasting. Amen.

In one of those classes where they try to teach seminary students how to preach, our professor said, “The hardest sermon to preach year in and year out is the Thanksgiving sermon.” That stuck with me. You might imagine then how I felt when I got my senior preaching assignment. I was to preach a Thanksgiving sermon before the whole student body and faculty with the sermon followed by public faculty criticism.  Well, thanks to Pastor Rich, here I am again, assigned to preach a sermon for Thanksgiving. I will receive his criticism - and yours, too - at the door!

This morning as we look forward to Thanksgiving, I want to focus our attention on 1 Timothy 6:6-10.

1. St. Paul commends contentment.

But godliness with contentment is great gain.

The Apostle tells us that there is great gain for us when godliness and contentment are combined.

So we must ask then, “What is godliness?” Godliness is another word for religion. Godliness reverence for God. We show reverence for God when we offer to him right worship with a right spirit, when we develop a  holy character, and when we live a righteous life.

There were, then as now, teachers who used religion  for enriching themselves. They were like some of the celebrity ministers who have television shows, whose gospel is optimism, success, prosperity, and health, and who ask us for money. We discover too often that they use the gifts of God’s people pay themselves large salaries,  buying themselves luxurious mansions, cars, and vacations. For them godliness is a way to get gain.

Paul says that in fact true godliness is great gain, but not financial gain. It is gain when it is genuine and joined to contentment.

What is contentment? Contentment means self-sufficiency - to have yourself all you need so that you don’t have to depend on outside resources or other people. However, for Paul this sufficiency is not what we mean when we talk about being self-sufficient. What Paul really means is “Christ-sufficiency.”  It means you are not dependent on other people or on circumstances, because you have Christ, and you can depend on Christ to take care of your needs.

St. Paul explains this in his letter to the Philippians which he wrote from Rome when he was waiting on a trial and allowed to live in a house under guard.   He had to provide for his own food and other expenses. The Philippians, after not having sent him financial support for awhile, had now sent a gift to help him meet his needs.  He writes to thank them, but he explains:

I rejoiced in the Lord greatly that now at length you have revived your concern for me. You were indeed concerned for me, but you had no opportunity.  Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content.  I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need.  I can do all things through him who strengthens me. Yet it was kind of you to share my trouble (Philippians 4:11-14, ESV).

Paul was happy to receive their gift and grateful to them, but that does not mean that he was anxious or unhappy waiting to see if they or some other congregation would send him support so he could supply his needs.  He accepted as adequate for today what he had today and did not worry about tomorrow’s needs.  He had learned to be content both when he had much and when he had little. He could deal with it either way. In that way he was independent - independent of other people or circumstances.

How could this be? Christ gave him strength to be content regardless of his circumstances. He had Christ; he depended on Christ; Christ gave him inward strength to deal with the circumstances of life whether that he had more than he needed or did not have what he needed. As we put our trust in Christ he will do the same for us.

Discontentment and thanksgiving are incompatible. When we are discontent we are anxious and complaining. In that state of soul we cannot give true thanks. But when we are content because we trust in Christ, we can give thanks even if we have little in the present and the future is uncertain. Contentment with what God has provided produces thanksgiving and thanksgiving for what God provides strengthens contentment. Contentment itself is something for which to thank God.

2. St. Paul reminds us of a reality.
For we brought nothing into this world, and it is certain we can carry nothing out.

If you have ever witnessed the birth of a baby, and you can probably figure it out even if you haven’t, babies come into this world without anything, not even clothes. That is true of all babies regardless of the circumstances of their parents. Poor babies, middle class babies, and rich babies all enter this world naked. Not one of them brings a purse or a wallet filled with cash. No one has a checkbook or credit card in hand. All come into the world with nothing.

The next part is harder, though it, too, is obvious - or should be. We don’t take anything with us when we
leave this world. A poor man doesn’t take his bills, and a rich man can’t take his bank account, real estate, or  stock investments. We all leave behind everything in this world. No matter how much money and stuff we accumulate, we are not going to take any of it with us.

Though we all know this, yet so often we live as though it were not true. We live as though the real meaning of life in this world is gaining and consuming and as though we can take our stuff with us into the next world. But material things are for this life only, and even in this life they have limited value, while, as St. Paul tells us “godliness is profitable unto all things, having promise of the life that now is, and of that which is to come” (1 Timothy 4:8). Jesus told us:

Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also (Matthew 6:19-21, KJV)

We very much need a reality check. We didn’t bring anything with us; we are not going to take anything with
us. So it makes no sense to live as though how much stuff we have is the meaning of this life or has any value for the life to come.

3. St. Paul sets a standard.

And having food and raiment let us be therewith content.

Paul sets the standard for contentment as food and clothing - or, we might say, the necessities of life. We can quibble about what are the necessities of life in the modern world. How many shirts and pairs of pants, how many dresses or pairs of shoes are necessary? Do we need a car? If so, what make and model? Televisions and computers? Satellite or cable? Cell phones? Do we need to be able to out to eat, or order takeout, or go through the drive-through? Do we need vacations or recreations? Paul seems to set the bar pretty low at the things really necessary for life.

Paul surely does not tell us we cannot seek to better things for our families and ourselves. There are things we may not look for. You can’t look for a better spouse, much as my wife might be justified in thinking she should be allowed. But you may look for a better job, while accepting God’s provision for today. You can work hard to so you can afford a better house or more reliable car, or you can save up so you can afford to take a vacation or buy some new clothes, though you can’t make these things the focus of your life.

The problem we have is that we think what we need really to be satisfied is on a hill out in the distance. We work very hard or we get picked up and set on that hill without working for it at all. Then, when we are on that hill and attain whatever was set on it, we find that that  we are not satisfied, or that we are satisfied only temporarily. The problem, and the lesson we find it so very hard to learn, is that satisfaction, happiness, and contentment are not found in getting things or changing our circumstances. No matter what it is, the new car smell soon wears off.

We will be content and so able to give thanks only when we learn that the Lord will provide our necessities and that the necessities are all we really need.
4. St. Paul warns about wealth.

But they that will be rich fall into temptation and a snare, and into many foolish and hurtful lusts, which drown men in destruction and perdition. For the love of money is the root of all evil: which while some coveted after, they have erred from the faith, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows.

Those who are not rich want to get rich. Those who are rich want to get richer. It seems just as you can’t be too good looking or too young, so you can’t be too rich. But Paul warns that danger lurks when we want to get rich.

Love of money and the things it can buy is potentially fatal to our present and eternal welfare. The love of money is not the only root but it is one root from which every kind of evil grows - idolatry, neglect of parents, hatred and murder, cutting corners and theft, lies about ourselves or to others, and covetousness. Wanting to get rich, and whether we are rich, poor, or in between we are all prone to it,  is like seeing a snare set by a snake. We see a bar of gold, and we eagerly reach for only to get a fatal bite from the snake we did not see.

Wanting to get rich produces foolish and harmful desires that can ruin our lives and the lives of others and lead us to eternal destruction. People wreck friendships and families, make fools of themselves and ruin their own reputations, and ultimately can destroy their own souls for eternity when they rush headlong after money and wealth.

Love of money and things can, and often has, lead people to turn away from the faith they profess. They turn away from their because  their faith hinders their pursuit of material wealth, Or their wealth and possessions crowd out their faith like weeds in a garden. It’s like people see a bush covered with more money than they have ever seen before. They focus on the tree and run as fast as they can to be the first one there. Then, when they get close and hear the footsteps of those they are afraid will get there before they do, they leap into the the air and throw themselves on the bush only to impale themselves on a bush full of thorns hid by the money.

The writer of Hebrews tells us:

Keep your life free from the love of money, and be content with what you have for he has said, I will never leave you nor forsake you (Hebrews 13:5, ESV).

We can be content because the Christ, the only Sovereign, the King of kings and Lord of Lords, has promised he will never leave us or forsake us, and that he will provide. When we delight in him and trust in him we find contentment.
Martin Rinkart was a German Lutheran pastor in the city of Eilenburg during the Thirty Years War. The city experienced famine and epidemic. Eventually he was the only pastor left and officiated at almost 5,000 funerals. He buried his own wife. Yet in that horrible experience, because his contentment was in Christ, he wrote:

Now thank we all our God
with hearts and hands and voices;
who wondrous things hath done
in whom this world rejoices.
Who from our mother’s arms,hath led us on our way,
with countless gifts of love,
and still is ours today.
God grant us such grace, such faith, and such contentment.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Clowns to the Left, Jokers to the Right

Stuck in the Middle

Before he died Barry Goldwater, who along with William F. Buckley is the father of modern conservatism, said to Robert Dole: "We're the new liberals of the Republican party. Can you imagine that?" I can understand Goldwater's perspective. As one who has his whole life been on the right in matters political and theological, I find as I get older I am in stuck in the middle. While it's not always comfortable, it's certainly not squishy. I receive from but I also return fire to both the right and the left.

A few illustrations:

1. There are "old" conservatives who are scornful of the "new" and "crazy" conservatives embodied in movements like the Tea Party and politicians like Ted Cruz. There are "new" conservatives who are scornful of the "RINO" conservatives who are not "true" conservatives but "progressives." There are conservatives who want other conservatives to disavow "religious values" (e.g "pro-life") and who insist that real conservatism is wholly secular and libertarian. There are other conservatives who want to "take back our country for God and Biblical values" and to "take back conservatism from those thinly disguised liberals." I am in the middle with Ronald Reagan the pragmatic and big tent conservative. 

2. The "obedience boys" tell me that because of my halting, one step forward, two steps back, Christian life I need to be concerned about my salvation, inasmuch as saving faith is transformational. The "grace boys" tell me that the law's function is to reveal my sin so that the grace of God can be magnified and I can rejoice all the more in it. I'm in the middle. What I believe is that I am called to struggle more vigorously and more successfully than I do but that, if Romans 7:14-25 does not describe the true Christian, and if the bottom line of salvation is something other than what Christ did completely for me and wholly outside of me, I don't expect to be there when the roll is called up yonder.

3. Some believe that the death penalty is required by God for some crimes (at least murder - Genesis 6:9) and necessary for civil justice. Others believe that the death penalty is wrong for various reasons - it is too easy to for juries and courts to make mistakes; it is unequally applied; it is inconsistent with a pro-life position. I am in the middle. I believe that the state has the discretionary power to impose the death penalty (the power of the sword for the punishment of evil doers - Romans 13:1-4), but that it is not required to do so for the sake of justice. I do, however, favor the execution of any who listen to Advent-Christmas music any earlier than Thanksgiving afternoon and for those who put up Christmas trees any earlier than December 9 (which is the traditional date in my home simply because it is our youngest son's birthday) and take them down any earlier than January 1 (should be the 6th but I am trying to be moderate).

4. Some evangelicals believe that the New Testament does not forbid the ordination of females to the ministry of Word-Sacrament. Other evangelicals believe that ordination of women to sacred office is tantamount to the rejection of the authority of Scripture. Anglo-Catholics and Roman Catholics think it is impossible that a female could sacramentally minister in the name of and in the place of Jesus Christ who was male. I am in the middle. I believe Scripture does not allow for female ordination. But I would prefer to hear the proclamation of justification by faith alone from a woman than the proclamation of justification by membership in the covenant community from a male.

5. Some advocate immediate citizenship for all immigrants regardless of how they arrived in this country. Others are opposed to any form of amnesty for illegal aliens. I am in the middle. I am for closing the borders and preventing future illegal immigration into this country. But I do not favor deportation for all illegal aliens, because, if for no other reason, it is impossible to round them all up and return them to the countries from which they have come. Legislation providing for some kind "regularization" of most of those already here is needed and surely preferable to what we are about to get by executive action.

6. Some paedo-baptists believe that baptism is merely a sign of a promise of salvation to those who believe. Other paedo-baptists believe that baptism effects regeneration and bestows justification. I am in the middle. I believe that baptism is a seal, not merely a picture, and that baptism is a real means of grace (a conduit used by the Holy Spirit and through which flows saving grace), but I do not believe that salvation is without exception tied to baptism (either as absolute requirement, or infallible guarantee, or temporary and provisional benefit). I believe the two Sacraments are "effectual signs of grace" (Articles of Religion XXV) and that baptism is "a sign of Regeneration or the new Birth, whereby, as by an instrument, they that receive Baptism rightly are ingrafted into the Church" (XXVII). 

7. Some believe that government should be large and active, providing for the needs of its citizens and insuring fair outcomes, with heavy regulation of business and with taxes raised to support expansive government roles. Others believe that government has no such responsibilities and that budgets should be slashed, social programs abolished, and taxes radically lowered. I am in the middle. I am for a balanced budget, paying down deficits, and smaller government, but I am not for the abolishment of social programs, and, though I would hate it, I think that balanced budgets may require not only reduced expenditures but also increased revenues (which may not be attainable through increased economic productivity alone). But do not raise my taxes, cut my Social Security, or take away my Medicare, or I will riot.

I'm stuck in the middle but maybe not with you.

Stealers Wheel

Monday, November 10, 2014

What We Can't Do Without

The Indispensable Presence

Mt. Sinai

Homily Text: Exodus 33:1-14

1 And the Lord said unto Moses, Depart, and go up hence, thou and the people which thou hast brought up out of the land of Egypt, unto the land which I sware unto Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, saying, Unto thy seed will I give it:
2 And I will send an angel before thee; and I will drive out the Canaanite, the Amorite, and the Hittite, and the Perizzite, the Hivite, and the Jebusite:
3 Unto a land flowing with milk and honey: for I will not go up in the midst of thee; for thou art a stiffnecked people: lest I consume thee in the way.
4 And when the people heard these evil tidings, they mourned: and no man did put on him his ornaments.
5 For the Lord had said unto Moses, Say unto the children of Israel, Ye are a stiffnecked people: I will come up into the midst of thee in a moment, and consume thee: therefore now put off thy ornaments from thee, that I may know what to do unto thee.
6 And the children of Israel stripped themselves of their ornaments by the mount Horeb.
7 And Moses took the tabernacle, and pitched it without the camp, afar off from the camp, and called it the Tabernacle of the congregation. And it came to pass, that every one which sought the Lord went out unto the tabernacle of the congregation, which was without the camp.
8 And it came to pass, when Moses went out unto the tabernacle, that all the people rose up, and stood every man at his tent door, and looked after Moses, until he was gone into the tabernacle.
9 And it came to pass, as Moses entered into the tabernacle, the cloudy pillar descended, and stood at the door of the tabernacle, and the Lord talked with Moses.
10 And all the people saw the cloudy pillar stand at the tabernacle door: and all the people rose up and worshipped, every man in his tent door.
11 And the Lord spake unto Moses face to face, as a man speaketh unto his friend. And he turned again into the camp: but his servant Joshua, the son of Nun, a young man, departed not out of the tabernacle.
12 And Moses said unto the Lord, See, thou sayest unto me, Bring up this people: and thou hast not let me know whom thou wilt send with me. Yet thou hast said, I know thee by name, and thou hast also found grace in my sight.
13 Now therefore, I pray thee, if I have found grace in thy sight, shew me now thy way, that I may know thee, that I may find grace in thy sight: and consider that this nation is thy people.
14 And he said, My presence shall go with thee, and I will give thee rest.

What can you not do without? What must you have? The three year old in the checkout line at the grocery must have that candy. The teenage kid cannot do without that boy or girl their life revolves around. We adults are not much different. We catch car fever, and we really must have that new model. We can’t do without that latest piece of electronic gadgetry.

Do you ever think about what God’s people can’t do without? Moses did, and he made every argument he could think of to make sure that God would give his people the one thing God’s people must have.

1. The Command
The Lord gave Moses a command to lead the people of Israel to the Promised Land. To understand why the Lord says this we have to know where Israel is and what had recently happened.

The people who had left Egypt are camped at the base of Mt. Sinai. The Lord had called Moses and Joshua up into the mountain where he gave Moses the Law and instructions for building the Tabernacle. Moses had spent 40 days on the mountain, and, when day after day passed and Moses did not return, the people became anxious. They began to think they needed a god like the gods of the other religions. They wanted a god they could see. So they persuaded Aaron the priest to make a golden calf. When it was finished they not only had a god like the gods of other religions, but they also worshiped their god the way other peoples worshiped their gods. Soon the whole thing degenerated into a pagan drunken orgy.

When Moses came down and saw what was happening, he took the two stone tablets inscribed with the 10 Commandments and threw them down so they broke in pieces. This was anger but not just anger. It symbolized that Israel had broken its covenant with God, that Israel had forfeited its special relationship with God. Then there followed punishment as Moses burned  the calf, ground the remains to powder, sprinkled it on the water, and made the people drink it. Then the Levites went among the people killing 3000, and the Lord sent a plague that killed more.

Now the question was, What next  since I Israel had broken the covenant? Moses didn’t know. Would they stay in the wilderness forever? Go back to Egypt? Scatter? Then the Lord gave the command,

Depart, and go up hence, thou and the people which thou hast brought up out of the land of Egypt, unto the land which I sware unto Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, saying, Unto thy seed will I give it.

They were after all, despite their great sin, going to get to go to the Promised Land, a land flowing with milk and honey. Moreover, the Lord  said he would send an angel with them, and the angel would drive out the people who were already living in Canaan so that Israel could take possession of the Land. It seemed like everything was lining up for Israel. They had worshiped a false god and engaged in gross immorality, had broken their covenant with God, yet they still were going to the Promised Land and an angel would help them conquer it so they could settle and live there.

This same kind of thing happens with us. Even if we don’t become pagans and sin grievously against the Lord, we may forget and ignore him - living our lives as though he does not exist or does not matter, doing what we want without a thought  of him.  Despite that, everything seems to go our way. We get what we want in life; things go smoothly for us. We go our merry way thinking that life is good and everything is coming together for us just like we wanted.

But, as Lee Corso says on the Game Day program, “Not so fast.” As it turns out, there is a catch, and we must look at that now.

2. The Catch

The catch was that, though the Lord was going to give them the Land and send an angel to go ahead of them, the Lord himself was not going with them. The reason the Lord gave was, “You are a stiffnecked people, and if I went with you, I would consume you.” Y’all may be too good parents to have ever done this, but some of us parents have said to our misbehaving kids something like this: “It would be good for you to go to another room, or better yet outside. It’s dangerous for us to be around each other right now.” God was saying, “I know what you are like; I know what you have done; and I know what you will likely do in future, so I am not going to go, because I know you are going to provoke my holy anger against you, and I could destroy you. I’ll send an angel, but I’m not going.”

If the Lord was not going, then he would not be living in their midst, so there would be no need for a Tabernacle. So instead of proceeding with construction of the Tabernacle, Moses took a small tent, went outside the camp, and set it up.

The Tabernacle was supposed to a Tent on a grand scale and set up in the middle of the camp with the Israelites camped around it. This was to be God’s Tent where he would live with his people and reveal his glorious Presence. But the Lord was in effect saying to them, “I won’t be needing my Tent, because I am not going to be traveling with you.” Putting a tent for God outside the camp was a way the Lord communicated to the people that he and they were estranged, and he was distant from them, yet had not abandoned them completely. One of my students from campus ministry days was the son of career Army officer. The father did several tours in Viet Nam, leaving behind three very rambunctious boys with their mother. From time to time the boys would act up, and the mother would get enough, go upstairs to her bedroom, lock the door, and refuse to come out. She was around, but she was not going to live among them. That’s the way it was between the Lord and his people at this time.

However, the Lord was still friends with Moses, so he would meet with him in a tent outside the camp. He also had not completely cut himself off from the people, so the people could stand at their tent doors and worship God as he revealed his glory outside the camp.  Those wanted to seek the Lord for some special thing could go outside the camp to the tent where Moses was meeting with the Lord. Putting a Tent for God outside the camp was a way the Lord communicated to the people that he and they were estranged, and he was distant from them.

This is the catch. The people are going to get the Land and the help of the angel, but they are not going to have the Lord among them. He is not going to live in the middle of the camp. And, as the people grasped to some extent and Moses saw very clearly, it is not a blessing but a disaster to get blessings but not have the Lord. St. Chrysostom once said, "To be separated from God is a greater punishment than a thousand hells.”
Moses grasps this, and the pending disaster of losing the Lord’s Presence in the camp led to a complaint before the Lord. By ignoring the Lord, assigning him a low priority, we can also forfeit communion with the Lord which, though we often forget it, is the greatest blessing, and the blessing we most need.

3. The Complaint

Moses knew that the Lord blessed him in wonderful ways. “Thou hast said, I know thee by name, and thou hast also found grace in my sight.”  I really struggle with names, yet I like it when people remember my name, because remembering a name and calling a person by name is personal. The fact that the Lord knows Moses by name means that he is not just aware of Moses but has established a personal relationship with him. Moses has found grace in God’s sight. The Lord shows Moses favor based not on Moses’ merit but on God’s good and merciful nature. This was pictured when Moses enjoyed the blessing of going outside the camp to the little tent, where he and God met as friends.

What Moses already possesses, he wants more of. Moses tells the Lord, “Since you have said that I am in your favor, please show me your ways, so that I can know you better, and understand what your purposes are for these your people. Have you completely broken off your covenant with them? Is there any hope? Is there any future? Show me your ways so that I can know you better, and you continue to know my name and show me your grace.”

Yet Moses has a complaint. “You have told me to strike camp here at Sinai and take these people on to the Promised Land, but you have not told me who is going with us.” Of course, the Lord had told Moses that an angel would go with them. But Moses is saying, “I don’t know this angel. I don’t know his name. I don’t have a personal relationship with him the way I do with you, but you are telling me to lead the people to the Land with him whom I do not know.”

Moreover, Moses tells the Lord, “If you are not going with us, then leave us at Sinai, and don’t send us to the Land.” It just makes no sense for the Lord’s people to go to go, unless the Lord is going to go with them. What is the Promised Land without the Presence of the Lord? Imagine going on a honeymoon without the bride. The beautiful sights, the luxurious accommodations, the delicious food, but without the person you love, it would all be an empty waste. That’s they way it is for us as Christians. We might have good jobs, nice houses, fine cars, wonderful vacations, but if we do not have the Lord’s gracious Presence in our lives. We as a church would have the finest facilities and have pews filled to capacity, yet, if the Lord does not live among us, we have nothing.

Then, Moses reminds the Lord, “The only thing that makes us distinct from the nations is that you the one, true, and only God live among us - that you have taken us as your people and promise to dwell among us.” Without the Lord living among them, they are just one more nation among all the other nations of the world. They are in no way different. Do you know what makes the church the church? It is the Lord’s living among us by his Spirit. If we do not have the Lord’s Presence we are just another human organization like a social club or professional group, or, worse, a political party, When we are gathered in worship, if the Lord is not among us, we are just engaging in activities which we could do without. The church is a unique and divine institution, because the Lord lives among us.

The Lord hears Moses’ complaint; he considers Moses’ argument; he grants Moses’ request. Twice the Lord assures Moses: “My presence shall go with thee, and I will give thee rest,” and again, I will do this thing also that thou hast spoken: for thou hast found grace in my sight, and I know thee by name.” The Lord will be reconciled to his people. They will build the Tabernacle. He will live among them. He will go with them to the Promised Land, and, there, when all their enemies are subdued, he will give them rest, and they will enjoy the blessings God has promised. The one thing they must have - the Lord living among them, they will have.

For you and me, and for our parish, all of this focuses on Jesus. He has secured God’s Presence with us, because he has taken on himself all our sins forsaking the Lord, worshiping other gods, and rebelliously going our own ways. Instead of destroying us, God destroyed Jesus on the cross. The reason God can live among us is, is because of what Jesus did when he took our places on  the cross. Jesus is greater than Moses, because Jesus, unlike Moses did just pray the Lord would be among us; he secured it for us. The reason God lives among, not in fiery judgment but with his gracious Presence and blessings, is because of Jesus.

Not only that but Jesus is God’s Presence among us. He is Immanuel, God with us. He has promised that he will be with us as individuals, never abandoning or forsaking us. He had promised that where as many as two or three of us gather in his name, he will be in our midst. He is in our lives and he is here as we worship. We cannot have God’s Presence and blessings apart from Jesus, but, if we have Jesus, we have what we must have - the Presence of the living and gracious God who knows our names. The Presence of God in and through Jesus is what we can’t do without. It is what we do have, as his Spirit works in Word and Sacraments, and gives us faith to receive him. If we have Jesus God is with us through this earthly journey through the wilderness until we come to that perfect rest in the true Promised Land.

Saturday, November 8, 2014

In Memory of Kim - November 8, 2012

The Resilient Kim

What follows is a Blog I published on November 4, 2012, four days before the death at age 39 of our daughter-in-law Kim. The Blog consists of an introduction by me followed by excerpts from Kim's blogging at CarePages during her illness. The last was written less than a month before she died. Cancer is an evil that deserved to be damned and at the last day when Christ raises his people from their graves to life everlasting, cancer and death will get what they so richly deserve - destruction.

Kim Smith is our daughter-in-law, the wife of our oldest son, Calvin. They live in Roanoke,Virginia.
Their sons are Josh (9) and Jackson (7). Calvin is an attorney. Kim is an occupational therapist. They are among the families who founded Christ the King Presbyterian Church. Kim left the hospital and began home hospice care on Friday, November 2. They began posting on CarePages when Kim was diagnosed with Stage 4 breast cancer. Calvin has done most of the posting, but Kim has made some excellent posts, especially during the current year. Below I have collected some of these, which reveal Kim’s heart. I have provided a very few notes to give context for Kim’s comments. I have put these in italics within parentheses.

One further note: Kim and Calvin are involved with Susan G. Komen. I understand that some do not want any association with Komen because it provides some funds to Planned Parenthood.
Planned Parenthood does provided abortions. But Komen does not provide funds to PP for the purpose of funding abortions. It provides funds for mammograms, which Planned Parenthood does not do but which they can send patients elsewhere to receive. No doubt the funds are intermingled. But, there are many organizations, including charitable ones, which are “mixed in nature” to which Christians give. Komen’s main purpose is to raise and direct funds for research to find the cure(s) for breast cancer, a cause about which Smiths care much.

Kim’s Story. On April 2, 2010, I was diagnosed with breast cancer. We learned about 2 weeks later that it had already metastasized to my liver. Following 8months of treatments in March 2011 I had a mastectomy. In April, 2011, we learned that the cancer had now moved into my bones - along multiple vertebra and ribs. We are continually trying potential chemotherapy agents and radiation. We continue on a chemo as long as there is some evidence of its effectiveness. If that evidence does
not exist then my oncologist works with colleagues all over to determine the best next treatment for my cancer. We are thankful for your prayers, love, and encouragement for myself, my husband Calvin, and our two sons Josh and Jackson. I have been married to Calvin since July 1, 2000. The Lord has blessed us with 2 handsome and energetic boys - Josh and Jackson. I have a wonderful church family at Christ the King Presbyterian. I work full-time (although a flexible schedule) as an Occupational Therapist, teaching and coordinating fieldwork education (clinicals).

March 16, 2012. This weekend our Red Sox (Salem, VA, Red Sox) are having Pink in the Park to raise awareness of breast cancer. On Saturday night I will be participating by running out on the field with a player before the game. If you are able to attend the game Saturday night we would love to have you join us. We typically sit in sections 108 or 110 - just over the Sox dugout. You can buy tickets through this link and benefit Komen for the Cure....

(This paragraph mentions Laura Black, a member of Briarwood Presbyterian Church inBirmingham, who became a friend bound by their shared fight against cancer.) Finally, I ask that you join me in prayer for a wife and mother that I have met from this battle with breast cancer. (Some of you have seen my posts on facebook). Laura Black is in Birmingham, AL. She too has stage 4 breast cancer and is currently in the hospital fighting pneumonia and also finding out that her cancer has likely spread to new places. As I follow what is going on with her it really resonates with me. The new spots/tumors in places that I have
tumors, the physical weakness, the after effects of chemo and radiation combined... There is such fear that surfaces when new cancer is found... not necessarily fear of death but fear for those that death would leave behind.... sorry I don't mean to be so morbid sounding.....and fear of not being able to LIVE out life with our husbands and kids. Oh the desire to be healed on this side of heaven is huge! Please join me and many others and pray for Laura as you pray for me.

March 19, 2012. (In March, Calvin and Kim and Josh and Jackson went to Legoland in Florida, a Christmas gift from Kim’s mother.) My final walk back through the park was bitter sweet. I remembered the excitement and joy from earlier, but didn't anticipate I would feel quite this bad. I knew it would be a tough day for me, but I just thought I would be wiped out afterward, not having to sleep while there. As I walked behind the boys and watched them, I could only smile! They had had a day to remember!!! Along with that smile came a few tears though. I thought I was hiding them through my sunglasses, but my wonderful husband noticed and asked. Yes, I was crying..... I hated the way I felt right then, my back hurt, I was miserable, I hated that I could not make a day at an amusement park with my family, I hated that my boys had to look at their mom and feel sad for her, I hated that I missed some of their day - a day they were so excited about, and they knew I missed it, I hated that they looked at me with sadness because mommy doesn't feel good, I hated that this stupid cancer and even stupider chemo was making me feel this way. I hate that I will likely miss so much more! Bittersweet - pleasure alloyed with pain.

April 2, 2012. Certainly I believe that God knew what He was doing when He put Calvin and I together! But I must say He was an excellent matchmaker when He considered one characteristic...traveling. Yep, when it comes to Road Trips Calvin and I are very alike. We are not about the journey, but we are in it for the destination. We aren't the type to lolly-gag, to make many long drawn-out stops, or to check things out along the way! No, we are all about getting there! We stop for gas, bathroom, and lunch all at the same time and it's back on the road! (Calvin wants to make sure you know that we don't actually eat IN the bathroom) Get me to the beach...or parents' houses or whatever.

Never did we anticipate THIS LONG ROAD TRIP though! As of today, we have been traveling this road for 2 LONG YEARS. One thing that God is working on with us, throughout this road trip, is to learn to enjoy the journey. Wherever it takes us. Our "anxious-to-get-there" selves are stopping to see the sights and finding ways to enjoy even the bumps in the road (and boy have there been bumps, pot holes, detours and dead ends these last 2 years)!

I am so thankful that God has continued to allow me such fullness of life despite the diagnosis and treatment. I try daily to not focus negatively on the prognosis - or to continue my theme, the destination. It can be overwhelming and often a struggle t

I have not said thank you enough to those of you that have provided help through meals, encouragement, prayer, loving on and entertaining Josh and Jackson, and many other ways. But please know you have made this journey more pleasant and have provided me the opportunity to use my strength in ways that let me focus on the joys of this journey. I thank you!!!
Continuing this long lasting road trip...

"You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore." Psalm 16:11

June 19, 2012. (In June the family took a trip to Destin, stopping on the way in Birmingham to meet and visit with Laura and her family.) -BONUS BLESSING - To top it off, on our trip toFlorida, we were able to drive through Birmingham, AL to meet someone that has become very dear to my heart. Many of you have heard me mention my friend Laura from Alabama. Laura is also a young woman, wife and mother of 3 kids close to the ages of Josh and Jackson who is fighting stage IV breast cancer as well. Laura and I have communicated over the phone, email, and facebook over the last 8 months or so. Calvin, the boys, and I were able to stop at her house to meet and visit with each other. It was very good for my soul to be in the room with, talk, and pray with someone who truly knows this struggle! Friends I ask you to be in prayer for Laura, her husband, and children as she continues this fight. Laura is currently having breathing complications (her metastases are in lungs and bones)and is very weak and on 24 hour oxygen. Laura is a beautiful woman. She has a beautiful smile and a heart that desires to bring glory to our God throughout this trial. My hope is that I have been able to show Christ through this, for without Him folks - I have no hope!
June 29, 2012. "You have granted me life and steadfast love, and your care has preserved my spirit." Job 10:12

Several mornings while sitting on the balcony at the beach and taking it all in, I spent time in the book of Job. Throughout all of the struggles, devastation, loss, and grief I must continue to recall God's blessings and promises. It can be so easy to focus on the negatives and the curses, but truly I am blessed and the Lord has preserved my spirit (for now and for eternity)!! How can I not be thankful!

This week has continued to be up and down as I reflect on Laura's death. I was in the car yesterday singing Oh Love That Will Not Let Me Go and as the verse mentioned "I trace the rainbow through the rain and feel the promise is not vain" I just burst out in tears. Laura always reminded friends of God's promise made to Noah and the sign of the rainbow... I will never look at a rainbow without thinking of her. "That morn shall tearless be!" Calvin and I still have not told Josh and Jackson about her death. We know that we need to - they were just with her and her kids less than 2 weeks ago - but I am really scared to do so. Please pray with us about this.

Well as for my next treatment, I have been approved for the next clinical trial and was randomized to the experimental chemotherapy (NKTR 102). I will receive my first treatment on Thursday of next week. The infusion time is listed as 90 minutes, so with the blood work on the day of treatment as well as meeting with doc and researcher and then treatment it will probably be about a 2 1/2 to 3 hour day at the center.

As of yesterday I have not had chemo in 7 weeks (last chemo treatment was May 10) so since having a scan on Monday, I have been curious about the potential growth of tumors in that time. According to the researcher, the results state that things remain stable in the chest - which is still a very good sign. As for the liver, the radiologist's report did not give actual measurements this time. It states that they have "progressed and that they are coalescing and difficult to measure". Now the researcher didn't know exactly what that means and my doc is out this week. Even though I teach medical terminology I was not familiar with that term so I looked it up. Sure enough it means "to grow together, to unite into a whole". That is what the researcher suspected. We don't know to what degree and will hopefully find out more from the doc. So you all can be praying about that progression. Hopefully the trial will prove some success in decreasing liver tumors while providing limited side effects for me.

Well, that pretty much covers things for now. Thanks for your prayers and encouragement.

August 8. 2012. Since being on this new clinical trial, I have never really felt like myself. The title above pretty well sums up how I have felt physically and emotionally over the last 6 weeks. I get a little stronger and then the next day I feel like crawling in a hole again.

On Saturday I had the blessing of going to a women's bible study and fellowship with my mom and ladies from my church. It lasted about half the day. When I returned home I slept. It was wonderful to be in the presence of my sisters in Christ - the conversations were very good for my soul (I need to have them more often!).

Sunday I slowly got ready for church but was only able to stay about 30 minutes as I began to feel sucked of energy and if the world was closing in. Later that afternoon I got sick and continued to sleep the day away. That evening my 3 boys were able to enjoy an evening with good friends and I was saddened that I just could not go.

Monday, the joy of my day was having an all out tickle fight with Jackson while in the recliner. I realized that it has been 1 year and 5 months since I last picked him up (that was just before my
mastectomy). I HAVE NOT PICKED UP MY CHILD IN ALMOST A YEAR AN A HALF... Mothers out there be grateful.... pick up your child now, if you can, and give them a big hug. Well I tried to help lift Jackson a little to get him up in the recliner and realized either he has become a sack of sand or I am very very weak (I think it is a little of both). Either way he joined me in the recliner and we tickled and giggled and such until neither of us could breathe!!

Tuesday I felt pretty strong so I spent several hours at the office preparing for fall semester (it is coming soon). After a good day at the office, I took the boys to the dentist and helped mom prepare a delicious dinner. I still can't eat very much at times, but I tried!

Today was another day of no energy. To go out for Zaxby's chicken at lunch completely wiped me out!

Today I am meditating on Psalm 23. It is one we almost know so well that we tend to gloss over the depth of it.

The LORD is my shepherd, I shall not want.He makes me lie down in green pastures.He leads me beside still waters. He restores my soul.He leads me in paths of righteousness for his name's sake.Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me;your rod and staff, they comfort me.You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies;you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life,and I shall dwell in the house of the LORD forever.
Y'all that is my comfort, that is my strength in this!
 He is WITH ME! And I will dwell with Him FOREVER!!! Thanks for your continued prayers. Mom is here for just short of one more week and it will be hard when she leaves. We have been blessed... Surely the Lord is with us! Next treatment is Thursday Aug 16 and then scans on Thursday Aug 23.

August 10, 2012. I type this update while hiding behind tears. Josh is upstairs, Jackson playing the Wii, Mom gone to Kroger so I feel like at least I am not being directly watched as I cry. I am so very tired of being inside and having not enough energy.

I was excited earlier my shower (taxing), put on some makeup (had to sit down), Put on my red dress and heels (then stretched out on the bed). Calvin came home early from work to get changed too. We were heading up to Staunton, VA (about an hour plus up the interstate) to a celebration and even a night away. At one time the night away was going to be a weekend away, maybe Baltimore, but we quickly realized on this chemo that would not be reality... so maybe just a quiet night away would do.
But when it came down to it, I just could not go. I can't even sit through church these days, much less drive an hour for a reception. There was no guarantee I could survive it so we said "NO" to me going. He pulled off my heels and I walked him downstairs and out the door, then as he drove north I crawled in bed :( Oh how I wanted to be there. To be with him. I wanted to celebrate with the Judge and his family. You see, they are very dear to us. I wanted to see Calvin and others honor him and his service. And I wanted a night with my husband...just my husband.

September 20, 2012. "Cast your burden on the Lord, and he will sustain you; he will never permit the righteous to be moved." Psalm 55:22

Yeah we are burdened here! But He is sustaining us! I believe that Calvin mentioned in his last post that he has been having some stomach pains and not feeling well. That has worsened over the last few days. Yesterday he went in to see his doctor and had an dray and blood work done. This morning, after I dropped off the boys at school, I had to report for my Brain MRI (Calvin had said Friday but it was today). While waiting to be called back Calvin called to let me know that his doc had called and told him to go to the Emergency Room b/c his lipase enzyme (pancreas) was very high. Thankfully a friend of ours was able to get him to the hospital while I had my mri. He was still in the ER when I got there. Around 3:20 he was finally transferred to a room. The plan is that he will be there a few days to control the pain and try to stabilize his pancreas. At this point they are uncertain of the cause. Some of you may remember this enzyme was high about a year ago as it was much higher.

As you can imagine this news was extremely hard for the boys to hear. "Daddy isn't supposed to be sick, mom that's you." They want daddy home and some sense of normalcy. They were not able to see him but begged to go to the hospital. Tomorrow after school they will get to visit him.

We are tired and burdened from the journey we have been on. But we are well aware that God will sustain us and carry us through this current trial.
Thank you for your prayers. Pray for Calvin's healing, my strength, and for they boys as they try to deal with this.

Friends it has been a rough road for the Smith's. I know that while I desire to spend every moment with Calvin, I MUST take care of me (or else we end up with two patients at Memorial.

October 12, 2012.

Pink, Green, and Blue - Colorful Musings from a Woman with Stage IV Breast Cancer

Part 1 - Pink
You have to know where I am starting here... It is October and everywhere we go there is Pink for Breast Cancer Awareness Month. Last night, I was extremely saddened when I read an article on about a woman who, like me, has stage IV breast cancer. She was putting down the pink and stating it was like a slap in the face to those of us fighting in incurable stage of breast cancer. She doesn't feel included in the activities of the month because she believes the focus is mostly on new breast cancer diagnoses, prevention, and early detection. To quote her, "I was beyond prevention, beyond cure, beyond survivorship, beyond pink." Yet another woman (with stage III) in the article stated that she too "can not celebrate because she is not a survivor".

Oh y'all this hurt me deep down as I read it. I understand the pain, fear, anger and such of this incurable diagnosis. It is true that I am beyond prevention and beyond a cure just like this woman. But oh this is not just about ME. Sure we all wish I didn't have to go through this. I wish this woman didn't have to go through this either. But it is the portion we have been handed. And as I spoke about at our Roanoke race for the Cure last April, survivorship doesn't have to mean being cancer free and done with it... Survive is what we do at stage IV.

What if, just what if, because of all of the pink... if this awareness leads to action? Some stats say there are 155,000 women in the US living with Stage IV breast cancer. Y'all what if I could be the end of it? What if what I am going through, what others are going through, what research is being done, what awareness and early detection and treatment that is going on could lead to NO MORE STAGE IV? I am ok with that!!! The early stages are treatable - even curable! So let's be stuck there!

Pink is for National Breast Cancer Awareness this month. Yes, we have been seeing pink in October since Marilyn Quayle's work during the Bush-Quayle Administration. Folks that's a lot of awareness! But at some point, there must be more than just awareness. Somewhere along the way there has to be a change of heart for action too! Just like as I walk in faith, I often become "aware" of sinful words and actions on my part. But once God has changed my heart on the matter, then I can take action. Sometimes I get hit time and time again with the awareness piece before the action starts! Well, even with the pink representing awareness, know that there is action out there! I get so excited during October when I am reminded of the various organizations out there that are in action against breast cancer. Not just detection but treatment for me too! Remember I am in my second clinical research trial for treatment. So friends be aware and if you are led then follow through with action - whatever that action might be (for yourself or for others). I want to be the end of Stage IV Breast Cancer!

Thanks again for your continued prayers and encouragement for my family. times are tough, but God is good to us!