Advent – The Story

Source: ExploringFaith.org recommended by Chris Altrock

Some of you follow the Advent Calendar. Some of you do not. Some have never heard of it and others are formulating their response to me for even mentioning it in “Free Church” circles.

One good site that leads a daily thought and activity around Advent, recommended by my friend Chris Altrock is ExploringFaith.org

Advent is a way of preparing individuals, families, and churches for the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ. This is done through the lens of the coming Messiah. In other words, we continue to prepare ourselves for the Lord’s return through the event of Christmas and during the days leading up to Christmas, we express faith in various ways, scriptures, prayers, acts of service.

One way I plan to live out Advent is by being available at Cafe Mosaic during the weekday mornings to share more about The Story that Garnett has been going through. I’ll also do more visiting with shut-ins and planning to write letters to my children for Christmas (don’t tell them . . . they don’t read my blog 🙂

By Greg Taylor Posted in Advent

Walls Fall Down Around Our Hearts

Sunday we gathered to experience the next chapter of The Story. We marched seven times around the worship center symbolizing our participation with the Israelites as they conquered Jericho.

I encourage the church to neither take these battle stories as our stamp of approval for every kind of war our nation might make on other nations, nor to try and “clean up God” as some scholars have done by claiming these texts were not from inspiration but inventions of the Jews and God was invoked to justify their atrocities. Instead, I encourage us–as my grandmother and the Beatles say–to “let it be.” Let the text say what it says and live in the tension of God’s grace on a prostitute named Rahab and his justice for Jericho and also the Israelite Achan and his family. Rahab harbored illegal aliens and was blessed for it, and Achan stole from the spoils–a Babylonian robe and gold and silver–of Jericho when God’s command was to destroy everyone and everything. “Let it be” means to let the story be and don’t rush to try and fix the violence or make God into our image or to fit into the shape of our sensibilities.

But on this day we were marching in honor and to uphold God’s gold standard. We had a “standard”–a gold banner on a T bar–and a few dozen volunteers marched around the perimeter of the worship center, sometimes chanting spontaneously, as people who like Joshua believe that God’s word is truth and we must obey it. For we discovered more than a warrior, Joshua is featured as one who obeys and leads Israel to obey what God says. And God keeps his word. If God keeps his word, so we should be people who keep his word.

But we don’t keep our word. I stand as an example of a person who has failed to keep his word many times, failed to obey. But God does not fail to keep his covenant. He is faithful. We walked with the gold standard not of our faithfulness–for we are a stiff-necked people like Israel (Deuteronomy 9:5-6)–but of God’s faithfulness.

We walked with a second banner–a purple one symbolizing our covenant with God–with this I encouraged all who want the walls of their hearts to come down. Pride. Shame. Self-centeredness. Walls of depression, sin, fear. We are people who obey, and so we walked with a second standard of the covenant we are to obey.

Seven times around our auditorium is about one mile. When some of the people started, they did not realize this. One man had to take a break and others helped him along. Another said he was honored to “do this for the Lord” . . . he said he was beaten and left for dead ten years ago and doctors said he would never walk again. Today he walked in honor of a faithful God.

As we completed the last circuit (the church walls did not crash in but many hearts did), we walked together to the table of the Lord and shared communion together as people of the word of God and his faithfulness who are broken and beautifully redeemed.

It was a beautiful day together with the body of Christ. We’d love to have you be with us in the coming weeks.

We are telling the story together in many ways. Many have walked, read scripture, told stories of how The Story is impacting them and changing their lives, many are preaching in my place. James Lawrence preached and others will be preaching in coming weeks, including Jeff McIlroy, Jon Hart, Marvin Phillips, Tim Herbel, Lance Newsom. Jo Morton and the Breaking Free Ladies class will also share their experiences of how the Breaking Free class is intersecting with The Story.

Eating Crow at Thankgiving

Families might be better off at Thanksgiving if we’d all eat some crow instead of turkey.

Two weeks ago I suggested that Garnett members prepare some “flocks and herds” like Jacob did when he returned to meet his brother. To translate to our cultural metaphor, “eat crow.”

Jacob had ripped off Esau’s deserved double portion of inheritance and blessing of the eldest brother. Esau was so furious that Jacob ran for his life and didn’t show his face in Edom for nearly two decades.

When he did return, he took his wives, servants, and children. And some of the servants went ahead with literally hundreds of herds and flocks to appease the anger of his brother Esau.

Jacob actually thought Esau would come out against him in battle, but Esau welcomed his brother with an embrace. At first Esau rejected Jacob’s restitution, but Jacob convinced him to accept, and they returned to Edom together.

Later God in Israel’s life would help them develop burnt, grain, fellowship, sin, and guilt offerings that placed emphasis on the treatment of neighbor (Leviticus 6:1-7). We often think of restitution only in legal terms, but it extends to relationships as well.

Restitution is the act of making right something that was wrong and adding some type of payment, often in excess of the victim’s loss, to make amends for an offense. A police officer once told me restitution is an important idea in law enforcement, and it certainly remains part of the United States justice system. Often called “punitive damages” today, restitution not only discourages the offender from doing it again but also sends a signal to witnesses to curb any desires of breaking the same law.

In the case of Jacob, he made restitution. Seeking forgiveness, Jacob gave a “moral gift” of flocks to his brother Esau. While some might feel shame from having sinned against a family member or embarrassing themselves years before, one benefit of this kind of public humiliation is that it’s already out there. It’s known in the family, and you don’t have to explain–instead, you can ask for forgiveness and offer some kind of restitution.

I don’t believe restitution must be a sentence or punishment. Restitution can be done voluntarily. I recently did some restitution to restore a relationship at Garnett Church. I bought a gift and wrote out a prayer as a way to help heal a heart I had wounded. This is not always easy to do, but I eat lots of crow throughout the year personally and professionally. As my friend Rubel Shelly says, “It’s not easy but after all, eating crow is fat free.” Seems to be part of the territory of being human.

What about you at Thanksgiving with family or friends? Do you have some herd gathering to do before you go?

The Lord Will Provide

In the sermon on Chapter 2 of The Story at Garnett I committed to put something on my blog about Abraham and Isaac on Mt. Moriah . . .

Abraham and Isaac are walking up a mountain together in a region called Moriah. The Dome of the Rock, a most holy place for Muslims marks this approximate spot.

Father and son. Abraham and Isaac. What a joyful, warm picture . . .

Or is it?

Why does Genesis 22 bring out doubt in me and in some of you?

Because . . . Abraham and Isaac are climbing the mountain to offer a sacrifice to God. But not an animal sacrifice. God had told Abraham to offer up Isaac as a burnt offering! How could God ask this? Had the boy’s mother, Sarah, known, would she have allowed it?

Genesis 22 says God spoke directly to Abraham and said, “Take your son, you only son, Isaac, whom you love, and go to the region of Moriah. Sacrifice him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains I will tell you about.”

Even God spoke of the great love between Abraham and this boy he’d waited for more than twenty-five years!

Yes, twenty-five years had passed from the time God said to Abram, “Leave your country . . . and go to the land I will show you” and the time Isaac was born. In those years before Abram’s land was deeded and a baby bawled against his wrinkled face, he doubted and now more than ever . . . this turn of events grieved Abraham on this long trip up the hill. Isaac himself wondered what they were doing, what they would sacrifice. Abraham just told him, “God will provide.” Indeed God did provide.

Still we ask, “How could God have asked this?” Frankly, this is one of the most troubling passages in the Bible for me. How to explain it!?

One way we can view this passage is through twenty-first century glasses. With our current views of a person or even animals, could we ever conscience any kind of sacrifice . . . specially human sacrifice . . . and an innocent child? All religions could agree in principle that sacrificing children would be wrong.

Second, we could view it from Isaac’s standpoint. Josephus, an ancient historian, thinks Isaac would have been in his twenties, not a little boy. Regardless of age, through his eyes we’re concerned about where the animal for sacrifice is. We feel the wood placed on our back and the glint of the knife as Abraham, our beloved father raises it to kill us. We’re terrified.

Third, is Sarah’s view. Sarah is not heard from in this passage. I can imagine that she would have objected to Abraham was going to do on that mountain. Does this speak to the way we go about “doing God’s will” alone? What if he’d asked Sarah in the first place?

Fourth, through Abraham’s eyes. As parents, we can easily imagine the grief, the torn faith between the love for our children and devotion to our God. But God promised this son to Abraham, then to just take him away?!

Fifth, we could look through eyes of the society of Abraham’s day. He was not a sophisticated Asian or European business man. He was a nomad living in a time when child sacrifice was practiced. This is still not to diminish the terrible nature of child sacrifice. It is abhorrent to us today . . . and God never asked anyone in Scripture to carry through child sacrifice.

That brings us to the sixth view: God’s.

God never intended for Abraham to sacrifice his son, yet God knows what this is like, for he did that very thing: he offered his only son, Jesus. This is what John 3:16 says in the King James Version: “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.”

God gave up the part of him—Jesus was with the Father from the beginning—to be a substitution sacrifice to remove the sins of the world, for those who would have the faith of Abraham and believe and withhold nothing from God.

Perhaps God also wanted to show Abraham and all of us, dramatically, that child sacrifice was not the way of God, though it was common in that culture.

Abraham’s journey with Isaac to Moriah was a test of his faith. He did obey and believe and held nothing back. So he is the father of all who believe. In fact, three major religions claim him as their father: Israel, Islam, Christianity.

The story is also about God’s provision. An angel held back Abraham’s hand from slaying Isaac, then he saw in a thicket a ram that God provided for the burnt offering instead of Isaac, just as Jesus took our place. Abraham called the place, “The Lord will provide.” Solomon built God’s temple there. And to this day, it is a place where people go up to the mountain of the Lord.

The Mountain of “The Lord will provide.”