Previous month:
April 2007
Next month:
June 2007

May 2007

Sermon Writing

This week I was really excited that I had a draft of the sermon on Tuesday afternoon, which gave me plenty of time to revise and tweak it all week to really refine it, some of which I did today. This is a sermon I've been anticipating for about four months, so writing it was really easy.

But today when I finished I realized something. I was really proud of what I had written. But it isn't a sermon. It's a good essay.

So back to the drawing board. Oh well.

I'll probably post the essay (in segments) on the blog.

The New Creation

The New Creation
Rev. 21:1-5, 22-22:5
by the Rev. Dr. E. Scott Jones
Cathedral of Hope – Oklahoma City
27 May 2007

When I was five years old my family were members of the First Baptist Church of Grove, Oklahoma. My parents were active in the youth department and my Dad was a deacon. I had grown up in church and had never known anything other than church life. On Wednesday nights the boys participated in RA’s, Royal Ambassadors. One Wednesday night the leader of our group of young boys got to talking about heaven and hell. And what became apparent is that hell was a place you didn’t want to go.

In the worldview I grew up with, all humanity were sinners who deserved to spend eternity in hell separated from God. But God came as Jesus and died on the cross to pay the penalty for our sins. All we had to do was to accept Jesus into our hearts and then we’d be saved and get to spend eternity with God in heaven.

That night I got home and shared my fear with my parents and made what we called a profession of faith. Later I went forward during the invitation in a Sunday morning worship service and made that profession public. The pastor came to talk to me, and then I was baptized.

As a teenager, I began to see the cracks in that worldview and to ponder some of its questions. What about those people who had never heard about Jesus? What about those people living on a desert island that new nothing about Christianity? What about all those people who had lived all over the world before the gospel was spread worldwide? What about all those people who had lived before Jesus?

My youth ministers didn’t have satisfactory answers to these questions. And though answers were provided by more knowledgeable people, none of these supposed answers satisfied me for any length of time.

I also began to wonder about hell. The descriptions of it just did not seem to be compatible with a loving and good God.

When I got to college, the questions began to abound even more. My freshman year there were some Calvinists who lived on my hall who believed that God chose those who were saved and those who were damned, that it had nothing to do with our decision. I rejected Calvinism out-right. From the beginning it always sounded to me as an immoral, unbiblical understanding of the faith. As one of my friends said once, “If the Calvinists were right about God, then we should join the devil in rebelling against such an evil God.”

In order to refute the arguments of these dorm mates, I began to research the issues surrounding God’s salvation of humanity. That spring for my Life and Lit of Paul class, I wrote a paper on Paul’s doctrine of reconciliation. This research made me face a dilemma. If Jesus had paid the penalty for sin for the entire world, then what was preventing all creation from being reconciled to God? A person’s refusal didn’t sound right, because wasn’t that just another sin that Jesus had died for. If it wasn’t, if sin could still separate us, then didn’t that mean that Jesus had died in vain? That his death had not been efficacious for human salvation?

These questions didn’t go away. I began to be aware of the fact that I was heading toward universalism. Universalism is the view that no one is excluded from God’s reconciliation. Some people put it more crudely and say it is the view that everyone goes to heaven and no one goes to hell, but that’s not a good way to characterize the position.

But I was scared about becoming a universalist, it meant such a dramatic change of worldview. Though I had changed many of my beliefs, especially in college, this one seemed too much. Plus, I knew this would make me a liberal in the current environment and I didn’t want to become a liberal.

Finally in the mid-90’s, I took the leap of faith. I had read a book called What I Believe by the French sociologist and Christian thinker Jacques Ellul that made a strong and persuasive case for universal salvation. That book dispelled all my remaining doubts and obstacles. I embraced my new worldview and suddenly rediscovered my faith. I was filled with joy as suddenly so many things made sense. My faith had a force and conviction that it had not had for some time.

When I told my family, it was like I had betrayed them. They took that news worse than they did that I was gay. My mother struggled for some time to understand what I was saying. I don’t know that she ever did. But I think my continued life of faith bore witness to her that I wasn’t abandoning the fundamentals of my beliefs.

I soon discovered that mine was not a fringe belief. Every minister I’ve worked with has believed in universal salvation, even all the baptists. This view is held by a vast number of folk in the contemporary church. In fact, it was held by many in the earliest days of the church. Over the years as my theology has grown and developed. This one change led me to explore a richness and depth of theological thought that has transformed how I think about everything and how I pursue Christian ministry. Many of these themes I have hit on in recent months. But here’s a quick summary.

Jesus of Nazareth lived a radical life that confronted the fallen institutions and structures of his time. He called people to the way of God, a new world based on community, love, and hope. In doing so he fulfilled the visions of many of his Jewish predecessors, while criticizing certain elements of his faith tradition. Or, at least, this is how those who came after Jesus bore witness of him.

Jesus’ life led to his arrest and execution. He was a threat to the empire, to social stability, to the status quo.

The followers of Jesus were afraid and scattered. But then they saw Jesus raised from the dead. His resurrection was a vindication that his life was in fact the revelation of God to humankind. The great day of the Lord had arrived. God’s reign had begun. The powers of this world had been defeated and humanity could live with new hope.

As a further sign, God’s Holy Spirit was poured out upon the gathered community of Jesus’ followers. They experienced sign and wonders. This small group led a great revival in the city, drawing people from all nations and languages. The church was the first multicultural organization.

Pentecost was the sign that God’s continued presence in the world would be the church. That the church itself was the agent of God’s victory over the powers of this world. The church should then proclaim the message of good news to all the earth and work with God to transform the world. The church was the agent of God’s new creation. Through its worship and witness the church would be the sign of this new creation.

This week I wrote the sermon at the public library. I went and sat on the second floor at the tables along the wall of windows that looks out on the city. It was on Thursday when the rain was falling, but there was still lots of activity as folk scurried from place to place under their umbrellas. I often need to get out of the house to stimulate my thinking and creativity, and this day in particular I wanted to be in the midst of the city, because the city is the context of John’s final image of God’s purpose for creation.

In a lot of ways, the city is a surprise. Creation begins in a garden. Throughout scripture there is an emphasis on nature, agriculture, and rural life. Human spiritual experience is deeply connected to nature and wilderness. Our spiritual retreat centers are usually far away from cities. We get away to parks, lakes, beaches, and mountains when we want to relax or vacation. Many advocate a simple, Christian life that often means getting away from cities.

There is a negative judgment on cities at many places in scripture. Cain builds the first city, which is not a good omen. Many cities are judged for their injustices, poverty, pollution, and overall dehumanizing and secularizing aspects. Look at how often cities like Sodom, Gomorrah, Tyre, Sidon, Nineveh, and Babylon are condemned. Even the Book of Revelation has been a thorough critique of Rome, though often it is disguised as Babylon.

However, that John’s final image is a city should not be a surprise, if you consider things from a different light. Scripture is also filled with an urban perspective. Not least is the role of Jerusalem, the great city of God that is full of hope for the future of humankind. The kings build cities, prophets are sent to save them, Nehemiah leads an exodus to rebuild one, and Jesus ministers in them.

The city uniquely represents the human contribution to creation. Cities are what we have created. The greatest cities are works of art in themselves. The ancient imagination was fired with the images of the hanging gardens of Babylon, the marvels of Alexandria, the Roman Coliseum, and the great public buildings that filled ancient cities.

Today we too marvel at great cities. One of the greatest pleasures in this life is to walk from the Arc de Triomphe down the Champs Elysees through the Tuileries gardens and into the Louvre. Or to walk the streets of Rome. Or sit on the Mt. of Olives and watch the sun set over Jerusalem, causing the gold Dome of the Rock to shine with unparalleled splendor. Or to drive through the great skyscrapers of Chicago. I could go on, and I’m sure that you could add to that list as well.

This week, while working in the library I came across this James Weldon Johnson poem entitled, “My City,”

When I come down to sleep death’s endless night,
The threshold of the unknown dark to cross,
What to me then will be the keenest loss,
when this bright world blurs on my fading sight?
Will it be that no more I shall see the trees
Or smell the flowers or hear the singing birds
Or watch the flashing streams or patient herds?
No, I am sure it will be none of these.
But, ah! Manhattan’s sights and sounds, her smells,
Her crowds, her throbbing force, the thrill that comes
From being of her a part, her subtile spells,
Her shining towers, her avenues, her slums –
O God! the stark, unutterable pity,
To be dead, and never again behold my city!

Our cities are great paradoxes. They are definitely places that dehumanize, places filled with injustice, pollution, and crime. Places that stand in need of prophetic speech. But they are also places filled with great art and culture, with thriving commerce that brings prosperity, places of learning and advancement, with many opportunities for relationship and community.

What John imagines is an ideal city. Its size is monumental. In fact, the size is symbolic. It is a multiple of twelve, which simply means completeness. The sheer size is also meant to startle us. This one city would be 1500 miles cubed. Meaning it would “cover half of the United States and reach to the height of 260 Mount Everests.” Clearly a literal city is not meant, but an image. This is a city where everyone is included and space is not an issue.

It is a city with open gates, meaning that it lives in peace and security and does not exclude. There are no internal walls, no gated neighborhoods, no elite. No reason to exclude the immigrant and alien. All can participate in the blessings of this city.

The benefits of this city are there for everyone to share. Everyone has clean and available water. The trees filled with a variety of fruit are an image of abundance, prosperity, and plenty that all the people can share together. The leaves of the trees are for the healing of the nations. None are sick or in need, all are provided for.

And it is a city of unparalleled beauty.

I’m reminded of our predecessors who fled Oklahoma during the Dust Bowl and went to California, which fit their image of prosperity and abundance. I’m reminded of how often scarcity of resources leads to conflict, like in Darfur. I’m reminded of the immigrant who leaves home in order to find a place where she can find employment and provide for her children.

In John’s vision all of these dreams can be fulfilled and not in some hereafter, some other worldly place. They can be fulfilled right here, on earth, as part of human history.

This city does have a dump, though, if you noticed. Outside this city will be cast all those things that would ruin this city – all the sins that would scar it.

Remember last week when I spoke about judgment, I said that the aspects of our lives that do not add to God’s will for creation will be cast aside and that those things we do that contribute to God’s reign will be included? In this set of final images in Revelation, God judges and destroys violence, oppression, and sin. But where people have misunderstood these images is that God also heals and restores and saves.

A few chapters ago, the kings of the earth are defeated by God and cast into the lake of fire. But here, John tells us that the kings of the earth enter the New Jerusalem. In previous images, the nations were judged, but here the nations are healed.

I think that salvation, not judgment, is the final word. God is a God of love, and all of God’s creation is saved and reconciled to God. God loves you. God welcomes you home. God has already saved you. Now all you must do is claim your new birthright and live with the power and the glory of God.

The worldview of my youth said that you made one decision and were alright, you had secured your eternal resting place. But I think this worldview not only got most of the answers wrong, it was asking the wrong questions.

I think God’s salvation is not about what happens after we die, but about the transformation of this world.

God’s salvation is not about some one time decision we make, but a life of commitment to community.

Jesus doesn’t perform a cosmic magic trick on the cross. Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection pave a new way and we are called to join in that adventure.

So, in my current worldview, God’s salvation is about the new creation of the world. And the church is God’s agent for that transformation. With the coming of the Holy Spirit, we are the empowered agents of God’s new creation. What does that mean? It means we are to witness to God’s way and thereby transform the world.

Though the New Testament has many images and symbols that describe the church’s work, today we are dealing with John’s vision of the great city. John vision calls us to create a great human community based on the way of God revealed in Jesus.

We here at the Cathedral of Hope are an urban church. As such we can participate in a more literal fulfillment of John’s vision. How can this congregation work to transform this city?

For one thing we simply need to be more aware of that as a key part of our mission as Christians in this time and place. It is part of our Christian witness to care about clear water and food for the hungry. For good health care and a welcome for the immigrant. For safe streets, free commerce, and economic prosperity. For centers of art, learning, and culture.

We should care about such things in the programs and ministries of the Cathedral of Hope. But we should also view our times of worship, study, service, and fellowship as opportunities that equip us to live the Christian witness in our daily lives. That means that in our work as teachers and managers, translators and musicians, artists and laborers, nurses and lawyers, or whatever, that we ought to be working for the transformation of our city. In other words, we are God’s agents of salvation, of new creation, not only when we volunteer at Habitat for Humanity but when in our everyday lives we treat people with love, value relationships with people over everything else, create beauty, support policies of transformation, and challenge structures that run contrary to the way of God. All things we can each do in our workplaces and the organizations we volunteer for.

I always thought it was important to take teenagers on mission trips to place of extreme poverty where they could see how factors like race, class, social history, and economics all participated to affect people’s souls. The mission trip was work toward God’s reign, of course. But more importantly, it was an opportunity to equip these teenagers. To give them a new perspective. To awaken them to things they had not seen before. Then if they were transformed, they could go about their everyday lives living according to the principles they had learned on those trips. I expected it to affect how they studied, how they worked, how they voted, how they talked, and how they prayed.

Tonight I want to call us to a renewed vision for our city. Let me make a couple of clear declarations. We have now joined the local association of the United Church of Christ. We’ve been involved in that process for about three years. Now we have completed that chapter of our story. In the last five months, we have proven that we can exist on our own as an independent and financially self-supporting congregation. About this time last year we began to seriously enter the period of transition from being supported by Dallas to being our own congregation. Let me make a definitive proclamation. The period of transition has ended.
We can close the book on these two chapters. That means we have new opportunities, new beginnings.

Now, we are moving forward with new structures of governance and ministry. We are recruiting new leadership and staffing new teams and committees. As we do so, it is time to refocus our energies. I’m asking us to spend these next few months focused on the issue that John brings us in Revelation – How can the church work to transform the city? What is our vision for Oklahoma City and the surrounding towns and how can we participate in that?

This church was planted by people who felt that this city needed its message of extravagant grace, radical inclusion, and relentless compassion. I think this city still needs us. What would a thriving urban congregation look like? Let’s begin to dream together. How can we be God’s agents of salvation and hope for Oklahoma City?

Summer Turns to High

That’s the name of an R.E.M. song from their 2001 album Reveal, which was my soundtrack of that summer. As the temperature (and gas prices!) rise, my thoughts turn to the fast approaching summer and all the adventures and fun that must be had before fall arrives, too soon, as it does every year. There are some things you can only do in the summer, and there never seems to be enough time to get them all in (especially because there are always so many things that take up the precious weekends -- like weddings, family reunions, festivals, work parties, etc.) We need to take a clue from the French and pick a month like August in which basically everything shuts down and everyone goes away for the entire month to relax and have summer fun. A boy can dream.

All this got me to thinking about my favorite summer memories, here are a few. . . . [Read the rest of my column here]

The Rider on a White Horse

The Rider on a White Horse
Rev. 19:6-16
by the Rev. Dr. E. Scott Jones
Cathedral of Hope – Oklahoma City
20 May 2007

You may not know that I’m a Johnny Cash fan. I love the rawness and authenticity of his music. His was a uniquely American voice that was also deeply religious. His whole life and music can be viewed through the lens of sin and redemption, as he struggled with those two themes.

He used to tell about growing up in rural Arkansas where, as a kid, he picked cotton. And he would sing gospel music to pass the day and ease the burden of his labor. The first time his mother heard him sing was in their house. She was in another room and didn’t know whom it was she had heard. She went in to where he was and asked, “Who was that singing?” He said, “That was me, Mamma.” She walked over and put her hand on his arm and said, “God has his hand on you.”

In 1954, Johnny Cash went to Memphis for an audition with Sam Phillips of Sun Records. During the audition, he told Phillips, “I want to sing gospel music.” Phillips looked at him and said, “Before you can be believable singing gospel music about bein’ saved, first, you gotta go out and sin.” [Note: the last two paragraphs borrowed from a prayer written by Wayne Meachum.]

Some of Johnny’s best music was that recorded during his concerts in prisons. It’s interesting that he was singing in prisons. I think Jesus said something about visiting prisoners. Anyway, Johnny’s music about the prison experience is very real. In songs like “Folsom Prison Blues” and “San Quentin #2,” he empathizes with the experience of the prisoner. There is a grittiness and a violence to the music. But there is also contrition, guilt, and depression resulting from one’s acts. And there is always music about redemption, particularly the redemption that comes from loving Mom or wife or child. Johnny was able to speak so powerfully to the experience of the prisoner because he was both a sinner and a believer.

Johnny’s vision extended beyond the prison, listen to these lyrics from “Man in Black:”

Well you wonder why I always dress in black.
Why you never see bright colors on my back.
And why does my appearance seem to have a somber tone.
Well, there’s a reason for the things that I have on.

I wear the black for the poor and the beaten down,
Livin’ in the hopeless hungry side of town.
I wear it for the prisoner
who has long paid for his crime,
but is there because he’s a victim of the time.

I wear the black for those who’ve never read,
or listened to the words that Jesus said,
about the road to happiness through love and charity.
Why, you’d think he’s talkin’ straight to you and me.

Well, we're doin' mighty fine, I do suppose,
In our streak of lightnin' cars and fancy clothes,
But just so we're reminded of the ones who are held back,
Up front there ought 'a be a Man In Black.

I wear it for the sick and lonely old,
For the reckless ones whose bad trip left them cold,
I wear the black in mournin' for the lives that could have been,
Each week we lose a hundred fine young men.

And, I wear it for the thousands who have died,
Believen' that the Lord was on their side,
I wear it for another hundred thousand who have died,
Believen' that we all were on their side.

Well, there's things that never will be right I know,
And things need changin' everywhere you go,
But 'til we start to make a move to make a few things right,
You'll never see me wear a suit of white.

Ah, I'd love to wear a rainbow every day,
And tell the world that everything's OK,
But I'll try to carry off a little darkness on my back,
'Till things are brighter, I'm the Man In Black.

That song is about the gospel. It’s about the reign of God and the mission of the church.

The last album released during Johnny’s life was “The Man Comes Around.” His voice was aged, his body weathered. The songs on this album seem to be about judgment. Johnny knows that he is at the end of his life and he’s taking stock. He knows there are sins in his life like his infidelity and his cocaine addiction. But there are also redeeming aspects of his life like his advocacy for the downtrodden and, especially, his love of his wife June Carter Cash.

The song from the album that was most widely played was his cover of the Nine Inch Nails song “Hurt.” Listen to some of this:

I hurt myself today
To see if I still feel
I focus on the pain
The only thing that's real
The needle tears a hole
The old familiar sting
Try to kill it all away
But I remember everything
What have I become?
My sweetest friend
Everyone I know
Goes away in the end
And you could have it all
My empire of dirt
I will let you down
I will make you hurt

This is the song of someone tormented. Though the album has other songs, like a cover of “Bridge Over Troubled Waters,” that express hope and love. What is the source of Johnny’s conflict? Let’s listen to one more song, the title song of the album, which also opens it, “The Man Comes Around:”

And I heard as it were the noise of thunder
One of the four beasts saying come and see and I saw
And behold a white horse

There's a man going around taking names and he decides
Who to free and who to blame every body won't be treated
Quite the same there will be a golden ladder reaching down
When the man comes around

The hairs on your arm will stand up at the terror in each
Sip and each sup will you partake of that last offered cup
Or disappear into the potter's ground
When the man comes around

Hear the trumpets hear the pipers one hundred million angels singing
Multitudes are marching to a big kettledrum
Voices calling and voices crying
Some are born and some are dying
Its alpha and omegas kingdom come
And the whirlwind is in the thorn trees
The virgins are all trimming their wicks
The whirlwind is in the thorn trees
It's hard for thee to kick against the pricks
Till Armageddon no shalom no shalom

Then the father hen will call his chicken's home
The wise man will bow down before the thorn and at his feet
They will cast the golden crowns
When the man comes around
Whoever is unjust let him be unjust still
Whoever is righteous let him be righteous still
Whoever is filthy let him be filthy still
Listen to the words long written down
When the man comes around

And I heard a voice in the midst of the four beasts
And I looked and behold, a pale horse
And it's name it said on him was Death
And Hell followed with him.

The Book of Revelation, the source of many of the images in that song, gives us images of the judgment of God. Johnny is right that God will judge the living and the dead and give to each due measure. God is a god of justice. But Johnny and we also know that God is a god of love, mercy, compassion, and redemption. How do these themes fit together?

Following the lead of Eugene Boring, New Testament professor in the Brite Divinity School, I believe that the final chapters of Revelation give us a series of different images of God’s intention for creation. Here we have the rider on the white horse, the final battle, the binding of Satan, the thousand year reign, the defeat of Gog and Magog, the great white throne judgment, and the new heaven and new earth. Boring argues that we shouldn’t view these as a chronology of first one event occurring and then the next. He says that they are seven different visions of the End.

What John has done is take a series of popular and scriptural images of the end of time and showed how all of them can be fulfilled in his vision of the gospel. Many of these are references back to passages in the Hebrew scriptures, with a handful of them coming from Ezekiel.

Nor does John try to make all the images fit. They contrast with one another in significant ways. It reveals an important thing about John. John doesn’t claim to have knowledge about the great mysteries of the universe. John gives a series of images that hint at truth. John is wise enough to know that he doesn’t know. If John doesn’t speak with certainty, then surely we should not.

One more thing to keep in mind. John is speaking about the End. But “end” does not simply mean “final” or “last.” “End” also means “purpose” or “goal.” As such, John is speaking about the purpose or goal of creation. Therefore, what we have are not so much images of the end of time, as they are images of the past, present, and future. They are images of God’s victory that has already occurred in creation, cross, resurrection, and church. They are also images of God’s on-going work in history. So, these are not things we simply look forward to, they are things that have already occurred, are currently in process, and will occur at the culmination of creation.

This week and next, we will focus on these images in the final chapters of Revelation. What I want to emphasize is this conflict that Johnny Cash was so concerned with – on the one hand we have images of the judgment of God, while on the other hand we have images of God’s salvation. How do these two images fit together? What do they mean for us?

Like many of you, I grew up in an evangelical church. We weren’t fundamentalists, but we were conservative evangelicals. At the core of that worldview is a conviction that sin is something personal of which we are each individually guilty and that if we do not accept God’s gift of salvation, then we are doomed to spend eternity separated from God in hell.

In the churches of my youth, pretty much every worship service was focused on this theme, because of the imperative of saving the souls of the lost. Each service ended with an invitation, when we could come forward to the altar and make a public decision to accept Jesus Christ.

There were a small number of hymns that we sang during this time of invitation, with passages like:

Softly and tenderly Jesus is calling, calling for you and for me;
See, on the portals He’s waiting and watching, watching for you and for me

The Savior is waiting is to enter your heart,
Why don’t you let Him come in?
There’s nothing in this world to keep you apart,
What is your answer to him?
Time, after time, he has waited before, and now he is waiting again,
to see if you’re willing to open the door,
Oh, how he wants to come in.

O soul, are you weary and troubled?
No light in the darkness you see?
There’s light for a look at the Savior,
And life more abundant and free!
Turn your eyes upon Jesus,
Look full in His wonderful face,
And the things of earth will grow strangely dim
in the light of His glory and grace.

As much as we might critique the negative aspects of the worldview reflected in these songs, I think that it is important that we not forget the value held in these images of God’s judgment on sin. The conservative evangelical worldview reminds us that Holy scripture is quite clear that God will judge the sins of this world. In fact, we want God’s judgment. Those who have suffered violence and oppression at the hands of the powers-that-be, seek God’s justice upon the oppressors. It is part of a larger vision that seeks a new creation, one that is freed from sin, one that is healed and reconciled to God.

John presents an image of a Rider on a White Horse. This is Jesus, who has otherwise appeared as a slaughtered but standing Lamb throughout this book. Is John changing the image? I don’t think he’s changed it that much. Notice that the rider’s robe is stained with blood before the battle. This is the rider’s own blood. Jesus has already conquered through his own death and resurrection. Notice also that the supposed armies of God have white robes. They are not stained with the blood of slaughter. Finally, notice that God’s judgment is executed not with literal weapons, but with the spoken Word of God.

John draws on a number of sources in presenting this image of the Rider on a White Horse. One of those is the Exodus experience. Remember that the two key salvation events in the history of the people of Israel were the Exodus and the Exile. The Exodus is the story of a people who cry out to God for help because they are the victims of oppression and violence. God saves the victims and enacts justice upon the perpetrators.

So, John’s image of the rider is an image of hope for the victims. God will bring justice upon our oppressors. Just as these evangelical songs emphasizes the hope, light, and new life that we will find when freed from sin and darkness.

But we must also remember the theme of Exile. The Israelites were sent into exile because they were judged to have become as corrupt as the Egyptians had been to them. The Exile experience reminds us that victims can be oppressors as well.

In fact, I think the biblical message of sin is that we are all caught up in sin as both victims and perpetrators. We are all guilty. We all must face the judgment of God. And we all stand in need of the grace of God.

This is a core evangelical truth. Remember, though, that the word “evangel” is another way of saying “good news.” So then, how can our sinfulness, our guilt, our judgment be “good news?”

Because confession of our sin is the road to healing. When we acknowledge that we are a sinner in need of the grace of God, then we free ourselves from guilt, anxiety, and shame. This confession frees us to participate with joy in the new life that God is calling us to.

You see, we are judged. When our lives are examined, all those aspects of our lives that have run counter to the way of God will be expunged. We are faced with what we have done for good and bad. Let me demonstrate what I mean. [object lesson]

The question that faces us is how much we have contributed to God’s new creation. Some of us will have contributed much. Others will have contributed little. I think facing our fruits is the toughest judgment there can be. That’s what Johnny Cash was doing, coming face to face with his own life and acknowledging that some of it was weeds and some of it was flowers.

Or, for another example, just imagine Jerry Falwell coming face to face with Jesus and learning that he has spent his entire life misunderstanding Jesus. I pity Falwell in that moment as he realizes how much of his life’s work that he thought would add to the great bouquet of creation was actually weeds that will be cast aside.

You know what I think God does in those moments when we come face to face with ourselves? I think God reaches out and embraces us in a big hug and says, “My beloved child, your sins are forgiven, welcome.” God’s like a beautiful, wise, old grandma who loves her children no matter who they are or what they’ve done, who always makes a place for them to come home.

I believe in judgment. But I also believe in salvation.

Falwell student makes bombs to use on Phelps folk at funeral?

A strange story. The Phelps folk show up to protest the Falwell funeral because they perceive him to be gay friendly. And a Liberty student, angered, creates bombs that he might have used against Phelps?

Investigators determined that Uhl had problems with a group that protested at the funeral, Gaddy said. Rev. Fred Phelps and his Kansas-based Westboro Baptist Church sent about a dozen members to protest across the street from the funeral, claiming Falwell was a friend to gays. The group has also picketed soldiers' burials, claiming the deaths are God's punishment for a nation that supports homosexuality.
Falwell frequently spoke against homosexuality, and gay rights advocates have consistently opposed him. A group of Liberty University students staged a counterprotest; it was not clear whether Uhl was involved. . . . [Read More]

Remembrance of Summers Past

Tomorrow my column will be about some of my favourite summer memories. After writing the column, I realized that I could write more on this topic. Since it has been a long time since I've done a series of narratives on this site (something it was good at once), I thought I'd take a shot at writing a series of pieces about summer memories.

I'm not sure if I'll take them in order and do every summer (since I've had a car, I'm thinking), or whether I'll skip around as I feel like. Maybe a little of both.

So, I'll start with 1990.

Remembrance of Summers Past -- 1990: All I Want to Do Is Make Love to You

1990 was a turning point summer. That February I had turned sixteen and was now driving on my own. My first car, which I had named Octavianus Hadrianus Augustus Tiberius (yes, I was a geek), was a 1978 baby blue Pontiac Bonneville. The most people I ever got in that car was eleven.

The March my Dad had died, so it was our first summer just the three of us, and Mom wanted us to have a good, easy-going time (as much as we could).

My sister and her friends were also 13, which means that they had just reached the age when they were allowed to hang out on their own with less supervision. Since I could now drive them around, that meant that I spent a good deal of my summer doing just that.

Of course, when you are first driving you don't mind all the little errands, or driving your younger sister and her friends around, because you want to do all the driving you can. I can still distinctly remember the very first time I drove Kelli out to our cousin Gretchen's on the other side of town -- remember, this is Miami, OK, so that really isn't very far in the grand scheme of things. I picked up Gretchen and then drove them both back to the city pool and we hung out there that afternoon without our parents. This was a first for us all -- I felt so grown up.

In Miami in the early 90's we still dragged Main Street on Friday and Saturday nights. We were one of the few places that still did that, so folk came in from Joplin, Tulsa, and the surrounding area to drag Main. The southern turnaround was 1st Street South. On the north end you'd usually turn around near Sonic, usually with a swing by the parking lot of the Civic Center, because folk would hang out there.

When I say drag, I mean it. We didn't "cruise" Main. You crawled along at barely any pace, the cars packed in so tight that often intersections would get blocked and people trying to cross from one side of town to the other would get angry. We'd go slow enough that you'd talk to the people who were in cars coming the other directions. And people got out and moved from car to car pretty easily.

One of the funniest things was that we didn't have many radio stations and most of us listened to the same ones, so you could basically tell who was listening to what station, especially when it would get to the headbanging section of Bohemian Rhapsody.

Which brings me to one of the most powerful memories of that summer. I vividly remember the songs that played the most on the radio that year that I was first driving. When I hear them today, I think of that summer. The two songs that I remember playing the most were "Black Velvet" and "All I Want to Do is Make Love to You." Neither of these is a favourite, but they are highly evocative for me. What songs were playing on the radio a lot when you were first driving?

That summer we didn't take a serious vacation. I think Mom was so tied up still with taking care of things after Dad's death. She did decide to get us away for a few days and go to Eufala, where we had lived when I was really young. We saw old family friends and spent some time on the lake. Mom also intended us to spend some time talking things out together as a family and resolving some of the issues that had developed (or been exposed) by Dad's death. This was a horribly unsuccessful, well-intentioned, bad idea. No matter what she would have done, we weren't used to the dynamic of just the three of us. Things have never been the same, and our mutual relationship is still a struggle with lots of ups and downs.


Gasoline yesterday shot up to $3.24 here. That's for the most basic level. Premium levels were around $3.50. Yesterday alone it increased around 12 cents. Shocking. We are well above the national average, which is very strange. Friends in places like New York and New Jersey have said that they are paying less for gas. That never happens! If it stays this way, it will ruin summer plans.