Small Talk

 

Jesus stood at the doorway of Joseph’s workshop. He was six years old, covered in dust and full of questions. As usual.

“Abba?”

“Yes?”

“What does it mean?”

“What does what mean?”

Joseph had learned that the best way to answer this boy’s questions was with another question. It gave him time to think.

“To become,” Jesus said. “What does it mean?”

“Well, let’s see” Joseph said, grateful for small talk—for a question that wouldn’t require sending Jesus to the rabbis again for an answer. He lifted Jesus onto his workbench, so they could see one another eye-to-eye. “To become,” he said, “means to change into something new—something that wasn’t before. A seed becomes a flower. A child becomes a man.”

Jesus nodded slowly. “Does God change?” He asked.

And there it was—something in the tone of voice. Something in His eyes, and the tilt of His head.

Joseph had thought he was on safe ground with this question—that, at least he could confirm what he suspected Jesus already knew.

“No,” he said, though it sounded more like a question than he had intended. More like “No?” as if to say, “that’s right, isn’t it?”

Jesus frowned.

“Wait,” Joseph said. “Let me think.” He wished Mary hadn’t gone to visit her cousins down south. She had such a command of the Scriptures. He didn’t understand this boy and had no idea how to answer. So, he folded his arms and lifted his chin in the manner of the rabbis when they needed to appear wise in the face of a perplexing question: “What do the prophets tell us, Jesus? You know.”

Joseph saw the slightest lifting at the corners of Jesus’s mouth.

“Prophet Isaiah said the virgin would conceive and give birth to a son, and would call Him Immanuel. God with us.”

Joseph nodded. Slowly. “And you are ….”

Because Joseph understood more than he knew.

The smile returned to the boy’s face. “I am,” He said.

Wayne Stiles has a New Video Series

The Promise that Changed the World

My buddy Wayne Stiles is making his new Christmas videos available for you – filmed in the places where the first Christmas occurred!

His 3-part series is titled, “The Promise that Changed the World.”

The videos focus on

  1. The prophecies and preparation for the Incarnation
  2. The birth of Jesus and the announcement to shepherds
  3. The aftermath of His birth, including the Magi and Herod’s rage

But this is more than a simple Bible travelogue. As we’ve all come to appreciate from Wayne, we will also receive life application principles as we visit these biblical sites.

 

Thanks. Giving.

Not just another Thursday...

On October 3, 1863, while our nation was mired in a bloody civil war, President Lincoln issued a proclamation establishing the last Thursday in November as a national day of thanks.

Pause for a moment, and ruminate on that: our president called for a national day of thanks in the midst of pain and suffering like our nation has never known in any war against foreign aggression.

Do the math: World War I claimed 116,516 lives; in WWII we lost 405,399. The Civil War: 625,000 dead (excluding wounded or missing). Total number of dead for 2 World Wars 521,915. That means 103,085 (19.75%) more people died in a war between brothers than in the combined wars where we were fighting foreign enemies (source: US Army Military History Institute).

Wouldn’t it make more sense for Lincoln to wait awhile to call for national thanksgiving? Like, until the war was over, and peace had regained a foothold, and families had begun to heal? There would be a lot to be thankful for then. Now, I could see a proclamation calling for prayer.

Oh, come to think of it…

It behooves us then, to humble ourselves before the offended Power, to confess our national sins, and to pray for clemency and forgiveness.

Now, therefore, in compliance with the request, and fully concurring in the views of the Senate, I do, by this my proclamation, designate and set apart Thursday, the 30th. day of April, 1863, as a day of national humiliation, fasting and prayer. And I do hereby request all the People to abstain, on that day, from their ordinary secular pursuits, and to unite, at their several places of public worship and their respective homes, in keeping the day holy to the Lord, and devoted to the humble discharge of the religious duties proper to that solemn occasion.

All this being done, in sincerity and truth, let us then rest humbly in the hope authorized by the Divine teachings, that the united cry of the Nation will be heard on high, and answered with blessings, no less than the pardon of our national sins, and the restoration of our now divided and suffering Country, to its former happy condition of unity and peace. – Proclamation issued March 3, 1863.

Another Thursday, 7 months prior to the Thanksgiving proclamation. Different message. Same humble spirit.

Let’s make this Thanksgiving different. In the grip of our most un-civil war, and for “the restoration of our divided and suffering country,” rather than the thin gravy of “things for which to be thankful” as a last-minute, think-on-your-feet offering at our annual family feast, I invite you to join together in a thoughtful day of prayer and giving thanks.

Lincoln’s model is a healthy one: confession for our national sins first (don’t get stuck in the undergrowth here; it will take you too long to hack your way through the thorny sins of our nation).

Then, offer a prayer of sincere thanks – for the Lord’s mercy in sparing (delaying?) us the judgement we are due, and for His grace in providing the many, many blessings of His providence – including, but not limited to the Butterball and the candied yams.

Of course, that may translate into more praying and less eating. Hmm. Could be just what the Great Physician ordered.

Happy day of prayerful Thanksgiving!

An Unexpected Feast

The Filling of Forgiveness

Gray clouds and rain filled the sky on Sunday morning, as my buddies and I were enjoying a low-carb breakfast in a local Crackerbarrel. Outside, a desperate person was gorging himself on the contents of Mike’s locked truck. Specifically, the thief “punched the lock” (an unfortunately casual bit of detective parlance thanks to my Plano Police cousin, Luke) on the GMC and absconded with the one piece that was easy to reach – my computer bag, containing my MacBook Pro (2015) all the peripherals, extra hard drive, etc. And some pix Evan had drawn for me. Total time for the crime: about 10 seconds.

As it turns out, GMCs – this according to the very helpful DeSoto Police Department, and Luke – are fairly easy to break into, AND Crackerbarrels are notorious for just this kind of violation. Side note: park where you can keep an eye on your car! This isn’t to blame Crackerbarrel. It isn’t their fault – they are just an easy target since they attract travelers with cars loaded to the max.

If you’ve ever had someone break into your house or car, you know how it leaves you feeling vulnerable? I’ve had both, and I have to say, having my car broken into is a step removed from the trauma of a home violation. A bit more remote.

Still, I had to deal with the emotions (not to mention the hassle of trying to replace my computer quickly) that came rushing up, competing with one another for attention. Confusion presented herself first, like an early-morning version of Phyllis Diller before she had her first cup of coffee: “Huh, what just happened…so, where’s my stuff?!” Next, I noticed Anger out of the corner of my eye, but honestly, it was more of a passing shadow – kind of a “Meh, whatev…” Frustration hung a hammock on my heart and settled in for awhile: “You say you want to replace your computer, Bud? Gonna cost ya! Gonna be a few IT hoops to hop through. Heh, heh…”

But then came the unexpected emotion, and one that I didn’t even recognize at first: Sadness just stood there, looking tired and homeless and desperate (think of the Inside Out character without the cuteness). Who would/could willfully hurt another person by breaking and taking what isn’t theirs?

Then, I took a deep breath and recalled that there had been times when I was guilty of breaking and taking – not something physical, not a “thing,” but the more valuable commodity of trust, or love. I have been forgiven so much in my life. I needed to forgive the thief as I had been forgiven – completely, without reservation, without the under-the-breath add-on prayer, “and I hope they catch that sorry…”

And you know what? My “ought to forgive” turned into “get to forgive” really fast! I was actually joyful! And I thanked the Lord – not for the theft, but for the Spirit-enabled capacity to pass on, in a small way, a bit of the forgiveness I had received from His kind hand. To someone who hadn’t even asked. To someone who, like me, didn’t deserve it.

Maybe there’s someone in your life who has stolen something truly valuable from you. I invite you to experience the joy of forgiveness. It will satisfy a hunger you didn’t know you had – and it’s more satisfying than biscuits and gravy at Crackerbarrel!

Arts Week 2017!

Beauty for Wounds

*Artwork by Katie Fisher

This week we celebrate our fifth annual Arts Week at DTS!

Our guest speakers are Dr. Natalie Carnes and Ms. Dawn Waters Baker. Natalie’s book, Beauty: a Theological Engagement with Gregory of Nyssa, provides the basis for her reflections on our understanding of the ways in which beauty, rightly understood, reveal God. But the revelation of God through Beauty isn’t simply a passive exercise — it requires participation. Interaction. Conversation.

Dr. Natalie Carnes

Ms. Dawn Waters Baker

Natalie is a constructive theologian who reflects on traditional theological topics through somewhat less traditional themes, like images, iconoclasm, beauty, gender, and childhood. For this work, she draws on literary and visual works as sources and sites of theological reflection, and her interest in doing so takes her into questions of religious knowledge and authority. What are the possibilities and limitations of different theological genres?

In addition to authoring articles in Modern Theology, Journal of Religion, and International Journal of Systematic Theology, among other journals, Natalie has written two books. The first is Beauty: A Theological Engagement with Gregory of Nyssa, and the second, forthcoming December 2017, is titled Image and Presence: A Christological Reflection on Iconoclasm and Iconophilia.
Currently, she is working on two new projects. One is a book with Matthew Whelan exploring questions at the intersections of poverty, aesthetics, luxury, and art. The other is a theological narrative contemplating children and childhood.

Beauty, as Natalie reveals, occurs in the context of the relationship within the holy trinity. It is mirrored in the relationship of the individual to God, and then in the community of believers as we share our love for the Lord and for one another.

Dawn Waters Baker is an accomplished artist and member of the arts team at Arapaho Baptist Church in Garland, Texas. Dawn learned to look for beauty in the cracks and crevices of lives much harder then her own. She is a Signature member of Artists of Texas. Dawn is affiliated with Mary Tomas Gallery in Dallas Design District, Kate Shin Gallery in New York, NY, Joseph Gierek Fine Art in Tulsa, OK, and currently with White Stone Gallery in Philadelphia, PA. She was also selected as the 2015 Artist in Residence for Big Bend National Park for the entire month of November. She has a solo exhibit at Mary Tomas Gallery in September 2016 based on her time and inspiration at the Park. The latest article written on her work was included in Wide Open Country, 10 Texas Artists that Explore the Beauty of the Lone Star State, by Elizabeth Abrahamsen. Her work has been in national shows including The National Weather Biennale, Jubilee Museum of Sacred Art Biennale, CIVA Contemporary Images of Mary and Ex Nihilo at Roberts Wesleyan College in Rochester, NY.

It’s going to be a great week. Join us!

 

Date: Tuesday, October 31 – Friday, November 3, 2017
Time: 10:30 a.m. – 11:20 a.m
Place: Campbell Academic Center, Lamb Auditorium
Dallas Theological Seminary
3909 Swiss Ave., Dallas TX  75204

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Living the Abbreviated Life?

Why we should beware of shortcuts...

Abbreviations – they provide a quick and easy way of designating something familiar. Why text “miles-per-hour” when “MPH” gets the job done?  That’s a 75% energy savings! And when was the last time you texted “The United States of America” rather than “USA”? Savings: 87.5%. Abbreviations save time and effort. And the effect is the same as if you had expended the time and effort in writing or saying the longer form.

Abbreviations are – in short – attractive.

So, as is our wont, we look for other places to apply the act of abbreviating in an attempt to achieve maximum results with minimum investment of time and effort. Efficiency rules! Ask any texter.

The problem is, while abbreviations are a convenience for communication, they can be lethal to your spiritual life.

At the root of almost every sin in the Bible is an attempt to abbreviate a process that requires time. Satan tempts Eve to take the forbidden fruit so that she might obtain instant wisdom, and to satisfy her selfish desires, right now. God’s restriction – according to he serpent – is evidence of His plan to frustrate Eve’s natural desire to be like Him. Why shouldn’t she know good and evil experientially? Why wait?

Satan tempts Jesus to “turn these stones into bread,” and so to take a shortcut to satisfy his hunger. Satan tempts Him to leap from the temple, and so to publicly prove himself to be God’s chosen one – instant glory. Then, he tempts him with the promise of “all the kingdoms of the world and their glory…” if He would only fall down and worship him (the devil). That way, Jesus could have all the material possessions that the first Adam had surrendered in his disobedience, and so avoid the cross by obeying him. Satan is trying to get Jesus to abbreviate a process that requires trust in the father and His plan – which includes hunger, and pain, and suffering.

So, abbreviation — at least when it comes to the spiritual life and the temptation to take shortcuts — is always bad, right?

Well, wait a minute.

When Jesus turned basic tap water into fine wine at Cana, didn’t He abbreviate the process of fermentation?

And when He raised the widow’s son at Nain, He abbreviated the process of death/waiting for the resurrection, and substituted instead a revivification (i.e., her son would die again).

In stilling the storm, the Lord Jesus abbreviated the natural process of allowing the storm to run its course. He takes control supernaturally. Time is subject to Him. Which also helps explain why Jesus is never, ever in a hurry. Not even when His buddy, Lazarus, is sick and dying — He waits! Because, while time and tide wait for no man” (St. Marher, 1225), they must wait for the God-Man, Jesus.

That provides the key to understanding this irony: God taking control. Only He has the right to do that. When we attempt to take control of time, to take a shortcut to blessings, to satisfy our own lusts, hunger, desire for power – we are attempting to do something that only God can do.

We are attempting to be God. To commandeer the privilege of deity to ourselves.

That’s sin. And it’s stupid, vain (= empty-headed), and counterproductive, even when those shortcuts seem to work. Because those shortcuts short-circuit all that God wants to teach us through the process of trusting Him to provide. The really tragic part is that we may wind up at the end of our lives thinking that we got away with a shortcut. That it really did pay off – when all we really got was a Reader’s Digest version of the full novel that our life could have been. In short, we wind up settling for an abbreviated life. And abbreviated blessings.

Take the long road. Let God get you where you’re going in His time. Enjoy the journey.

If there’s an available shortcut, watch out.

Save the abbreviations for your blog, or txt.