Monday, December 18, 2006

Happy Circumcision Day?

Preached on Genesis 21:1-7 yesterday regarding the birth of Isaac. The joyous arrival of Isaac, whose very name means "laughter," to Abraham and Sarah after all those years of waiting and all the factors surrounding it invites us to think of the coming of the true seed of Abraham, Jesus Christ.

Yet the way the story is written makes this event central to Isaac's coming:

"Then Abraham circumcised his son Isaac when he was eight days old, as God had commanded him."

Why does God highlight a circumcision, and what was the significance of it being done on the eighth day? You may not realize this, but you actually will be celebrating the true significance of this act two weeks from today. What do I mean?

Well, first read this from the Wikipedia Encyclopedia:

"Most countries in Western Europe officially adopted January 1 as New Year's Day somewhat before they adopted the Gregorian calendar...This is sometimes called Circumcision Style, because this was the date of the Feast of the Circumcision, being the eighth day counting from 25 December."

Having the beginning of the year happen exactly one week after Christmas (eight days in the way the Jews counted it - Sunday to Sunday was eight days for they counted the first Sunday) is not just a coincidence but a deliberate setting of the time to correspond to Jesus' circumcision which also happened eight days after his birth. Listen to a Lutheran pastor explain this further:

"Many people, Christian or not, use the western calendar’s New Year’s Day on 1 January as a time of taking stock, evaluating decisions, and making resolutions. It’s also the Church feast day commemorating the Circumcision and Name of Jesus. Some churches celebrate one or the other of these events, some both, and some neither....(Why?) 'And at the end of eight days, when He was circumcised, He was called Jesus, the name given by the angel before He was conceived in the womb. (Luke 2:21)' Once the Christian Church established a date for Christmas, the commemoration of His circumcision was set for one week later."

Yet why would the church want to celebrate Christ's circumcision of all things? Wikipedia continues, "...It is a feast celebrating not only Christ consenting to submit to Jewish Law, but also the first time the Redeemer spilled his blood for mankind."

Then why was circumcision done on the eighth day? Some of the early church fathers perhaps understood these things better than we:

"The command of circumcision, again, bidding [them] always circumcise the children on the eighth day, was a type of the true circumcision, by which we are circumcised from deceit and iniquity through Him who rose from the dead on the first day after the Sabbath, our Lord Jesus Christ. For the first day after the Sabbath, remaining the first of all the days, is called, however, the eighth..." –Justin Martyr

"For because the eighth day, that is, the first day after the Sabbath, was to be that on which the Lord should rise again, and should quicken us, and give us circumcision of the spirit, the eighth day, that is, the first day after the Sabbath, and the Lord’s day, went before in the figure; which figure ceased when by and by the truth came, and spiritual circumcision was given to us." –Cyprian

Jesus arose on the first day of the week, also called the eighth day by the Jews (see John 20:26). He was the true circumcision, having taken away our sin and filth by His death and burial and giving us new life through His resurrection. All those circumcisions on the eighth day of Jewish boys from Isaac to Jesus through the ages were a bloody testimony to that which has now come. And the very calendar we use was set to start off each year by reminding us of this gospel truth.

So as you wish someone Happy New Year in these next few weeks, why not also say, "By the way, did you know....?"

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Prayer Requests from the Library

As I wrote last week, a proposal involving a huge downtown development project ($110 dollars, seven-towers, eleven city blocks) was published in a local paper. The map showed our church building surrounded on all four sides by their enclosed mall. No one from the library or community had spoken to us about it before it was published.

The counsel we had received from eminent domain legal specialists in our first go around was that when threats are proposed to not let a day go by without speaking to it. To that end, I wrote a letter to the editor (basically the material from the blog of last week) that was published in the Tribune on December 13th. A reporter had contacted me the day before so there was also a front-page article entitled "Church on the defensive" in the paper which you can read here:

Yesterday I was on the phone quite a bit, as one library board member and then the board president called in response. Both conversations were cordial, and they both assured me that the firm making the proposal had indicated, despite what the map showed, that it would not involve taking the church. They both also identified with pressures they feel as citizens regarding the property tax burden mentioned in the letter. I am very thankful for their quick response and reassurance.

They also both expressed that they wished that I had spoken to them privately before going to the paper. Perhaps I should have. Yet had they followed that same principle and notified us before the article, I may not have written at all. For when information is spread publicly in this manner, what option do we really have than to chose the same method of communication they did?

We are hopeful yet will remain guarded, as other civic leaders beyond the library board are now involved in these decisions and, in communities across the nation, private property and churches are being taken for "the good of the public." Need evidence? Read this article about the Supreme Court docket or look here to see all the cases or see this 60 Minutes report to read about the latest. As one eminent domain lawyer quoted in the last link states, "This is a nationwide epidemic. We have documented more than 10,000 instances of government taking property from one person to give it to another in just the last five years." (emphasis added)

One final thing we all definitely agreed on. Both board members also requested prayer, as the turmoil in our city government in Kokomo, especially seen in the response to the library situation, has been difficult for them personally. Indeed, the board member has already written a letter to the church that was sent to me that day, which he concluded this way,

"I certainly understand your concern and, as I stated earlier, please rest assured that I will work to make sure your church is not threatened.

From one Christian brother to another I would ask that you, as well as your church, pray for me as well as all the others involved in the project that we would have the wisdom to make the best decision for our community. As the Psalmist says in the first part of Psalms 127:1 'Unless the Lord builds the house, its builders labor in vain.'"

We are praying for them to have wisdom and that the Lord's hand would be clearly seen in this matter. We are "seeking the welfare of the city and praying to the Lord on its behalf" (Jeremiah 29:7). As Psalm 127:1 above verse goes on to say, "Unless the Lord guards the city, the watchman keeps awake in vain."

"Guard our city, O Lord Jesus."

Monday, December 11, 2006

Celebrating Graying Temples

I'm getting old. No surprise to you, I know, but it reads like the daily news to me. Reflect with me on these little reminders from recent comments:

  • "Your hair [what's left of it is implied in this comment] is getting more gray around the temples."
  • "Time for your colonoscopy again." [Sigh.]
  • "Your whole face fills with wrinkles when you smile." [Okay, I actually said that one to the face looking back at me in the mirror as I laughed at all my laugh lines.]

If the comments are not enough, feeling the sore back every morning when I wake up, finding out recently that for months I have been calling a couple that I see regularly by the names of Larry and Nancy when they are actually Steve and Ruth, and hearing more adults using "Mr. York" rather than my first name serve as daily messengers that the "way of all the earth" has no exception clauses. We are all but a vapor (James 4:14), a fading flower (I Peter 1:24), each man a breath (Psalm 39:11) - from dust created and to dust returning. Sometimes this "dirty" truth occurs particle by particle, the dust flaking away imperceptibly until one day we awaken to find just how much has departed. My wife and I gave our bedroom a vigorous cleaning this weekend and removed all the "dust bunnies" under the bed. Are we not all just glorified dust bunnies - a brief appearance swept away in a moment of time?

Yet not all is gloom, ghastly and gray. Nothing worse than a grumpy old man. Though the outer body is decaying, there is a soul in that dust bunny. I can testify that, in Christ, with age also comes the renewal of the inner man. "The honor of old men is their gray hair" the proverb reads, and the Lord does honor age by giving wisdom as time marches on toward its unstoppable victory. The passing of years that has brought monumental struggles with sin, aching knees, and witnessing too many broken relationships has also tamed my bucking soul. I find that I can appreciate the simple blessings He daily brings, such as:

  • Having more fun watching and helping others, especially my sons, play basketball than playing myself.
  • Meeting a friend for lunch and enjoying listening to what is on his heart rather than always having to tell what's on mine.
  • Holding my four-year old on my lap in worship last night during the singing and hearing her belt out a psalm we are memorizing.
  • Finally admitting and laughing with my children that their untucked shirts are actually in style and not a sign of disrespect to my generation.
  • Not having to win every theological discussion.
  • Hearing my wife pray.

Each grain of sand falling in the hourglass serves not only as a reminder of the passing of time but as a picture of what is happening to us. We do well then to learn the wisdom God offers, proving that hearing and seeing in a spiritual sense can improvewith time. One final thing I would confess to seeing better now than as a young man is that, with all our glory fading as it is, we do well not to take ourselves too seriously. Some innocent fun along life's journey (as the picture below taken this summer at the fair may show) does not have to be beneath serious-minded Christians. Actually, is it not a small slice of the eternal enjoyment that will eventually transcend this time that, for now, indeed ages us, but will not and cannot defeat us? For besides bringing me aches and pains, is not time also bringing me closer to the source of all blessing and joy?

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Here We Go Again?

Faithful readers of this blog will remember the struggle our congregation had with the local library board a while ago (If interested, you can read about this here then there). The long and short of it was that the library, located diagonally from us across the intersection in front of our building, was considering using eminent domain powers to acquire our church's property in order to expand their facilities. After a four-month long campaign by our congregation that was supported by a local lawyer, the Alliance Defense Fund, and Advance America, the library board decided on February 5, 2006, not to pursue any plan involving the acquisition of Sycamore Reformed Presbyterian Church's property. The headline in the local daily paper the next day read "Congregation rejoices at library decision."

Yet in an article published this week in a local weekly paper, a $110 million, eleven city blocks, seven towers proposal was unveiled by an Indianapolis firm for the downtown area. Two of these towers would be directly in front of and beside the church building, and a map published in the paper shows these towers being connected by a building structure that surrounds the church property on all four sides? Though this firm is only in the proposal stage at this point, the library board has agreed to lay further planning aside for six months in order to see how this proposal develops.

Just like our first go-around with the library board, all these proposals are being made public first before we have even been contacted. Last year we found sites on the web showing our building gone. We were served papers for a building inspection to estimate demolition costs during Thanksgiving that threatened eminent domain. I was told the sheriff would serve a warrant if I did not comply with this inspection. All of this before anyone from the library even talked to us! As I repeatedly explained to them in their own meetings, does not wisdom, a sense of public service, and neighborly love dictate that plans involving other's properties be discussed with them privately before you print articles and publish maps showing what you hope to do with their property?

The library board has taken to blaming others for the political mess that has resulted from their expansion hopes. Yet they must have done enough to alarm our state legislators, who, made aware of this situation in Kokomo, included in legislation signed by Governor Daniels earlier this year the removal of eminent domain powers from non-elected library boards. They and other community leaders need to consider again what community service really means. Fancy buildings and flower-lined streets may look nice and welcoming, but if paid for by bullying and overtaxing the citizens of Kokomo (ahem, our property taxes were increased by forty percent last year!) these amenities will only be a testimony to the moral and spiritual poverty of our leaders. The Lord warned against those leaders who clean the outside of the cup, but inwardly are "full of robbery and self-indulgence."

Strong words, yes, but so were being threatened with a warrant and eminent domain.

Monday, December 04, 2006

An R-Rated Pulpit?

Know one story worse than what happened in Sodom before its destruction? You know the one in Genesis 19, where the angels visited Lot, his house was surrounded by a homosexual throng, and he offered his daughters to the lusters instead of the visitors they were seeking?

The story that immediately follows after the destruction of Sodom. Lot ended up living in this cave with his daughters and...well, go ahead and just read Genesis 19:30-38 for yourself. The sordid details are there, but for a clue just realize his oldest daughter named her new son "From father" and the youngest daughter called her pride and joy "Son of my (father's) people." What creative, shameless names.

As I have been preaching through Genesis, the question did arise whether this story was appropriate sermon fodder. One commentary expressed the sentiments of others: "This text should never be used for a sermon." Sensitive people and children are there, and we are in the presence of God for goodness sake. Yet Paul taught that we are to "preach the whole counsel of God," and being committed to expository preaching, I plunged ahead with a message entitled Sodom Reborn. The fascinating thing about preaching on Lot was that he must be treated as a righteous man, for that is what God says about him three times in II Peter 2:7-8. I sought to help the congregation see that this story is not to be a strange comfort for sin among God's people ("Lot committed incest but, hey, don't worry, he was forgiven"), but rather a strong warning against sin ("Look at the devastating consquences that being affected by sinful culture will have on you and future generations").

Anyway, my point is not to preach it again but to tell you what happened that day to make a point. It just so happened on that particular day a man was visiting the church who, unknown to me at the time, is being charged for a hideous act he committed against a minor while drunk, i.e., he had behaved just like Lot. Those who have knowledge of the situation told me later that each point addressed exact issues he was facing. May God also grant him the faith Lot had.

God in His wisdom put stories like these in the Bible because he knew people like this man - and people like this preacher - need to have every issue of life addressed and His ways made known. If we try to sanitize the Bible, and not be forthright in all that it contains, we will become prudish churches and pastors, and sinners will not be reached with the gospel.

So having this story preached might lead to the accusation of having an R-Rated pulpit, but the response would be that's because preachers have R-Rated congregations. Oooh, I know that might sting some, but consider having all your actions and thoughts over your lifetime put on a movie for others to watch like God sees you. Then you might just consider me generous in my rating. Or better yet, read Matthew 5:22 & 28 and see if that is not what in so many words the Lord Himself is saying.