Seven

I recently led a church hike to the Nisqually Wildlife Refuge (which is a wonderful place to take families, by the way). We had a group of kids that went with us, and two of the boys (my young son included) wanted desperately to go to the bookstore to do a little "shopping". They persistently pleaded their case, but I knew we needed to keep the group together and start the 5 mile hike.

So I did what any grown, mature adult would do: I pinky-promised them we would stop by after our hike. As we approached the visitor center on our return, I heard the unmistakable wailing of a disappointed six year old and instantly realized the bookstore had closed a few minutes before we got back.

But I pinky-promised.

The kids got over it (after I took them to a nearby diner for milkshakes all around), but it gave me food for thought as I started thinking about the seventh commandment: Do not commit adultery. We wrongly assume God's laws are about restriction, even going so far to say they are oppressive, but that couldn't be further from the truth. This commandment is all about the faithfulness of God and how he has created us to mirror himself in this world as his image-bearers.

For God, faithfulness is limitless -- God's covenant with us was established by God when he created the universe and made us to be his reflection on the earth, a covenant which was attacked by the Adversary and broken by us time and time again. But this covenant has been forever maintained by God and is fully restored and realized in Jesus (the New Covenant).

God is faithful. We are not.

We tend to treat our promises to God and to each other as though they were pinky promises, something we do at the moment to get what we want at that moment (in the same way I wanted to get the boys to start the hike). We break promises and covenant all the time, and everywhere we look, we see the human agony caused by our shattered covenant with God. So when God said to Israel, "Do not commit adultery", he was saying, "Be faithful, as I am faithful. Reflect who I am to each other."

The good news is we can comeback from our unfaithfulness. In fact, much of scripture's story describes our unfaithfulness, God's faithfulness, and us repenting and returning. We don't have to remain broken.

I feel like the whole history of humanity can be oddly summed up in this one command about fidelity: remain faithful.

Faithfulness is in the heart of God.

Small Crew, Big Hike

Our first church hike of the summer was to the Nisqually estuary near Lacey. A lot of kids joined us on this 5 mile roundtrip hike to view wildlife and get outside on a beautiful PNW afternoon. We will probably have a part deux of this same hike again in the near future since there were others who wanted to participate but couldn't this time around. Our next scheduled group hike is to Twin Falls in July.

Six

If we came with a warning label, I wonder what it would say? What horrific harm are we capable of inflicting on others? When God called Moses to the mountain top and gave him the 10 Commandments to guide the people, he did so because he knew them (and he knew what they were capable of).

You would think "do not murder" would be a given in any society, but apparently we needed to be reminded of the sacred nature of life. I was curious what people thought about the sixth commandment, so I went to the fountain of all wisdom and knowledge to seek answers: Facebook (and people had a lot to share on the matter).

I also called a Rabbi friend to get a Hebrew perspective on it, and he told me this: "Life is the highest aim of Torah." He went on to say how, from a Jewish perspective, to destroy human life is to deface the image of God. Beautiful stuff. He had me hooked, so I dug a little deeper and also found that Jewish civil and ceremonial law also considered shaming another person publicly is like murder and how character assassination is a great evil.

And that's exactly where Jesus went with this in Matthew 5:21-24 in his great sermon. According to Jesus, I am capable of murder. So, seeing life through the eyes of Jesus, here's what I think this sixth commandment means for us:

1] To love God and love others means to love life - and not just our own! Loving life as Jesus did was self-sacrificial and generous, not self-seeking and self-centered. Jesus poured himself into the lives of others.

2] To love God and love others means to protect life -- and not just our own. We must be exceedingly pro-life (and that ain't just about abortion, folks). We must look out for each other and protect the innocent and vulnerable.

3] To love God and love others means to step out of the tribalism that seeks to diminish the value and worth of those we disagree with. Uh oh. Remember, people, our faith is characterized not by how deeply we love our family and friends but by how deeply we love our enemies.

4] To love God and love others means to uphold the sanctity of life in all its unseen forms. What we say to others matters; we are responsible for the damage we do to others when we diminish the worth of another human being (like when we trash our political enemies -- just sayin'). We are people who must be willing to uphold the sanctity of human life in all its unseen forms. Just because we can't "produce a body" doesn't mean we haven't murdered.

God is a life-giver (and a life-protector). He spun life into existence and breathed his life into us -- and he is redeeming us from how broken it has become.

And he wants us to do the same.

Five

I remember being really annoyed with the fifth commandment when I was a kid ("Honor your father and mother..."). It felt like an unfair commandment to all those kids like me who had an absent parent. "Because God said so" didn't really connect with my heart. It took me a long time to wrap my heart and mind around those words.

According to Jewish tradition, children should honor their parents as though God himself dwelled with the family and they were honoring him. Parenthood -- as God intended it -- is a part of God's creative order of the world. Healthy parenthood imitates the work of God: creating life, care-giving, nurturing, instruction, identity (and so much more). Parenthood isn't a random institution but was a foundational part of creation. "Male and female, in the image of God he created them..."

It's the only one of the 10 Commandments that has a blessing attached to it: "so that it may go well with you in the land." That wasn't some sort of cosmic threat; it's just the way it is. In ancient tribal societies, if you rebelled against your parents, you were isolated from community -- and you could not survive without the tribe.

We think we are much more evolved than primitive tribalism, but I think this still holds true. Children and young people with disrupted families struggle. This is the story of almost every gang-affiliated and incarcerated young person I know.

We live in an era that celebrates dishonor and disrespect and tries to tear down every construct of life. Nothing means anything anymore. But then God enters our wilderness and reminds us that there is an order to life, and this order -- as God designed it -- is a gift to us. Parents need to imitate God so that things may go well with their children, and children need to honor their parents as God's provision for their lives.

This commandment is deeply rooted in the love of God! He wants it to go well with us in the land. God knows how we are designed, and he's given us parents -- mothers and fathers -- to care for us in the same way He cares for us. The love of God always gives us what we need.

Honoring your mother and father is a way of honoring the Father of Life whose creative order sustains the universe. Honor starts in the heart of God, and it begins in us in our hearts and homes.

Four

Friday was a lot of fun for me. I took my wife on a much-needed lunch and movie date and followed that up with a daddy-daughter date that evening (which involved a trip to Toy's R Us and dinner of her choosing -- and may or may not have included a stop at Rita's for some frozen custard). When we got home, she looked her brother in the eye and said, "I am not done with daddy." She had been craving this time with me for a while.

How much more does the Father want for us to carve out time in our busy lives for him?

The fourth commandment says, "Remember the Sabbath day to keep it holy." In other words, it's important for us to set aside one day of our week for special honor -- a day given to God so we can be rescued and redeemed from a consuming world.

On Sunday, I offered four reasons why we need Sabbath:

1] To Rest

We think we are super heroes with an endless supply of strength. We are not. It's funny how the older I get the more Sabbath makes sense to me! I wonder at what cost to we pay the price of endless busyness? Sabbath is a gift to us from God (Mark 2:27), and it is God's way of rescuing us from the curse of toil and labor. Our modern life of working 7 days a week just isn't sustainable. It's no wonder people burn out mid-life!

2] To Reflect

The Sabbath is also designed to reconnect us with our Creator. The world takes 6 days from us (and would take 7 if we'd give it). We stop that activity one day a week to intentionally connect with our Source of Life and be reminded of the purpose of life.

3] To Recharge

Turning off a flashlight won't recharge it; it needs to be plugged in. We, too, need to be plugged in to our Source. Sabbath busts the myth of self-reliance, that lie that says we can do it on our own and don't need anyone but ourselves. God designed Sabbath to recharge our body, mind, and spirit for the week ahead.

4] To Rebel.

Yes, rebel. Sabbath is rebellion. When we take a day and give it to God, we are rebelling against the clamor of commerce and our slavery to our work. Sabbath helps us take a step back from the competing values of the feeding frenzy of culture that drains and consumes us. God gives us permission to check out! It's necessary for our survival to be able to stop and step out in order to seek God's sanctuary -- that sacred space where our souls are saved from being consumed.

We chop up our lives and try to keep it all together with our own strength, all the while being consumed by everyone else that wants a piece of us. Sabbath reminds us that we are not a commodity but people who are created in the image of God -- a God whose mission is redemption and restoration.

His gift of Sabbath is a gift of love.

Take a Hike

A couple times a year, we plan church family hikes somewhere in our beautiful Northwest. Our first hike of the summer will be friendly for all levels of ability as we head to the Nisqually Wildlife Refuge near Lacey. Following worship, we will head to Nisqually, packing our lunches with us and enjoying between 3 and 4 miles worth of boardwalks and birds. Entrance to the refuge is $3 per vehicle.

Baptisms

We will be celebrating baptism on Sunday, June 4th (Pentecost Sunday) as a part of our Sunday worship! If you are interested in making a public commitment of your trust and commitment to Jesus Christ and would like to be baptized, speak with Pastor Mark in the week ahead.

This Weekend

Leah J Hileman from Harrisburg, Pennsylvania will be in concert at Covington Community Church Saturday, May 20th at7:00 pm. This will be a night of story-telling, familiar songs, and new ones. Leah will also be with us Sunday morning, May 21st for our worship where she will lead us and speak on "A Bright Future". We hope to see you!

Three

I was in the 1st grade the first time I ever got in trouble in school. I was excited to find out my teacher Mrs. Gunden had a real, human first name. We were sitting in our small reading groups, and I was learning to sound out letters to make words. Our teacher had to go to the office, and as she walked out the door, I said, "Bye, Julie."

The whole classroom froze in suspended animation. Audible gasps of horror filled the air as Mrs. Gunden stopped dead in her tracks. I couldn't breathe. She turned around and with a glare in her eyes that could have melted the armies of the antichrist, she said, "Who said that?" I was immediately betrayed by dozens of finger-pointing cowards who were still gawking with their mouths hanging wide open.

I did not have the right to know her personally. This lesson about honor and respect stuck with me.

The third commandment is "Do not take the name of the Lord your God in vain." Many people make the mistake of thinking this is a commandment about cussing. It sort of is but mostly is not. This command, unlike the previous two, was written in the 3rd person, and God reveals his name to us: Yahweh (Lord). Modern translations miss the original intent of the word "take" which means "to carry", so when we understand this commandment more completely, it really means "You shall not carry the name of Yahweh in an empty way."

We often refer to God by his titles: God, Creator, etc. But God revealed himself to his people by name: Yahweh. To his people, his name is given in the familiar. Jesus called him Abba (Father). God reveals his name to us so we can know him personally. This commandment is about trying to carry his name without really knowing him at all.

None of us like to be taken for granted, do we? This is probably especially true if you are the creator of the universe and sustainer of all life. We can become flippantly familiar with God and approach him with a flippant disregard for who he is, like when his name rolls of our tongue as if it doesn't really matter or if we claim his name and then live like it doesn't matter.

We can misuse the name of the Lord when we use it cheaply (cursing, swearing oaths, making promises, damning, etc). But we can also misuse the name of the Lord when we misrepresent who he is (by disregarding his counsel, damaging others in his name, or embracing false teaching).

This is another command about the affection of the human heart. God does not want to be taken for granted but carried with significance in our lives as we walk in this world. In these first three commandments, he is reminding us what loving him looks like: 1] no other gods, 2] don't worship created things, and 3] don't treat your relationship with me casually or flippantly.

It's so much more than just watching your mouth.

"Two"

My kids love playing games. They also love making up games. They get excited when they come up with a new game (and I pretend to be excited). It's not that I don't support the development of their imaginations, I just know that logic has not completely kicked in yet and there is potential to be total and utter chaos as we play their game. The little stinkers just make the rules up as they go -- and it always works to their advantage, of course. After the usual descent into chaos, we usually end up playing a game with well-established instructions, and peace resumes.

God knew what we needed when he invited Moses up on the mountain and gave him what we have come to know as the Ten Commandments. For over 400 years, the Israelites were living in slavery under the rule and culture of the Egyptians. This idea of One God and no idols wasn't quite what they were used to.

The first command was this: no other gods. The second one was similar: don't worship anything created by human hands. This isn't just a command about carved deities; this is about what has the affection and loyalty of our heart, soul, mind, and strength. It's really an issue of trust. On what are we pinning our hope? Who is the object of our affection and honor? What are we submitting our lives too?

God knew we would love the work of our hands, and God knew we would want to be the masters of our own destiny. It's all part of that first lie whispered to Adam and Eve (pst...you can be like God...).

The second commandment was immediately tested when Moses came down the mountain. While Moses was on Sinai, the Israelites thought they should take matters into their own hands. You can read the whole story in Exodus 32. In short, the Israelites wanted gods and Aaron capitulated...and then told Moses a golden calf "accidently" popped out of the fire (no really, he said that). Moses got so angry he threw the stone tablets to the ground, and they shattered. He later had to hike back up the mountain and ask God for a do-over.

The 2nd commandment is about the loyalty, hope, and affection of the human heart. The Creator of the universe wants to competition with created things. Forgive us, Father, for thinking anything in heaven or on the earth could compete with you...

So let's bring this a little closer to home. Since I don't see many shrines to Baal, Ashoreth, or Molech in our homes, I wonder what some of those 21st century American idols might be? I'll leave that to your imagination. I am sure the Holy Spirit challenges us to apply this command to the affections of our hearts. I know there are way too many things that demand too much of my attention. I know I get tempted to turn good things into ultimate things.

But this commandment reminds us that God alone is sufficient for our lives. And he gives me what no idol can give. He loves me. My work can't do that. Celebrities can't do that. Sports can't do that. A perfect body can't do that. My political allegiance can't do that.

Only God.

"One"

When an artist creates, we get to enjoy what's been made when it's shared with us. No one can take credit for what an artist creates. Even if we take ownership of the art, that piece is still attached to its creator. We celebrate Van Gogh's Starry Night, DaVinci's Mona Lisa, and Michelangelo's David. The art we enjoy flowed out of the artist's creativity and life.

What God created he called good (and very good). He is the Creator of the Universe: the One who breathed life into us, the One who sustains all life on the earth, the One who set everything in its place and has given all things purpose, the One who hung the stars in place and caused the waters to flow on the earth and blood to pulse through our veins. It is His. We are His.

And He claims unique ownership and love for what He has made.

Exodus 20 tells the story of Moses going up Mt. Sinai to meet with God. For over 400 years, Israel had remained captive in Egypt, and now they were free and on their way to the land God had promised them. They had lived under the law of the Pharaohs for centuries and were out of touch with what it meant to be God's covenantal people. He gave them this law as a foundation for their lives.

"You shall have no other gods before me."

This one may have come as quite a surprise to people who had grown up in the pluralistic and polytheistic culture of the Egyptians. The One True God had no interest in being one of many. The most important prayer of the Jewish people today is the Shema which contains these words: "Hear, O Israel, the Lord your God, the Lord is One."

Jealousy is His privilege over us. Before you judge Him for being a jealous God, we have to admit there is some jealousy that is good. I'm jealous for my wife's time, affection, and presence. I am jealous when other things compete with my time with my family. Those I love deepest are "mine", and I am theirs. This isn't about possessiveness; it's covenant.

It's love.

He is a jealous God. There are no other gods in addition to Yahweh, and yet we are inclined to give our hearts to them anyway. The first commandment is about the order of the universe, the source of life, and our loyalty to God. God does not want competition for the affections of the human heart.

At the heart of this Law is love, and as we will learn, God does nothing -- absolutely nothing -- without covenant.

Next week: "Two".

New Series

Right after Easter, we started a new series called "Ten" that takes a look at the 10 Commandments given to Moses and Israel in the book of Exodus and what these commands tell us about the character and nature of God. God is a law-giver, but everything God does is intentional and for the benefit of his creation. The 10 Commandments show us just how much God loves us (and just how much he wants that love returned to him and shown to others). Join us on Sundays at 11:00!

I'm Afraid of Death

It was a week of contrast for us at CCC over the Easter week. We celebrated new life with baptisms and mourned the death of a friend of our church. We had plenty of times of joy and grief intermingled together in a special week. I don't know when Easter has ever been so real to me. I had no idea death would come so close to us at Easter when I planned my series "The Curse and the Cure", but God is always ahead of us in the place we are not yet.

That's worth repeating: God is always ahead of us in the place we are not yet.

Mark Twain wrote this about death as he faced his own mortality: "A myriad of men are born; they labor and sweat and struggle; they squabble and scold and fight; they scramble for little mean advantages over each other; age creeps up on them; infirmities follow; those they love are taken from them, and the joy of life is turned into aching grief. When the 'release' comes at last -- the only unpoisoned gift earth ever had for them -- they vanish from a world where they were of no consequence, a world which will lament them for a day and forget them forever."

Mr. Twain, I respectfully disagree. We don't succumb to such negative affectivity. We don't bury our dead and forget them. We commit them to God in Whose presence life continues!

There are a lot of reasons why we fear death: we fear how we are going to die. We have regrets about the life we lived. The fear the loss and absence that comes from the separation. We are anxious about the unknown on the other side of it. And sometimes we are not at peace with God.

For the believer in Christ, the lynchpin of our faith rests on the resurrection of Jesus -- overcoming death. Did they really think the One who created life could stay dead? You cannot kill God. You cannot extinguish the breath of God. You cannot destroy the one who belongs to God. You cannot thwart what God has planned for those who love him. Death simply cannot be the end; it is impossible.

Our family has an adopted dog named Poudre. He was a rescue dog. My wife and I went to the shelter to adopt a dog for me to have as a trail dog, a hiking companion. I picked him out, I paid for him (and saved his life, I might add). And what did he do in return? He chose my wife! It's her dog. I'm pretty sure he hates me (the feeling might be mutual).

Poudre has a 6th sense about Brenda. When she is gone, he mopes. He won't eat, he won't play, and he won't do anything at all. He spends his hours or days in a lifeless, empty existence as if his world has ended. Then suddenly, he will spring up like a puppy chasing a squirrel and run to the door with his tail wagging so hard his butt is knocking over small children. He can't see what's on the other side of the door, but he knows who is on the other side. It is his Brenda.

He just knows whose on the other side.

We just know.

There may be a lot of unknowns for us at death, but we know enough to be hopeful. God is there, and He is good! It's hard to look at death as victory because we're looking at it from the side of loss and grief). But on the other side, we will see it all clearly.

"Death, where is your sting? Grave, where is your victory?" Life has the final word; the One who created life ensures it.

Christ is risen!

 

I'm So Alone

A lot of experts agree that we are living in a crisis of isolation. The world is more populated than it ever has been. Our cities are more packed than they've ever been. Technology enables us to keep in touch with anyone anywhere in the world at a moment's notice. And yet people are alone. It's one of the tragedies of our time.

It's kind of like being adrift in an ocean and dying of thirst. There's water everywhere, and you can't drink any of it. For some of us, there are people everywhere, and we know none of them.

Alienation, isolation, and rejection are some of life's most painful wounds. But Jesus invites us to come close, the same as he did with countless other dispossessed people (Mary Magdalene, woman at the well, Zacchaeus, demon-possessed streaker in the cemetery, etc).

But Jesus himself also knew rejection. There's a little story in Matthew 13:54-58 that tells about the time Jesus showed up preaching in his own hometown. When the found out who he was, they ran him out of town. Luke's version of the story says they wanted him gone so badly, they tried to throw him off a cliff.

His ultimate rejection came the final week of his ministry: he knew betrayal, abandonment, and rejection by society. But he took the curse of rejection on himself. He experienced his own alienation from God ("my God, my God, why have you forsaken me?") and took on our alienation so we could know God. He was rejected by men; and he still is.

Jesus destroys the curse of alienation, isolation, and rejection with himself, and then he gives us the gift of the church as companionship and family.

Let the little children come...

We love our kids at CCC, and we make sure they are involved in all aspects of our life together. They are included in part of our worship every Sunday, and they get to spend a little time with Pastor Mark up front each week, too. [The grown ups like it as much as the kids!] We want our children to participate, observe, and question so they, too, can make life long decisions to follow Jesus. Below is a great photo (shot by Melodie Graftsrom) with our pastor explaining what happens in baptism to some of our kids.

"Let the little children come..." (Jesus).

Why Can't God Fix This?

Read Psalm 22.

You'll get the sense of David's pain real quick -- Jesus's, too. Many of the Psalms were written out of great pain. As any artist will tell you, the soul awakens in adversity. Much of our Scriptures were also written in the middle of some pretty severe suffering.

There's nothing like suffering to get us to question things. We question "what?" (what's happening to me?), "why?" (why is this happening to me?), and we question "who?" (as in "who is letting this happen to me?). If God loves me, why do we suffer?

I once had a close friend and mentor named Brian. We geeked out together on theology and spirituality as we met together monthly following his retirement from nearly 50 years of pastoral ministry. I loved our time together. His friendship was such a great gift to me. Shortly after his retirement, he was diagnosed with ALS. [Look it up if you want to know just how debilitating and cruel this disease is.] In a matter of months, he lost all independence as he was confined to a wheelchair and dependent on a machine to breathe for him.

People used to ask him the reason for suffering. "Why is God raining on your parade, Brian?" He'd simply answer, "A water-laden cloud passed overhead, that's all." He understood the random and universal nature of pain and suffering; he also understood the temporary nature of suffering.

Pain is a universal fact of life. The oldest book in our Bible -- Job -- grapples with human suffering. The opening sequence of Job describes in detail the losses of the man named Job and the accusation he received from his wife and friends. The bulk of the book is a series of conversations Job had with his friends as he answered their accusation and wrestled with his suffering. Finally, at the end of the book, Job got his chance to speak with God. "Why is there suffering in the world?" God simply responds by telling Job he doesn't have sufficient knowledge about how our world works.

The world is good, but it is not perfect.

The world is ordered, but it is wild.

The world is beautiful, but it is dangerous.

Funny enough, God never answers Job's question. Job simply accepts there are things he cannot comprehend and chooses to trust God instead: "I know you can do all things and no purpose of yours can be thwarted. I spoke about things I didn't understand, things too wonderful for me to know. My ears had heard of you, but now my eyes see you" (Job 42).

Psalm 22 is both experiential and prophetic. It contains the thoughts of David in poetic form in response to his own agony, but it also tells of the suffering Jesus would endure some 1,000 years later. As we read these words, we know Jesus felt what we feel. He, too, felt abandoned by God in his suffering. But we also know the rest of the story! Suffering doesn't last forever. God raises us.

Some say the presence of pain means the absence of God -- or that there is no God at all. I say, in the presence of pain, we are reminded there is a God -- and he is good! It is the thief that comes to steal, kill, and destroy; Jesus brings life.

God never tried to explain away suffering; so I don't think I should either. Rule #1 in preacher school is: "There is a God, and I am not him." I could give you dozens of reasons why there is suffering in this would, but it wouldn't change your suffering. When we are suffering, we are suffering -- and the reasons for it won't help ease it.

So we focus on hope instead.

For the believer, suffering produces intimacy with God (Job 42:5), refines us (Isaiah 48:10), matures us (James 1:2-4),  and equips us to be merciful (2 Corinthians 1:3-5). When we are suffering, we remember all things can be redeemed for good and that our suffering is temporary in the eternal love of God.

I will not trivialize your suffering here or try to explain it with cliché. I will, however, encourage you to look around and see that you are in good company, and I will encourage you to look to God in Whose presence our former sufferings will one day be forgotten.

Love Feast is Coming

Our Love Feast is one of the most unique times of worship we have at Covington Community Church. The Bible tells us that on the night Jesus was betrayed, he shared an intimate meal with his closest companions. He offered them bread and some wine as tangible symbols of his broken body and spilled blood. Before he did that, he got up from the table and washed his disciples feet -- a common custom, but not one done by the master of the house. We think it's important to follow the example and teachings of Jesus, so that's why we find it difficult to separate Jesus's example of service from the bread and the cup. He linked them together; so do we.

If you've never been a part of our Love Feast, here are the four things you can expect:

PREPARATION: Every Love Feast begins with an opportunity for us to look within ourselves and confess to God our need for him. This is often done in silence.

FELLOWSHIP MEAL: We eat together. The whole service takes place around tables, so we share a substantial meal together, enjoying each other's good companionship and conversation, just as Jesus and his companions enjoyed one another.

FEETWASHING: Jesus got up from the table and began to wash the feet of his friends. It was an awkward yet beautiful moment for them; and it is an awkward and beautiful moment for us. You are given the option to participate or not, but those who do are often renewed by the experience of having served and having been served by those we love.

COMMUNION: Just as Jesus broke the bread and passed the cup, so do we. We pause at the end of our time together to remember the gift of his sacrifice on the cross.

Love Feast is both sacred and common. We worship around a common meal with common folks in our common faith, and our acts of service and remembrance take our hearts and minds to Jesus.

You are warmly invited to the Lord's table on Thursday, April 13th at 6:30 pm.