Columbia, Tennessee

I was recently in Columbia, Tennessee for a photography job and noticed the beautiful architecture of the city. Here are some of the places that caught my attention. For those who wonder about such things I shoot with a Nikon D300S usually taking 5 bracketed shots and merging them into one.

One view of the bell tower in Columbia

One view of the bell tower in Columbia

Beautiful town  hall in downtown Columbia, TN

Beautiful town hall in downtown Columbia, TN

Historic First Methodist.

Historic First Methodist.

Second view of the bell tower

Second view of the bell tower

Historic First Presbyterian Church

Historic First Presbyterian Church

A Post For Father’s Day

I woke up this Father’s Day missing my dad who died a little less than a year ago.My dad was always a man of few words and the last 5 years or so of his life he was so hard of hearingDad-head-shot

that even with a hearing aid he could not hear me on the phone, so the only time I could actually talk to him was when I was actually in Columbia at mom and dad’s house. So I remembered this story of my dad of a few word.

Many years ago, when I had been the PCA’s campus minister at the University of South Carolina for only a couple of years, a small country church in another denomination expressed an interest in having me be considered to be their pastor. If you are not familiar with how this works it usually involves sending them a resume, a recording of a sermon and a list of references they can contact. After all of that if they think you are a “candidate” they ask you to come and preach for them so they can evaluate you in person.

In this particular situation the preaching of the sermon  happened to be for an evening sermon. It was during a covered dish dinner or homecoming or something like that and for some reason I asked my dad to go with me. He and I met most of the church family, walked around the facilities, had the meal and then had the worship service. Following the service the elder in charge gave me a bundt cake and some sort of potted plant but no check or cash for preaching. Even in situations where you are “candidating” (as this process is usually called in the church) you are often paid to preach for the service and money to cover mileage and such. I collected my “gifts”, my dad and I said goodbye to our hosts and got back in my car for the trip back to Columbia. About 15 minutes into our trip my dad said: “I didn’t see that ‘fella’ give you an envelope or any money”. I said: “No they gave me this cake and potted plant”. He grunted of said “Humm” and we continued on our trip to Columbia for another 20 minutes or so with nothing being said (remember my dad was a man of few words). Then he said: “I don’t know much about this candidating business or much about how people call pastors but I don’t think you need to talk to this church anymore”. And that was it, he didn’t say much more on the trip home unless he made some comments about whatever sport Clemson was playing that time of year.

I took my dad’s advise. When a man of few words offers advise, it is usually good to at least listen and consider if not take the advise immediately and act on it.

Take Me Out to the Ballgame

Recently I have been reading The Dangerous Calling by Paul David Tripp. It is a book I would recommend to every pastor, seminary students, men and women thinking of going to seminary and every pulpit search committee. The basic idea of the book is that those called to be pastors or people called to “vocational ministry (a term I would love to see defined) are in so many ways ordinary Christians. They succeed and fail at not only ministry but also the Christian life. They  are in need of community to help them continue in their Christian growth and their ongoing sanctification. Tripp says that pastors need to be able to be honest with their congregation and especially their leadership boards about their struggles, sins and failures. All of this I agree with but there is one problem..

Many churches do not want pastors with “feet of clay”. They don’t want to hear of struggles, temptations, sins and failures. They want pastors who have it all together, who have no doubt and absolute no questions about what the Bible teaches on any subject. In talking with fellow pastors I have found that many have discovered the same thing that I have discovered after 30 years of ministry and countless interviews with pulpit search committees: humility and weakness look good on paper but nothing sells a man as a pastor like strong self-confidence.

I write this as a preface to this blog entry because this is one about my own struggles and fears. About my doubts, questions and anger with God and about an amazing providence in my life that helped me greatly in my struggle. I, like all pastors, have times of struggle, questioning and doubt. It is important for church members to understnad this, we like you are in the process of sanctification and we  will not arrive until Jesus does. So this is one of my many stories of doubt and struggle.The wonderful thing about God’s dealing in my life in this particular struggle is that it he decided to deal with my doubts and struggles at one of my favorite places to be in all the world – a baseball game.

This took place in the summer of 2011. I was in Boston doing photography and internet work for the company I was working for at the time. It was a difficult time spiritually in my life. I was really struggling. It had been a year since I had been asked to resign at Trinity. At that point the best opportunity to be called to a new church appeared to have been sabotaged by someone Debbie and I had thought was a friend and there were no churches contacting me. I had started to have real struggles with faith. No really struggles with the heart of the gospel, the whole story of Jesus rings so true that I don’t think I can ever get beyond that but I had doubts about God’s providence over my life, wondering if he really was a loving Father who was directing mine and Debbie’s life at this time when everything seemed to be a struggle. I was weighing the possibilities of becoming a Christian Deist. It was a time when there was a great deal of shouting and yelling in my prayers and it seemed that very few were being answered. So I headed to Boston to work with all of these struggles bouncing around in my heart and in my head.

entering-boston

On this trip to Boston I had decided ahead of time I would try to make the Red Sox game while there. I had never been to Fenway and the Yankees (not my team Bill R and Gary C!) and I considered my baseball experience incomplete without seeing a Sox-Yankee’s game.

I spent the morning with an old friend, a pastor from Boston Ric Downs. I was able to share some of my struggles with him as we toured Harvard together and he encouraged me in the gospel but still my struggles persisted.

DSC_0005

I had got to Fenway early with my camera and lenses to take some pictures (I was, after all,  at the time a professional photographer) and because I did not have a ticket yet. I had gone online looking for tickets but they were sold out. I went to the “standing room only” ticket window but they wanted $55 just to stand, so I decided to take my chance with the scalpers. I had put a limit of $100 on a ticket. That may sound like a lot of money but after all it was Fenway and they were playing the cursed Yankees. The first guy I talked to asked me how many tickets I needed and I told him only one and he said he had a great single in a great location at a great price. Said he had a low seat on the first base side for $75 dollars. Even though I had a limit of $100 I did not want to spend more money than I needed to so I looked at the ticket and looked at the layout of Fenway on the map I had picked up at the standing room only window and confirmed that it was a great seat so I offered $70 and he took the deal and gave me the ticket.

Lee2

So I headed into the ballpark (please note, a ballpark not a stadium). I wanted to get in and take some shots, get a glimpse of the Green Monster and buy one bit of baseball food.

I wandered around for a while, taking shots from various places, caught a promotional T-shirt from some radio station I had no interest in and finally made it to my seat. I wait a while as the seats around be began to fill up but the ones right next to me on the left did not fill up until almost at the time the game started. I said hello to an older man and two younger men I took to be his sons. They took the seats on my left, the father sat next to me. After the first two innings the older man left and didn’t come back for several innings and his son leaned over to me to tell me his dad had to go to a place he could smoke. The young man and I exchanged names and assured each other that we were not pulling for the dreaded Yankees and returned to watching the game. At some point he turned to ask me what I did and I told him I was a photographer producing high definition internet tours for commercial real estate clients and that I was in town on a job for one of our clients.

He told me that he was a lawyer and that his dad lived in Boston and the three times a year during baseball he and his brothers came to town to watch the several games together. They had been there the previous two nights and this was the last game of this particular trip. He told me he was a lawyer and lived out of town. We returned to the game.

The Red Sox were doing pretty well in the early innings but ended up losing this game. This game would turn out to be the game when the YankeesDSC_0034 began to pour it on for the season and the Sox just began to fade. But it was a game at Fenway and I was enjoying every minute.

Eventually I overheard the son I was now sitting next to mention to someone who sat behind him that he and graduated from USC (that is the University of South Carolina not that place in California). I turned to him and asked him if I heard correctly and he assured me that I had. He had attended the USC. He had grown up in South Carolina during high school because his dad was in the service and

USC Horseshoe, one of the most beautiful spots of any university in the United States

USC Horseshoe, one of the most beautiful spots of any university in the United States

had been stationed in South Carolina. I then said: “Hey I used to work at Carolina”. “Really what did you do?” I replied by saying “I was a minister to students for our denomination, a chaplain”. He did not ask why a minister was in Boston taking photographs for a commercial real estate service company. I could not figure out if he just was not paying attention when I mentioned what I did or if the beer from Fenway had driven it from his memory but then he said something to me. It is one of those things that sounded odd to me immediately. The kind of thing that you immediately think “Where will this go if I pursue this”. First of all he asked me “What church”. I responded “Presbyterian”. Then he said the words that got my attention” “Huh, I think my brother is now a Presbyterian minister”. Think? Presbyterian minister? What? In most families you sort of keep up with what your siblings are doing even if you are estranged but it seemed to me that when you get together several times during baseball season to attend games together that would mean you saw each other regularly during the year and that you would know exactly what your brother and sisters are doing. So I said, “Presbyterian minister? Where?” He told me where and we went back to unfortunately watching the Sox continue to sink lower and lower.

Pretty soon his father returned and took the seat that the son had been sitting in next to me and the son moved over to sit next to the other brother. My new friend leaned over and whispered into his father’s ear and then the father turned to me and said “I hear you found out my son has become a good for nothing Protestant minister” (not exactly his word but I am trying to keep this blog G rated – see my last blog). I sort of chucked and grinned and told him “Well there are worse jobs in this world”. He immediately said “Not for us we are Catholic”. Then I understood the “I think he is a Presbyterian minister” and the “good for nothing”. I have had friends who have converted from Roman Catholicism to the Reformed faith and become PCA ministers and I know that it has been difficult on their families, especially on committed Catholic grandparents.

Well I tried to keep the conversation going and asked the dad: “Do you know where your son went to seminary”. “No” was the simple answer. Do you know what denomination he is part of? Again a simple “No”. Well we talked more about the game and their family and how he enjoyed having his boys back three times each baseball season to see three or four games each trip but our discussion of Presbyterian, seminaries and his youngest son (I found this out during our conversations) was essentially at an end.

Then about the seventh inning the son who attended USC pulled over my way and said he thought he brother had attended the Presbyterian Church in America seminary in Charlotte. Well at this point I was pretty certain that the brother and son of these men who were sitting around me was in my own denomination, the PCA. So I asked him, “Could it be that he attended Reformed Theological Seminary in Charlotte, NC and is a minister in the Presbyterian Church in America?” “Yea, thats it, you got it”. I was pretty flabbergasted, it felt like God was closing in on me. Our denomination is pretty small and the chances of sitting next to a family member in Fenway was pretty remote. If I had been a Catholic priest and was being told that his guys brothers was a priest I could have written this off. Most people would consider this a coincidence but I don’t believe in them. Still at this point it was interesting to me.

Then in the eighth inning the USC grad asked me “Where did you get that ticket? From a scalper?” I told him yes. He asked me how much I paid for the ticket. I told him $70 and then he said something that brought the entire event home to me and made me sit there in awe of a God who controls his universe: “That is a pretty good price, I sold it to him for  fifty. See that is my brother’s ticket. He was suppose to be here. He was with us at the game last night but he had to go home early because one of his kids was sick. You are sitting in my brother’s seat”.

Of all the scalpers outside of Fenway why did I go and talk to this one? How was it that this family sold their one ticket to this particular scalper? If I had attended the game the night before the younger son would have been there and I could not have bought a ticket next to them. If it was the following night they would not have been there, no “chance” to meet them or sit next to them. I know that many would say it was just coincidence but I would say impossible, just too many things to go wrong. So I was sitting in the seat of another PCA minister I never knew (I followed up to find out that this man was not yet ordained but was doing extension study at RTS Charlotte while serving as youth pastor in a PCA church. He recently graduated from seminary – congratulations Jeff). It was the closest thing I think I would ever get to a hand written letter from my Father saying “You worry that I control big things like your work and calling? See I am even involved in the buying and selling of baseball tickets – even by scalpers! I really do love and care for you. You can trust me. Sorry the Yankees won but that is part of another plan”.

To some it will sound odd but I was astonished, overwhelmed, amazed. I don’t remember if I teared up on the subway back to my hotel or at the hotel that night but I have teared up several times replaying that night. God does not often show his had as clearly as he did that night but there are time when people like me of so little faith need this sort of thing. Thanks Dad.

Blogging as a reflection of lfe

I have just gone back to look at all of my postings as I have been reviewing this whole blogging experience. I was surprised to see that I started this blog soon after resigning from the last church I served. I thought I had started it earlier than that.

As I looked back there is not all that much struck me about the entries except to see how many of them have dealt with Lent and Advent. I have grown to appreciate how the Church Year gives a bit or order to my Christian life. I know that my friends who have a strict view of the regulative principle (if you do not know what that is, please, please do not Google it, just pretend you never heard of it, you will be better off) will tell me how wrong this is for a Presbyterian but I really do not think my Father objects so it is fine.

I am writing this short blog to let those, who follow this for whatever reason, know that I will be trying to make more frequent posting. After Lent this past year I basically stopped. Part of this had to do with my parents being ill and then when Dad went to the hospital I was there or on the road between here and there so much that I could not. Then he died and three weeks later Mom was gone as well and I just could not get myself up to blog. Then a new job with crazy hours (6:00 PM-4:30 AM) made it impossible to do just about anything but work, sleep and do the things I needed around the house.

But that does not mean I was not writing. I have several posting labeled “draft” on my dashboard. So over the next few weeks I will be finishing these and posting them. Some will appear to be dated (not sure I will finish “Dylan Turns 70″ since he is now 71 but we will see) but I think they might still serve the purpose of my writing.

My goal in all of this is to offer encouragement to those who name the name of Christ and those who are maybe interested in the claims of Christ and even those who really don’t care. Encouragement that despite the struggles, sadness, failure and what not of living in a world that seems just not right (to quote Mr. Dylan – Everything is Broken), what the Christian faith would call “a fallen world” there is hope and joy in the One whose Advent we are currently celebrating. I hope is some little way to do that.

As it says under my religious views on Facebook I am only a beggar showing other beggars where to find bread.

Insulting the Prophet, Insulting the Messiah

But supposing God became a man – suppose our human nature which can suffer and die was amalgamated with God’s nature in one person – then that person could help us. He could surrender His will, and suffer and die, because He was man; and He could do it

C.S. Lewis

C.S. Lewis

perfectly because He was God. You and I can go through this process only if God does it in us; but God can do it only if He becomes man. Our attempts at this dying will succeed only if we men share in God’s dying, just as our thinking can succeed only because it is a drop out of the ocean of His intelligence: but we cannot share God’s dying unless God dies; and he cannot die except by being a man. That is the sense in which He pays our debt, and suffers for us what He Himself need not suffer at all. Mere Christianity, C. S. Lewis

My job usually does not afford me the opportunity of doing any thing but my job. On most night (6:00 PM-4:30 AM) I am at a computer terminal logging in merchandise being shipped to the Amazon fulfillment center where I work. The other night, however, our area was caught up so I worked supporting what we call “outbound” (my area is “inbound”) by delivering product containers (we call them “totes”) all night or placing thousands of them on conveyer belts so I had time for thinking and I found myself meditating on the Incarnation. I found myself thinking of this in reaction to the numerous   displays of anger from those of the Islamic faith about those insulting the Prophet. I think this was due to having recently seen Salman Rushdie Joseph Anton come through the my check-in at Amazon. The book is Rushdie’s memoir about his life under that name while hiding because of the fatwa issued against him by the leaders of Islam because of his book The Satanic Verses.

Many times when these acts of violence follow these perceived attacks on the Prophet and Islam, Christian point out that Christians do not attack people, set off bombs or make threats when people insult Christianity or make fun of Jesus. It would seem to me, however, that these people trying to defend the faith either have forgotten or do not understand that Christianity does not need a Messiah who cannot be insulted, mocked or rejected. There is no action taken against Christ in our day that were not actually done when he was alive on earth. Christianity has a Savior who is not threatened by insults and hostility.

This is at the very heart of what the Scriptures see as one of the important aspects of the Incarnation. Jesus became one of us so that he might experience the reality of living in a fallen world as a real man so that he might spiritually aid those who live in a fallen world. This anger at those who denigrate Christ was perhaps seen most sharply when Andres Serrano photograph, Piss Christ, that showed a picture of a small plastic crucifix submerged in the photographer’s own urine. Christian’s rose up in arms and demanded some accountability but in reflecting on those days. I am not a fan of such art and especially of government funding of such art but the truth is that this might be a bold statement (clearly not intended by Serrano) of the depth of the humility of the Incarnation.

The Incarnation teaches us that the Second Person of the Trinity was totally submerged in the suffering and filth of this fallen world. The book of Hebrews tells Christians to take this knowledge and use it for their own spiritual encouragement: “Consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that  you may not grow weary or fainthearted”. Most Christian’s like a sanitized Incarnation, not the real thing. One of the staggering truths of the Incarnation is that the Second Person of the Trinity put himself (to draw on Serrano’s photograph) where he had to pee. Christian’s don’t like to think of the Incarnation in these terms (I had one member of one of the churches I serve tell me after a sermon: “I think all sermons should be rated G”. This person mentioned this, of course, because they did not consider the sermon they had just heard to be rated G. I wanted to point out that the Bible is hardly rated G but thought better of it. Christians think this kind of thinking helps them be “separated from the world” but I think it has more in common with Victorian prudishness than Christian teaching) but if we do not fully understand the depth of Jesus humiliation the truth of the Incarnation will do us no good. Lofty thought of the Incarnation that do not grasp the daily reality of Jesus suffering and humiliation are not helpful, in fact they are just the opposite.

I posted on my Facebook page this week some of my favorite Christmas songs and carols and included among them In the Bleak Midwinter with word by the poet Christina Rossetti. I have often wondered, however, if one of the reasons that one of the most beautiful verses that is never put into the hymn is because it makes the Incarnation a little too “earthy”

Christina Rossetti

Christina Rossetti

Enough for Him, whom cherubim
Worship night and day,
A breastful of milk
And a mangerful of hay;
Enough for Him, whom angels
Fall down before,
The ox and ass and camel
Which adore.

He had to grow up with skinned knees from running around and scrapped knuckles from working with his father. He likely grew up suffering at the hands of other children and even his own brothers and sisters. He had to put up with laughter, jeers and rejection by the religious leaders of his day because he was doing the work of his Father. He had to come to the point in his sufferings that he told his disciple in Gethsemane “My soul is sorrowful even to death”.

This is the aspects of the Incarnation that I found myself meditating on that night at work. At work I have easily several hundred fellow workers at any given time and as I was walking around I thought of Jesus, the man, the Second Person of the Trinity, moving an mixing among such crowds while he lived a life “of poverty and suffering” and I found myself strengthened spiritually. Hebrews 2:10-11 says “For it was fitting that he, for whom and by whom all things exist, in bringing many sons to glory, should make the founder of their salvation perfect through suffering. 11 For he who sanctifies and those who are sanctified all have one source. That is why he is not ashamed to call them brothers” (ESV). Christians know that God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit (or as my friend Dave McCarty refers to the Trinity “DaddyJesusSpirit”) has had an everlasting love for his people, a love that never changes, never doubts. This passage in Hebrews 2, however, seems to say that because Jesus shares our nature in the Incarnation, that love was deepened. It is because he shared our “flesh” that Jesus is not ashamed to be called our brother!

Did you have a younger brother or sister that at times did things that embarrassed you? Made you ashamed that they were in your family, or even an older brother or sister? “Hey is that your brother over there making a fool out of himself?” “It looks like him but that is not my brother, my brother is at home”. Because he shares in our humanity Jesus is never ashamed to call us brother and sister. Even when the “accuser of our brethren (Rev 12:10) points out our great and grievous sins. “Yes, oh Accusing One I know what Lee did but he is my brother! We share the same nature and I have died for him. So shut up!”

As I said in my last blog entry, I am celebrating Advent more fully this year and I find myself in true awe as I get a deeper, fuller understanding of the Incarnation. During my years in seminary we learned proper arguments from the Scriptures for defending the deity of Jesus. That is what is so often attacked in our faith but we did not spend much time learning to defend his humanity. As I have grown older, however, it has become the full reality of Jesus’ humanity that have over and over again nurtured my soul, especially in times of suffering, sickness and when my life has been touched by death.

One last thing. I am so thankful for God’s providence and so upset with myself when I miss opportunities for God sitings provided by those day-to-day acts of providence. I fail to encourage my life and faith when those special “mundane” events of God’s providence pop up. The other night at work, however, it was almost impossible for me to miss one. I was meditating on the Incarnation I walked past a woman working at some task at Amazon and notice her sweatshirt. It said “Don’t make me come down there … God”. It took all my self control not to shout out: “He already has! He already has!”

don't make

Jesus endure all of this with great humility and love. One of his great invitations to come and put faith in him is not one where he points to his deity, his power, his coming as a judge but to his humility his “lowlyness”

Come to me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon up, and learn from me for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light. Matthew 11:28-29.

My friend and mentor, Jack Miller, used to tell me and others “Everyone wants to be humble but no one wants to be humiliated to get there.” Jesus was already humble when he came to earth (Philippians 2) but he was willing to be humiliated to be like me, to identify with me. You see the more you mine the depths of the Incarnation the more diamonds you find and with every diamond you find you look at every facet and are truly more and more amazed the deeper and longer you look. That is why we need four weeks each year for Advent. We really need every day of our lives and we still have not fully mined this glorious truth.

The Hope Diamond

The Hope Diamond

I know that when Jesus returns it will be a “day of judgment, day of wonders” but I rejoice now that when he came the first time it was as one of us, that he suffered in every way like I do but without sin. We have a high priest who can sympathize with our weaknesses because he has tabernacled among us.

Rejoice! Rejoice this Advent season in the heady doctrine of the Incarnation.

Hear ye the message that comes from afar
up in the heavens there shines a new star
it’s shining brightly and lights up the night
leading the way to a wonderful sign
no one is lonely and no one forlorn
’cause in the manger the Christ child is born

   Hear ye the message it’s simple and clear
time for rejoicing is finally here
fore with the Christ Child there comes a new day
taking your worries and sorrows away
there in your nature and there in your grief
hear ye the message and start to believe

The Joy of Advent

Was there a moment, known only to God when all the stars held their breath, when the galaxies paused in their dance f0r a fraction of a second, and the Bright evening starWord, who had called it all into being, went with all his love into the womb of a young girl, and the universe started to breathe again, and the ancientharmonies resumed their song, and the angels clapped their hands for joy? 

Bright Evening Star, Madeleine L’Engle

I have been observing Advent for more years than I can count. Having an Advent wreath, using Advent readings in my personal devotional life and in our family devotional time, leading worship in churches I served with Advent sermons and so many other aspects related to the Advent season. But it seems like this year I am observing it in a completely new way, a way that for some reasons seem deeper and more true to me.

I have been avoiding the local radio stations that play 24 7 Christmas music but today, while in the car, I turned to one of the stations and was greeted by a Christmas song I

Mom and Dad

Mom and Dad

have never heard. The only line I caught was “celebrating the holiday without the ones we love…” and I had to turn it off. I knew with moments I would be in tears and I was on my way to the dentist and would not like to do any explaining. One of the reasons that Advent is different this year is that it is the first without my parents, LeRoy and Audrey Ferguson who passed away this past July. It is also our third Christmas without Debbie’s mom, Laura. It is hard understanding how this season will ever be the same without these people we love but it has been the experience of all people of faith as life moves forward in all the sadness of living in a fallen world.

It is the third Advent season  that I have not been pastoring a church. Many will not be able to understand the struggle of this because some will consider it to be just like changing jobs but it is not. One of the things that I have come to realize over the past two years (thanks in part to reading The Pastor by Eugene Peterson and more recently Dangerous Calling, by Paul David Tripp) that though becoming a pastor was something I chose to do, it eventually became something that I was. I can only liken this inability to be what I have become to a musician losing the ability through an accident to play his instrument or a singer losing her voice or a surgeon losing control of his hands. Because of this I have become someone in the pew looking at the Incarnation, perhaps, in a fresh way.

This year the company I was working for decided to fold its tent and I find myself in a job that helps to pay the monthly bill but little beyond that. I am not complaining. Our lifestyle has only changed in small ways (we seldom go to movies, hardly ever buy CDs or DVDs and only occasionally eat out) but as my friend Matt B. Redmond (please buy and read his book The God of the Mundane:reflections on ordinary life for ordinary people) wrote recently in his blog about adjustments in his lifestyle after leaving the ministry “we have not even gone without Wifi”. In many ways this job has given me insight into what Matt calls the “mundane”. I work with young men and women, middled aged men and women and some men and women my own age (no adjective on this one) and most of them are excited about this job because “it is good money”. One man close to my own age recently told me that he had quit his second job because he makes more money in one week at this job than he did working two weeks at his other job. I reflect on this as I realize that at this job I am making (with overtime pay) only about two times as much as I did with the first engineering job I had out of college 37 years ago. This has allowed me to enter into the lives of folks that many (most?) Presbyterian pastor have little contact with: folks who work hard every day, at jobs they do not love just to put food on the table. They are hard woking folks of all backgrounds, some recently moved to this country who can barely converse in English. It gets me out of my comfort zone and allows me to hear problems, struggles, fears, joys, hopes of people I likely would never have met otherwise. Though many of them do know know it and few (in my conversations seem to believe it) they too are in need of the Incarnation.

For these, and other reasons, I find myself embracing Advent this year more tightly than ever before I think. I find myself lingering longer over my Advent readings, bringing to mind the accounts in Matthew and Luke (that are pretty much set to memory without even trying) and experiencing new wonder and awe at the truth of the incarnation.

As I have contemplated the incarnation this year I have come to see in a fuller way what Paul means when he talks about the foolishness of the cross and the gospel in I Corinthians chapter one. It is not only the cross that is foolishness to the wisdom of men but everything connected to the truth of the gospel, including the Incarnation. For the past three and a half centuries, Christianity has been trying to redefine itself into something that would appeal to “rational people”. Part of this has been in redefining Jesus and the incarnation. Wanting to call it a myth or a metaphor because it is just so hard to believe. Much that is called the church today tries to get by without an incarnation, turning Jesus into a great moral teacher, a great example of uncompromising love. I can fully understand this. How can the incarnation be possible. It assumes a doctrine (the Trinity) that is as difficult to understand and explain as the Incarnation itself. How can the Word that God used to bring all things into being (“All things were made through him and without him was not any thing made that was made”, John 1:4) become a growing fetus in the womb of a woman who live “in space time history” (to borrow one of Francis Schaeffer’s favorite phrases).

In seminary, I studied the Incarnation, learned about hypostatic union, learned from Chalcedon that the two natures are “unmixed, unchanged, unseparated, undivided” but you will notice that tells us what the Incarnation was not it does not tell us what it is and the reason, I believe, is that it is impossible. Thirty-one years after seminary I find myself agreeing with Madeleine L’Engle (who knew the importance of doctrines and creeds) “Don’t try to explain the Incarnation to me! It is further from being explainable than the furthest galaxy. It is love, God’s limitless love enfleshing that love into the form of a human being, Jesus, the Christ, fully human and fully divine“. (Bright Evening Star).

So this year I celebrate Advent because I marvel at the truth of the Incarnation and I more fully understand our world’s need and my need of a dying Savior who is God and man. As Sufjan Stevens recently sings in Christmas Unicorn “Oh, I’m a Christian holiday, a symbol of original sin”. There is no need for the Incarnation if we are not sinners. There is no need of the Incarnation if I am not a sinner. This Advent season, however, has served as a reminder no only of the miracle of the Incarnation but also the our fallen world’s need of the Incarnation and my own need of the Incarnation. New opportunities to see the sinfulness of my sin. New opportunities for repentance. New opportunities to rejoice it the pure, pure joy of the complete forgiveness. New opportunities to rejoice it the pure, pure joy of the Gospel. New opportunity to rejoice in the only truth that will do me or anyone else any eternal good that because of the Incarnation “God … justifies the wicked” (Romans 4:5). With out the cross the Incarnation is simply an astonishing miracle. Without the Incarnation the cross is simply a man suffering and unjust execution. But because of the Incarnation and the glorious story of the Gospel, this is indeed a time for awe and wonder

Dylan at the foot of the cross

Manger

Where Have All The Days Gone

As I look back it amazes me that I have not blogged since March back when I was teaching my class in Church History on Eleuthera. I have started this particular blog a number of times and it seems I just cannot get through it. It is also hard to imagine all the things that have happened since then. The biggest of course is the death of my parents. Even as I write that it seems surreal. My dad went into the hospital in early June, diagnosed with extensive cancer. He never came home. His last days were not terribly difficult and technically he was not in the hospital. At Palmetto Baptist in Columbia they have a wing that houses the hospice center. That is where my dad spent the last month of his life. My mom was there every day and there were few days when my sister LeRores, my brother Philip or I were not there. Continue reading

The Green Flash

The Green Flash is not the mutant cousin of the original Flash (who dressed in red for you non- comic readers out there) but an atmospheric event that happens very occasionally at sunset or sunup. For just a second or two the upper portion of the sun, just before sunset or just after sunrise appears as a green dot – hence the name green flash.

At Key West tourist and locals sit around, watching the sunset hoping to catch the illusive vision of incredible beauty.

Ever since coming to Eleuthera I have tried to catch the green flash. It is usually difficult because depending on the time of year the sun is usually setting during my class. That was true this year and the only night I was able to actually watch the sunset was Saturday. So Saturday, perched high on the hill where my apartment is located I was watching the sunset with several of the young men from the church in Greenville, SC who were here for a few days helping Eleuthera Bible Training Center with outreach. We were chatting, admiring the pyrotechnic display that our Father was presenting to us. We had our cameras out for picture. I was there with my tiny Panasonic, long for a Nikon 300s to really capture the images, when for just a second I saw it! The Green Flash! I immediately cried out, “Oh did you see it”! They all said “See what” and I said “The Green Flash”. They asked me what that was (kindly without throwing in “You crazy old man”) and I explained what it was and that if you did not look straight at the sunset the entire time you would likely miss it. Well they did but I did not. Something I have been wanting to see ever since I heard about it and there it was. A wonderful gift from a loving Father. Here is what it looks like, though sadly this is not my picture, maybe next time!

Last Night

Tonight i finished my church history class and said good-bye to my students. They have one more class in their studies and then graduation in April. I have never been able to make it for graduation but hope to one day. This graduation is a big one because it is the 10th anniversary of the program. Students from each class will speak.

My students were very gracious tonight, thanking me for coming and for my preparation and thanks to Debbie for letting them “borrow you for a week”. It has been a great experience, once again, but I am looking forward to getting back home and especially seeing Debbie