Thursday, March 23, 2006

Worship this Sunday, March 26

Hi all—I’m looking forward to worship this Sunday. Throughout worship, we’ll be focusing on desiring the Christ-centered life. During Lent, we want to focus in on the ways in which we can create space for Christ in our lives. So we’ll be singing some new (to us) songs, including “God Himself Is With Us,” a 1729 Gerhard Tersteegen poem. The second verse reads:

Come, abide within me;
Let my soul, like Mary,
Be Thine earthly sanctuary.
Come, indwelling Spirit,
With transfigured splendor;
Love and honor I will render.
Where I go
Here below
Let me bow before Thee,
Know Thee and adore Thee.

We also will be singing the modern praise song “Sanctuary:”
Lord, prepare me
To be a sanctuary,
Pure and holy,
Tried and true.
With thanksgiving
I’ll be a living
Sanctuary for you.

We’ll close with Charles Wesley’s “Jesus, Lover of My Soul.” The second verse:
Other refuge have I none;
Hangs my helpless soul on Thee.
Leave, ah! leave me not alone,
Still support and comfort me.
All my trust on Thee is stayed,
All my help from Thee I bring;
Cover my defenseless head
With the shadow of Thy wing.

In these songs, we are longing for Christ to give us sanctuary and to be a sanctuary for Christ.

The sermon text is from John 3:14-21, which includes the famous John 3:16. We will be focusing on Jesus’s saying, “And this is the judgment: that light has come into the world, but people preferred darkness to light.”

Take some time and meditate on the hymns (full verses can be found to the hymns at, and the text for this Sunday. I look forward to worshiping with you!

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Worship on Sunday, March 19

Hi all--posted here is the sermon Jeff Snyder preached at ECBC this past Sunday. Thanks for sharing it and allowing me to post it, Jeff!

Can You Hear Me Now? Good!

J.B. Snyder

When we’re little, powerful ideas grab our attention. They burn brightly in our imaginations. As children we all heard the bible story of Moses and the burning bush in Sunday school and that was all right. But for many of us growing up in the 1950s and beyond, strong images made an even deeper, more lasting impression. If you saw The Ten Commandments as a kid, the burning bush story really came to life. There’s the bush, engulfed in flame and yet unharmed, there’s Charlton Heston falling down before it as a deep, basso profundo voice intones the familiar verses, beginning “Moses, Moses.” And later on there’s the fireballs striking the rock while that deep voice declares all the Thou shalt nots! And every kid who sees that is hopping up and down and thinking, Now that’s how God communicates! That’s what I’m talkin’ about! Boy, oh boy, how I wish God would talk me like he did in those old Bible times. Maybe you even get excited when you overhear adults talking about a neighbor who has a burning bush. You run right over and find … a shrub with red leaves. And so, as you grow older, you tell yourself, things like that just don’t happen anymore. And, yet, that image just stays there, burning away as the years go by.
The scripture opens with Moses busy with his daily routine. We find him in Midian tending his father-in-law’s sheep. Moses himself has been at this job for many years now. He’s wearing the practical workday clothes of a shepherd, a far cry from the finery he wore in his younger days when he called Pharaoh’s palace home. His face is dark and seamed, weathered from years living in the open. His hands are rough, and in those cracked hands he carries his crook with the easy familiarity of long practice. That crook and he have been through a lot together. Moses has used his crook to fish lost sheep out of crevices. He’s used it to convince stubborn sheep they really don’t want to spend the rest of their natural lives stuck in a tangle of acacia bushes. He’s also used that dependable crook to ward off predators. Sheep might look delicious; sheep may smell delicious; but the threat of Moses’ crook has kept many a wolf from finding out if sheep taste delicious!
Moses is traveling up a wide, shallow valley, deep in the wilderness. He’s surrounded by rugged mountains, barren dark rock at the peaks, dotted with scrubby, thorny acacia bushes on their lower flanks. The valley is dotted here and there with greenery, plants sustained by springs that trickle down off those stony mountains. He’s been following the winding course of the valley, moving his flock from one grassy patch to the next for about two days, moving ever further from his family’s camp in Dahab. This is unusual as shepherds tended to stay within a day’s trek of their home base. The text doesn’t tell us why Moses has pursued this unusual course. Maybe he’s had an argument with his wife or one of his children is at some “difficult age” and he wanted some time away. Perhaps the weather is unusually nice and he is enjoying himself. Or maybe each patch of green up the valley just kept calling him onward. For whatever reason, Moses finds himself on “the backside of the desert” and in the shadow of Horeb, the mountain of God.
In the past, Moses had seen the suffering of his Hebrew brothers and sisters in Egypt. Despite his upbringing in the royal household as the adopted child of the daughter of Pharaoh, he had struck down an Egyptian taskmaster for abusing a Hebrew slave. This action lost Moses his high status and position in Egyptian society. He had thrown away his power back then and struck out against injustice. It had been a fiery passion of his youth. As a result, he’d ended up here in Midian among these peaceful, God fearing people. No doubt from time to time Moses thought back on those early days and wondered what had become of his people in the years since. Perhaps he felt an uncomfortable void in his life, a sense of unfulfilled purpose, a certain lack of connection with a mission or with anyone who could give him one. Such thoughts may have crossed his mind as Mount Horeb hove into view. But, Moses was a busy professional man now, surrounded by the various demands of his daily work, his head full of schedules to be kept, purchases to be made, bargains to be struck. He has no time for nostalgia, no time to ponder issues of social justice, no time for God for that matter. You tend to remain focused on the task at hand when you are knee deep in sheep.
The work-a-day world we discover Moses in is not all that different from our own. Sure, most of us don’t find ourselves literally in the “backside of the desert” and not many of us has had occasion to keep track of a flock of unruly sheep, but the problems are the same. We’re all incredibly busy in offices and at home, keeping track of multiple schedules for work, family, school, play dates and proms, the list is endless. We are constantly surrounded by distraction from innumerable sources, televisions and radios at home and in the car, iPods and cell phones when we are out and about on foot, trekking through the wide valleys of our cities, suburbs, and shopping malls. All of this may have replaced the bleating of Moses sheep but it is just as distracting. There doesn’t seem to be a single unplanned moment or any time for the things that fire our own personal passions, large or small. And perhaps we find ourselves feeling just plain disconnected from God. We remember those Cecil B. DeMille moments with God speaking to Moses through the flames that once so fired our imaginations and sigh. Why couldn’t it be like that? Why couldn’t God just draw us aside and tell us what to do, let us in on his plans, just a little bit. Maybe not a whole burning bush’s worth, but how about just a candlewick’s worth of illumination? Then we check our PDAs, Blackberries, and Day Timers and we’re off again, shepherding our own personal flocks hither, thither and yon through the busy day … just like Moses.
So there Moses is, for no particular reason we are made aware of, at the base of the mountain of God, scanning the horizon for any possible trouble … and something catches his eye. There along one shadowed flank of Horab is a burning bush. Not a major conflagration that could threaten to sweep down the valley and engulf Moses and his flock, just a single bush, burning away, and yet not consumed. Now this was a sight out in the middle of nowhere and in the midst of Moses’ mundane routine that was just too good to resist. Moses pulled himself away from his duties and headed up the mountainside to get a closer look. Those sheep were just going to have to look after themselves for a little while.
And we all know what happened next. Moses moved up the mountainside, drawing near to that alluring burning bush, fascinated by the scintillating light sparking off the hard-packed ground around it. As the scholars say (I always liked that phrase when Bob Hanrahan used it), the burning bush itself was a visible reminder of the Hebrew enslavement in Egypt. The flames surrounding that bush represented the suffering of the nation of Israel but the thorny little acacia bush itself was unscathed. This imagery assured Moses that the people he had once defended in his younger, more passionate days were still alive. It reminded him that they were still in need of help.
Some scholars muse that if Moses had not turned aside to see the bush, that God might have withdrawn in a huff and Moses would have missed his chance for greatness. I’m not so sure. Thinking back over the encounters between God and his children throughout the Bible, God seems pretty insistent when He wants to be heard. Jonah found that out the hard way. In fact, God is so determined to speak to his children He willingly sent His son to reach out to us all and used a cross to bridge the gulf between us.
So Moses removed himself from his busyness, drawn aside to see this unusual thing. And when God had gotten Moses away from life’s distractions, God spoke. God told Moses in no uncertain terms who was speaking with him. And Moses hid his face in fear. You see that over and over in the Bible too. God makes contact and the recipient of the message is afraid. I think deep down each is aware that, from that moment on, life will never be the same. Being creatures of habit, that realization alone is enough to make most of us afraid. And then God let Moses in on a little plan God had been working on for some time. At that point, herding sheep started to look pretty good to Moses. He tried several excuses to slip out of what must have felt just then like a really big shepherd’s crook of responsibility around his own neck. But Moses discovered that God had planned for all contingencies and could counter any argument Moses had to make.
This scripture passage gives us a little insight into God’s methods. First God got Moses’ attention by dropping something into the midst of his workaday world that Moses was sure to see, observant and faithful shepherd that he was. God used this device, the burning bush, to lure Moses out of the midst of his busyness into a quiet place where God was sure to have his undivided attention. Then God proved to Moses in no uncertain terms who he was. Then, unlike the commercials where the Verizon guy is happy enough just to be heard, God reveals a plan for the next stage of Moses’ life.
So what does that have to do with us, we ask ourselves. That burning bush down the street is still just an ornamental shrub and God sure isn’t using it to talk to us. We still feel a troubling distance in our busy lives, an unwanted separation, and our prayers feel like monologues. But there is good news. When God told Moses his name, I am who I am, Moses understood this as “I am present, I am with you.” Jesus in Matthew 28:20 declared “I am with you always, even to the end of the age,” and in Revelation 3:20, God said, “Behold, I stand at the door and knock.” God is with us. God is calling to us. God presented Moses with a literal burning bush, drawing him aside to begin a conversation. And God did most of the work. All Moses had to do was step outside of his daily routine for a brief moment and be open to what he experienced. God did the rest. For us, God has left the Bible as our burning bush. He’s eagerly waiting for us to set aside the daily busyness, just for a moment or two, pick up that Bible and read a few verses here and there. Before you know it, a passage springs to life, imbued with a meaning that it has never had before. A passage speaks to a situation you are facing as it never has before. That is God stepping in to speak with you. Once the conversation has begun, God will use every means at hand to continue it. Books, movies, talks with friends, once you are open to the possibilities, God will make use of them all, and more. Burning bushes start dotting the horizon.
They say in writing a sermon you should only tell one story about yourself. Well, this is it. Here’s an example of what I mean. Sometimes I pray like a Psalmist. One day it’s prayers of thanksgiving and joy, the next it’s prayers filled with fuss and fury. At the end of one particularly bad day at work I peevishly asked God if this might not be the time to move me from the secular world into more faithful work. After all, this is your idea God. Well, the very next day, the reading assignment for my seminary class was all about how to wait and what God is doing in our lives while we wait. Later, I checked the revised common lectionary online. The reading for the day dealt with the wise bridesmaids who prepared while they waited for their groom to come. Finally, my horoscope caught my eye as I was reading the comics, a very important part of my daily ritual. Now, before I finish, let me assure you the horoscope is not where I look for guidance. After all, would you take advice from a column that described you as a scorpion, a small, poisonous bug? I don’t think so. Small indeed! And yet, something about that first line caught my eye. A little flicker of recognition drew me in. It read, “This is a good time to wait.” God had answered my prayer quite clearly, three times with three different texts. He’d even ended the discussion with humor, a grace note I really appreciated.
But it doesn’t stop there. Not only is God ready and willing to speak with us, God is also ready to use us as burning bushes for others. Over the radio came a wonderful story out of broken, flooded New Orleans. A chef who lives in an outlying neighborhood made her way into the city after hurricane Katrina to recovered her daughter, who had been stuck in town. On the way back they picked up a young woman whose car had run out of gas. She had been walking along the lonely road with her gas can. The chef told how the woman began sobbing when picked up, worried about the family she'd left behind in that car, cold, tired, and hungry. She didn’t know how she'd get back to her family in that car lugging a heavy gas can (the nearest gas station in operation turned out to be sixty miles away). The chef told of her astonishment when she opened her mouth and heard herself saying, "Don't worry child. When you get to the station, there will be help for you. There will be someone there to bring you back." The chef was stunned. She had not been to that gas station; she had no idea if what she said was true. And yet, when they arrived, there was much more than gas. There was a family giving away hot meals out of the goodness of their hearts. There was a ride waiting for the distraught young lady. She not only took back gas, but enough food to feed every hungry waiting person in that car. The chef was astonished at how correct she had been! It is wonderful to see how God used this kind woman to get a much-needed message of hope to one of His struggling children.
This is good news!
Of course, we’ve all heard one person or another claim to have received a message from God and cringed at the content of that so-called message. Such instances make us skeptical. How can we know we’ve been hearing from God? How can we know we’re not simply engaged in wishful thinking? God has blessed us with a rich community here at Exton Community Baptist Church. This church is filled with kind, knowledgeable souls who can help guide us in this journey of discovery and communication. And I can think of several who would let you know in no uncertain terms whether they thought a message was from God or not!
May each of you have a burning bush encounter this week. May each of you have a meaningful conversation with God. He’s ready and waiting. Can you hear Him now?

Dear Lord, make your presence known to us this week. Help us to feel thrilled and to respond to your invitation as you stand patiently at our doors and knock. Guide us into a closer walk with you. In Jesus name we pray. Amen.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Sister Aimee

Sorry I've been away from this for so long--I was away last week working on my school work. Just finished an interesting paper on Aimee Semple McPherson (everyone called her "Sister Aimee"), a famous Pentecostal minister from Los Angeles; she certainly led a life of intrigue! She went to China as a missionary as a young bride, and when she was pregnant with their first child, her husband Robert died of malaria. She came back to the US and began driving a "gospel car" across the country, crisscrossing the nation at a rate of about 150 miles per day, stopping to preach and distribute Pentecostal literature. She eventually founded a church in California, then disappeared and was feared drowned, then reappeared with a fantastical story of being kidnapped and taken to Mexico; however, juicy rumors claimed she was having an affair with a church employee. She preached elaborate, staged sermons with costumes and props. She was a champion of the poor but at the same time was accused of having a lot of money squirreled away that no one (including the IRS) knew about.

And people think our church is exciting!

Sometimes, we think that we've got to distance ourselves from people like Sister Aimee. After all, she may have been a lying, thieving adulterer. And I suppose it's good to take a good honest look at her life before pledging allegiance to all of her teaching.

Yet we must realize that through it all, Sister Aimee did some powerful good work. She hobnobbed with Hollywood celebrities who flocked to hear her preach. She fed the poor, housed the homeless in her own home.

When our heroes turn out to be mere humans, we should remember that it is mere humans who God has entrusted the gospel to. It is we who are sinful who have been made children of God. The Apostle Paul said in Philippians 1,

"It is true that some preach Christ out of envy and rivalry, but others out of goodwill...But what does it matter? The important thing is that in every way, whether from false motives or true, Christ is preached. And because of this I rejoice. And I will continue to rejoice..."