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The following text comprises the notes used to deliver a meditation to the Bethel College Cabinet on December 18, 2017.

 

Anyone who has been to a number of weddings has heard the words from 1 Corinthians 13, including this conclusion: “Faith, hope, and love abide; and the greatest of these is love.”

The reason 1 Corinthians 13 is a favorite at weddings is due to its theme of the superiority of love, even to faith and hope. But, what actually makes love possible is faith or allegiance. But, allegiance is not possible without hope. Hope may not be the greatest of these three attributes, but it is primary, because it is foundational; it is truly powerful. For example, it keeps me engaged through every baseball season. It corralled my attention through nearly the entire Packer game yesterday. And, it is the theme of the Christmas story. But, hope in what?

In Luke’s Gospel, Mary uttered the following words to Elizabeth about God during her pregnancy: “His mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation.” Why? Because, “he has shown strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts. He has brought down the powerful from their thrones and lifted up the lowly; he has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty.”

Soon after Mary voiced these words, Zechariah, Elizabeth’s husband spoke of God in this way: “He has raised up a mighty deliverer for us, that we would be delivered from our enemies and from the hand of all who hate us. Thus he has shown the mercy promised to our ancestors, that we would be rescued from our enemies. By the tender mercy of God, the dawn from on high will break upon us, to guide us in the way of peace.”

No wonder the angels proclaiming the birth of this deliverer, Jesus, said to the shepherds, “On earth peace among those whom he favors.”

Likewise, at the circumcision of Jesus, the old man Simeon said to God, “My eyes have seen your deliverance.”

In line with all these words of hope in mercy through deliverance, John, preparing the way for Jesus, rebuked the rich, the tax collectors, soldiers, and the evil of the King, Herod, a move which cost him his freedom and eventually his head.

Finally, Jesus, at the outset of his ministry, affirmed that he was commissioned by God to “bring good news to the poor,” “to proclaim release to the captives,” “to let the oppressed go free,” and “to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” And what was the year of the Lord’s favor? Perpetual Jubilee, an ongoing time of deliverance from all oppression. (more…)

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My big brother John and I were great pals. In fact, our whole family was close, including Mom and Dad, my sister, the brother I’m telling you about, and me. We were close in a way that you find few families today.

Breakfast was always a special time. We sat around this round oak table with a red-checked cloth on it. Mom almost always served the same thing: steaming hot oatmeal with brown sugar cooked in it (we piled a lot more on top of it, too), and milk. A big white pitcher full of milk.

We’d talk about what we were going to do that day, and maybe we’d joke some. Not that we had a lot time—we didn’t, but we had enough to talk some before Dad went off to work and us kids went to school.

John and I were two grades apart in school. That was sort of hard on me, because the teachers who had him were always comparing us when I got into their class. And the comparison wasn’t too flattering to me.

Don’t get me wrong. John wasn’t a teacher’s pet or bookworm. He was a regular guy, and the kids all liked him, including the girls. Maybe one guy who was sort of bully didn’t, but everyone else did.

Life went on like that—breakfast of oatmeal and milk, walk to school, classes, walk home, chores, supper, study around the kitchen table—and you never thought about anything else. Except vacation. Vacation was always stuck in your mind.

You know the kind of life, day after day when it’s so great you hope it never ends. Maybe you cry at night sometimes if you ever think of your Mom or Dad dying—you know they will someday. But then you go to sleep, next to John, who’s already sawing wood.

It was Christmas vacation, when I was in sixth grade and John was in eighth, that it all suddenly came to an end. Actually, it was two days after Christmas.

John and I had gone to ice skate on Big Pond. It was a real cold day, cold enough so that your scarf got ice on it from your breath. I put on my skates in a hurry and sailed out to the middle of the pond.

I thought I noticed a slight cracking sound from the ice, but it wasn’t much and I wasn’t worried. It had been pretty cold for about a week. So I showed off some for John, who was still lacing up his skates, sitting on a log, and then I headed for the opposite shore.

John stood up and went real fast right out to the middle, too. Just as he got there, I heard this sickening cracking noise, the ice broke up, and John fell through.

I got a long branch and went out as far as I could on the ice. But I couldn’t see John anywhere. He had just disappeared. I yelled for him, and I went even farther out, but he just wasn’t there.

I must have panicked, because first thing I knew I was running into the house shouting for Mom, crying my eyes out, yelling that John was in the pond. It was awful.

They found his body later that afternoon.

A few days after the funeral, we were sitting at the table, eating breakfast one morning. Nobody was saying anything, but all of us were thinking about that empty chair over against the wall.

You could tell Mom was trying to talk. Finally she just sort of blurted out, “Look, we all miss John, terribly. We loved—love him, and we’ll always miss him. Now I have suggestion to make. Do you remember how he liked oatmeal and milk?”

“Do I!” I said. “I sure do. He used to pile on the brown sugar until—”

“That’s enough. He liked his oatmeal sweet and so do you. What I want to suggest is this. Let’s think about John every time we eat breakfast. Let’s remember him whenever we eat oatmeal and drink milk. Let’s talk about him—”

“Yeah, like the time he and I went swimming in Big Pond and . . .” I know before Dad spoke that I had said something I shouldn’t have. Everyone was sort of choked up.

“Time for school,” he said. “We can continue this later.”

Well, we did. And we agreed with Mom’s suggestion. So each morning, when that big pitcher of cold milk went on the table, and our bowls of steaming oatmeal were set in front of us, we’d talk about John.

It wasn’t sad talk, but happy. Remembering. I don’t mean we never said anything that made us choke up—other people besides me did. But mainly it was happy talk. And we still talked about what we were going to do that day, and even—after awhile—joked some.

One day, some months later, Mom said, “You know, I don’t think what we’re doing is quite respectful enough for John’s memory.”

“Respectful?” I said. “Why it’s fun. Sometimes it’s almost like John is here with us. I like it.”

“So do I,” Mom said. “But I think we’re too casual about it. So I think we ought to set aside a time when we’re not rushed like we are at breakfast. Let’s say Saturday morning. And we’ll remember John in a more fitting place than the kitchen. We’ll sit in the parlor, and we’ll have a special time worthy of John’s memory.”

“Aw, Mom,” I said. “John always liked breakfast in the kitchen. Lots of oatmeal with plenty of brown sugar on it. And milk. Why make a big deal out of it?”

“That’s enough, son,” Dad said. “We’ll do as your Mother says.”

So every Saturday morning, after we had eaten our regular breakfast in the kitchen, we went into the parlor and remembered John.

Mom had gotten some little silver cups for the milk, and some tiny teaspoons for the oatmeal.

Later we only went into the parlor once a month, instead of every week, and now we only do it every three months. It doesn’t seem right to me, but I’ll soon be leaving home so it doesn’t much matter.

I still wish we had never begun that “fitting” remembrance, and had just kept on remembering John every time we ate breakfast.

Joseph Bayly, “Out of My Mind,” Eternity, May 1973,  45-46. Bayly’s column ran from October 1961 to October 1986.

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. . . or any year (or any occasion)

The Lord

Bless you and

Keep you.

The Lord

Make his face to shine upon you and

Be gracious to you.

The Lord

Lift up his countenance upon you and

Give you PEACE.

Numbers 6:24–26

Jesus came and stood among them and said,

PEACE be with you.

After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord.

Jesus said to them again,

PEACE be with you.

John 20:19–21

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Amos 5:21–24. I hate, I despise your festivals, and I take no delight in your solemn assemblies. Even though you offer me your burnt offerings and grain offerings, I will not accept them; and the offerings of well-being of your fatted animals I will not look upon. Take away from me the noise of your songs; I will not listen to the melody of your harps. But let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.

Micah 6:6–8. “With what shall I come before the LORD, and bow myself before God on high? Shall I come before him with burnt offerings, with calves a year old? Will the LORD be pleased with thousands of rams, with ten thousands of rivers of oil? Shall I give my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?” He has told you, O mortal, what is good; and what does the LORD require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?

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Apostles’ Creed

I believe in God the Father Almighty,
maker of heaven and earth;

And in Jesus Christ his only Son our Lord:
who was conceived by the Holy Spirit,
born of the Virgin Mary,
suffered under Pontius Pilate,
was crucified, dead, and buried;
the third day he rose from the dead;
he ascended into heaven,
and sitteth at the right hand of God the Father Almighty;
from thence he shall come to judge the quick and the dead.

I believe in the Holy Spirit,
the holy catholic church,
the communion of saints,
the forgiveness of sins,
the resurrection of the body,
and the life everlasting. Amen.

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Confessions of faith have been a staple in Christianity, going back to the historic creeds and enjoying resurgence during and since the Reformation. These confessions present what the authors believe to be the biblical teaching on controversial theological issues. In other words, they seek to summarize the answers to questions which Christians have asked of the Bible. Consequently, they combine both elements affirmed by all Christians as well as those peculiar to the group composing the statement.

Human aversion to change has resulted in statements which grow, but rarely shrink. Affirmations are rarely dropped or reworded, even after the controversy they were meant to address is no longer an issue of interest or dispute. Consequently, one often may trace the theological history of a particular group by reading its confessional statement.

The preceding approach to constructing confessions of faith is similar to the basic goal of systematic theology: How does the Bible address issue X? On the other hand, what kind of statement would be closer to the goals of biblical theology? At a minimum, it would seek to highlight those theological themes which the Bible itself emphasizes. Furthermore, it would seek to employ biblical language as much as possible.

The benefit of this approach would be a positive, enduring statement, one closer to the biblical testimony. It may not directly treat the latest theological fad, but it would provide a framework for addressing those fads.

I have reproduced a confession of faith that follows the principles of biblical theology more than most statements. While the influence of systematic theology is not entirely absent, the impact of biblical theology is clear, especially when one recognizes what the statement does and does not include.

  1. We believe (more…)

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January.

It’s the time each year at which we humans long ago decided to “start over.” The shortest day of the year is behind us, chased away by ten days of lights and merriment. Longer days will be followed soon by birth, growth, and harvest. The yearly cycle of death is giving way to life.

Whether the motive was conversion, co-option, or compromise (who really knows?), Christians have become quite comfortable with this accepted pattern of life. For example, many churches this month will ask prospective and current members to affirm their commitment to the church’s covenant, often by signing a printed version of it.

I have posted below an example of a church covenant. In my opinion, it adequately answers the question posed in the header. In so doing, it also gives the reader a good idea of the meaning of church membership.

*          *          *

I believe that Jesus of Nazareth is God’s son, he died on the cross for the sins of the world, and God raised him from death on the third day.

I have repented of my sins and put my trust in Jesus for his forgiveness.

To the best of my ability I have surrendered my life to God, and made a commitment to follow and serve Jesus with all of my heart.

I recognize that I am not called to live the Christian life alone, but I am to be a part of a fellowship of God’s people, so that together we might minister the love, truth, and healing of Christ to a broken world, as well as to one another.

I believe that God is calling me to be a part of this church, and I desire to be a faithful and attending member here.

To the best of my ability I commit myself to love my brothers and sisters in Christ, encourage them, pray for them, guard my speech against unwholesome talk, and seek to mend any broken or strained relationships that might occur as we work and fellowship together.

I further affirm my intention to share my spiritual gifts, talents, and financial resources as God enables me, and to honor and respect the spiritual leaders of my congregation.

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