Do Not Let Your Hearts Be Troubled (A Meditation on John 14:1-14)

Woman Contemplating by Kathe Kollwitz

Woman Contemplating by Kathe Kollwitz

Jesus says, “Do not let your hearts be troubled.”

But…

ISIS thugs wage their ghastly campaign of fear and domination, and Syria bleeds.

Russia grumbles and schemes of war, and Ukraine burns.

Boko Haram spills rivers of blood in the cause of jihad, and Nigeria weeps.

And yet Jesus says, “Do not let your hearts be troubled.  Believe in God; believe also in me.”

Then Jesus clarifies, saying, “I am the way and the truth and the life.  No one comes to the father except through me.  If you really know me, you will know my Father as well.”

Here, Jesus talks about knowing not just in the sense of “amassing data in your cranium.”  He speaks of a relational knowing, the kind of knowing that means you have been affected, moved, shaped, or changed by the other person.

When we personally experience the presence of Christ in our lives, we are strengthened against having our hearts troubled.

But…

The merchants of fear push their catalogs of conspiracy theories.

The peddlers of doom crow about the coming societal collapse.

The salesmen of wrath whip up an angry furor over those traitors and fools on the other side of the political divide (you know who they are…)

Pinnochio's JoyAnd yet Jesus says, “Do not let your hearts be troubled…. My Father’s house has many rooms …. I am going there to prepare a place for you.”

In other words, the power brokers and pundits do not have the last say, for there is a reality beyond this material world.  It is a spiritual reality that defines us much more than the material reality we get so worked up over.

When we grasp the reality of our spiritual home, secured for us by Christ, we are strengthened against having our hearts troubled.

But….

The nagging voice at the back of our heads accuses us of being frauds.

The challenges we face taunt us with their insurmountability.

Our churches are stymied by stagnation and fear.

And yet Jesus says, “Do not let your hearts be troubled….  Very truly I tell you, whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things than these….”

That means that your spiritual status implies a mission to serve in this material world.  You know Jesus; He has work for you to do.  You have a spiritual home; that reality gives you confidence to work in this world.  Jesus promises that you will do great works, even if they are counted small by the small minds who see only a material reality.

When we grasp the reality that the work Jesus has given us is of great spiritual value and worth, we are strengthened against having our hearts troubled.

So the question is: who are you going to listen to?

Jesus says, “Do not let your hearts be troubled….”

Did you find this post encouraging?  You might also be interested in my new book, Geneva Two: A Parable of Christian Community and Calling.  

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New Release: Geneva Two

Now Available on Amazon in print and Kindle editions

Geneva Two Cover

Geneva Two is a modern day parable of Christian community and calling.

Written as the oral history of a fictional intentional community, Geneva Two tells the stories of people whose faith has been shaped by sharing life together. Come experience the joys, the pains, and the challenges of living in authentic Christian community.

Each chapter is told by a different character, leading the reader into a rich reflection on a particular theme of Christian living. Small groups will have plenty of fodder for a week by week study of the Biblical concepts explored in each chapter.

Written with verve and humor, Geneva Two is a book you will want to return to again and again.

Geneva Two in the Media:

Review from The Power of Story blog:

“For those interested in exploring the idea of an all-in Christian lifestyle, the modern-day equivalent of the New Testament church, Geneva Two is a wonderful introduction….”

Advance Praise for Geneva Two:

Steve Brown, Key Life Ministries:

“Take some time and spend it in Geneva Two. This book will draw you in and, more than that, you’ll yearn for the community and authenticity you’ll find here. This book is fiction, but the fiction has a reality behind it that is so attractive and so ‘doable’ that you might even create or find your own community. Who knows, that community could even be your church.”

Michael Card, musician, author, and Biblical scholar:

“Around 1515 Thomas More wrote a book about a perfect society on an imaginary island. Whether it was tongue in cheek or “pulling a fast one” he named the place “Utopia” which means “no place.” Perfect societies are an impossibility and so too is writing believable books about utopias. But my friend Russell Smith has done it. With his wonderful gift for language he presents his utopia, Geneva Two through substantive interviews with realistic characters. Ultimately utopias simply cannot work and Russ shows us why. But genuine community can exist and he reveals the secrets of that too.”

Kathy Callahan-Howell, pastor of Winton Community Free Methodist Church and author:

“Geneva Two takes an unblemished look at what intentional Christian community aspires to and what it does not. As a pastor I identified with much in the story and hope the book will inspire believers to risk community and intentionality in their relationships. “

Aaron Klinefelter, Minister for Young Adults and Families at Hyde Park Church of the Redeemer and host of the Praxis Podcast

“This is rich storytelling! You can almost hear the whir of the grinder and the whoosh of the steam wand at the local coffee shop while listening in on Hatcher’s interviews. Smith paints a vibrant picture of a deeply Christian community living authentically in the world.”

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Monthly Mini-Reviews: books by Joel Osteen, Will Durant, Miles Unger, and CS Lewis

52 books this year – that’s my goal.

If you’ve been following on Instagram, Twitter, or Facebook, you know that I check in with a photo each time I complete a book.  It’s turning out to be an interesting little community project – I delight in the commentary that follows each book selection.   Over on Instagram, one of my friends asked if I also reviewed these books.

Alas, there’s probably not time enough to do a full review of each volume.   Nor does each volume merit a full review.  So, as a way of furthering the conversation, I’m offering these monthly mini-reviews as a digest of the 52 book project.

So, without further ado, here are the books from January 2015:

Fallen Leaves by Will Durant (completed Jan 12)

fallen leavesWill Durant charmed me with his “Story of Civilization” series.  I had great hopes for this posthumous work, containing his thoughts on life, God, death, and society.  In some ways, he represents the best of mid 20th century middlebrow thought: romanticism tempered by moral rootedness, broad curiosity enriched by intellectual depth, good taste unfettered by judgmentalism.  However, Durant is a citizen of a different millieu.  His generous agnosticism feels quaint in our era of militant atheism.  His views of women are frankly patronizing.  All told, I found this volume to be an interesting insight into a great mind of a generation past.

The Silver Chair by CS Lewis  (completed Jan 15)

The silver chairI’m reading my younger daughter the Chronicles of Narnia for bedtime.  When I was a child, The Silver Chair was not one of my favorite books.  But I must admit that this time around, the story grew on me.  I still think it has a sluggish, clunky start.  I was, however, re-acquainted with one of Lewis’ great heroes: the dour, yet steadfast, Puddleglum.  In the climactic scene, Puddleglum’s courageous actions and thoughtful speech are a rich reward for the reader’s investment of time.

Michaelangelo: A Life In Six Masterpieces   by Miles Unger (completed Jan 29)

MichaelangeloMake this a must-read for the year!  A masterful book about a magnificent mind.  I came away with a renewed appreciation for and an enriched understanding of Michaelangelo’s works.  Unger depicts the artist’s flaws and his virtues, his faith and his foibles.  And on top of it all, I learned much more about how the Renaissance gave way to the Reformation, and how art played a role in both those ages.

You Can.  You Will.  By Joel Osteen (completed Jan 30)

You can you willOsteen takes a lot of flak from people in my circles, and I wanted to to be able to say of this book, “It’s not that bad.  Cut him some slack.”  Alas.  After completing the book in about three hours (for that was all it merited) I concluded that it was a cliche-ridden self-help book sprinkled with God-talk and a woefully deficient view of grace.  It simply lends support to the maxim “Don’t bother with books in which the most prominent feature of the cover is the author’s smiling face.”  If you’re looking for self-help, pick up John Maxwell’s books instead (though admittedly, I’ve seen his smiling face on a cover or two).

Do you like books?  Perhaps you’d like my latest book: Geneva Two. A Parable of Christian Community and Calling.  Or maybe you’d like my other book: Prophet of the Sun.  I promise, my smiling face is not on either cover.  

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Budweiser’s Super Bowl Fail: A Parable for the Church

Once upon a time there was a brewery.  This brewery had a proud heritage of contrarianism: when America drank dark beers with high alcohol, this brewery offered a light-bodied, low alcohol alternative.

It was called Budweiser.

Budweiser, along with a few other beers like Miller and Coors, grew into one of the great national brands.  Because it was predictable and reliable, Budweiser grew to a point where it dominated the market.   Even Americans who didn’t drink beer knew that Budweiser was a proud part of our nation’s fabric.

The brewery advertised Budweiser heavily.  During the great American holiday of the Super Bowl, it rolled out award-winning advertisements  characterized either by edgy wit or by misty eyed sentimentality.

There was, however, a problem with the advertisements.

The ads talked about the brand, not about the beer.

This problem went unnoticed, however; while Budweiser dominated the market, they didn’t need to talk about the beer.  It was sufficient to focus on the brand.  The ads said nothing about quality; they mainly presented an image.  We heard a lot about Clydesdale horses.  We heard nothing about the experience of Budweiser or the taste of the beer.  The advertisements were made only to create an aura of emotion around the brand.

And then things changed.

People who loved beer began to experiment.  They showed interest in different styles of beer, different grains, different flavors.  Small, locally owned breweries opened all over the country.  These upstarts offered wildly different beers: imperial stouts, double-hop IPAs, and fruit laden weiss beers.  They treated their patrons to black lagers, session ales, rye beers, and coffee porters.   The movement caught on.  People loved the variety and the creativity in these locally run breweries.   The craft beer movement ate into Budweiser’s market share.

And the Budweiser brewery became nervous…

Yet, the craft beer movement continued to grow.

Beer drinkers loved having a brewery in their community.  They loved having a relationship with the brewmaster.  They loved walking into a taproom and talking about beer.  Not just talking about beer: celebrating, commending, arguing, expostulating, analyzing, kvetching, and otherwise expressing their enthusiasm for the experience of well made beer.   At long last, beer lovers were finally able to unleash their geekery with a passion akin to science fiction fans at ComicCon, tech fans at Comdex, or aging intellectuals at Chautauqua.   These beer drinkers didn’t just buy beer.  They loved their local beer.  It became a part of their identity

Budweiser’s market share drained like a pony keg at a frat party.

And the Budweiser brewery became nervous…

Very nervous.

The Super Bowl came around again.   Again, the brewery aired lovely commercials that leaned heavily on nostalgia.  Most heartwarming was a cute commercial about a lost puppy finding his way home to his friends, the Budweiser Clydesdales.

But that commercial could just as easily have been a commercial about Alpo or PetSmart.  No beer in the commercial at all.

It focused on brand rather than beer.

But in the third quarter of the Super Bowl, the Budweiser brewery went on the offensive.  They aired a commercial that dismissed the rise of the local craft brewers.  They mocked them as being “fussy” and not drinking “beer brewed the hard way.”

They had finally decided to talk about beer.

The problem was, they had been resting on their brand so long, they had forgotten how to talk about beer.

All they knew how to do was trash other brands.

The backlash came quickly.

It was a PR disaster.

Instead of looking bold and decisive and hardy, the Budweiser brewery sounded cranky, out of touch, and irritable.

It was the advertising equivalent of an old man shouting, “get off of my lawn!”

Now

… instead of “Budweiser,” insert your favorite mainline denomination.

…. instead of “craft beer movement,” insert nondenominational churches of all stripes and varieties: house churches, intentional communities, megachurches, storefront churches, etc.

…. instead of “brand,” insert “institution”

…. And instead of “beer,” insert “Jesus”

What do we in the institutional church learn?

This:  If we spend too much time talking about our institution, we forget how to authentically talk about Jesus.    If we spend too much time resting on our heritage, we forget to look at what is going on now.  If we spend too much time burnishing our image, we forget that people thirst for an experience of Jesus.

“[Christ] must increase, but I must decrease.”  John the Baptist (from the gospel of John 3:30)

Bonus Lesson:  Miller Beer quickly saw the error in Budweiser’s commercial.  They released this advertisement:

MillerBeer

In essence, Miller just said, “We’re glad people are excited about beer.   Let’s talk about beer together.”

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.”  Paul the Apostle (from the letter to the Philippians 1:18)

You think about that.

Did you like this post?  You might also like my new book Geneva Two: A Parable of Christian Community and Calling.   Check it out on Amazon.   

You might also like my free article on “Ministry in the Age of Design”  It contains more thoughts on how to be less like Budweiser and more like Miller.  

Thanks for visiting.  RS

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Covenant-First Window Devotional #5 – David and Goliath Window

On Mondays through the summer, I will be running a series of devotionals based on the stained glass windows at Covenant-First Presbyterian.   These devotionals originally ran in the Covenant Courier newsletter, and we are editing them for re-issue as a devotional later this summer.  All the photos are by our member, nature photographer Jerry Fritsch.  We invite you to come by the sanctuary and see the windows in person.

LowEastWall3Read: I Corinthians 1:26-31

Covenant-First’s David and Goliath window is nestled in obscurity on the Eastern lower wall, in front of the narthex.  This positioning means that it doesn’t get the brilliant sunlight.  When it is backlit, it is usually dim.  This is a shame, for it is a fine window.

The scene takes place mere moments after young David’s victory over the giant Goliath (I Samuel 17:50).  True to the story, the artist has portrayed David as unarmored and bearing only a sling and a bag of stones for weapons.  David is depicted in motion, running to the body of the slain Goliath.  David has eyes of steely determination, for the battle is not yet over.  The Philistine army still looks on, and at this point of the story, they have not yet fled.   This David is portrayed as running to meet the next challenger.

Of course, David, who was anointed as the next king in I Samuel 16, prefigures Christ.  The story of David and Goliath is not about how we can overcome our personal giants, but about how God provides for us a ruler and defender in his Son Jesus Christ.  Like David, Jesus does not fit our idea of the strong deliverer.  Neither was much when considered through the lens of power and position.  And yet David became the ideal king, presiding over a golden age in Israel’s history.  Jesus’ dying, rising, and ascending was the most important era of history – Jesus broke the curse of sin and heals the hearts of millions who follow him.  Not bad for a peasant carpenter.

Our passage for reflection reminds us that God’s persistent pattern is to use the humble and weak as His chosen instruments.  God consistently confounds our pride, “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the LORD.  For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts higher than your thoughts.” (Isaiah 55:8-9)

Let us then place our trust less on our own plans and fix it more firmly on Jesus.  Let us consider more deeply the humility that God is working to build within us.  Certainly, let us be ready for action.  In the David and Goliath story, the army of the Israelites took off in hot pursuit of the fleeing Philistines – they were ready for action.  However our action is the clean up operation that takes place after our Savior, Christ, has already won the glorious and decisive victory.

Soli Deo Goria

Russell

 

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Tardis Theology #8 – In Which The Doctor Reflects On The Might Of The Small

20140326-192434London, 1941.  The Blitz.  Britain’s darkest and finest hour.

A dramatic setting for one of the finer pieces of television storytelling.  This two part series has received accolades from fans and critics, consistently ranking in the top 10 episodes of all time.  It also won the 2006 Hugo award for short form dramatic presentation.  It is both frightening and funny, action packed and thoughtful.  Christopher Eccleston enjoys some of his finest moments as the Doctor.

Early in the tale, the Doctor meets Nancy, a courageous street urchin who watches over all the other orphans wandering the streets of London, keeping them safe and making sure they get food.  The Doctor quickly discerns that Nancy knows secrets about the eerie alien-affected child that prowls the streets of London.  Nancy takes the Doctor to the barricaded hospital where he can learn more.  She then says she has to go to get some more food for the street children.

The Doctor looks at this strong young woman and reflects on how mighty things come in small packages:

“Amazing…. 1941.   Right now, not very far from here, the German war machine is rolling up the map of Europe.  Country after country falling like dominoes.  Nothing can stop it.  Nothing.  Until one tiny damp little island says ‘No.  No, not here.’  [Chuckles] A mouse in front of a lion.  You’re amazing, the lot of you….”

It’s a beautiful line.  Nancy, the underdog urchin, becomes emblematic of the fighting spirit of England, alone against all odds.  The Doctor concludes his speech, saying, “Off you go then, do what you’ve got to do.  Save the world”

This reminds me of how God seems to delight in using that which is small to accomplish great things.  We see it in the Mosaic Law:

“The Lord did not set his affection on you and choose you because you were more numerous than other peoples, for you were the fewest of all peoples. But it was because the Lord loved you and kept the oath he swore to your ancestors that he brought you out with a mighty hand and redeemed you from the land of slavery, from the power of Pharaoh king of Egypt.” (Deuteronomy 7:7-8)

The might of Israel is not founded in their size or resources, but in the overwhelming love of the Lord for them.

This delight in using the small and unregarded becomes a pattern in scripture.  Jesus doesn’t choose the powerful and the wealthy to be a part of his inner circle:  he chooses fishermen, rabble rousers, and outcasts.  Paul comments on how the early Christian communities were not made up of the wise and influential:

“Brothers and sisters, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. God chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him.” (I Corinthians 1:26-29)

Many times it is the weak who have the clearest view of God’s might.  It is often the poor who have the richest understanding of God’s goodness.  And the outcasts are at times the ones who experience the closest, most intimate relationship with the living God.


For Reflection:

Watch: Doctor Who, Season 1, Episode 9 “The Empty Child”

Read: Matthew 20:20-28, I Corinthians 1:18-31

Reflect:

1)  Compare Jesus’ instruction about “being first” with what is often portrayed in media.  What differences do you see.

2) How does Jesus’ humility teach you to about respecting others in humble position?  How does it teach you to grow in humility?

3) In what ways do you see the wisdom of the world being made foolish by God?

4) Jesus is our wisdom.  How does that truth shape how we assess others?  How does it shape how we assess what happens to us?  How does it shape what we choose to do?

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Covenant-First Window Devotional #4 – David and Harp Window

On Mondays through the summer, I will be running a series of devotionals based on the stained glass windows at Covenant-First Presbyterian.   These devotionals originally ran in the Covenant Courier newsletter, and we are editing them for re-issue as a devotional later this summer.  All the photos are by our member, nature photographer Jerry Fritsch.  We invite you to come by the sanctuary and see the windows in person.

LowNorthWall6Read: Psalm 121

This window, depicting David as a shepherd, is an interesting contrast to our window depicting David as a writer.  In the writer window, David stands tall and confident in the inspiration he receives from the Lord.  This window, however, shows David on a knee in supplication.  His sheep doze gently beside him, secure in his guardianship.

The superscription above the window quotes Psalm 121, one of the songs of ascent.  These were songs that were collected as pilgrim songs, to be sung on the journey to Jerusalem for the great feasts of Israel.   The Psalm begins with “I lift up my eyes to the hills,”  referring to the hills through which the pilgrims would travel – hills that could easily conceal bands of marauders.   These hills might also have hidden the forbidden high places where some Israelites went up to worship the old pagan gods.  The hills were foreboding places of danger.

David, on his knee, gives us the picture of one who faces danger.   He is one who is confronted with the uncertainty of the wilderness, not knowing from whence that danger will come.  He seeks the protection of the Lord.

And the Lord responds.   In this window, that response is in the clear image of the hand of the Lord coming down in answer to David’s prayer.  I find the image of that hand to be one of the most fascinating visual images in the sanctuary.  For some reason, it gives me great comfort to be reassured of God’s hand of providence extending in answer to earnest prayer.   Just as the sheep rest easy in David’s protection, so can David rest easy in the Lord’s protection.   Just as the pilgrims en route to Jerusalem rest easy in the Lord’s protection, so also can we rest easy.

We all are pilgrims in this world.   Though we may be settled in one place for our whole lives, we are still pilgrims.  We still face a world of danger and uncertainty.   We all have times in which we cry out “from whence shall my help come?”

May the confidence of the Psalm be our confidence – that our help comes from the Lord who neither slumbers nor sleeps.    Though we might not see a visible hand of the Lord, may we have the clarity of sight to perceive the effects of the hand of the Lord in our lives.   May we be sensitive to discerning God’s providence, even in times of fear and anxiety.   May we rest easy knowing that the Lord is our shepherd.

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