Mt. Zion: Chapels, Cemeteries and Judgment

The Old Testament prophet, Obadiah, said, “On Mount Zion will be deliverance.” When I was a kid, I lived near a place called Mt. Zion.  I assumed at the time, that it was the only Mt. Zion in the world.  It was at the top of a hill (imagine that) and was the site of Mt. Zion Church and Mt. Zion Cemetery.  Some of my relatives are buried there.

As I entered into adolescence and Bennezette Elkadulthood (as I’m sure you’ve guessed), I began to run across dozens (maybe hundreds) of Mt. Zion’s.  They seemed to be everywhere…especially churches. You’ve seen some. They have names like Mt. Zion Church, Mt. Zion Chapel, and Mt. Zion Bible Fellowship.

It wasn’t until I was almost sixty that I had the privilege of standing on the real Mt. Zion–the first one.  On that holy hill, my life was changed. It changed when Jesus died upon it two thousand years ago.

“My original Mt. Zion was in Elk County, PA–one of the most beautiful places on earth.”

I remember feeling as a young lad that Mt. Zion was a special place.  Little did I realize then how special it truly was.  I didn’t realize how special the real Mt. Zion would become to me a few years later.

Like most things, however, Mt. Zion has its darker side. Obadiah, like many of the Old Testament Prophets, didn’t have a lot of good things to say. That’s probably because the prophecies were about (and geared toward) people who weren’t doing a lot of good things.

“None of us like to be negative.”

None of us like to be negative. (Well, I guess some of us do, but contrary to popular opinion, I’m not one of them.) Yet, it’s the negativity in Scripture that sets up the positive message of salvation.

Obadiah is one of the shorter books in the Bible. It’s so short, it’s not divided into chapters as most of them. It consists of twenty-one verses.

The message of Obadiah is a call to arms. The call is against a little place named Edom. Apparently that’s where Obadiah called home. Because of that little fact, he knew it well, and he knew it needed to go down.

Live ItIt’s a tough thing to pronounce judgment against your own. Maybe that’s why his writing is so short. It could have easily gotten lost among the volumes included in Scripture. In fact, it is indeed overlooked much of the time.

Obadiah’s call for warlike deliverance on Mt. Zion must have been hard for him to deliver. It’s no small thing to postulate, predict, or prophesy. And yet he did.

There are times in the church when we are faced with the same dilemma–times when we sense the need to come against our own. These days there are in-church battles over abortion, homosexuality, and a variety of other major topics.

It’s not easy to take a stand against your own. I would simply suggest we do what the Presbyterian brethren like to say—do it “decently and in order.”

Imagine There’s No Heaven

Sermon titles often come out of the blue. Sometimes the preacher doesn’t even Imaginemention or explain where they came from.  It’s a mystery of the faith.  You may recognize this title.  It’s a line from John Lennon’s song, “Imagine.”

When I was a kid and had thick, brown hair I loved the Beatles and their music.  They were like gods to me.  Lennon was my favorite.  I wanted to be just like him…hair, guitar, song writing…the whole package.  Obviously, since he was a god and I a mere mortal, that pinnacle was slightly out of my reach.  But I could dream couldn’t I?

“When I was twenty years old, I heard the call of God (the real one).”

When I was twenty years old, I heard the call of God (the real one).  I dedicated my life, as best I knew how, to serving Him and Him alone.  As the years went by and I gave serious consideration to the various facets of my life, I began to realize    some of my heroes and “gods” were less than worthy.  John Lennon was one of them.

To tell you the truth, I was crushed.  Lennon was still a great song writer.  He was still a talented rock and roller.  The impact he had had on my life was unmistakable and undeniable.  Yet, his philosophy of life…well, as many people would say today…sucked.

LennonA lot of people, including many Christians, love the song “Imagine.”  They think it’s a beautiful song.  Well, musically, I can’t and don’t deny that.  Philosophically, it’s awful.  Why would one want to imagine there’s no Heaven…no God…no faith?  Lennon’s second line is, “It’s easy if you try.”

I can’t.  I’ve tried.  I can’t imagine there’s no Heaven.  It simply makes no sense to me.  I might be naive, but it just simply does not compute for me.  Lennon says he wants us to live for today.  I guess that’s the only way his belief system would work.  When today is gone, where are we?

We certainly wouldn’t be the kind of people he wanted us to be.  If we’re just biological machines, why concern ourselves with all the things Lennon wanted us to do and be…world peace, unity, sharing everything.  Lennon was a millionaire.  As far as I know, he never shared anything.  When he was asked about it, he answered that he would if he could find a worthwhile cause.  Apparently there isn’t one.

“History shows we aren’t simply altruistic without a reason.”

The history of the world shows us we aren’t simply altruistic without a reason.  If there’s no NY LennonHeaven, I’m in it for ME.  But there IS a Heaven, I want to go there, and Jesus is the only way I know to realize that goal.  Because He wants me to work for peace, unity, and to share what I have, I will.

My old hero, John Lennon, said, “You may say I’m a dreamer.”  Yes, John, you were.  Dreams are great, as long as they’re based in reality.  Heaven is real, and I can’t imagine life without that reality.

Sin Boldly: What a Great Legacy

Though I’ve been a United Methodist for many years, I went to a Presbyterian seminary.  A good third of the student body there was United Methodist as well.  We had no seminary near us, so many of us gravitated to PTS (Pittsburgh Theological Seminary).

But we weren’t the only ones who did reformation-sunday-2012-boldly-smlthat.  There were smatterings of many different Christian denominations there…Baptists, Disciples of Christ, Assembly of God, and Episcopalians to name a few.  Among that motley crew, there were some Lutherans.

I remember one young Lutheran in particular who had a shirt I loved.  It was simply a white T-shirt that had two words printed on the front.  In big, black, defiant letters it said, “SIN BOLDLY.”  If you ever see a shirt like that, buy it for me.

Luther must have been quite a guy! (In case you’re wondering, that little phrase is attributed to Martin Luther, the great Reformer). Of course, he didn’t mean that we should go and look to get into trouble with God. Maybe we should look to get into trouble FOR God, but that’s a whole different topic. In short, we shouldn’t be looking to sin as a general practice.

But Luther reformation-day-germany   wanted us to be sure and steadfast in one, solid truth. That truth is we have a Savior who can actually save us. He loves us, atones for our sins, and we can count on him.

That always leaves us in a somewhat precarious position, of course. It’s precarious only because we’re lousy sinners. If we would just quit sinning, we’d be okay. He’d forgive us and that would be that.

Because we can’t seem to do that, we’re always living in a tension between our lives as saints and as sinners. We’re saints because we’ve been set apart for God’s purposes. We’re sinners because…well, we just are.

October 25 was Reformation Sunday

This past week, we (at least we Protestants) celebrated Reformation Sunday. I’m sure the Lutherans do it up a tad better than the rest of us, yet it’s a pretty important day on the Christian calendar. In my opinion, we should always be reforming. So, this has to be a good day.

To be fair to Luther, there’s a second part to his quote. It didn’t make the T-shirt in question, but it’s equally important. He apparently said, “Sin boldly! But let your trust in Christ be bolder!” That second part, of course, balances it all out.

With our trust in Christ, we can be assured that our sin is forgiven. We can be bold in the assertion that he not only knows how to save us, but will save us indeed.lrose_stainedglass300

We’re sinners saved by the grace of God. Nothing, or no one else can pull this off for us. We can’t do it ourselves, and there’s no other human being around who has the where-with-all.

So my friends, sin (and trust in Jesus) boldly.