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Knoxville, TN, United States
Interim Pastor of Evergreen Presbyterian Church (USA), Dothan, AL.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

A Safe Place

Psalm 98
Isaiah 65:17-25
Lake Hills Presbyterian Church (USA)

I was visiting with a member of the church last week. I was sitting in
the living room with my hand resting innocently on the chair arm. Out
of nowhere, her cat sprang up and plastered its front paws onto the
back of my hand. I made a loud noise unto the Lord, though I can't say
it was entirely joyful. "Oh, don't worry," I was told. "She doesn't
have claws. But she might bite a little." A while later, after I had
regained my composure, the cat made a leap for my head. Actually, it
was leaping for the back of the chair just behind my head. But your
reflexes don't know that. "Oh, don't worry," I was told, "she may
start combing your hair for you, but that just means she likes you."
I'm wondering, "What does she do if she DOESN'T like me?" Now, we used
to have cats, ourselves. Some of you may remember the aptly named,
"Pouncer." I understand the difference between a cat who's happy to
see you and one who isn't. But even so, you can never tell about cats.
They're willing to change their opinions. So, even though I knew I was
in the home of a welcoming cat, I tried to keep an eye on where it was
at all times. Because I knew it was doing the same with me.

Isaiah writes of the Peaceable Kingdom, "The wolf and the lamb shall
feed together. The lion shall eat straw like the ox. They shall not
hurt or destroy in all my holy mountain, says the Lord." God's kingdom
is where no one - man or beast - has to sleep with one eye open. God's
kingdom is where no one - man or beast - has to worry about safety.

They shall build houses and inhabit them;
they shall plant vineyards and eat their fruit.
They shall not build and another inhabit;
they shall not plant and another eat;
for like the days of a tree shall the days of my people be,
and my chosen shall long enjoy the work of their hands.
They shall not labor in vain,
or bear children for calamity;
for they shall be offspring blessed by the Lord —
and their descendants as well.

God's kingdom is a place of complete, and permanent, safety.

I got to hold a freshly born baby a couple of weeks ago. Got to cradle
him in my arms and feel his warmth. The moments before he started
crying and spit up were peaceful and peaceable in the most heavenly
sort of way. Holding a newborn is in itself a blessed covenant of
peace. They will be their precious selves, and you will cradle them
and keep them safe. You will be my child, and I will be your keeper.
If only for a few minutes. A covenant of safety, just like in Isaiah.
Our daughters are growing up now, so I can't cradle them without
slipping a disk. But the covenant of safety will always be there.
Especially when boys enter the picture. I'm thinking about getting a
shotgun. Not that I would ever use it. Much but it would send a
message, as I held it across my lap, in the rocking chair, on the
front porch. No matter what age your kids are, sixteen or sixty, you
want to uphold that covenant. God's kingdom is where no one - young or
old - has to worry about where their children are, or what they might
be doing. God's kingdom is where no one - young or old - has to worry
about safety.

I am about to create Jerusalem as a joy...
No more shall there be in it
an infant that lives but a few days,
or an old person who does not live out a lifetime;
for one who dies at a hundred years will be considered a youth,
and one who falls short of a hundred will be considered accursed.

God's kingdom is a place of complete, and permanent, safety.

Last Thursday, when I was writing this, I was also listening to the
radio. I heard the story of a young woman, now 28 years-old, who had
served in the war in Iraq. Stationed in the middle of nowhere, she had
just gotten into the Humvee and the replacements had taken their
positions. They could see them waving in the distance when the sniper
fire hit the replacements and they all went down. The woman being
interviewed came home, but because of Post-traumatic Stress Disorder,
just couldn't get her life together. She lived on the streets for a
while, but now has made it to a shelter for women veterans. She's
getting treatment. For the first time in a long time, she feels safe.
God's kingdom is a place where no one - man or woman - has nightmares
of war. God's kingdom is a place where no one - young or old - has to
worry about safety.

I will rejoice in Jerusalem,
and delight in my people;
no more shall the sound of weeping be heard in it,
or the cry of distress.

Door locks and security systems. Carry permits and pepper spray. Cell
phones and OnStar. 911 and smoke detectors. X-rays, pat-downs and
shoeless airline passengers. In an unsafe world, we'll sacrifice a lot
for safety. Isaiah wants the people to know - the Bible wants us to
know - that God cares for our safety. God is not complacent. God's
dream for us all is a kingdom where no one - man or beast, young or
old, male or female - no one has to worry about safety. God's dream is
a place where enemies unite, where old wounds heal, where even the
wolf and the lamb shall lie down together.

It's our job as a church, to carry that dream. It's our job as a
church, to be that safe place. It's our job as a church to welcome, to
hold, and to reach out in acts of comfort and prayers of hope. It's
our job to do this especially in the face of overwhelming danger. The
world is a dangerous place, and if you think too much about the
dangers, it can be overwhelming.

Remember when you were a kid, playing tag? There was always someplace,
a tree, a rock, a patch of dirt, that was base. Whenever you stood on
base, no one could tag you. You were safe. That's us. We're base. If
you need to cry, you can cry here. If you want to laugh, you can laugh
here. This is where it's OK to let down your guard. Because this is
God's place. And God's place is where no one - no one - should ever
have to worry about safety.

It's our job as a church to carry the dream. But even more than that,
it's our job to get ready to see the dream come true. So we put
together our broken pieces and get them ready to go out, go out and
tell, and show, and live so other people can know the dream. We pledge
our money. We fill up shoeboxes. We serve Thanksgiving meals in
preparation for the day when no one has to worry about safety.

For I am about to create new heavens
and a new earth;
the former things shall not be remembered
or come to mind.
But be glad and rejoice forever....
They shall not hurt or destroy
on all my holy mountain,
says the Lord.

James McTyre
Pastor, Lake Hills PCUSA
Stated Clerk, Presbytery of East TN
Office: 865-577-8510
Cell & SMS: 865-268-9628
Skype: jamesmctyre

Sunday, November 07, 2010

What Time Is It?

Haggai 1:15 - 2:9
15 on the twenty- fourth day of the month, in the sixth month.

The Future Glory of the Temple

Chapter 2
In the second year of King Darius,
1 in the seventh month, on the twenty- first day of the month, the
word of the Lord came by the prophet Haggai, saying: 2 Speak now to
Zerubbabel son of Shealtiel, governor of Judah, and to Joshua son of
Jehozadak, the high priest, and to the remnant of the people, and say,
3 Who is left among you that saw this house in its former glory? How
does it look to you now? Is it not in your sight as nothing? 4 Yet now
take courage, O Zerubbabel, says the Lord; take courage, O Joshua, son
of Jehozadak, the high priest; take courage, all you people of the
land, says the Lord; work, for I am with you, says the Lord of hosts,
5 according to the promise that I made you when you came out of Egypt.
My spirit abides among you; do not fear. 6 For thus says the Lord of
hosts: Once again, in a little while, I will shake the heavens and the
earth and the sea and the dry land; 7 and I will shake all the
nations, so that the treasure of all nations shall come, and I will
fill this house with splendor, says the Lord of hosts. 8 The silver is
mine, and the gold is mine, says the Lord of hosts. 9 The latter
splendor of this house shall be greater than the former, says the Lord
of hosts; and in this place I will give prosperity, says the Lord of

2 Thessalonians 2:1-5
The Man of Lawlessness

Chapter 2

1 As to the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our being gathered
together to him, we beg you, brothers and sisters, 2 not to be quickly
shaken in mind or alarmed, either by spirit or by word or by letter,
as though from us, to the effect that the day of the Lord is already
here. 3 Let no one deceive you in any way; for that day will not come
unless the rebellion comes first and the lawless one is revealed, the
one destined for destruction. 4 He opposes and exalts himself above
every so- called god or object of worship, so that he takes his seat
in the temple of God, declaring himself to be God. 5 Do you not
remember that I told you these things when I was still with you?

2 Thessalonians 2:13-17
Chosen for Salvation

13 But we must always give thanks to God for you, brothers and sisters
beloved by the Lord, because God chose you as the first fruits for
salvation through sanctification by the Spirit and through belief in
the truth. 14 For this purpose he called you through our proclamation
of the good news, so that you may obtain the glory of our Lord Jesus
Christ. 15 So then, brothers and sisters, stand firm and hold fast to
the traditions that you were taught by us, either by word of mouth or
by our letter.
16 Now may our Lord Jesus Christ himself and God our Father, who loved
us and through grace gave us eternal comfort and good hope, 17 comfort
your hearts and strengthen them in every good work and word.

I hope everyone enjoyed an extra hour of sleep last night. Falling
back is so much better than springing forward. When you fall back, you
get an extra hour of Sabbath rest, and you don't have to worry about
arriving at church right as we're pronouncing the Benediction. When
you spring forward, there's always the fear you'll skulk into church
during the Postlude and wonder why everyone's so quiet. ("Well, that
was a short service.")

The scriptures today are about events in time. About times falling
back, and times springing forward. Einstein wasn't the first to have
theories about time. Everyone does. We all have our theories of what
makes for good times and what makes for bad. Playing the University of
Memphis: good times. Playing Georgia: bad. We all have our hypotheses
about what makes time pass quickly, and what makes it drag on,
forever, and ever, and ever.

In the seventh month, on the twenty-first day of the month, the
prophet Haggai came to the people of Judah with a prophesy about time.
"Do you remember the Good Ol' Days? Do you remember the salad days,
the Sunday, Monday, Happy Days? No, of course you don't, you little
whipper-snappers. But you've heard us old people talk about them.
Times like those times - and even better times - are ahead."

In the New Testament, the Apostle Paul writes to the Thessalonians.
"Don't worry that the time of the Lord is upon you. Don't worry that
you've slept through it. Don't be misled by false time-keepers, who
worry you to death that somehow the Gospel isn't truth. Comfort your
hearts in this day, in this time. Don't get all worked up about in
troubles about that time, or some other time."

We spend a lot of time thinking about time.

High time. Nick of time. Quality time. Half Time.

Time in a bottle. Time and tide wait for no man. Time is money.

Once upon a time. Two-timer. Third time's a charm.

Borrowed time. Stolen time. Wasted time. Prime time.

Time flies. Long time, no see. A stitch in time saves nine.

A whale of a time. A snail of a time. Time and time again.

It's football time in Tennessee. Basketball season's ramping up.
Baseball season's finally over. Quail and rabbit hunting season opens
next Thursday (betcha didn't think I'd know that). In the church, it's
Stewardship season, which combines all of these. We aim for budget
goals, tackle our shortfalls, and hope everyone's pledge pops up, so
we don't go out of bounds, and shoot our ministries in the foot.

A time and a season for all matters under heaven, the Bible says.
People are obsessed with times and seasons because we know we have a
limited number of them on this earth. We fight the times with
surgeries, Botox, and Tea Party candidates. We fight the toll of the
seasons with medicine, and diet, and Pilates. Our electronics squeeze
productivity out of nanoseconds. Ironically, we live in an age where
we want everything to be faster, but we all just want to slow down.
Give me a porch, a rocking chair, and a good book, and chuck the cell
phone into the lake. Somewhere there was a time change they didn't
tell us about. They said we'd spend our golden years lounging in a
hammock in Aruba, not chugging Golytely and getting another hip
replaced. Every generation has its own idea of what those Good Ol'
Days were, and they usually ended about the time we turned eleven.

If you had all the time in the world, what would you do?

If you had no watch, no cell phone, no schedule... if you had no
calendar, no appointments, no deadlines (and don't you love that word,

if you had none of these, what would be your lifeline?

What would be the measure of your life?

Second Thessalonians says, "Now may our Lord Jesus Christ himself and
God our Father, who loved us and through grace gave us eternal comfort
and good hope...." Eternal comfort. God is in such a different time
zone. Most of us are lucky to hold onto a feeling of comfort, hope and
peace for a few minutes.

It says, "As to the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our being
gathered together to him, we beg you, brothers and sisters, not to be
quickly shaken in mind or alarmed, either by spirit or by word...."

So many of us stay shaken in mind and alarmed, in a time of constant
vigilance for... something. Usually something bad. Because you know,
if you wait around long enough, something bad will happen. It's a
proven fact.

But the prophet Haggai tells the people that God says, "In a little
while, I will shake the heavens and the earth and the sea and the dry
land," not in a bad way, but in a way that brings New Good Ol' Days.
So God is saying that if you wait around long enough, something good
will happen.

God doesn't move in Standard Time or Daylight Savings Time. God moves
in people-saving time. People-saving time is where we practice
stewardship of this infinitely valuable moment. In this moment - not
in the good ol' days gone by, and not in the better days ahead - in
this moment, in days measured "good" and even in days measured "bad,"
in this time - scripture says - God loves us through grace and gives
us eternal comfort and good hope. So we can comfort our hearts and
strengthen them in every good work and word.

If you had no clocks, no deadlines, the only way left to be the
measure of your days would be your stewardship of your time. The only
meaningful questions would be, "What have you done to receive this
moment's infinite value? What have you done to multiply its worth?"

In his letter, Paul uses a term that passes by our ears, but would
have stuck in the ears of the people of the day. "First fruits." And
he does something really amazing with it.

For centuries, the Jewish people practiced the giving of the "first
fruits" of their harvest as their tithe to the Lord. They would have
heard, "first fruits," and thought, "Stewardship Season." They lived
according to the laws of Exodus and Deuteronomy that ingrained in
them, "The choicest of the first fruits of your ground you shall bring
into the house of the Lord your God." The first fruits of everything
were about tithing.

But here's what Paul does with this term. It's amazing. He says to the
people, "God chose you as the first fruits." He talks about how God
chose people as the "first fruits." Literally, then, God is tithing.
We are God's tithe. We are God's offering to the world in THIS time,
God's Stewardship Season. We are God's tithe to the world. And here's
what that means. It means, then, that we can live as people of first
and infinite value. It means we can live as people whose days and
minutes are of worth, not because of what we've done, but because our
moments are worthy of God's giving. There's your lifeline. There's the
proper measure of our days. Not how productive we can be, but how much
of an offering we let God make of us. Our times are worth something
because God gives us, in the name of Jesus Christ, as a gift to the
world around us.

People say, "There's no time like the present." The Bible says,
"There's no time BUT the present." Because the present time is God's
time. God has no clock to set forward or back. YOU are God's
timepiece. You are God's lifeline to the world.

Now, a word of warning, here. You may know someone about whom you've
heard it said, "Oh, he thinks he's just God's gift to the world." "She
thinks she's just God's gift to mankind." It's usually not meant as a
compliment. I don't want you to go out of here thinking, "The preacher
said I'm God's gift to the world. So get out of my way." Remember
where the gift comes from, and what its purpose is. God gives us
worth, gives our time worth, in the name of Jesus Christ. We have
value in the name of Jesus Christ, not in our own names. Use your
gifts for good, not evil.

In these changing times, what time are you? You might feel as though
you've reached the time of falling back, and letting the young people
get things done. You might feel as though you're ready to spring
forward, to what you don't exactly know, but something important - you
can feel it in your heart. Whether you're savings time or standard,
whether you're fresh fruit or getting closer to your expiration date,
it really doesn't matter. Your time has come. Your time is now. Go out
and be a gift of God's stewardship and you'll live into your worth.

James McTyre
Pastor, Lake Hills PCUSA
Stated Clerk, Presbytery of East TN
Office: 865-577-8510
Cell & SMS: 865-268-9628
Skype: jamesmctyre