Reflections on Faith
In this blog, you will find weekly reflections on life and faith. My hope is that, in some way, they will prove helpful to you in your daily living. May God bless you on the spiritual journey.
Andrew S. Odom
And Abram journeyed on by stages toward the Negeb. (Genesis 12:9)
By the time you read this, a group of 40 plus members and friends of Canyon Creek will be on a plane high over the Atlantic Ocean on our way to the Holy Land, myself included. The group has been meeting for lunch every month or so for a while now, getting to know one another better and learning about all that we will be doing. A good part of our preparation has been to think of the journey as one unlike any other. We are not tourists expecting to be entertained at every stop, though we will certainly look and act like tourists at times. We are not just observers of things completely foreign to us, though we will look and act like observers on occasion. We are pilgrims, seekers on a spiritual journey to the place where our Lord walked the earth many years ago.
A simple definition of a pilgrimage is, “a journey or search of moral or spiritual significance, typically to a shrine or other location of importance to a person's beliefs and faith” (Wikipedia). The difference between a tourist and pilgrim is that when a tourist comes back from a trip, not much is different. When a pilgrim returns from a spiritual journey, however, there is a noted change in them. Often a transformation has occurred when one has been on a pilgrimage.
We will try our best to keep from thinking of ourselves as tourists. We will try, instead, to journey on by stages. “Guide me, O Thou great Jehovah, pilgrim through this barren land” so the hymn goes. As our group rockets through the sky on our way to the places where Jesus walked and prayed and spoke and healed and lived and died and was resurrected, my prayer is that we return transformed by the experience. We welcome your prayers.
Published on 02/06/2017 @ 6:08 PM CDT
O God, you are my God. I seek you. My soul thirsts for you; my flesh faints for you, as in a dry and weary land where there is no water. (Psalm 63:1)
On Sunday, Canyon Creek welcomed Stephen and Liz Heinzel-Nelson as our guests in worship for the fourth year in a row. Liz is the Executive Director of Villages in Partnership (VIP), a missionary organization we partner with in their work alongside the villages in southern Malawi. Stephen is the senior pastor of Allentown Presbyterian Church in Allentown, NJ. Having them with us is always a delight. They are both incredible examples of what it means to be the hands and feet of Christ in this world, and I am honored to call them friends.
One of the new learnings for me during their visit was how much VIP has grown in the past year. They shared with us that our support and presence in Malawi together now reaches approximately 19,000 people! That is 19,000 people who could easily have not made it another year; 19,000 who would otherwise be living in a dry and weary land where there is no water; 19,000 people whose lives have been changed because we and the other churches partnering with VIP have chosen to return year after year.
This is a big deal and a big commitment, but there is an even bigger deal at work here. The bigger deal is that God continues to change us all in the relationship. The people of Malawi have affected us with their warmth of spirit, their joyful hope, and their incredible faith. To see the pictures that we saw on Sunday reminded me that the Holy Spirit is alive and well in Malawi, and we need to keep going back.
Published on 01/30/2017 @ 9:26 PM CDT
“Come, follow me,” Jesus said, “and I will send you out to fish for people.” At once they left their nets and followed him.” (Matthew 4:19-20)
I cannot get over how quickly the disciples make the decision to follow Jesus. As Matthew tells it, they were right in the middle of fishing when it happened. They dropped everything we are told. They left everything. In a moment’s notice, they completely ended the life they were living to begin a whole new one, no big deal. But it was a big deal. This was a huge deal. I try to think about what it would take for any one of us today to do that, to forego our obligations, end our relationships, quit our jobs and drop everything. People would think we had lost it. And yet, that is exactly what the disciples did. What did Jesus say to them?
The late preacher Fred Craddock once shared a conversation he had following one of his sermons. He was standing in the church at the conclusion of the service when a young lady ran up to him almost shaking with excitement. “I know what I am going to do!” she said. “I was going to go to graduate school, but I’m going to wait and be a missionary first. What you said in your sermon changed my mind. That’s what I’m going to do.” Craddock looked at her parents who were standing behind her with an awkward expression of trepidation. “What did I say?” Craddock thought to himself. “I’m not sure what I said.”
It is quite a mysterious and powerful thing when the good news of Jesus Christ hits us. When it does, our hearts are transformed, our lives are changed, and sometimes, we drop everything because we simply can’t sit still any longer.
Published on 01/24/2017 @ 6:53 AM CDT
Then Jesus came from Galilee to John at the Jordan, to be baptized by him. (Matthew 3:13)
One of the curiosities about Jesus being baptized by John in the Jordan is why Jesus needed to be baptized at all. The baptism John was preaching about was one of repentance and forgiveness of sins. People were coming to him to be washed clean and start anew, much like Delmar in “O Brother Where Art Thou?” who rises up out of the river and declares, “Well that’s it boys! I’ve been redeemed. It’s the straight and narrow from here on out.” So why would Jesus need this? From what does the Son of God need redeeming? Even John asks that question in the verses that follow. “I should be baptized by you,” he says.
The answer to this curiosity comes in Jesus’ reply to John, “Let it be so now, for it is proper for us in this way to fulfill all righteousness.” Jesus gets baptized not because he needs it, but because we do, and the whole of Jesus’ life is one huge act of God’s solidarity. As one commentary notes, “Matthew’s account of Jesus’ baptism is presented as a righteous act of solidarity with those to whom and for whom he has come.” In other words, this is just one more piece of evidence that God became one of us, fully and completely. In Jesus Christ, God was born like us, grew like us, got tired like we do, felt pain like we do, needed to bathe like we do, laughed, cried, got frustrated, rejoiced, and was baptized just like us. He faced tension and ridicule and death. In every way shape and form, God became flesh and bone and lived among us. Now that is a God who really cares.
Published on 01/16/2017 @ 4:37 PM CDT
God’s angel showed up again in Joseph’s dream and commanded, “Get up. Take the child and his mother and flee to Egypt. Stay until further notice. Herod is on the hunt for this child, and wants to kill him. (Matthew 2:13, MSG)
Stories in the Old Testament tell about the many years of exile the Jewish people had to endure from dominating rulers like the Babylonian Empire. Prophets like Jeremiah would preach about God’s judgment alongside the hope of God’s promise to bring them home. In chapter 31, Jeremiah quotes God as specifically saying, “I will bring them back. They will walk a straight path and not stumble.” In one way or another, all of the prophets spoke of God’s promise to return the people home from exile.
The unexpected thing about the salvation story, though, is the manner in which God ultimately began to fulfill this promise. What we are surprised to find is how God shows up. The savior comes, not as an all-powerful king in command with the authority to make decrees and create armies, but instead, as a refugee on the run from the law. In chapter 2 of his gospel, Matthew gives us the rundown on the whole thing, telling us about an angel that sends the family of Jesus to Egypt to hide at the time of his birth. Jesus, it seems, began his life enduring the same exile God promised to rescue the people from.
When you put Jeremiah and Matthew side by side, the good news reminder you get is this: God truly became one of us, leaving his home and becoming a refugee. God went into exile. In Jesus Christ, God went to the far places in order to win our hearts and bring us home.
Published on 01/06/2017 @ 9:00 AM CDT