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
(This is a reflection I wrote during my recent visit to the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem, the place, as tradition has it, where Christ was born. In the spirit of beginnings, I share it with you as we begin the season of Lent together.)
While visiting the Church of the Nativity in Manger Square in Bethlehem, I was caught off guard in a way I did not expect. I was expecting to see the spot where Jesus was first laid and took his first breath, but I was not expecting this. Right next to the manger itself, separated only by a wall built much later, sits the tomb of the innocents, a memorial to the firstborns killed in Herod’s attempt to end Jesus's life before it ever got started. Standing in the breach of their deaths and our Savior’s birth is a stark reminder of our horrific capacity to want to snuff out something new and beautiful from God in order to try and keep things the way they are.
When reflecting on her own visit to the manger, author and pastor Danielle Shroyer writes, "You can imagine Jesus sleeping there, with Mary and Joseph nearby, all of them unaware that soon enough the kingdoms of this world will start coming for him, starting first with Herod and ending with the full power of the Roman Empire itself. In between he will bring discomfort to every kind of power this world has to offer: political and economic power, religious power, powers of class and gender and ethnicity, powers of nation and state. He will even disrupt natural powers: disease, storms, a simple loaf of bread. This child is King, and there is no place on which his authority does not rest. He will replace all those misplaced attempts at power with the only force that can undo them: the unconditional, unwavering, unfaltering love of God."
While inside this holy place, we spontaneously began singing "O Little Town of Bethlehem." As we entered the cave of the birth of our Lord and touched the spot where so many have come, we sang words that so many have sung. "The hopes and fears of all the years" we sang as the air became ripe with the same unconditional, unwavering, unfaltering love of God that overshadows all the powers that too easily monopolize our lives and the world we live in. And in a glimpse, in a fleeting moment, a group of Presbyterian pilgrims could feel the heart of our faith beating.
Published on 03/06/2017 @ 8:17 PM CDT
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