The Tower and the Pool

by Phil Baker

The biggest obstacle most people face to belief in a loving god is the problem of pain and suffering in the world. If there is a loving god, why is there evil in the world? How could a god who loves us allow school shootings and disease? These things exist. Therefore, a loving god must not exist. Even those who believe God does exist struggle with this paradox. But we hold to our faith and wait for the day when we can ask God face-to-face why he allows such atrocities.

The disciples didn’t have to wait. They had Jesus right there with them.

And, guess what!  They asked him!

As he passed by, he saw a man blind from birth. And his disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” Jesus answered, “It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him. We must work the works of him who sent me while it is day; night is coming, when no one can work. As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.” Having said these things, he spit on the ground and made mud with the saliva. Then he anointed the man’s eyes with the mud and said to him, “Go wash in the pool of Siloam” (which means Sent). So he went and washed and came back seeing.

John 9:1-7

It was common then to have a karma-like view of life. If you did bad things, bad things would happen to you. Jesus tried to counter this type of thinking by showing that bad things happen (a man is born blind) so that good things can happen (Jesus can heal him and God can be glorified).

Jesus healing the man is an act of grace. It is an example of God’s mercy sent to us through Jesus. So it’s fitting that the name of the pool is “Sent”. Siloam was a small neighborhood in Jerusalem. It is mentioned one other time, in the book of Luke. Jesus was teaching and was again asked about the problem of sin and evil. As he explained that there are no degrees of sin – everyone is a sinner – he referenced a recent event where a tower in Siloam collapsed and killed 18 people. Like the blind man, everyone wondered if these 18 deserved their fate through something they had done. Again Jesus corrected their thinking. But instead of showing grace and mercy, this time he highlighted the need for repentance.

There were some present at that very time who told him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. And he answered them, “Do you think these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans, because they suffered in this way? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish. Or those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them: do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others who lived in Jerusalem? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.”

Luke 13:1-5

Think about these two references to Siloam. A tower and a pool. One is a tall building. The other is a low well. One is a positive edifice. The other a negative depression. One reaches toward heaven. The other is recessed into the earth. At one, mercy is shown. At the other, salvation was needed.

Jesus had two sides that were just as opposing. At times he reached down to touch the lowly. Other times he raised his hands to praise his father. Sometimes he showed mercy (and it was gratefully received). Other times he prescribed repentance (and it was sadly rejected). What he was doing was setting an example for us to follow. We are to be like him. We are to be both a pool and a tower. We are to serve humbly and to proclaim boldly. Reach down and reach up. We are called to be both visible and invisible. We are to be the visible, tangible hands and feet of Jesus in the world. While, at the same time, we are to divert attention from ourselves to the source of our love.

When I think about the problem of evil in the world (and in my own life), God twists the question around on me. If there are Christians, why is there evil in the world? Then I am forced to ask myself if I am a tower and a pool? Am I reaching down to heal? Am I standing up for righteousness? Am I both brave and humble? Who am I in this messed-up world?

The answer comes back to me – I am Siloam. I am sent.

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Confessions of an Easter Bunny

Confessions of an Easter Bunny

by Phil Baker

I am the Easter Bunny. If you didn’t already know that, I’m sorry to burst your bubble. I’ve been playing the Easter Bunny at Revive for several Easters now and it is probably one of my favorite times.

Kids have funny reactions to the Easter Bunny. As soon as I come out in costume some kids stare at me, some cry, and some run up and give me a hug. The kids that stare are usually the younger ones. This may be their first time seeing Mr. Bunny. They need time to process and decide how they feel about him. It’s understandable. A large costumed character can be a lot to deal with. The ones that cry usually have recently had an experience with another Easter Bunny that didn’t go well. They see me and get flashbacks of their parents forcing them to sit on my lap, like some sort of holiday PTSD. But the ones that run up to me are the ones I love. I don’t have to explain why. The Easter Bunny is a celebrity. They know me and love me. They just want to come up and thank me for the Easter basket they received earlier that morning.

As the Easter festivities at Revive go along, a few of the kids who were “on the fence” about the Easter Bunny might warm up to me. I do my best to put them at ease and charm them into coming closer so their parents can snap a picture. One thing that seems to happen over and over during these interactions is that the kids will often give me one of their Easter eggs. It is such a sweet gesture. They just worked hard searching for and gathering these eggs and now they want to give one to me?! Why would they do this? Maybe they want to be my friend. Maybe they know that Easter Eggs come from the Easter Bunny so they are just giving back what is mine. Or maybe they just want to give.

Of course, I don’t keep the eggs. I thank them for their offering (as best I can in my own bunny miming way) and give it back to them. If they were previously unsure about the Easter Bunny, this usually closes the deal. We’re friends now. And that’s all I really want.

A few days after Easter (as I was coming down from my candy high), I thought about this exchange and how it reminds me of our interactions with God. When God shows up in our lives, some will stare, not sure what to make of it. Some will cry at how He has interrupted the plans and expectations they had. But some will recognize Him immediately and run to Him.

God has placed Easter eggs in our lives. They might be a job, children or a spouse. They might be your stuff, your dreams or your future.  As we wander this field of life, we fill our basket with these eggs.

And then we see God.

And we look down at our basket.

How are we going to react? Will we run to thank Him? Will we cry and run away, fearful that He will take away our eggs? Or will we just stop and stare?

What being the Easter Bunny has taught me is that maybe the best response is to offer our eggs back to God. This is what Abraham did with Isaac. This is what Hannah did with Samuel. Call it reciprocation, reciprocity or re-gifting. This simple exchange of receiving something from God, offering it back to Him only to have Him give it back to us, is just another way to grow your relationship with Him.

He, like the Easter Bunny, just wants to be your friend.

Won’t You Be My Neighbor?

by Phil Baker

It was 50 years ago that Fred Rogers first asked us to be his neighbor. For the next 33 years, the Presbyterian minister-turned PBS icon welcomed us into his home with a song as he donned a sweater and comfy sneakers. Then he proceeded to teach us without the slightest hint of judgment or condescension. We felt welcomed to be there. His gentle nature made us feel this was a safe place and that we were loved.

Mr. Rogers wanted to be our neighbor. He wanted us to be his neighbor. Did he mean he wanted everyone to move to Pittsburg? I mean, we all can’t live next door. Mr. McFeely would never be able to deliver all our mail! No. He was just reminding us of Jesus’ teachings about what it means to be a neighbor.

And behold, a lawyer stood up to put him to the test, saying, “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” He said to him, “What is written in the Law? How do you read it?” And he answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.” And he said to him, “You have answered correctly; do this, and you will live.”

But he, desiring to justify himself, said to Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” Jesus replied, “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and he fell among robbers, who stripped him and beat him and departed, leaving him half dead. Now by chance a priest was going down that road, and when he saw him he passed by on the other side. So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan, as he journeyed, came to where he was, and when he saw him, he had compassion. He went to him and bound up his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he set him on his own animal and brought him to an inn and took care of him. And the next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper, saying, ‘Take care of him, and whatever more you spend, I will repay you when I come back.’ Which of these three, do you think, proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell among the robbers?” He said, “The one who showed him mercy.” And Jesus said to him, “You go, and do likewise.”

Luke 10:25-37

Being a neighbor has little to do with geographic location. According to Jesus, it has everything to do with how you treat everyone else. Being a neighbor means showing love. Being a neighbor means spreading joy and peace. It means having patience, showing kindness, being faithful. It means being a friend to everyone regardless of race, creed or economic status.

As we begin this new chapter of Revive church’s outreach efforts, let’s not get hung up on who our literal neighbors are. Instead, put on your Mr. Rogers sweater and comfy shoes and focus on the person in front of us in the moment. Who is sitting next to you right now? Who’s Facebook page did you just look at? Who is behind you in the check-out line?

Who is you neighbor?

#Revive37135

Miguel

Last Night I sat in bed and again cried my eyes out.…

I weeped with I am sure millions of others who were preparing themselves for the most emotional episode of NBC’s “This is Us” to-date. I won’t spoil it for those who may decide to watch it at a later point in time via Netflix binge, but I will say that in some ways it lived up to its hype as being historical.

In a way none of us are wired to be prepared for loss. That makes walking through it or seeing others walk through it so difficult. Personally I find myself at times trying to mentally prepare for a moment I hope never comes but nevertheless fret will.

Why? Shows like “This is Us” help instill a bit of a panicked spirit in all of us sure but in another sense I think each of us wonders how we will respond in the moment. Here’s to hoping that never comes but what if the unthinkable does happen? Do we have a Miguel?

Family is so important and I don’t want to down play how vital it is and how we should strive for healthy families. But if there is a major flag I can wave having finally viewed the Jack Pearson finale it would be the relationship flag. Do you really have a “first call” friend?

A first call friend is someone who can you can do more with than just hang out and party with. I think we all probably have some people we know that we can go out with and have a good time with chatting it up. But if you strip away everything and lose everything who is your “first call”?

Some of us reading this blog have blood family close enough that when or if the unthinkable came we would pick up the phone and they would be there. But there are countless number of folks around us in Nolensville and the greater Nashville area who don’t have anyone building an intentional relationship with them and consequently wouldn’t have a first call.

Jesus created the body of Christ primarily for his glory and worship. One of the ways glory and worship is achieved is when we go out of our way to develop friendships and see people reached with the gospel. It takes a lot of prayer and effort to do this without an overly religious attitude but when we do it authentically the best way we know in the power of the Spirit to do it God smiles.

So be someone’s Miguel this week. Be someone’s first call friend.

Pastor Brock

Gandhi – The Christmas Theologian

Mahatma Gandhi one of the most well known spiritual leaders of the past century is attributed with the following thought as it pertains to Christianity. “I like your Christ. I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are are so unlike your Christ.”

Debate could be had regarding the legitimacy of whether this quote was verbatim from Gandhi or simply a sentiment he conveyed within a conversation to those who ultimately ended up attributing it to him afterwards. But that debate is not the purpose of brining this quote to mention here. Rather this quote surfaces the idea behind the frustration Gandhi like so many others have had with Christianity. Many people who are agnostic, callous, skeptical about Jesus may take great comfort in the notion Gandhi put forward in the above concept. Because lets face it Christians stink at being Christian. However this idea itself is a very appropriate starting point for a very different discussion at this time of year.

One of the truths the bible heralds regarding the story of Jesus we so often read this time of year is Mary his mother conceived him without sexual-intercourse.  How in the world does that happen? Thankfully Gandhi so adequately explained it for us. Christ isn’t like Christians. He was the God-man. Fully God. Fully Man. No if, and’s or buts around it. Both his beginning in the womb of a Virgin and his resurrection over death declare exactly what Gandhi struggled with. Christ is different from Christians.

This does not give Christians a license for acting in rebellion but rather a starting point for a deeper understanding of Jesus. If we can’t believe the virgin birth with at least some sort of conviction can we believe the resurrection? Can we believe God exists at all? My purpose is not to be-little anyone or shame anyone but rather call us into a greater understanding of what it is we are saying we believe this time of the year. The bible mentions many times folks who struggle between unbelief and belief. In fact Mark 9 tells an account of a boys father who was struggling with unbelief in specificity. Jesus healed his son after the father admitted his struggle.

Within the day of technology, information, google and the iPhone we are a self educated people. We can do our own research and come to our own conclusions about things. Through quick  “research” we can find the various reasons why so many people and clergy for that matter dismiss the virgin birth for “good” reasons.

“Its a story that’s been borrowed from other ancient cultures documents on origins of deities.” “Its barely mentioned in the NT other than the two synoptic writers Matthew and Luke.” “Plus its plain crazy!”

What will you believe this Christmas? Believe what Gandhi said. Christ is different than Christians!

If you’re looking to do some more research check out these links:

Was the Virgin birth copied from Other Religions?

Experiencing the Christmas Story

 

Merry Christmas!

-Pastor Brock

 

 

The Fall

The Fall

by Phil Baker

I’m coming off a very busy summer. My wife and I took a trip to Pennsylvania to research her family tree. I helped Montgomery Bell State Park put on their first ever “Ernest Day”. Our VBS is always a big but rewarding effort. We did a 5th year of Movies by Moonlight. I had minor surgery. And I started learning the banjo. Phew! I was looking forward to becoming less busy and fading into the background for a while. But what I didn’t anticipate was that my self-worth would also fade.

As the temperature began to fall with the leaves, I started to fall into a funk. I felt like I was descending into “the winter of [my] discontent.” Why is this? Things in my life are pretty good. I have a roof over my head, money in the bank, and food on the table. As I thought about this, I was reminded of all the things I did this summer. I was missing the busyness of it all. My identity had become tied up in it. So when all this went away so did my identity, my self-worth.

God softly whispered to me “It’s time to slow down. Let’s spend some time together.” I read 2 Corinthians 3:5 which reminded me that my identity, my adequacy, my sufficiency should be in Christ. We often find our identity in other things – our jobs, our family, our stuff – when God should be at the core of who we are. What’s just as janky is when we supplant Him with His gifts or His mission. While well intentioned, these also miss the mark.

In his book “Spiritual Rhythms” Mark Buchanan illustrates the seasons in our life. Each season is necessary for healthy growth. Just as a tree must lose its leaves and go dormant for a while so that it can leaf out in glorious green again in the spring, we have to retreat at times into God’s loving arms so that He can nurture us and prepare us for our next season of fruitfulness.

If you too find yourself discouraged or a little down. It’s okay. Maybe you just need to go dormant for a while. Spend some time just being with God. Set everything else aside, including what you are doing for Him. You don’t need to do anything for Him. He is enough.

‘nuff said.

 

 

Football Is Back!

Football Is Back!

by Brock Benson

“Gentlemen, this is a football”

Those famous words spoken by the legendary Green Bay Packers coach Vince Lombardi still stir the emotions of millions of football enthusiasts worldwide.  Spoken in the 1961 training camp, Lombardi was reorienting his team to what mattered most – the fundamentals.

As a mild football enthusiast I don’t follow a lot of football action but two stories this off-season have caught my attention in particular.  Since some of those reading won’t be familiar with these stories I will try to give a brief overview of the little bit that I know.

 

Story 1

In July one of the more successful SEC coaches, Hugh Freeze, resigned from his position as head coach at Ole Miss. Apparently some of the drama was surrounding escort communication Freeze had engaged in on behalf of players who he was recruiting.  To put it succinctly the situation at Ole Miss is disheartening, irritating, and downright EXPECTED. (I’ll get to that in a moment.)

 

Story 2

America’s team the Dallas Cowboys are in the spotlight due to the suspension of legendary Ohio State running back Ezekiel Elliot. The NFL elected to suspend Elliot for 6 games for violating the league’s personal conduct policy surrounding domestic violence accusations made by Elliot’s ex-girlfriend. The latest news is that Elliot plans to appeal the suspension. What will be the ultimate outcome? Only time will tell…

One of the facts I have found most interesting is the heat Jerry Jones (famous owner of the Dallas Cowboys) is getting from the media for how he has supported Elliot during this time. Radio hosts on our own local 104.5 have aired how negatively they feel Jones has handled this whole situation.

A few years ago when all the drama from Penn State hit the media I was devastated. I’m not an official Nittany Lion fan but my granddad was an Alumni and so growing up I remember how much I loved watching them play especially when I was with him. So to hear what happened crushed me.

Football brings out a lot of passion and pride for people, especially college football. As fans our smack talk reaches its height when college rivalry weekend comes. Why? We want to beat our rival. Actually that was too soft. We want to CRUSH them. Fair?

It’s this very sentiment that should cause us to pause especially in the midst of these recent stories and do something every good football player does after a game. Film Study. It’s in the film room we look back and reflect on how we played and what we could do better. I don’t claim to know the ins and outs of football since I’ve never played. But one thing I’ve heard is truly great players like Peyton Manning or more locally our own Blaine Bishop (former Titans safety) is they took the film room very seriously and really worked hard in reflecting on the game.

Why did Hugh Freeze, Ezekiel Elliot, Jerry Jones, and even Joe Paterno act the way they acted? Perhaps you won’t agree but I think it’s because we wanted them to.

Winning is everything. Even in the midst of trying to provide hope and healing for the Ole Miss faithful hear what former coach Tommy Tuberville said:

“It’s just a sad day for them, it really is, because people in that state really want to win games and want to be competitive at Ole Miss. They’ve done a great job to this point, and now they’ve had a terrible setback.”  (http://www.espn.com/college-football/story/_/id/20342694)

Sure we would never say we condone the actions of these individuals but the pressure we put on them as fans to win is serious. And so is it any wonder they act the ways in which they do? NO! Furthermore we should expect it to happen again and again and keep expecting it to happen until something happens and hearts get wrecked over the bigger problem.

Maybe you think I am being harsh or unreal. But doesn’t the Bible tells us the first murder ever committed was because of a brother who was competitive? Cain wanted to win and beat out his little brother and felt spited when God accepted his brothers offering over his. (See Genesis 4)

As football fans we can continue to expect this behavior from coaches, owners and players because we want to WIN. And we might not say it verbally but our hearts are so attached to the WIN at times we don’t care as much about how it was attained so long as it’s attained. I’m grateful to the various universities and organizations like the NFL who try at times to make a stand for what’s right but I wonder are we seeing the real struggle? Are we upset over sin or because Elliot being out might cost us a few games in our fantasy league?

I know your attention span is running thin but this is real for so many of us, myself included. I’m stupid competitive in everything I do. I have been ever since I was a little boy and use to race my little brother to see which one of us could get done with our paper route faster. It doesn’t matter whether it is fishing, sports, coaching, or life itself. I want to WIN. I almost wear it like a badge of honor most days. But when I don’t win, I face legitimate depression-like tendencies. Why? Because I easily forget my FUNDAMENTALS. I forget that it’s not primarily in those arenas God has wired me to be competitive in. Instead I must be reminded of the most basic of fundamentals, like who my real competition and enemy is. The Bible tells me he is like a lion and he seeks to steal, kill and destroy me and everyone one else in his path.

I love football and I am not going to quit watching it this fall. And I hope you won’t either. But instead of getting mad and caught up in the drama mix like I so easily do I am going to try and realize how my sin nature has to be fought. My college football coach, Will Muschamp, gets really angry when the gamecocks get railroaded…which happens a lot unfortunately. Why? Because he has fanatic fans like me who want him to win and who get angry when he doesn’t. I’m not proud of the fact there have been many Saturdays watching the gamecocks where I got even angrier than Muschamp/Spurrier themselves but its true. I wanted them to win and they know I wanted them to win. And so when they didn’t…well it was bad, really bad.

Football is back! May this be a call for us to rise up and allow the competitive drive God’s given us to be fuel against our real enemy! May we take him on together remembering the fundamentals this fall. And through doing so, see how God’s shaping our hearts even as we enjoy the big hits and the long passes!