a vision for redemptive family

godfrey coat of arms

What do I want to be about this coming year?  What do I want my family to be about?  What do I want my organization to be about?  These are good questions to ask on New Year’s Day.  For Christmas I made my two older boys Nate and Karch notecards with our family Coat of Arms.   My wife’s initial reaction was, “Ah… I don’t think they are going to like that.”  But to my surprise and delight my eldest son Nate really liked the cards.  This was a way for me to communicate to the family what I want to be about and what I want us to be about.

Family has always been a very difficult emotional zone for me.  It has much to do with my Mom being mentally ill through my childhood.  I was embarrassed by my family.  I didn’t like my family.  I tried working around the problem by engaging elsewhere.  I became a very good jazz drummer as a result and ended up playing in one of Indiana University’s Jazz Ensembles my freshman year of college (1982).  I still have fond memories of Dominic Spera, our Director.  One of the other drummers, Sean Pelton, is now the drummer for Saturday Night Live.

The good thing about engaging elsewhere is that I was able to find real joy in those other things.  I love jazz to this day.  But the joy I experienced there is something I want to experience more of now in my own family.  I’m a visual person, so one of the ways I’m working this out is by seeing the good, the true, and the beautiful via our family Coat of Arms.

Experts in genealogy may poo poo this idea.  They’ll say, “Coats of Arms were given to individuals not to a family name.”  Or they’ll say, “Even if there was a Godfrey family Coat of Arms you don’t know whether you are those Godfreys.”  Points taken but the larger point is that every family, or every little platoon, needs an identity.  This is why military units develop their own insignias.  I view the Godfrey Coat of Arms as an insignia for my family.  Also, in God’s economy, names have meaning.  What is the redemptive story God wants to tell through the name of my family?  There is a good one here.

Our family name, ‘Godfrey’, means “God’s peace”.  The family’s motto is ‘Deus et Libertas’, or “God and Liberty”.  During the Crusades the first Christian King to rule over liberated Jerusalem was a character named Godfrey of Jerusalem.  In the era of ISIS it seems a little easier to appreciate the positive aspects of the Crusades than it would have been previously.  One book I’ve just started reading is Rodney Stark’s God’s Battalions: The Case for the Crusades.

The shield features a black background on which is a gold chevron between three gold pelicans.  According to the House of Names the black (or sable) shield symbolizes deep religious commitment as well as prudence and wisdom.  The chevron symbolizes protection (as in the roof of a house or for my Russian friends, a krisha) and was given to those who had accomplished a notable enterprise such as building a church or fortress (or liberating Jerusalem from Islamic militants).  Gold symbolizes excellence and achievement and someone who has demonstrated great valor.   The pelicans are pictured vulning themselves.  For a pelican to vuln means to use it’s beak to draw blood from it’s neck in order to feed it’s young.  “Pelicans vulning” became a symbol of the piety, self-sacrifice, and virtue associated with the love Christ displayed for his disciples as illustrated in the Last Supper.

The crest features a Saracen (or in contemporary terms a Moslem) holding a cross.  The Saracen was there as a trophy representing deeds of prowess during the Crusades.  We may have Godfrey of Jerusalem to thank for this particular element of the crest.  I’ve seen other versions of the crest in which the Saracen has been replaced by Jesus.   Maybe this was to avoid the perceived indelicacy of portraying a Saracen there as a trophy.

So the story this Coat of Arms tells is one of deep religious commitment, prudence and wisdom, protection for others, excellence and achievement, valor, piety, self-sacrifice, virtue, an prowess.  Wow, that’s a legacy I’d like to be part of and cultivate.

One special blessing for me in all of this is that in our extended Godfrey family my boys are the only males who will carry the family name forward.  I am so thankful to the Lord for Nate, Karcher, and Noah Godfrey.  Just as my Dad was a knight for me may I be a knight for them.

You probably have family pain to navigate too.  Maybe it’s a suicide (like my Mom’s dad), maybe divorce, maybe mental illness (like my Mom), maybe something else.  How would you like to see God redeem that pain?  He’s very good at this.  Look for redemptive threads in your own family’s story that you can weave into a vision for a redemptive future.

Let’s continue the conversation:

  • What is your family’s Coat of Arms and what redemptive threads have you found there?
  • Who are some notable figures in your family’s history and how can you draw on their legacy?
  • What pain has your family experienced that you would like to ask God to move to redeem?

2014 in review

WordPress offers bloggers an Annual Report.  Below is mine.  This blog was viewed 18,000 times in 2014 throughout 121 countries.  That’s exciting.

I remember a conversation with Stuart Briscoe, one of my mentors and former Senior Pastor of Elmbrook Church.  My friend Peter Mitskevitch, Dean of Moscow Theological Seminary, asked him, “What’s the secret to your success?”  Stuart responded, “I know a good book and share with people what I find there.”  My purpose with “Church in the World” is to help the church be the church in the world by sharing what I’m finding the good book to say on the topic.

I’m currently writing my 2015 goals and trying to discern what to do with this blog in 2015.  One thing that I’ve concluded is that I want to keep writing for it because I enjoy it.  I would also like to grow my readership to an average of 2000 per If this was your blog what would you do next so that it would serve others more effectively?

Grace and peace.

Here’s an excerpt:

The concert hall at the Sydney Opera House holds 2,700 people. This blog was viewed about 18,000 times in 2014. If it were a concert at Sydney Opera House, it would take about 7 sold-out performances for that many people to see it.

Click here to see the complete report.

making straight paths for Messiah

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For Sunday, December 7, 2014
2nd Sunday of Advent

In introducing his gospel and the coming of Messiah the Apostle Mark says, “Prepare the way of the Lord; make his paths straight” (v.3).  I’ve read this many times but never appreciated the full significance of the straight paths until now.  Subconsciously I’ve thought, “Well, yeah, I guess a straight path is better than a crooked path.  Jesus must like orderly paths.”  You too?  Thought so … This totally misses the point!  Mark is quoting Isaiah 40:3.  Look at this quotation in Isaiah’s original context:

A voice of one calling:
“In the wilderness prepare
    the way for the Lord;
make straight in the desert
    a highway for our God.
Every valley shall be raised up,
    every mountain and hill made low;
the rough ground shall become level,
    the rugged places a plain.
And the glory of the Lord will be revealed,
    and all people will see it together.
For the mouth of the Lord has spoken.”

Isaiah isn’t just talking about building a straight path. He’s talking about building a highway.  The Romans did just what we did.  They built the highway straight: mountains were leveled, valleys were filled, and obstacles removed.  The commitment and power contained in such a project is a metaphor for the commitment and power God has to accomplish his redemptive purpose.

This is very good news for us, for we, like the early church, find ourselves in exile.  We’ve lost cultural pre-eminence.  We’re increasingly outsiders.  Yet we can be assured that God has neither lost us nor this world.  He is going to accomplish his purpose.  What this means for us is that we can prosecute our daily callings with confidence and joy because we’re walking on the highway of God’s greater purpose.

Points to ponder:

  • How have you experienced being a member of a people in exile?
  • Where do you see God at work building the highway that Isaiah and Mark are so excited about?
  • How is God calling you to prosecute your calling with confidence this week?

The First Thanksgiving

My friend Fred Beuttler has a wonderful tribute to Thanksgiving here.  President Washington said in his original proclamation:

Whereas it is the duty of all nations to acknowledge the providence of Almighty God, to obey His will, to be grateful for His benefits, and humbly to implore His protection and favor; and Whereas both Houses of Congress have, by their joint committee, requested me to “recommend to the people of the United States a day of public thanksgiving and prayer, to be observed by acknowledging with grateful hearts the many and signal favors of Almighty God, especially by affording them an opportunity peaceably to establish a form of government for their safety and happiness:”

Hard to stop there.  Read Fred’s post (link above) for the full text of President Washington’s proclamation.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Does our performance match our profession?

The parable of the talents, as depicted in a 1712 woodcut. The lazy servant searches for his buried talent, while the two other servants present their earnings to their master.

The parable of the talents, as depicted in a 1712 woodcut. The lazy servant searches for his buried talent, while the two other servants present their earnings to their master (1).

Matthew 25:14-30
For Sunday, Nov. 16, 2014
23rd Sunday After Pentecost (Proper 28)

For to all those who have, more will be given, and they will have an abundance; but from those who have nothing, even what they have will be taken away (Matt. 25:29).”  

The parable of the talents is well known.  A contemporary outline might go like this.  There were three employees at an investment firm.  The owner is about to go on a summer hiatus.  He gives the first employee, an “A player”, $500,000; the second, a “B” player, $200,000, and the third, a “C” player, $100,00.  He asks them to steward these funds responsibly.  When the owner returns in the fall, he calls the three employees into his office to report on their work.  The “A” player reports back with $1 million, a 100% return on investment.  The owner is very pleased.  The “B” player reports back with $600,000, also a 100% return on investment.  The owner is very pleased again.  The third employee reports back with the same $100,000 he was given.  The owner is not at all pleased.  This third employee has done nothing – not even depositing the money in a savings account to earn minimal interest.  The owner takes the $100,000 from this third employee, who is fired on the spot, and gives it to his “A” player.

So what’s the point of the story.  I love how R.T. France puts it:

What ultimately condemned this disciple, and made him unready to meet his Lord at the parousia, was the fact that he had proved to be “useless” for the kingdom of heaven. Like the man ejected from the wedding feast in 22:13, his performance had not matched his profession (emphasis mine), and it is only those who “do the will of my Father who is in heaven” (12:50) who ultimately belong to his kingdom (2).

Does my performance match my profession?  I profess to be an ambassador of the kingdom of heaven, carrying the best news that anyone could ever here, that there is a God who created them, understands them, and offers them forgiveness and a new life.  He commissioned me to advance this message before he ascended to heaven.  He’s coming back and he’s going to ask me what I did with my commission.  Will I be one who acts with “entrepreneurial boldness” (R.T. France again) or one who buries what I have in the ground?

My performance does not match my profession to the extent that it should.  I waste way too much time watching television.  I commit to things that I shouldn’t and fail to follow through on things that I should.  My performance in private and with my family needs improvement.  The good news is that I have already made some good investments privately and publicly and I’m empowered by the Holy Spirit to continue in these.  I’m going to enjoy making some course adjustments today and pursuing the fantastic calling given to me.

How about you?  When you look at your own performance, where are you doing well?  Where do you need to do better?  Please share your comments below.

Points to ponder:

  • What have I done this week to fulfill the mandates of my calling?
  • Do I even know what my calling is?
  • If not, what commitment will I make to discern it?

Suggested resources:

(1)  "Parable of talents" by Unknown - A Woodcut from Historiae celebriores Veteris Testamenti Iconibus representatae, taken from http://www.textweek.com/art/parables.htm. Licensed under Public domain via Wikimedia Commons - http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Parable_of_talents.jpg#mediaviewer/File:Parable_of_talents.jpg

(2)  France, R.T. (2007-07-27). The Gospel of Matthew (New International Commentary on the New Testament) (pp. 956-957). Eerdmans Publishing Co - A. Kindle Edition.

The Exodus: merely a charter myth?

"Departure of the Israelites", by David Roberts, 1829

“Departure of the Israelites”, by David Roberts, 1829

Exodus 14:19-31
For Sunday, Sept. 14, 2014
14th Sunday After Pentecost

The Wikipedia article on the Exodus begins, “The Exodus is the charter myth of Israel.”   That phrase, ‘charter myth’, marks a fault line running through our culture.  Did it happen or didn’t it?  For someone operating out of a secular worldview, it couldn’t possibly have happened.  For someone operating out of a Christian worldview (at least in its classical sense) it had to have happened.  The biblical writers clearly thought that it did.

Is the Exodus account (and the use of ‘account’ seems a better choice to reflect Wikipedia’s value of ‘neutral point of view’ than ‘charter myth’) historical or merely mythology?  It’s worth considering the case presented in the Wikipedia article regarding the historicity of the event.

The first point the article makes concerns numbers and logistics.  The biblical accounts (and note there are multiple sources here, Exodus and Leviticus) claim there were 600,000 men involved.  With women and children included, this would represent a total number of approximately 2 million people.   Wow, that’s twice the size of metro Milwaukee.  Marching 10 abreast this would form a line 150 miles long.  That is supposed to be considered implausible.  I however cannot imagine a group of that size deciding to march 10 abreast.  It would make much more sense to march 100 abreast, in which case the line would be 15 miles long.  That becomes very plausible, like the long line of motorcycles that rumble through our city every five years for the Milwaukee Rally 5-year anniversaries.

The second point the article makes is that 100 years of recent archaeological research hasn’t turned up any archaeological evidence.  This is an argument from silence and therefore unpersuasive. To form a persuasive case contrary evidence would need to be provided.

The third point the article makes concerns alleged anachronisms.  Place names mentioned in an alleged 2nd millennium B.C. account date instead from the 1st millennium B.C.   But how strong is this evidence?   I’m not going to take the time to chase down the source cited but the burden of proof is on the one trying to undermine the historicity of the account in front of us.

The article’s fourth point is that the supposed chronology seems more religious than historical.  The problem here is that the supposed 4,000 year chronology of world history is supposed by the interrogator as against being supposed by the Bible itself.   Taking this supposition away there is no point left to make.

For those that find the above considerations persuasive the most plausible conclusion is that the Exodus account is indeed historical.   The wider biblical story is that God worked to save a particular nation, Israel, not so that he could favor them over other nations, but to set the stage for an Israelite to come who would save every nation on earth.  This is a great story, and it’s true, and in its truth we can rejoice and be confident of both blessing in the present and future glory.

Additional reflection:
It is not my calling to contest the current Wikipedia article but it may well be the calling of some of my readers and I urge them to take up the challenge.  We ought not let the secular bias evident here stand unchallenged.  We too easily and often capitulate to the naturalistic worldview from which this kind of thinking stems without even realizing it.   When we do take a stand  it becomes evident that the secular case is often built upon pillars of sand that will crumble upon first touch with considered reality.

“I am who I am”

Kukel PutinExodus 3:1-15
For Sunday, August 31, 2014
Proper 17 (12th Sunday After Pentecost)

We lived in Russia (Irkutsk, Siberia) during the tumultuous transition from Yeltsin to Putin during Putin’s first presidential incarnation.   At that time a very funny TV show called Kuklee (“Puppets”) parodied the machinations in the Kremlin.  This was a knock-off of a similar show in the U.K.  that some of you may remember.

When Putin came to power he did not find his character amusing.  The Kremlin told the sponsoring Russian television station NTV that Putin would no longer be appearing on the show.  The very next week, a new character, the burning bush, appeared.  The other characters asked the bush, “What is your name?”  The bush said, “I am he whose name shall not be spoken.”  I remember laughing out loud while watching this.  Putin was so enraged that the very next week the tax police descended on NTV and Kuklee ceased to exist.  In writing up this post I searched for the episode on the internet and couldn’t find it.  (If you find it please send me a link!)

Turning then back to the original burning bush event why did God say to Moses, “I am who I am?” (v. 14).  This was a powerful play on words in the Hebrew language of the original text.  To say in Hebrew “I am” sounds almost exactly like God’s proper name, “Yahweh”, which is then used in the very next verse.   God was saying this: “Moses, I know you are anxious, but do not fear, for I will be with you.

We live in a secular culture that wants to deny the existence of the supernatural and even further, to denigrate the very possibility (consider, for example, the title of the movie “Bruce Almighty”).   Our best response might be to reply calmly and confidently with Francis Schaeffer’s famous book title: God is here, and he is not silent.  Trusting in God’s gracious and real presence will bring confidence and peace to us personally, and will open the door for blessing upon everyone within our respective spheres of influence.

God is calling you and I to something today just as he called Moses to free the Israelites from Egypt.   Quiet yourself for a moment.  Listen.  Do you hear him speaking?  What is he saying?  If you actually acted on that, would it be a little scary?  Probably.  But hear what else he’s saying: “I am who I am.  I will be with you.”

Points to ponder:

  • What you you most passionate about with respect to living out your faith?
  • What is God calling you to do with your life?  With your week?  With today?
  • How could God’s commitment to be with you help you deal with the trepidation that might come from moving forward with your calling?