Saturday, December 24, 2011

Merry Christmas!

God's answer to all of humanity's sin, their twisted history and struggles and striving against him, and all the longings of his people: a baby, tender and mild--Yahweh in a small, adorable, delicate and vulnerable, fragile package! At the moment of conception God and humanity became one in a single Person. And in his birth the whole world order would be overthrown. Blessed Christmas! Glory to God! Peace on earth and good will to all. Come and see! -- Dave Leigh

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

My Pastoral Advent Letter to the Armenians

Editor's Note: As you may know, for the past few months I've been serving in an interim pastoral capacity at the The Armenian Evangelical Church of Greater Chicagoland. Recently the leaders there asked me to write the annual Christmas letter to their mailing list. Here's your sneak peek, minus the fancy formating and stationary:
For unto you is born this day...
A Savior Luke 2:11

Krisdos dznav yev haydnetsav; tsezee, mezee Medz Avedis!
(Christ is born and revealed; Good News to you and to us)

Dear brothers and sisters,

As I write this, people are being pepper-sprayed in a Walmart, fighting over discounted Christmas merchandise; nations are at war; the global economy is reeling with uncertain direction; homeless families wonder where they will sleep; hardworking women and men find their jobs do not cover their needs; and even Christians find themselves at odds over petty differences that leave feelings bruised and relationships torn.

Does it seem strange to celebrate Christmas amidst such times? Do you find it a struggle to come to church and worship God because you, yourself, are under great pressure and stress? Whether you’ve been overwhelmed by a busy life or buried in unfortunate problems, I hope you’ll read this entire letter and consider my invitation to rediscover the gift God has for you in his Son and in his people this holiday season.

Christmas is a holiday that, like the Armenian people, is born of persecution and suffering, but when properly understood and embraced fills the soul with wonder and joy. You know I’m not talking about the commercialized counterfeit that calls itself Christmas. I am talking about the birth of the Child whose family was forced to go to Bethlehem by an oppressive regime and who had to be whisked away before soldiers brought a blood bath of innocents at his birthplace. Even the religious leaders of that day, who knew enough about where to find Jesus to have joined the wise men in welcoming the Child, used their knowledge instead to tip off the murderers!

A Savior From What?

Like Moses, whose parents were oppressed by a tyrant who ordered parents to drown their own children, so Jesus was drawn from the same depths of his people’s oppression in order to deliver all who would follow him. Moses lifted his staff when backed against the Red Sea, opening a way through the very waters Pharaoh would have drowned him in. But Jesus put his back (bloodied from scourging) against the rough-hewn wood of Calvary’s cross, opening heaven itself for us so that all his followers (that’s you and me) might enter with him into Heaven’s Most Holy Place.

Christmas is about this gift! But it is also about God’s deliverance being found in the midst of our own suffering as God overturns the world order. If you’re not used to thinking of Christmas this way, consider what Jesus’ holy mother said the nativity meant:

His mercy extends to those who fear him,
from generation to generation.
He has performed mighty deeds with his arm;
he has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts.
He has brought down rulers from their thrones
but has lifted up the humble.
He has filled the hungry with good things
but has sent the rich away empty.
- Luke 1:50-53
The Gospels tell us those who abandoned Christ amidst suffering and crisis are the ones who missed the most amazing opportunities to see God at work! It’s my prayer you will not be counted among them, but will draw all that much closer to your Savior--the Lord born in the manger of his people’s troubles--with us who gather each week at The Armenian Evangelical Church, where even now the Root of Jesse and the seeds of revival are already sprouting!

Now is the time to discover and rediscover the wonders of Christmas as they relate to the real world--your world! As the saying goes: The Wise Still Seek Him! We look forward to seeking him with YOU!

“O Come, All Ye Faithful!”

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

Pastor Dave Leigh

Sunday, November 20, 2011

So Near, Yet So Far: Thoughts on The Kingdom of God and Politics - by Dave Leigh

Lonely Walk:
photograph by
Arash Karimi
Some say that my believing in global warming makes me a liberal. To me, it just makes me rational.

Some say that believing abortion is usually wrong makes me a conservative. To me, it just makes me concerned about the life of another human being.

Some say that if I believe a nation that possesses the technology and resources to give the best medical care possible to all its citizens should do so, then I’m a socialist. I say it just makes me compassionate and desirous of living in a just and merciful world.

Some say if I believe in personal property and an economic system that rewards hard work, intellect, and resourcefulness, I am a capitalist. To me, it just makes common sense that a society will not excel without personal incentives.

Why do liberals and conservatives both insist on demonizing someone for taking a single position, as if that position forces one into this or that camp? What if the principles of truth, justice, and humanity force us to come to all these conclusions? Namely, that:
  • God made us caretakers of his creation and therefore doesn’t want us to pollute it into oblivion.
  • We should cherish all life, even the life of our enemies and a life developing in the womb.
  • Like the good Samaritan we, as a society, should take care of each other’s wounds and medical needs.
  • People have a right to property and to earning wealth in reward for their labor, but with this comes a responsibility to show mercy, compassion, and justice toward those who are less fortunate and/or oppressed.
  • All people have the right to be respected as human beings and to live free of hatred and oppression, regardless of things like their race, creed, nationality, ethnicity, sex, gender, familial status, or orientation.
In other words, what if I should desire to see my nation and all nations surrender to, and advance, the Kingdom of God? What if I truly don’t want to confess Caesar as Lord, but rather the Lord as Lord? For political parties to pick and choose between these kingdom principles--and thereby force us to do the same--do they not attempt to divide truth and pit righteousness against itself? Has reason become divided and turned against reason? Can we really select which forms of compassion we prefer, and form parties that exclude the compassion and principles of truth we’d rather ignore?

The more I think about all this, the more I wonder at our political landscape and the less it surprises me that it has become dominated by craziness, paranoia, and extremes.

What if the Kingdom of God is not the exclusive domain of Christendom, Judaism, Islam, or any other world religion or philosophy? What if it is neither Democrat nor Republican? What if it is not the proprietary property of any nation or human institution? What if, rather, it is has to do solely with the person and teachings of the Lord Jesus Christ, who bears little resemblance to those who claim to represent him?

What if all people of all faiths and philosophies would come to seriously wrestle with and live out those teachings in how they establish their communities and even their governments, their personal relationships, and even the relations between nations?

What if the Kingdom of God were that simple? What then would become of our political parties, our nationalisms--and our craziness?

Hmmm. Is it possible? Could it really be that close to the noses on our faces?
"As you go, proclaim this message: ‘The kingdom of heaven has come near.’ Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse those who have leprosy, drive out demons. Freely you have received; freely give."  -  Jesus (Matthew 10:7-8)

Saturday, October 22, 2011

The Heart God Wants (Hebrews 8)

Editor's Note:  The comments below are some notes for a sermon I've been working on about Hebrews 8, still in rough form. Please note, this is not the sermon itself but my preliminary reflections on my studies thus far. Consider it research and ramblings. But any feedback you may have is much desired!

This weekend we'll focus on the spiritual heart. What does it mean to have a hardened heart? And how does Christ's superior ministry and better covenant involve a different kind of heart.

Note the contrast between shadow and substance, and how the Law belongs to the shadow but the substance belongs to Christ. By knowing him, we pass from a two-dimensional knowledge about God to a fully-dynamic, interactive, relational knowledge (i.e. relationship) of (i.e. with) God in Christ.

People should end up asking themselves: Do I have a hardened heart or the kind of heart the new covenant calls for? Do I know God or just about God? If they find themselves in need with regards to either of these areas, I'd like them to discover how to have what God wants for them in each of these areas--and choose to pursue that--through Christ's perfect sacrifice.

Review: There has been a change of priesthood and so, a change of law (Heb 7:12).

Why? Because the old law could not do the job (Heb 7:11).

The New Priesthood:

NOT BASED ON: family or tribe or nationality (Aaron, Levi, Israel)

IS BASED ON: Jesus as High Priest in the eternal order of Melchizedek ... Priesthood of all believers (no clergy/laity). He alone can fix and provide what the old law could not!

With this, Jesus is now the guarantor (promiser/provider) of a BETTER covenant.

OLD Cov't = temporary, passing away (lit. “about to pass away.”)

NEW Cov't = eternal and coming now upon us in the new order of the KOG .

OLD needed repeated sacrifices day after day because it was partial and temporal.

NEW is based on Jesus full, final, permanent, and complete sacrifice--perfect and lacking nothing.

And so we come now to Jesus, who is the perfect high priest who:

1. Sits on the throne of majesty in heaven as king forever, and
2. serves in the true sanctuary, not a replica (like Aaron's tabernacle), as priest forever!

OLD = copy and shadow (2 dimensional & dark, boundaries of shadow give us parameters, not a relationship.)

NEW = the real deal! Involves a
BETTER covenant that is AS MUCH BETTER as substance or person is better than the shadow cast. And it comes with BETTER PROMISES!

THE PROBLEM: Hebrews 8:7 - There was something wrong with the first covenant. What was it God found fault with?

Answer in 8:8-9 - The
people. Specifically, something was lacking in their hearts.

GOD'S SOLUTION: Heb 8:10f - The new covenant changes the human participants in the covenant. God places his laws on their minds and writes them in their hearts. (According to the prophets, God will do this by placing a new spirit in our hearts!) The result is a full and actual relationship (not just one in name only or based on second-hand information): "I will BE their God; they WILL BE my people." And in v. 11 "They will all KNOW me from the least to the greatest." (Note OT use of verb “to know.”)

Knowing and experiencing God on an actual relationship level is now not just the exclusive experience of patriarchs, prophets, earthly priests, or kings, but ALL will know him: young and old, great and small.

How will this happen? 8:12 reveals that Christ's final and perfect sacrifice, of which we've been speaking, resulted in full forgiveness and opens for us total reconciliation with God.


So this leaves us with a huge question because it now is clear just how important the heart is to God. Since the heart is the key to experiencing the fullness of the new covenant, passing from the shadow to the substance, then what does a heart look like that God wants, and what does one look like that he rejects?

The heart is mentioned over 575 times in the OT and 150 times in the NT. We could spend years studying what the Bible has to say about the heart because it probably is the biggest concern God has for his people.

As early as Deuteronomy, Moses was calling people to circumcise their hearts, even though the whole generation born in the wilderness were not physically circumcised for the forty years they wandered--until Joshua brought them into the land of Canaan (Josh 5). Jeremiah echoes this (Jer 4:4; 9:23-26). And Paul makes circumcision of the heart the test of a true Christian or Jew (Ro 2:25-29; Col 2:11). The symbolism is of removing the flesh, particularly dead flesh, and making ourselves open to God.

The kind of heart most often objected to in the Bible is the kind we've heard the Hebrews writer admonish us against repeatedly: the hardened heart.

What does a hardened heart look like?

There are several NT passages outside of Hebrews that describe it for us: Mt 13:14-15, Jn 12:40, and Ac 28:27 all look to Isa 6:9-11. And here's what we find:

A hardened heart results in and is therefore evidenced by these symptoms:

1. Little or no understanding of God
2. Does not hear God (and therefore does not heed God)
3. Does not see God or his truths
4. Therefore it will not and cannot turn from its errors (repentance) and therefore,
5. It prevents God from healing the person who has it. And the major area of healing is in regards to their relationship to God, but also in regards to having a healed, healthy spirituality that lives in harmony with God and his world.


The greatest example is Pharaoh - 17 references in Exodus to his hardened heart attempting to undermine God's plans. (cf "God hardened his heart" to "my sister got me angry.")

Proverbs 28:14 - Contrasts hard heart to one that trembles before God (in reverence and awe).

Daniel 5:20 - The whole chapter is a chilling example of how Nebuchadnezzar's hardened heart and now his son's similar heart, brought horrible consequences -- the fall of Babylon and the death of the king that very night. Here the hard heart is associated with pride and brings God's opposition and judgment.

Zechariah 7:12 & context, esp. vv. 8-14 - Those who ignore social justice and the oppression of the poor are said to have hardened hearts. We might add to this, those who ignore the salvation needs of their lost neighbors, families, and friends.

Jesus associated divorce with hardness of hearts. In other words, our relationships are affected, even broken and destroyed, when we harbor a hard heart. Hard hearts are uncircumcised hearts. And therefore they operate in the flesh rather than in the Spirit. They block God out and presume to live life without his power. Even if a person with a hard heart seeks to live a holy life, they do so in their own strength and will always end up in the opposite place from holiness. As in the case of divorce, hard hearts lead to sin, even adultery, alienation of relationships, animosity, division , fighting, complaining, bitterness. This is a brief summary based on a cursory survey of the passages that talk about the heart.

When the disciples lacked understanding and faith in Mark 6:52 and 8:17 with regards to Jesus' ability to provide loaves of bread, Jesus explains their lack of faith and understanding as hardness of heart! The message here is that hard hearts prevent faith, that therefore can block God's provisions and miracles in our lives.

There are many other passages we could discuss. But the last three times the NT speaks of people hardening their hearts is in the passages we studied together in the past few weeks (Heb 3:8,15; 4:7). Those passages, you will recall, hearkened back to the problems God and Moses had with the people complaining and rebelling against their leaders in the wilderness. Even though they complained about seemingly necessary things like needing food and water and security and safety, their behavior was in accord with hardened hearts rather than hearts of faith, full of the knowledge of God. And so an entire generation fell in the wilderness and none of those people, not even the ones who made it into Canaan with Joshua, found their way into God's rest.

Again, we could spend a long time on this. Hopeful we can develop it more in the weeks ahead. The Bible has much to say about a heart that's right and acceptable to God. David asks God for clean heart and a new/right spirit (Ps. 51). Ezekiel speaks of the same (Ez 36:24-28) and calls us to have an undivided heart (Ez 11:19). Jesus promised that the pure in heart would see God (Mt. 5:8). The Psalms say in a couple of places that only the one with clean hands and a pure heart may enter God's sanctuary.


None of us is immune from having a hardened heart. Even the most devout among us can find hardness has crept into our thoughts, our decisions, our choices, our conscious and unconscious commitments. This is not the kind of thing we can finger point about. Nor can we judge others harshly when we ourselves must remain constantly vigilant over our own hearts. (In fact, it is usually those who are most judgmental who have the hardest hearts!) So: "Guard your heart!" the book of Proverbs warns, "for everything you do flows from your heart!" (Pr 4:23).

And so with what little time we have in this service, I want to beg each of us to examine our hearts. Consider if you've hardened it to God or to others in your life. You don't need special instructions or hours of discipleship to know this. You probably felt a twinge of awareness as soon as I raised the matter.

Where is your heart today? Is it open? Is it laid bare before God and thirsty for his Spirit to be poured out? Is is sensitive to his voice and compliant with his leadings? Or is it eclipsed by your own fleshly attitudes and opinions, your own self-confidence and your own selfish agendas?

God wants you and each of us fully immersed in his new covenant. That's the place were all sin is removed and forgotten because of the shed blood of the now risen Christ--our high priest.

God wants you on his team—the Melchizedekian priesthood, interceding for others and bringing the gospel to others. But most of all, he wants a relationship with you, where in you KNOW him as he knows you. He wants you to understand, hear, see, turn and be healed. What a blessed life of peace and wholeness that will be! This is what it means to enter his rest. This is what the priesthood of Jesus, his sacrifice, and his covenant are all about!

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Does loving your Muslim neighbor mean sharing your church with them?

The Lord's Prayer in Arabic
A Christianity Today article, entitled Why We Opened Our Church to Muslims, tracks a debate among Christians about sharing their church facilities with Muslim groups needing meeting spaces. Steve Stone says:
Jason Hood raised issues about inviting Muslims to share worship space with Christians. Hood, who is a scholar in residence at Christ United Methodist Church in Memphis, Tennessee, referred to our flock Heartsong and me. While I couldn't tell exactly where Hood stood on the issue, it seemed that he had decided that our decision to allow Muslims from the Memphis Islamic Center (MIC) to use our Celebration Center for Ramadan prayers was made off hand and without much, if any, theological reflection. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Stone then goes on to cite the church's justification for its actions and says:
As a Jesus-following tribe we could not be more evangelical and exclusivist when it comes to Jesus. We are 21st century Jesus freaks, and we fly that flag on T-shirts which many of us wore as we greeted the Muslims who came for Ramadan prayers each night. All we have ever done or will ever do is a witness to Jesus—his teaching, his life, his death and resurrection, and the presence of the Holy Spirit with, in, and through us.
Our Muslim brothers and sisters know this about us because we always speak of Jesus and our love for him, and our love for them because of him, every time we are with them. There was no trading of theologies. They are Muslims; we are Jesus followers; both of us are clear about that. Jesus said people would know we are his disciples by our love for one another, and that is just what is happening with the dear and gracious people of the MIC. They recognize us as people who have been with Jesus.
What do you think of Christians opening their church buildings for use by their Muslim neighbors?

After reading the article, what do you think of the church's justifications for its decision?