Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Sleeping on a Stone Genesis 28:10-19

The night Jacob heard a promise form God was the same night he laid down on the open ground with a stone for a pillow. He was exhausted after running from his twin brother. He was headed towards relatives far away.

This story started long before this night in the desert. Jacob had a brother, Esau. They were sons of Isaac and Rebekah, the grandsons of Abraham and Sarah who heard the promise of God. God promised to build a great nation through their family. They were going to have descendants more numerous than the stars and the sands on the sea shore.

These two boys had parents who played favorites. Jacob the younger boy was his mother's favorite, and Esau the older was his father's pride and joy. When the were grown their mother Rebekah heard their old father, Isaac, plan to bless Esau after he served him a meal of roasted game.

Following his mother's advice Jacob tricked their poorly sited father, Issac so he could get the blessing. Jacob pretended to be Esau—he prepared a meal of roasted meat just like father loved to eat. Jacob covered his arms with the skins of animals so his father would think that it wasn't him but Esau serving the meal. Jacob was blessed. And Esau came home with food ready to serve and received no blessing. Esau burned with anger.

Esau wanted to kill him. So Jacob ran leaving behind the promise land. Desperation drove him into the wilderness and beyond to seek out his mother and father's old relatives.

And now with a blessing he'd gotten through cheating Jacob lay on the ground that night with a rock for a pillow. As he slept Jacob had this vision of angels ascending and descending a ladder from heaven. Over the years I've heard a song about people climbing Jacob's ladder—but that's not the vision Jacob had that night. He had a vision of messengers from God coming from heaven and going back. He had a vision of God reaching out with messengers into our world.

And the vision grew bolder. Now the God of his grandfather Abraham and his father Isaac stood beside him speaking the promise that his children and grandchildren and many generations to come would inherit the land promised to Abraham and Sarah.

And with vision in mind he headed away from the promised land with a word from God.

Know that I am with you and will keep you wherever you go, and will bring you back to this land; for I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you. Genesis 28:15 NRSV
May everyone who seeks refuge hear God's word of compassion in our world today.
Peace and thanks for reading, John

Thursday, July 13, 2017

"Biblical" Family Values in Genesis 25

Many people like to point back to a simpler time in history when there were fewer problems—but the longer I live the more certain I am we have always needed a savior. There has never been a time when humans have been beyond temptation.

If you don’t believe that’s true just pick up a bible and read the story of the family God chose as the start of a great nation. Genesis traces a promise of God—to build a great nation through the family of Abraham, Sarah and the descendants of their son Isaac. This family was far from perfect. The first book of scripture is full of tension and strife between the closest of relatives. Sin was a problem then and sin is a problem today. And the solution to sin—as much as we wish we didn’t need any help—has always been God.

Any time someone uses the phrase “Biblical family values” people should wonder if they’ve ever read the very first book of the Bible. Yes God fulfilled the promise to start a great nation—but the people chosen to be part of that promise had issues with greed, envy, and pride. In short they were very little different from any of us who are alive today.

See our story picks up when Isaac married Rebekah and these two hoped for a child—but no child came. So Isaac prayed to the God of his father and the prayer was answered.

Rebekah was pregnant—but it wasn't an easy pregnancy. Two babies jostled inside of her. “Why me?” she cried.
So she went to inquire of the LORD.
the LORD said to her,
“Two nations are in your womb,
and two peoples from within you will be separated;
one people will be stronger than the other,
and the older will serve the younger.”
Genesis 25:22b-23 NIV
She gave birth to two very different boys Esau and Jacob. The first baby was hairy with a ruddy complexion so they named him Esau meaning hairy and rough. And the second boy was born grabbing at his brothers heal—so they called him Jacob which means heal or worse cheater or trickster. These two boys were different from day one. And trouble came not because they were each unique people—trouble came because these two parents each picked a favorite son.

Any parent of multiples can tell you all the ways their children are different. Yes children who were born together aren't the same. Every person is made as a unique individual with gifts and abilities given them by God. These two boys were different from day one and not just in appearance.

Esau loved to hunt and go out with his father. Jacob liked to stay close to the tents and his mother. The trouble for this family came when these two parents chose favorites.
Isaac chose Esau—the first born—the one who would get a double share of the families resources..
Rebekah chose Jacob the younger son who should always had second place to Esau.

Remember, there's a condition in us humans called sin—and hard as we might try to deny it –the reality springs up. Ugh—come on don't these two parents know what they are doing. These two boys grew up in the same household but they were favored each by a different parent.

So imagine the moment when these two are grown and Esau comes in from hunting—and he'd been skunked. Who knows how long Esau had been out—and he was famished. And Jacob was home cooking a meal—red stew. Just imagine how good a meal of bread and red lentil stew or chili would look—if you are really hungry.

And Jacob—who's name literally means heal grabber—some even say twister or cheater—turns to his brother Esau the hunter who's name means hairy or rough and says I'll give you food in exchange for your birthright.

And Esau says sure. What good is that birthright anyway if I am dead. Jacob had done it. He'd flipped the order. Here it is, our problem with sin played out in the family that had received the promises of God. One brother taking from another.

And Jesus came to spread a message of hope into such a world that won't always receive the Good News. He came with life – and we often turn away. And the good news comes into this complicated world—into real families. It comes not because everything is easy or neat in our live but because the cold hard truth is we need God's love and mercy.

Jesus didn't come because people have it all together – he came to live and die that sinners like us might be set free. Our trouble with sin requires more than just good advice—the savior comes that we might die with him to our selves—and he sends us out to spread a message of love like a farmer throwing seed out into the world.
Peace, and thanks for reading.

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Hope for Ishmael Genesis 21

I'm looking at story in Genesis 21:8-21 that makes me squirm. The story of Abraham, Hagar and Ishmael. There's so much meaning to this story for us in our world today because of who is included in this promises of God in this story.

Abraham was a man who trusted in a promise from God and headed towards a new home with his wife Sara. They were going to be the ancestors of a great nation. And after decades of waiting for a child Abraham chose a short-cut—have a child with another woman—a slave named Hagar.

The slave woman, Hagar, gave birth to a boy named Ishmael. Later on Abraham and his wife Sara had a child too, called Isaac. Sara's jealously reared up. She insisted Abraham get rid of that woman and her son. Abraham was distressed.
But God said to Abraham, “Do not be distressed because of the boy and because of your slave woman ... I will make a nation of him also, because he is your offspring.” Genesis 21:12-13 NRSV
Try to imagine this moment from the perspective of Abraham and Hagar. Abraham heard a promise from God and believed. He trusted that his boy Ishmael and his mother would be okay.

But when I try to imagine Hagar's point of view there's such fear and desperation. Old Abraham sent them away with a few provisions—but soon they were alone in the desert without water, food, or shelter besides the shade of a bush. It must have been awful. Hagar left the boy under one bush and went to huddle safe from the scorching sun in the shade of a bush just a bows shot—maybe 100 yards away. And there in desperation she cried out.
“Do not let me look on the death of the child.” And as she sat opposite him, she lifted up her voice and wept. 17 And God heard the voice of the boy; and the angel of God called to Hagar from heaven. Genesis 21:16-17 NRSV
God spoke to Hagar's fear and opened her eyes to see a well full of water. They would not die alone.

God knows the troubles of every person. Here that we see the start of two great peoples who both claim to be descendants of Abraham—both the son's of Isaac and the son's of Ishmael call Abraham father.

So what does this mean to us today? We live in a word where Arab Christians claim to be descendants of Ishmael. We live in a world where Muslim's point back to Abraham and Ishmael as their ancestors too. And Christians and Jews point back to Abraham and Isaac as their ancestors in faith. And in this world full of division and hate here is a word of promise from God for both of Abraham's sons.

I think about this world today—with war in more places than I can count, fear of terrorism becoming part of everyday life in Europe and North America—and then I hear this promise from God for Ishmael that is just as valid as the promise for Isaac.
Peace and thanks for reading, John

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Don't Look Up--Look Around for Signs of the kingdom

Imagine the days right after Jesus rose from the dead. His friends, with eyes still sore from tears and grief met him again and they knew he was alive.
Jesus' body still had marks from the nails and the sword, but that didn't matter. He was alive. And now his friends got together around him. It was joy – joy beyond compare.

Luke writes in Acts,
...so when they had all come together
Jesus friends likely never wanted this moment to end. They thought this was the moment when the kingdom of God would come. Jesus was alive—and now they asked him plainly,
Lord, is this the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel? Acts 1:6
They were looking in that moment to their immediate future; and what they expected was news of the kingdom breaking in right then and there. Jesus response wasn't exactly what they expected to hear.
It is not for you to know the times or periods that the Father has set by his own authority.
Rather than telling his followers a date and time when Jesus would begin his reign as a king here on earth Jesus made a promise for his followers.
But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth. Acts 1:8
This promise has stood as a source of hope for 2000 years, for the first believers, for all who have faith in Jesus in our time, and for all who will have faith in the years to come.

While the disciples listened to Jesus he rose up towards heaven. As he was going up and the friends of Jesus gazed up into the sky and two men in dazzling white robes showed up. They asked the disciples,
Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking up toward heaven?
These men in dazzling white (angels?) spoke of a mystery.
This Jesus, who has been taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven I here a word here for people today.
Stop looking up
Start looking around you
Stop looking for the signs of the kingdom in the sky—start looking for the places where the kingdom is already and not yet here.
Stop looking up
Start looking around you.

There's an obsession among American evangelicals with the end of time. But Jesus has said there's something we don't know. That means there's a part of the story God's redemptive plan that we don't know. And that includes the end.

Many over the past 2000 years have pretended they have some hidden inner knowledge gleaned from their interpretations of times and signs. But Jesus was bold and his answer is plain for anyone willing to listen and hear what he actually has to say.
It is not for you to know the times or periods that the Father has set by his own authority.
Lord is this the time? Many ask—and they look for answers. They scour ancient prophets looking for clues to a puzzle that Jesus says plainly can't be solved because it's not for us to know.
Peace and thanks for reading,

Monday, May 15, 2017

Jesus promised to send an advocate John 14:15-21

Jesus made a promise to his friends the night before he died (John 14:16). Jesus would ask the Father to send an advocate – the Spirit – to be with them forever.

Jesus' promise gave hope to the people who made up the church 2000 years ago. And the same promise gives hope today and for days to come. Jesus assures all believers God's Spirit abides in them in good seasons and out.

There are times when this promise just rings true and it's easy to believe. But there are other times—times when it's hard to believe. And in that day it matters all the more who made and keeps the promise. Jesus made the promise—the Spirit will come not from us but from God to dwell with us. This is good news. Even if we lose every earthly belonging we still have reason to hope. Even if our faith falters—God remains faithful.

Many tyrants have tried to squelch the Christians faith. But the promise Jesus made remains—we have an advocate. We have the Spirit who comes to bring us life. And the life we have in the Spirit only begins in this world. AMEN
Peace, and thanks for reading. John

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

treasured in the ashes Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21

Jesus' words often catch me. Especially when His words so clean and clear.

For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. Matthew 6:21
In these words about heart and treasure Jesus invites you and me to be brave and vulnerable. He knows that you and I are made from dust. He knows that you and I wrestle with sin. And he invites us into a full and honest--a treasured relationship with God who knows who we are and who knows what matters above all else.

What is less than your greatest treasure? Someday it will all just be dust again. Everything you work for today: the car, the boat, the house, the meal at a great restaurant, the great diploma, all the honors you can accumulate, someday it will just be dust.
Even you—your body will someday just be dust again.

A few years ago I was at a presentation that used a great question to help get people thinking and talking about what really matters.
If you had to leave your home in five minutes and never return what would you take?
Imagine you have just five minutes.
Most people don't get this much warning before a tornado hits or a fire consumes their house.

But I've talked to people who've been through hurricanes who left home with just a few minutes warning before they hit the road never sure if they would ever return again to see the house they'd called home for decades.

Jesus invited his first followers to see their greatest treasure. It's not something that can be stolen or lost in a fire. Your true treasure can't be destroyed by moth, rust, or decay.
Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal; 20 but store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust consumes and where thieves do not break in and steal. 21 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.
Every day we believers are invited to live awake and alert to our greatest treasures—and as Christian I believe we have two great treasures
  1. We are invited to live awake and alert to our neighbors.
  2. We are invited to live awake and alert to the constant loving presence of God the Father who made us, who is the same God who redeems us through the cross of Jesus Christ, and who breaths life, hope, and faith into us today through the work of the Holy Spirit.
May the peace of Christ dwell in year heart. AMEN
Peace and thanks for reading, John

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Present in a moment of glory Matthew 17:1-9

Matthew tells a story of a day when God's voice boomed out on a mountain top.

This is my Son, the Beloved; with him I am well pleased Matthew 17:5
It was a moment Jesus chose to share with just a few close friends Peter, James, and John.

Matthew says he took these 3 up the mountain. And there on the mountain top he changed. Jesus shined. He was dazzling and bright. The change happened fast. In a flash Jesus glory was so bright for these three to see.

And now just as fast two great figures from the past of Israel stepped in. Moses the one who shared the Law of God with the people—and Elijah the greatest of the prophets were there speaking with him.

It all happened so fast. It was all so glorious. And Peter—the disciple just anybody can relate to—wanted to do something. He said boldly,
Lord, it is good for us to be here; if you wish, I will make three dwellings here, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah. Matthew 17:4
Maybe Peter wanted to prove to Jesus just how much he loves him. Maybe he wanted to show Jesus just what he could do for him. Many a believer can relate. We want to prove our worth—to earn God's love and mercy.

And Peter looked to do something. Surely, he must have thought, Jesus must need him, Peter, to do something. “O Lord it's a good thing we're here.” I can sure relate to Peter's thinking. I can think of all the times when I forget that God really has got it all together and that he doesn't need me to do anything. I can so relate.

Peter was looking for something. And he thought fast. “Tent's” Peter piped up. "I can build a build tents for all 3 of you up here.” And right as Peter was still speaking a bright cloud full of light gathered over them. This was no dark storm cloud gathering overhead—but a cloud of light was over them. And they heard a voice from the cloud that just left Peter speechless.
This is my Son, the Beloved; with him I am well pleased; listen to him! Matthew 17:5
Peter, James and John fell to the ground as they heard this voice. Fear grabbed onto them.

And Jesus came right next to them and touched them. Imagine him reaching down and touching their shoulders saying simply,
Get up and do not be afraid. Mattew 17:7
Part of faith is hearing this simple direction again and again. Get up and don't be afraid. There are so many times when we fall or lose hope. There are times too when fear can grab us. And Jesus words give us direction.
Get up and don't be afraid.
The promise that Jesus is God is such good news. We can put down all the extra things we try to do for God and just let Jesus be God with us and for us.
Peace, and thanks for reading, John