Thursday, September 14, 2017

forgive another time Matthew 18

Jesus made a promise that has given me great deal of hope over the years—wherever 2 or 3 are gathered in my name I am with them (Matthew 16:20). As a young person growing up as a Roman Catholic this verse gave me a sense of God's power and presence that was so much bigger than just one group of Christians.

I was told by many that God was limited. Some mistakenly told me that only one church, namely their church, was the real church. But Jesus' words spoke of God's limitless presence for all believers who gather in Jesus' name. Jesus' promise went way beyond the walls of one congregation or the limits of one man made denomination. Jesus words are trustworthy and true—he is present—present with us when we act together and gather together as believes. God is with us just whether it's 2 or 3 or hundreds or thousands or more gathering together in Jesus name.

Here's the rub to the story. Jesus was talking about forgiveness when he made this promise to be present with just two or three people. And Peter stepped up with a question. He was asking just how far this call to forgive was supposed to go. Jesus was talking about forgiving those in the church who hurt us. And this is the spot when Peter asked Jesus just how far this forgiveness business was supposed to go,
“Lord, how many times am I supposed to forgive a brother – a member of the church—a member of your family—a member of your body who hurts me? Seven?
Seven sounded like a lot to old Pete. And it sure seems like a lot to me to. But Jesus said no.
Seven, try again. Try seventy times seven.

So Peter comes to Jesus with this question about forgiveness and Jesus tells a story about a king who could forgive a servant of great debt—meanwhile that same servant was unable to forgive. Jesus was making a point about forgiveness – that it's a ministry for all of us. Because everyone of us has been done wrong Jesus invites us to hear both the promise of forgiveness that we need as sinner and the challenge to forgive as we have been forgiven.

I think Peter was looking for a limit to how much forgiving he had to do. Instead he got a promise of great forgiveness to be found as he forgives.
Peace, and thanks for reading. John

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Revenge, Good, Evil, and the Will of God in Genesis 37-50

Imagine if you had a chance at revenge. Would you hurt those who had hurt you?
A man called Joseph faced just such a question.

Evil,
9 of Joseph's 10 older brothers perpetrated real genuine evil against him.
This was no accident or joke. They sold him into slavery. What they had done was evil and they knew it was. They could make self-deceptive excuses. They could lie and say they didn't mean to hurt him--even they had. They could try and stretch logic to morally equivocate saying that they sold him into slavery believing somehow it was not evil as killing him and getting his blood on their own hands. But that's just a semantic game that people play with themselves rather than having the courage to call evil what it really is: evil. See Genesis.37:25-29.

Imagine that a day came many years later when hunger placed these very same older brothers directly in Joseph's presence again. This time all the power in their relationship was flipped over. This time Joseph had power and what they most needed that day to stay alive: food for them and their families. And these brothers all bowed low to Joseph—just as he had dreamed would happen many years ago.

Good,
real compassion, care, and concern guided Joseph's actions.
When he met his brothers many years later Joseph recognized his brothers right away. He knew who they were and what they had done. But he chose the opposite of revenge. Joseph waited until emotion overwhelmed him before he revealed his real identity. When he finally revealed himself he spoke kindly to them. He told them God had sent him ahead to preserve their lives and the lives of many. Joseph welcomed his father and brothers and extended family into Egypt. They settled and lived well.

God used evil for good ,
Things were good for Joseph's brothers. It was good for them; buy when their father Jacob died fear came over these older brothers again. Would Joseph use his power over his brothers to hurt them now. They knew what kind of evil people could perpetrate. And here Joseph's words speak of a great mystery—how God can use the evil people have done to others for good.

Joseph's words to his brothers speak to the truth of evil in our souls and in our world. And his words also speak to the goodness of God for all people.
19 And Joseph said unto them, Fear not: for am I in the place of God? 20 But as for you, ye thought evil against me; but God meant it unto good, to bring to pass, as it is this day, to save much people alive. 21 Now therefore fear ye not: I will nourish you, and your little ones. And he comforted them, and spake kindly unto them. Genesis 50:19-21 (KJV)
As a sinner saved by grace there's so much life in these words. God can use even our worst to bring about the best. And for that I give thanks,
Peace, and thanks for reading.
John

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Divine Dreams in Genesis 37

Dreams are part of faith. Dreams are part of walking with God. And walking with God will take you into situations that are often way over your head—but that are well within God's abilities to reach out and save.

So this week I'm going to look at a dreamer in scripture—a boy named Joseph.Joseph was a dreamer. So far so good. But his dreams and their father's favoritism angered his older brothers. They were mad that Joseph had been given a special coat.

Joseph dreamed of a day when he and his brothers were out gathering wheat into sheaths in the field. He dreamed of their 11 shieves bowing down to his one sheath in the middle standing tall and strong. His older brothers, all ten of them, swore they would never bow to him. What a little punk. Jospeh this no good dreamer—did he really think he'd be their king.

The next nighttime vision he shared was of the stars, moon, and sun all bowing down before him. This was just too much.
This time he told his father as well as his brothers, and his father rebuked him. “What do you mean?” his father asked. “Will your mother, your brothers, and I actually come and bow before you?” 11 But while his brothers were jealous of Joseph, his father gave it some thought and wondered what it all meant. Genesis 33:10-11 NLT
His brothers went to Shechem to graze their father’s flocks. And old Jacob, now called Israel, the man who'd wrestled with God sent his favorite son, Joseph, out to see how his brothers were doing.

The trip took a while. He went first to Shechem but a man there told him to head on to Dothan. They spotted Joseph while he was still far away and they hatched a plan—kill him.

There's a marble marker with these words in front of the old Loraine Motel, now the National Civil Rights Museum, in Memphis Tennessee. It's there in that hotel in downtown Memphis where Martin Luther King Jr was shot and killed.
19 And they said one to another, Behold, this dreamer cometh. 20 Come now therefore, and let us slay him, and cast him into some pit, and we will say, Some evil beast hath devoured him: and we shall see what will become of his dreams. Genesis 37:19-20 (KJV)
Dreamers aren't always welcome or wanted. The visions they offer don't always receive acclaim or welcome from everyone in our world. But God gives us dreams even when they are unpopular because God invites to see beyond today. God gives prophets dreams of justice rolling down like water falls and righteousness flowing like an unfailing stream.

Dreamers often get a bad rap. They are thought of as less than serious—not quite grown up enough. But scripture is full of dreams and dreamers who saw things through their dreams from God's point of view. God gave this dream—and Joseph's brother's rejected it.

Just because you have a dream from God doesn't mean everyone around you will share it or rejoice in it with you. Joseph's brothers grew angrier and angrier. Who is this little punk. He deserves to die. Hatred grew deep in them. Evil welled up that they could think to take his life. Petty jealousy—fear of losing their privileged places as older brothers—the list of possible motives for their crime is long. But God had another plan for them and for Joseph. And God still sends dreams to dreamers today--who see past what is to God's greater future.
Peace, and thanks for reading.
John

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Divine Intervention?

Some people who say there's no such thing as miracles; but I look at the world and scripture and I see God's activity all around. Some people say that God can't intervene in the world and that God doesn't care or can't care about us as individuals and our needs. And it's our stories that tell otherwise. This week I'm thinking about two stories of God intervening in human life. One comes from Genesis 32:22-32 about Jacob wrestling with God. And one is in Matthew 14:13-21 about a miracle that happened when five loaves and two fish became a meal for many. These stories speak of God deep engagement in our lives in personal and direct ways.

I know there are some days, maybe you know some of those day's yourself, when it seems like evil and death are winning. These are the times when I most need to hear the promise again that God can and does care. Jacob needed to be reminded of God's care the night he wrestled with an unknown opponent. He needed to know that God can and does act in our lives. And the crowd of thousands who Jesus fed with 5 loaves and 2 fish saw God's blessing overflow.

I believe God's always at work; but often in small ways. Maybe the stories of God's overflowing presence remind us again of who we are to God.

It's in the tough days that's when it matters again who Jesus is. It matters again for me that I hear stories of God breaking in to ordinary lives like mine. The things for me is to know that God enters our lives not always in earth shaking moments. God often enters my story quietly—and I am guess that God enters into your story in ways that are often almost so small and ordinary that we'll miss the presence of God in the middle of ordinary life.

So today I give thanks for all the ways we meet God in the moments of doubt and wrestling. And I give thanks for all the times when God has provided--but I haven't see the ways of God's provision.

Peace and thanks for reading, John

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.
John

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