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

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Unseen Hope 1 Corinthians 2:1-12

Paul shared a word of hope with the first century church that still encourages me today.

But, as it is written,
“What no eye has seen, nor ear heard,
nor the human heart conceived,
what God has prepared for those who love him”
1 Corinthians 2:9 NRSV

Paul shares a promise for everyone who finds hope in Christ Jesus. Paul looked toward a future seen only by faith. Believers live in a world broken by sin, death, and evil--but in Jesus' death and resurrection the promise take shape: God has a future for all who believe. But it is known by only faith. Believers look to a day when God's kingdom will be seen--but today it's known by faith.

As a kid I sang the wordsEye has not seen, ear has not heard what God has ready for those who love him in a great song written by Marty Haugen. There is hope in Jesus that transcends the senses. Only by faith do believers know the promise is real. I want more than faith. I want evidence. But Paul wrote of a reality beyond evidence--beyond human conceptual ability and imagination. There is a future. It's never been experienced--but it's known by faith in the God who made all creation and redeemed it in the life and death of Jesus. This promise echos through time. Trust in God's promise in-spite of very real fears and anxieties. God has even better ready for you who believe.

Paul borrowed language from the prophet Isaiah (Isaiah 64:4). Isaiah was speaking about how God is unique in all time and places
From ages past no one has heard,
no ear has perceived,
no eye has seen any God besides you,
who works for those who wait for him.
Isaiah 64:4 NRSV
The prophet spoke to God's unique place in all time. And Paul used this language to describe the promised Kingdom of God.
these things God has revealed to us through the Spirit; for the Spirit searches everything, even the depths of God.  For what human being knows what is truly human except the human spirit that is within? So also no one comprehends what is truly God’s except the Spirit of God.
1 Corinthians 2:9-11 NRSV
People can imagine the kingdom of God. But Paul speaks plainly of the mystery known through faith--through the work of the Holy Spirit.

Peace and thanks for reading, John

Monday, January 2, 2017

Someone greater has come Matthew 3:13-17

Jesus ministry began as another person's ministry reached it's peak. Matthew tells the story this way,

Then Jesus came from Galilee to John at the Jordan, to be baptized by him. John would have prevented him, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?”Matthew 3:13-14 (NRSV)
John the Baptist was one of kind. Not just one in a million. He was one in all human kind. He was a man on fire for God and the people in his day knew it. They could feel it in their souls. He had a word that they needed to hear. But John's message was only the beginning—the start of an even bigger move of God.

John preached a message that turned people back to God. Get ready to meet God he said. This man we call John the Baptist or John the forerunner—he preached about repentance and people wanted to hear it.

Get ready, John preached to the people out by the river there in the wilderness. His message was plain and straight forward. Leave your sinful ways behind and come down to the water for baptism. He called people to leave the old ways behind and to come home back to the one who made them. And people felt a call to come out and hear this message and to be washed in the waters of baptism. They left cities and towns and walked on down to hear John preach by the water of the Jordan River.

Jesus he came out to meet John too. He came to be baptized along with the crowds. And John tried to stop him. But Jesus had a mission. He told John plainly,
“Let it be so now; for it is proper for us in this way to fulfill all righteousness.” Matthew 3:15 NRSV
John knew who Jesus was and he knew who he was. It was beyond imagination that John should be the one to baptize Jesus. But John agreed. And he baptized Jesus. And in that moment Matthew writes,
when Jesus had been baptized, just as he came up from the water, suddenly the heavens were opened to him and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him. And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.” Matthew 3:16-17 NRSV
John knew Jesus was someone special. And the heavens opened and a voice revealed the truth. Many people thought John was the one they had been waiting for to set them free. But John knew somebody greater was still to come. I pray every believer is blessed with John's deep humility. John was great--but he knew that he had come in service to a great God who comes to us in human form in the person of Jesus. John had deep awe and respect for Jesus. I pray I can have just a sliver of his deep humility to step out of the way that Jesus might be revealed for all the world.

May the wonder of Jesus incarnation still catch us by surprise and fill us with great hope. AMEN.

Thursday, December 22, 2016

Light for people in death's shadow

Christmas didn't start with the angels and the shepherds Luke 2:8-20. It didn't start with Mary's pregnancy carrying Jesus in her body into the world Luke 1:26-28. It didn't start with Joseph's dream being interrupted by an angel Matthew 1:18-25. No Christmas started with God's plan to send light and hope to people in need of a savior.

Isaiah gave a promise on God's behalf to the people. The promise was meant for people who walked in a very specific kind of darkness צַלְמָוֶת tsalmaveth. The word he used to describe the darknessצַלְמָוֶת tsalmaveth is the same heard in Psalm 23:4 to describe the darkness of the valley the shadow of death. God's light shines for the people living in the shadow of death.

Isaiah promised that the light, the hope of God's presence, would come to a people who lived in the land covered by the deep darkness, by death's shadow. This is the death and resurrection promise that starts with prophet's and that Jesus fulfills in time. This is the reason for great hope in dark times.

Isaiah writes so well,

For a child has been born for us, a son given to us...
This is the Christmas promise plain and simple. Light has come for all the world.
And his name is Jesus. AMEN.
Peace and thanks for reading, John

Thursday, December 15, 2016

Hey shepherds Luke 2:8-15

Christmas starts long before Jesus' birth. It starts with prophetic promises and angels visits. This year as I get close to Christmas I've been thinking about the angel visits,

  • with an old man, Zechariah, serving God in the temple (Luke 1:5-25),
  • with a man planning on walking away from an engagement (Matthew 1:18-25),
  • with a young woman who wondered how she could be one who would give birth to the Son of God (Luke 1:26-38),
  • last to shepherds out at work watching sheep in the night (luke 2:8-15).
This week we take in the story of an angel who came with friends to shepherds out it the fields. Luke writes
In that region there were shepherds living in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. Then an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. Luke 2:8-9 NRSV
God's glory surrounded them. Terror grabbed hold of them. The glory of God--the God of angel armies overwhelmed them. It shines in every dark place in our world and our lives. It shines for all the world to see. It shines to illumine the way to life ever lasting. It shines revealing our every sin and to show us the savior who comes for us. God's glory shone so bright the shepherds knew fear in every shred of their being. And the angel spoke right to their fear.
But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for see—I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord. Luke 2:10-11 NRSV
A Savior is born for you. For me this is the heart of the good news. Without this word, this promise of who Jesus is for me and you, I don't know why we'd celebrate Christmas. A savior has been born for us. That means something for us. It means God comes to save us from everything that we can't defeat on our own. On our own we are no match for sin, death, and the works of evil. Jesus comes because we know too well that we can't defeat these old enemies. He comes because as hard as we can work we can't get right--not with God or our neighbors. We fight as hard as we can but we can't undo any of our past sins and wrongs. Try hard as we can and we stumble and fail again. Broken promises, broken commandments, broken relationships lay in our pasts. And the angel says a savior has been born for you and me. That's good news. I need a savior. That's good news because all the sins and shames and the failures are real--and so is the salvation that Jesus brings.
This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger. Luke 2:12 NRSV
The baby is our hope. But there's a temptation for long time believers in Advent and Christmas: to think we know the story already. If we think we know the story we'll miss it. It's tempting to think we've read it all and heard it all before. Old traditions and customs often define the meaning of the story. But maybe these customs set neat and tidy limits for how far God can go. So today let word and the mystery of God's coming get close to you. We come to this great event for all time with hope. God is still at work doing new things with us and for us. So rather than moving right along with all our Christmas traditions let's take in the story and remember that Jesus has come for you and me. Luke writes,
And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace among those whom he favors!” Luke 2:13 NRSV
The angels sang praise for the one to come. A child is coming for you sing gloria. This child will grow to heal and preach with power, shout Alleluia. This child will stand up for the forgotten and the down trodden. He will heal the untouchable. He will come into the heart of the nation as a savior. The people will cry out hosanna. And he will die--taking the sin of the world--the power of death--and all the forces of evil on himself. He comes revealing God's glory. He comes to be our savior.
When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go now to Bethlehem and see this thing that has taken place, which the Lord has made known to us.” Luke 2:15 NRSV
This year I want to go back to the heart of the story. To the good news that a savior has come.
Peace and thanks for reading, John

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Mary's Angelic Meeting Luke 1:26-38

There's nobody quite like Mary in the Bible. When an angel came she accepted the new plan God offered for her life and for ours.
Luke tells us of a her meeting with an angel.

In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a town in Galilee called Nazareth, to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. And he came to her and said, “Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you.” But she was much perplexed by his words and pondered what sort of greeting this might be. Luke 1:26-29 NRSV
Mary's response to the angel was all her own. She was quiet. Luke says she was “perplexed” and that she “pondered”. Rather than reacting Luke tells us Mary took in the angel's words. She listened to hear what this great visitor would say next. There's so much that perplexes us. So many people and situations that we can't wrap our heads around. For Mary the words of the angel didn't lead to a snap reaction. No she took time listening and thinking. There's so much that can be wondered about in this story. And for me her silent contemplation stands out. Maybe you've learned the hard way that it's dangerous to rush to a snap judgement. Maybe you've learned like me that it's unwise to talk without thinking first. And Mary's silence was golden. She listened to the messengers words.
The angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And now, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus. He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his ancestor David. He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.” Luke 1:30-33 NRSV
I don't think Mary planned on being the mother of God's Son. Her plan, it seems, was different. The flow of her life was going to be very normal and predictable. But everything changed for her and for us when Gabriel came to visit that one day. Gabriel had big news. He came to announce God's plan. Remember Mary's plan was to
Get married
Have a family
in that order.
But Luke says the plan the angel Gabriel had to share was so different. She was going to have this child of promise in a new and unique way. She was going to have this child through the work of the Holy Spirit. Oh Mary is rightly described as the person who carried Jesus, in her own body, into our world. But from my reading of the scripture it clearly wasn't her initial plan.

People can only begin to imagine all the emotions running through Mary as she met with this angel. Confusion, doubt, and more. As I tried to imagine Mary's emotions I find that I'm caught more and more by Mary's response than what I imagine her feeling to be in her meeting with Gabriel.
Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I am a virgin?” Luke 1:34 NRSV
Mary wasn't telling the angel no. She wasn't asking why me? She wasn't telling the angel to go and bother somebody else. Instead she asked a question. How can this be? There's something about Mary's question that leaves lots of space for doubt and for faith. And here's the place where we often meet God. It's in moments when we don't expect God to be there that God often shows up. It's in the moments when we know only by faith and not by what our ears hear or what our eyes see that God is at work.
The angel said to Mary, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will cover you. For this reason the baby will be holy and will be called the Son of God.  Now Elizabeth, your relative, is also pregnant with a son though she is very old. Everyone thought she could not have a baby, but she has been pregnant for six months.  God can do anything!” Luke 1:35-37 NCV
The angel had good news for her and for us. Here's the promise of God to us in our doubts, our fears, our confusion. God can do anything. That's right. Listen to the angel. Nothing is impossible for the one who made the heavens and the earth. Nothing can keep God's love from impacting your life. God is coming into our world and into our lives in Jesus. And nothing--not the conditions of your heart, your sins, your shames nothing can stop Jesus from coming in to dwell as God with us as God for us.

Mary what will you say to the angel? Will you be open will you tell him to buzz off. Oh Mary will you be open to this son who will one day die to set all people free? Mary will you open up your life of see God at work?
Mary said, “I am the servant of the Lord. Let this happen to me as you say!” Then the angel went away. Luke 1:38 NCV
Mary spoke words of trust and hope. She knew that God could act. She was open to the plan. And for her open spirit I give thanks today. AMEN.
Peace and thanks for reading. John.