Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Christmas Hope Isaiah 9:2-7

Christmas has no meaning with out Christ.

Christmas has no hope to offer—nothing to sustain without Jesus coming into our midst. Christ came intent on changing us. He came to redeem us to make us different—not just for a day but for ever.


Isaiah spoke about it so plainly about 2700 years ago. He wrote about light coming to a people in deep darkness (Isaiah 9:2). 2000 years ago the world needed a savior. And looking around today we can see that we still need a savior. God planned to come into our world and Christmas is the moment.

To those outside the faith it's a great mystery to us why the one who made the universe would enter into time. To those who know Christ by faith the reason is simple—Christ really loves and care for us.

The light of Christ is coming into our darkness. Jesus is the Light. He is the one who exposes the truth both ugly and beautiful in us and our world not just as an example but to redeem and renew lost sinners like me. The ancient prophet Isaiah called him the prince of peace and the ever lasting father (Isaiah 9:6-7). The prophets spoke of one who would make a difference.

The question for me this year is very personal: Will I be different because of Christmas?
Will I choose the light or the darkness. Pax, John

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Mary's Hope Luke 1:39-55

At Christmas our culture loves to tell stories. It's almost a time of collective reminisence--and also dreaming of the families and culture that we always we wish we were part of but really aren't. The gift the church brings at Christmas is the one story that brings hope. It's a story that starts with Mary. Mary was part of a much bigger story. She was never the central character--but she was always a part of the greatest story ever told: the story of our redemption.
The story started long ago--no human really knows when because no human was alive in that moment when God created the cosmos. God took great pleasure and joy in his creation (Genesis 1). And by faith we know God still values what he made--but it's somehow different. Those who populate the world today, while made in God's own image, have been broken away from God. If it wasn't so there would be no need for a savior and the hope he brings. If it wasn't so there would be no deep longing to belong to something significant.
The a vague sense that something's wrong is punctuated by acts of evil and injustice. People of faith see sin, death, and evil as everyday evidence that we need a savior (John 1:1-5, 14-15).
So where do we find hope? We find hope in the story of Christ's coming for us. If you are blessed to read Mary's story you drink in the details of God stepping into our lives (Luke 1:26-56).
Jesus, the very God who made heaven and earth, grew in the body of a young woman. A scandal grew as he grew. She wasn't married. The risk intesified for both child and mother. Her husband to be might abandon her or worse (Matthew 1:17-18). The particulars in this part of Jesus' story call to us from the deepest part human history and human longing. The tough parts of our lives hurt and hope; pain and promise are right there A young pregnant woman insists that God is somehow part of the story. Her husband to be prepares to leave her. And the woman open to the will of God gives life--and the will of God a chance.
It's easy to make Mary into a bigger than life sized human being. But the scandal of her pregnancy and openness to God's work have their greatest impact when we realize how surprising and wonderfully normal she was. So what set Mary apart?Could it be something as simple as cooperating with God's plan of salvation.
As you consider Mary's story look around you. How is God at work in the middle of ordinary life to bring eternal hope in the promise of salvation. May God bless us this Christmas with a clear vision of His coming. Pax, John

Monday, December 3, 2012

His Word will not pass away Luke 21:25-36

Jesus made a promise: his words will not pass away. Everything else we know--heaven and earth will pass away--but his words will not. There's a great truth and a word of hope to hear in these words. Jesus is making promises that last and in his promise we find an invitation to stand up and proclaim his Word and the hope we have found in Christ to the world (Luke 21:28).

One of the great joys of being a Lutheran is the way many churches join together pooling abiltities and resources to help after disasters. Truth is I am often most proud to call myself a Lutheran when gathered with Lutherans and other Christians in service to those who've endure tramatic events.

Over the past 15 years in church work I've been there with other Lutherans after tornadoes, floods, and hurricanes. Brothers in sisters in Christ come together to serve a couple days and even a couple years after disasters struck. It's a mission of rebuilding sometimes from the ground up.

Rebuilding in a broken world is an amazing calling for us as church--it's a calling to step in when everything has fallen away knowing that the One who won't fall away calls us into these situations to serve our neighbors. Great empires and cities might very will fall--but God's Word will remain and in that Word we find hope. The assurance we have that the Word of God will not pass away is it's guaruntor. The one who stands behind the is the Word is the One in the Cosmos who will not pass away.
Pax, John

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Close to the Kingdom John 18:33-37; Daniel 7:9-10,13-14

God's comes near -- close enough all 5 senses detect His Kingdom coming into our midst.
--see the kingdom's close at hand; and the King is not always seen on some far away throne. We see him often as Pilate did--weak and wrongly presumed defeated. Pilate knew Jesus was not as he appeared. Pilate's wife's ominus dream warned him in Matthew 27:19. As Pilate met face to face with Jesus there was more still for him to see. Jesus was the King of an unseen kingdom. When Pilate asked Are you the King of the Jews John 18:34 Pilate wanted earthly answers. Jesus wouldn't give such a limited answer. “Is that your own idea,” Jesus asked, “or did others talk to you about me?” Pilate found no case against Jesus but he feared the power he could see more than the power he couldnet and he gave in to the demands of those he could see. John 18:33-37.
--feel God's kingdom. Like heat from the fire Daniel prophesied as the Ancient of Days was enthroned in power and glory Daniel 7:9-10. Christians today feel the extending glory of God's Kingdom as they picking up hammers to rebuild homes after floods and hurricanes. Carry a box of food or clothes gathered for neighbors (near and far) and for a moment you can feel the energy and the weight of God's kingdom coming.
--Smell the kingdom of God coming close. There's a hopeful smell right before rain at the end of a dryspell. There's a promising aroma of good meals prepared in churches night after night for hungry folks in cities and town across our nation and around the world. Pilate knew at some level the man with him was a king. There was just something basic and essential about Jesus. He asked directly, You are a king then> And Jesus answered in a way that Pilate never could, You are right in saying I am a king. In fact, for this reason I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone on the side of truth listens to me. John 18:36 NIV.

--hear the kingdom. Truth comes when the light of Christ shines into every corner of our being. Pilate's final question for Jesus was, What is truth? John 18:37 In Jesus truth comes into the world. In him sin, death, and the devil meet their end and hope is fed again and again. A generation of kids, who have parents who for the most part don't worship, is coming to our churches on Wednesday Nights after school and Sunday mornings too. Many come for a week of Bible School every summer. Their parent don't draw near to church--but God is calling these kids to come and to hear.
--Taste the kingdom in the bread and wine of communion. There's fellowship in this meal with God and with all the saints who've gone before us as we eat and drink the body and blood of Christ are there. The Son of Man who suffered and today reigns in glory comes for us. The one who rightly reigns in Daniel 7:13-14 is there so close for us to take into our bodies.
The kingdom is very near, Pax, John

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Speak of the End, Jesus the Prophet Mark 13:1-8

Jesus rightly spoke as a prophet when he told His friends about the future with certainty in Mark 13:1-8. 
He told his friends with authority that the temple would come down in Mark 13:1-2.  His authority was validated when a key part of his prediction came true; but there remains a part of Jesus' vision that will still be fulfilled in the future.  History teaches us the Jerusalem Temple fell in AD 70; as Rome seiged Jerusalem the people of Israel fled into nearly every corner of the world to survive.  Today a foundation wall of the temple remains authenticating part of Jesus vision; but not everything Jesus predicted has come to pass yet.
But not everything Jesus spoke about in Mark 13 has come to pass.  Jesus' friends asked a key question in Mark 13:3-4; how will we know if it is time?

Jesus didn't directly answer their question.  He gave warning about those who would come claiming to be him Mark 13:5-6.  And He named wars and natural disasters as the beginning birth paigns Mark 13:7-8.  But he didn't say how we could be certain of the day or the hour.
He pushed on teaching of the risks and uncertainty of following the Son of Man in a world that will pass away in Mark 13:9-30.  He was even so bold as to declare that as everything else would disappear but that His Word would remain in Mark 13:31.
Does Jesus answer leave things unsettled?  Yes.  Jesus' predictions makes ears tingle and sends imaginations running.  For centuries Christians have pondered Jesus' words unsure how anyone can really know when the end will come. 
Some point to many things today as signs of the soon coming end.  Others look and just wonder if these are really the right signs or not.  We all know God's Word teaches us that Jesus will come again--but how can we know if this is the hour.  Look ahead to Jesus' words in Mark 13:32-36 about God the Father alone knowing.  Truth is there's a mystery here that we can't break through.  Many have tried to explain and interpret; but the mystery remains. 
Faithfully living with a mystery: In about 5 years of bloging the most read post I've written is about Mark 13:1-8.  Read through the the text; there's a lot to talk and pray about.  Jesus Words to his friends invite speculation--but they also invite believers to hope--to hope for the day when Christ will return; to hope for the day when the troubles of this earth will pass away--to hope for the day when God will be visibly at the very center of all things.
Imagining Doomsday and the Apocalypse can make for a very dramatic movie or story.  But for believers it ought to move us to hope.  We have hope because the kingdom of God has come close to us in the person of Jesus. We have hope in the midst of a decaying fallen world it's good to know of God's Word will not pass away.  We have hope because His Word reveals love and mercy for all who cling to Him in faith.
Pax, John

Friday, November 9, 2012

Faith Alive Ruth 3&4, John 12:38-44

Faith in God comes out clear when the wind and water are rising.  Faith in God comes out clear to see when God is the only one in the universe you've got to hold onto.  When everything is crumbling faith latches onto God and doesn't let go. 
If you've been through some storms holding onto God there's a good chance you found peace that you can't explain in words.  When you have faith in God in the middle of the struggles you can see a way forward knowing that you are connected to the God who made you and redeemed you.

faith makes the difference
In Ruth we see a woman who trusted in God and found a way when it didn't seem like there was a way.  In Mark we heard about a woman who came to put all she had into the temple treasury.  Each of these women stands out to us today as a witness to the power of God and as a model to us of true saving faith in the God of Israel.

Our heroes in faith are people like Betsy and Corrie Ten Book who held firmly to God as they were arrested by the Nazi's.  They had no place to hide.  With no guarantee of earthly comforts they found hope holding tight to the God they couldn't see.  They trusted as they faced evil every day certain God would make a way. 
Corrie wrote boldly of her faltering faith and her sisters witness to God as she grew sick and died in a slave labor camp.  Faith is our connection to God, the trustworthy one, in the universe as everything else falls apart.
Saving faith is confidence in God.  Saving faith steps out not knowing where the journey ends.   Faith holds fast to god in the middle of the most difficult circumstances.  Even in our most difficult days faith holds fast to God. 

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Saints Alive Revelation 21:1-6, Mark 12:28-34

First things First—the devastation from Hurricane Sandy in the United States and the Caribbean is substantial. If you are interested in helping check out Lutheran Disaster Response -- Hurricane Sandy
Remembering the Saints:  This weekend many congregations, ours included, celebrate All Saints.  We remember the saints; the believers who’ve gone before us with faith in Jesus Christ.  We’ll name the believers we’ve known close to home and give thanks for the countless many who’ve joined the church triumphant detailed by John in his vision in Revelation 21:1-6.

All the Saints? Saints are often held up has models of virtuous living.  In truth saints are human beings whose lives, at a blessed moment in time, were open channels for God into the world.  Some are well know like Mary, Joseph, John the Baptist, Peter, James, John, and Paul; but other saints are much less renown—but they are no less saints of God.   

The Old Testament has heroic people to emulate too—Ruth and Esther—Sarah and Abraham, Moses, David, and the prophets can all be held up as models for us.  But all saints is about more than just a few souls.

All Saints is a celebration of all who opened their lives to God.  Many wrongly assume there are sort-of saints, saved by grace through faith, and then there are the real holy acting SAINTS.  All Saints reminds us who, in the eyes of God, is in the great cloud of witnesses described in Hebrews 12:1-3.  Real saints aren’t perfect—they aren’t ever going to be confused with angels.

The saints are the ones who followed Christ enduring troubles seeking to live out the Good News in our mixed up world.  Oscar Wilde is credited for saying wisely, “Every saint has a past and every sinner has future.”  In Christ Jesus we celebrate all the Saints who have followed our Lord acting in love both toward God and our neighbors (Mark 12: 28-24). 

Who counts as a saint: Growing up in a cynical post-Watergate culture we learn fast that many leaders, and yes even saints who speak boldly on God’s behalf, have been touched by sin and have engaged in sin.  We celebrate the faith of the saints not their character.   We realize that they, like each of us, have complicated life stories; and that God can use them and us anyway.  Great saints of the 20th century—Martin Luther King Jr, Dorothy Day, Dietrich Bonheoffer, and many more are renown not because of their perfect character but because God used them, as imperfect as they were, to bring His Word and Kingdom closer to His people.  
 
All saints is a great day to take perspective on the church.  Abigail Van Buren wrote in April 1958, “The church is a hospital for sinners – not a museum for saints.”  The real church—the church in heaven and on earth—that celebrates the saving work of Lamb of God is made up of real people saved by grace through faith Ephesians 2:8-10.  Real saints of the past, and of our day, can be bold and faithful in one moment—yet struggle with sin and temptation, and fail in the next.  All Saints is time to remember who is in John’s Revelation 20:1-6 vision.  The ones who stood with the lamb of God as the New Jerusalem emerged were not perfect people on their own—they were sinners saved by the blood of the lamb.  Every tear had been wiped from their eye—they had been redeemed.

Remember all the saints who’ve gone before us.  Remember them and join with them as part of the great cloud of witnesses who look to Christ and live—loving both God and neighbors as themselves.  Pax, John.

Saints Alive Revelation 21:1-6, Mark 12:28-34

First things First—the devastation from Hurricane Sandy in the United States and the Caribbean is substantial. If you are interested in helping check out Lutheran Disaster Response -- Hurricane Sandy

 

Remembering the Saints:  This weekend many congregations, ours included, celebrate All Saints.  We remember the saints; the believers who’ve gone before us with faith in Jesus Christ.  We’ll name the believers we’ve known close to home and give thanks for the countless many who’ve joined the church triumphant detailed by John in his vision in Revelation 21:1-6.

 

All the Saints? Saints are often held up has models of virtuous living.  In truth saints are human beings whose lives, at a blessed moment in time, were open channels for God into the world.  Some are well know like Mary, Joseph, John the Baptist, Peter, James, John, and Paul; but other saints are much less renown—but they are no less saints of God.   

 

The Old Testament has heroic people to emulate too—Ruth and Esther—Sarah and Abraham, Moses, David, and the prophets can all be held up as models for us.  But all saints is about more than just a few souls.

 

All Saints is a celebration of all who opened their lives to God.  Many wrongly assume there are sort-of saints, saved by grace through faith, and then there are the real holy acting SAINTS.  All Saints reminds us who, in the eyes of God, is in the great cloud of witnesses described in Hebrews 12:1-3.  Real saints aren’t perfect—they aren’t ever going to be confused with angels.

 

The saints are the ones who followed Christ enduring troubles seeking to live out the Good News in our mixed up world.  Oscar Wilde is credited for saying wisely, “Every saint has a past and every sinner has future.”  In Christ Jesus we celebrate all the Saints who have followed our Lord acting in love both toward God and our neighbors (Mark 12: 28-24). 

 

Who counts as a saint: Growing up in a cynical post-Watergate culture we learn fast that many leaders, and yes even saints who speak boldly on God’s behalf, have been touched by sin and have engaged in sin.  We celebrate the faith of the saints not their character.   We realize that they, like each of us, have complicated life stories; and that God can use them and us anyway.  Great saints of the 20th century—Martin Luther King Jr, Dorothy Day, Dietrich Bonheoffer, and many more are renown not because of their perfect character but because God used them, as imperfect as they were, to bring His Word and Kingdom closer to His people.  

 

All saints is a great day to take perspective on the church.  Abigail Van Buren wrote in April 1958, “The church is a hospital for sinners – not a museum for saints.”  The real church—the church in heaven and on earth—that celebrates the saving work of Lamb of God is made up of real people saved by grace through faith Ephesians 2:8-10.  Real saints of the past, and of our day, can be bold and faithful in one moment—yet struggle with sin and temptation, and fail in the next.  All Saints is time to remember who is in John’s Revelation 20:1-6 vision.  The ones who stood with the lamb of God as the New Jerusalem emerged were not perfect people on their own—they were sinners saved by the blood of the lamb.  Every tear had been wiped from their eye—they had been redeemed.

 

Remember all the saints who’ve gone before us.  Remember them and join with them as part of the great cloud of witnesses who look to Christ and live—loving both God and neighbors as themselves.  Pax, John.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

giving away to gain life everlasting Mark 10:17-31

Mark tells a story this week.  A wealthy young man came to Jesus with a question: Jesus what do I have to do to inherit eternal life? Mark 10:17

Jesus peppered him with questions: Why do you call me good? You know the commandments? Mark 10:18-19

The man was undeterred. He listed everything he'd done proudly naming the way he'd honored the commandments from childhood on Mark 10:20.

Jesus answer challenged him more than he could have imagined, You lack one thing.

This young man had everything and had done everything right. How could he lack anything?

Sell what you have and give it to the poor then come with me. Mark 10:21

Looking out for the other guy isn't always easy. The old sinful self creeps in over and over again. Evil and selfishness often disguises themselves. God's calls these old enemies out. Listen to God's word and act. Look carefully at each decisions: what is truly best for your neighbors. Jesus was inviting this man to freedom and he wouldn't accept. He wouldn't let go of his many possessions. Listen again to the words of the prophets and the apostles. God unimpressed by empty worship. God wants faithful action and voting that is in the best interest not of ourselves but of others. God's Holy Word shakes us from complacency. Faithfulness pushes us out into public conversation and even action for the sake of our neighbors.

Every election year people of faith can take very different public stands about complex issues. Its good and right to wrestle out loud. Listen to each other and to God Word. Listen to it; let it shape and mold honest dialogue and conversation. People of faith can step forward with confidence in God's Word as a guide. People of faith can and even do disagree. And as we do disagree let's remember the reason why we vote and why we enter complex political conversation: for the sake of our neighbors.

The young man was invited to give all away for the sake of his neighbors, the poor. And the young man went away heartbroken. Mark 10:22

There's a lesson for us. We won't take all our beloved possessions with us into the kingdom of heaven. The simple truth is we won't have a choice at all. U haul trailers don't follow hearses. The thing is Jesus is inviting us to live this way today. Instead of knowing vaguely that we really don't get to own anything forever why not live today like it’s the truth. Why not live today like we can't and shouldn't try to hold onto things.

Jesus explanation was very plain. It's hard—truly it's impossible for a rich man to enter heaven on his own—but for God all things are possible. Mark 10: 23-27

Our culture is built on the accumulation of stuff—not the accumulation of wealth—rather stuff. And Jesus is challenging our culture and us as part of it to look beyond stuff and to see what has true eternal merit.

 

Pax, John

Monday, October 1, 2012

Recieving the Kingdom of Heaven Mark 10:2-16

Jesus said, "...anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it." Mark 10 16 NIV

Last Wednesday night I was priviledge to lead a first communion workshop.  We emphasize Jesus coming to us in ordinary things--like bread and wine.  Young people, from 2nd to 8th grade, and parents came.  This year was different for me: our older two daughters came getting ready to come to the table too. 
We started watching a classic video, Grandma's Bread.  The story puts communion and family into perspective.  Visiting before bed Wednesday night our girls said it was was sad story.  But it was good to know of the clear promise.  In communion we join with the whole body of Christ--both alive on earth and in the church triumphant.
After the video the group of 26 kids and many parents headed downstairs. Each of the young people, coached by parents, painted a ceramic chalice with underglaze.  It's theirs to keep--a reminder of the celebration and Christ's presence in communion for them.  Chalice painting started with conversation between students and parents.  They thought together about symbols for communion and Christ.  Sketching on paper came first.  After a few minutes chalices were passed out.  One broke--proof of how real the chalices are--reminding me again of just how incarnate Christ is broken for us. 
The painters chose crosses, bibles, crowns of thorns, alphas and omegas, grapes, and bread--all reminders of Christ.  Some took half the time sketching; others eagerly splashed colorful symbols on their stoneware chalice.
An hour into the workshop came thorough hand washing--an essential step for 26 young people making bread.  They were encouraged by parents and a long time church member in the kitchen.  Whole wheat and white flour, salt and baking powder, honey and molasses, oil and hot water were mixed together following a recipe.  Hands got dirty shaping loaves which were placed quickly into warm ovens.  16 loaves are ready for World Communion Sunday and first communion on October 6 & 7.
The night ended as we gathered around fellowship hall tables for taste testing.  First a wafer of bread.  They finished the bread with a reminder that we eat and drink the bread and wine, the body and blood of Christ, for the forgiveness of sins.  Christ promises to be with us, under the bread and wine, for our forgiveness.  He promises to be with us taking away the junk and hurt we've caused God and people around us.
Little cups of wine were passed out.  And the young people waited to sample it together.  Moms and dads pulled out cell phone cameras to record the moment their child took this first taste of communion wine.  Many puckered faces were recorded for posterity.  We prayed together thanking God for coming to us in bread and wine. 
May we be ready to recieve Jesus like children.
May we be ready when the Son of God comes to us in bread and in wine, in the word, and in the lives of our brothers and sisters in Christ.
Pax, John

Friday, August 31, 2012

keep it simple Mark 7:1-8, 14-15, 21-23

Jesus in Mark 7 fits right in line with the ancient prophets of Israel like Isaiah and Micah.  They taught that what matters most in religious life aren't ritual actions. What mattered most for Jesus is the content of a worshiper's heart. Jesus was trouble for the Pharisee's who looked with scorn on his friends. They saw their unclean hands and eagerly wagged fingers. The ancient fathers wouldn't have approved they said chiding Jesus and his friends.

Read Mark 7:1-8 the animosity is palpable. Jesus met the hypocrisy of the pharisees head on. He knew that the heart of the worshipper mattered then--just as it does today. And He gave a really clear direction to us today as his followers in Mark 7:14-15. Focus more on what come out of us than what comes into us. It's a challenge in our age to look not with scorn on the world but to start by looking at what we say and do first. In Mark 7:20-23 Jesus' point is most clear to pay attention to what is coming out of you to know the state of your heard. The trouble with the Pharisee's was never their religion--rather it was their hearts and what came from inside of them. The church like the religions of the pharisees has long been filled with traditions, rules, and rule keepers. And Jesus confronted the pharisees as he would likely confront the ruler makers of the church today with strong words. Look at your heart. Repent of the ugly things.  Turn back to God from the inside.

Worship is a Heart Matter, A few years ago a church in England put away it's instruments, band, and sound system for a season.  Their pastor challenged them to focus on God in their midst rather than on what they could do.  As David Schrader tells the story one of church's member, Matt Redman, wrote inspired by the experience about coming back to God.
When the music fades, all is stripped away, and I simply come / Longing just to bring something that’s of worth that will bless your heart… / I’m coming back to the heart of worship, and it’s all about You, Jesus
There's a challenge for the church today--just the same as it was in Jesus day. Keep worship simple.  In fact we are invited to live out our worship focused on God present in our midst. As a pastor I've committed my life to Word and Sacrament ministry--keeping Christ present in the Word of God, the Bread and Wine in Communion, and the water of baptism. Everything else--as important as it may seem today--might very well fade away: but Jesus present in Word, Bread, Wine, and Water will not fade.  Many pastors seem to run scared today uncertain of the future--but with confidence We ought to move forward trusting that God is working in us and our churches today.

Keep it Simple our faith and our salvation as Christians starts and ends with trust in God.  And we like to make it complicated.  But the truth is we are saved by faith.  Put aside the religious actions--what's at the heart matters.  And for Chirstians faith is about confident trust in Jesus.  We add extra steps and hoops to jump through--but God in love saves those who believe.  Religious leaders especially invent disciplines and ritual practices for believers--but Jesus saves those who believe no those who fulfill every religious command.

I've been intrigued this week by a question David-Heim asked several theologians. How would you summarize the Christian faith?  Limit the number of words you use to a small number: like 7 words.  How do you explain what we believe and know about Jesus and who we are as the church in light of his saving death and resurrection?

Like Jesus confronting the Pharisees Heim is asking us in churches today to think clear and simple about faith in Christ.
here's my attempt to answer Heim's question.

Jesus died and rose freeing all believers
love one another as Jesus loves you

What's yours?

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Bread of Life for the Church John 6:35,41-51

I've been reading two really contrasting things this week. First was Jesus promise in John 6:35-51, that he is the bread of life and second is a reminder from Pastor Keith Anderson of the thoughts and concerns of young clergy today. Many responded to Anderson's words from fear mixed with hope. If you can take time to read these responses I'd encourage you to reflect again on Jesus promise to be the bread of life asking what this promise of sustenance means for the church today.
Trusting in God's Promise; He is our bread When Jesus said, “I am the bread of life” (John 6:35) some recoiled from his words. He sensed their doubts wondering who he was saying such things. They knew Jesus' family and in whispers likely remembered his out of wedlock conception. Who was he to say, “I am the bread of life.”

Jesus self disclosure as the bread of life didn't come out of the blue. He had just fed thousands with a few loaves and a couple fish (John 6:1-21). The crowd knew Jesus was out of the ordinary—but the doubters weren't satisfied and in truth neither was the crowd. The crowd wanted another miracle even bigger than the first. And the doubters wanted to know who he was to say, “I am the bread of life.” And Jesus answered both In John 6:41-51. If he is the bread of life then we have a promise—we will be sustained.

Doubt and faith exist as real dynamics in every believer's life. They are very present in the church today. As young clergy name their fears the Word of God reminds us that Jesus has promised sustain us. He is our bread our most basic provision and most essential need is met in him.

Faith in Jesus, the living Word, gives believers hope and trust in his promise to be our bread. Reason points us back to the limits of human ability; but faith moves us beyond these limits to see God's even greater ability. The doubting part of each person, even faithful believers, wonders how and why God has acted—but by faith we trust that there's something more—we trust that God is the one we need that Jesus really is the bread who sustains us. Luther wrote,
John warns all those who hear this doctrine of Christ not to pry and to question when God’s Word and spiritual matters are concerned, and not to ask how this can be reconciled with reason. Whoever wants to be a Christian and apprehend the articles of the Christian faith must not consult reason and mind how a doctrine sounds and whether it is consistent with reason. Luther's Works, Vol. 23 page 78, : Sermons on the Gospel of St. John: Chapters 6-8, ed. Jaroslav Jan Pelikan, Hilton C. Oswald and Helmut T. Lehmann, Luther's Works (Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1999, c1959).
Bold faith allows us to see beyond the reasonable to the point where God alone could be at work. A crowd of thousands couldn't reasonably have eaten their fill from 5 loaves and 2 fish—but they knew they had eaten and been satisfied. Considering Jesus response in John 6:41 Luther wrote on about what faith is,
[A Christian] must say forthwith: “I do not care whether it agrees with reason or not. All I must know is whether or not it is supported by God’s Word. This I ask: Did God say it? That decides it for me.” You have often heard me exhort you not to dispute or reason about sublime spiritual matters that concern the articles of the Christian faith. As soon as a man ventures to rationalize these, to brood over them, and to try to make them conform to reason, all is lost in advance, and we are doomed.
God is going beyond the bounds of what we consider reasonable. And faith is God's gift enabling us to trusts that God has something bigger in store. And this type of faith is essential to the future of the church.

Jesus is the bread of life even for those who think the church is dying. Over the past generation it's been common for especially young pastors to lament and even outright mourn the slow change of the church as we know it. Great theological minds of our time have noted the slow demise of congregations and denominations while social theorists who study religious life pinpointing the tidal cultural changes and demographic shifts just below the surface. Some say they have chronicled the death of something we in the Body of Christ care deeply about—the church. Many pastors even believe the church is dying. But faith especially among many younger clergy trusts that God is creating something new.
Reason says that the church is dying in the Western World. But Faith says Jesus' body won't die—Faith says his Body can't die. Jesus is the immortal resurrected one who over comes death. How can his body be dying? About a year ago a little video by Jefferson Bethke went viral. He said he was done with religion as he confessed his belief in Jesus saying that Jesus is Greater than Religion. Bethke's video has drew 26 million some views so far and responses from those defending their religion and even those defending their lack of faith. As I watched the video again this week I started to wonder not what God wants our generation to do—rather I started to wonder What God wants to make of us in this generation? What I know by faith is that God will sustain his Body the church as we remain faithful to his word.
Pax, John

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Open Hands John 6:1-21

In John 6:1-21 Jesus' friends were used by God as part of a miracle.

Open to Receive: Jesus wanted his friends to feed the thousands who had gathered to hear him teach.  His friends saw a problem--a considerable shortage of food John 6:1-4.  Jesus was testing them.  With a plan in mind He asked Philip about food for the crowd of 5000 John 6:5-6.  Humans look at situations based on the limits of what is currently in hand.  Philip told Jesus that 200 denarius, or 200 days of labor, wouldn't be enough to pay for that much bread John 6:7.
Simon Peter found a boy ready to share 5 loaves and 2 fish; but Simon Peter wondered how far this little bread would go John 6:8-9.  Jesus told them to seat the crowd.  He took bread, gave thanks and broke it.  He did the same with the fish John 6:10-11. 
The disciples came with open hands and took the bread breaking it giving the pieces to the crowd.  A miracle happened as the bread left their hands.  They had more to give.  God moved and they kept on breaking bread and giving away and God kept on providing more to give.
Open to Give:  Jesus' friends opened their hands to take bread and they kept them open giving and miraculously receiving more to give.  Keeping their hands open allowed them to participate in the miracle.  It was Jesus' will to feed the crowd and He found a way to give away more than enough.  As the disciples kept their hands open they were blessed to participate as channels for the miracle.  Had they stopped he would have found another way--but the miracle continued through them because they didn't stop.  Contrary to our selfish nature they kept on giving.
It's difficult to catch anything with clenched fists, but soft open hands can receive many things.  The great fielders in baseball and receivers in football are legends in no small part because of what they can do with open hands. 
God gives many good blessings to us; and a recent lesson for me me is to keep my hands open to keep on giving that I might later receive to give again.  It's not a simple formula like giving guarantees receiving.  Rather it's simple faith receiving from God and giving away as God keeps on giving that opens us up as channels through who God works to build his kingdom.
Pax, John

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Shepherdless Mark 6:30-34, 53-56

Years ago a good teacher told me ministry happens often in the interruptions of our plans and of our days.  Jesus ministry was no exception to this rule.  He was often out in the open. Even when he tried to get away with just his closest disciples crowds came looking for him.  Mark 6 make the crowd's desire to be near Jesus most clear.
Mark 6 is famous couple of miracles.  5000 men fed (Mark 6:35-44) and Jesus walking on water (Mark 6:45-52) leaving these two stories aside for a time reading Mark 6 gives a sense of the crowd yearning for Jesus' ministry along Lake Galilee. 
Mark notes that Jesus looked for a time to be with his friends, to share news of their ministry, take leisure to eat, and maybe even reflect on the loss of John the Baptist (Mark 6:30-32). 
The people hungry for a leader came looking for him.  Whichever direction he chose somebody came following the group, probably nudging his way in like a sheep needing a shepherd.  And that's just how Jesus met them; as the always faithful shepherd ready to lead and guide.  His flock is open to those who hunger and thirst for righteousness.  Indeed Christ's body is open to all who believe.
Jesus was moved by the crowd, and he responded to that inmost feeling by teaching them about the kingdom of heaven coming into their midst (Mark 6:33-34). 
Jesus response to the crowd was gracious.  As the day grew longer hunger crept in and Jesus provided a meal for 5000 men  starting with only a few loaves and a few fish.  He sent his friends out and dismissed the crowd choosing to get away on his own.  He caught up with his friends as he walked across the lake scaring them and intensifying their faith in his power.
And reaching the other side of the lake a crowd met him, and once again he reached out to them in mercy.  Those who touched him were healed and those her heard him heard the truth. (Mark 6:53-56)  It was the interruptions that provided the moment for God to come closest.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Living Worship: 2 Samuel 6:1-5,12-19; Mark 6:14-29

We humans worship whatever we place highest in life.  From culture idols worshipped in culture --from athletes to entertainers, there's almost no limit to the individuals and objects we can lavish with love, time, creative energy, and money.  It might be an accident that a popular TV show is called American Idol--but it proves the point: God made us to worship --and if we won't seek out God and the things of God as the highest good we'll find something less than God to hold up for worship instead.  Money, power, and political ambition and more can all become the objects of our love.

We're really getting thing backwards from God initial intent.  After all God started his commandments with a simple direction: “I am the Lord your God. You shall have no other gods.” Exodus 20:2–17 and Deuteronomy 5:6–21.  In his Small Catechism Martin Luther wrote this means, " We should fear, love, and trust in God above all things." 
This week, looking at scripture, we can find two stories of worshippers: King David and John the Baptist.  They're lives were full of worship--moments and even seasons when they put God first and foremost.
Wordle: David DancecKing David is described rejoicing in God's presence.  In 2nd Samuel 6:19-19 he dancing in front of the Arc of the Covenant symbol of God's presence in the midst of the people.  John the Baptist shunned any distraction and went out to the wilderness Mark 1:1-14.  He preached to crowds calling them to repentant and he baptized them for repentance preparing for the coming kingdom of God. 
These two very different men experienced God's presence and power in numerous and profound ways.  And they both knew and spoke of God's activity in their lives.  Both men knew God firsthand.  For David that meant a lifetime knowing God's blessings and power, judgement, wrath, and forgiveness.  For John worshipping God meant a time, maybe of few years preaching to crowds and an early death for remaining faithful.
Both men lived worshipping God and for us today both men are models of what worship really is and isn't.  Worship isn't just an hour in a week to go through religious motions.  Worship is living focused on God the maker of Heaven and Earth.  Worship for David meant the freedom to sing, to dance, and to rejoice in the presence of the holy.  Worship for John meant holding nothing back; even his earthly life.
This very same God who David and John worshiped comes today in the person of Holy Spirit working in more ways than humans know and imagine.  He comes to us and we can rejoice in all circumstances knowing that in God's presence we will find true freedom.
Pax, John

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

unaproved authority Mark 6:1-13

When Jesus walked on earth He brought the kingdom of God with; and multitudes celebrated and rejoiced in His presence.  Seizing authority over diseases and daemonic powers he released many from bondage.  He had authority; but he wasn't authorized by the religious leadership of his day (Mark 2:18-22) or by his own family (Mark 3:20-35)--rather his power came straight from God.  The church, in the same way, has authority not from people, prestige, or popularity.  Rather the true authority of the church begins and ends in the person of Jesus and our faithful service in his name.  Whenever the church confuses the authority of truth with the authority of power we fall away from the way of Christ.  But when we come humbly in service to poor and forgotten we walk in Christ's footsteps and renew our strength.

As Jesus came home with his disciples to minister and teach a second time reaction grew against him.  The people knew Jesus and his family; but they didn't recognize his power to speak.  By what right did he say these things? He was only Mary's son with the carpenter.  In whispers they likely remembered his scandalous conception.  Who was Jesus to speak (Mark 6:1-3).  There is something scandalous about being church--about broken people telling others the way to wholeness and freedom in Christ.  Anybody who knows us well knows all our sin and failures.  And the scandal and the hope of the Gospel continues into the world as we tell of Jesus who sets us free.

All believers, are called to speak the truth in love, just like Jesus did, and in the truth of the cross there is always real transformative power. As Jesus taught in his home synagogue he felt disbelief.  Other communities welcomed him honoring his ministry and wisdom.  But at home he was nobody special.  Mark says he could only heal a few in the midst of such unbelief (Mark 6:3-6).  Even in the face of disbelief he still had power.  Let anyone with eyes see and ears here what God is doing.  Even if we reject Jesus he still is at work releases the captive and healing the hurting. 

After a humbling visit home Jesus sent followers out 2 by 2 with power over unclean spirits (Mark 6:7).  He offered simple directions for travel.  Take only what you need: staff, sandals, one cloak and go.  Stay where received and leave places that won't receive you completely; knock even dust off your feet as testimony of their unbelief.   Jesus followers went to do great things--and they did.  The news was stunning--daemons caste out, the sick anointed and healed.  The Kingdom of God came close to many (Mark 6:8-13.

In the same way he calls us to go into the world traveling light as the church trusting in God's power and provision.  He sends us out to caste out daemons and heal hurting people.  He sends us to pray for the sick and anoint them.  He sends us to name evil and the daemonic forces that destroy people and stand against the enemy.   may the joy of his presence light our way today.  pax, john.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

healing won't wait Mark 5:21-43

Ever wonder what faith is? Just look at Mark 5:21-43 to hear of two believers who came for healing and found it in Jesus.   Jesus changed lives along the shores of Lake Galilee in Mark 4 and 5.  In the middle of the lake he calmed a storm, on one shore he caste out daemons, and on the other he met people who needed healing the moment the met him.

Right as they reached the shore a crowd surrounded Jesus and friends Mark 5:21.  Crowds weren't new to them.  People searched him out wanting freedom from daemons and diseases.  At the front of the crowd was Jairus, a synagogue leader with a dying daughter at home.  Desperate he begged Jesus for help and Jesus headed with him to meet her and the crowd followed along. (Mark 5:22-24)

In Bible School the crowds have come to see Jesus this week.  We encouraged the kids to imagine crowds.  "Stand tight together shoulder to shoulder in lines.  Imagine if Jesus moved left and everybody followed."  They couldn't move fast.  They had to shuffle together to stay near to Jesus.  No doubt there were accidental trips and upsetting falls as people moved close to Jesus.

A woman full of faith and troubles came up, touched Jesus, and was healed (Mark 5:25-29).  Jesus felt power go out from him.  He looked wonder who was healed (Mark 5:30-32).  The woman knew what happened and knelt before him shaking (Mark 5:33-34).  She met him with faith and troubles and left free; the one she believed in set her free.  Right as Jesus sent her away with a blessing of peace word came from Jairus home, his daughter was dead.  He continued onward with Jairus' saying μὴ φοβου, μόνον πίστευε don't fear, only trust /believe /be confident . (Mark 5:35-36)  

Jairus hoped Jesus could heal his daugter--and he'd witnessed a miracle on the way.  After she was declared dead--Jesus kept on moving towards her like he could still help.  Leaving the crowd behind they  entered the house as people inside laughed him off (Mark 5:37-40).  But he kept on moving towards her.  Reaching out his hand He called to her in Aramaic--ταλιθα κουμ (talitha koum) little girl arise (Mark 5:41) and she stood up

Healing came for two who had faith in Christ.  This is faith--profound and sublime--saving trust in God revealed in Jesus the Christ. This isn't intellectual assent to doctrine--this is trust in the person who came bringing the kingdom of heaven close to them.  We know him as he is revealed to us in the Living Word read in scripture, preached in the assembly of believers, sung about in hymns, discovered in Bible study, and in any other way that the Lord of Heaven and Earth might choose to come to us. And through faith we see miracles like Jairus and the hurting woman who went away in peace.  


Pax, John.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Storm Calmer Mark 4:35-41

In the middle of a crisis fears, limitations, and character all become clear.  After all it was in the middle of a storm when Jesus' closest disciples, filled with fear, had a profound experience of His raw divine power.

Setting the scene: Jesus spoke to a crowd down by the lakeshore in Mark 4:1-34.  He told the crowds beautiful parables about the kingdom of God.  Marks gospel ads a key detail to the story--Jesus explained with the parables meant directly to his closest disciples but leaving mystery behind for the crowd as their pondered his teaching. Mark 4:33-34. 

Jesus' friends feared the storm:
Jesus, leader and teacher, turned to his closest followers and asked to cross the lake and go toward the other side Mark 4:35.  Others came along in boats too.  Mark doesn't leave any details about them coming along with for the whole journey or just a little way out from the shore Mark 4:36. 

The lake probably seemed calm or at least calm enough to cross as they set out with Jesus towards the other side.  And Jesus slept comfortable on a cushion in the stern as Mark as a storm blew up over the lake 4:38.  In the midst of the waves these friends feared for their lives Mark 4:37.  They called to Jesus laying asleep in the stern of the boat teacher/instructor don't you care if we are destroyed/apocalypted? διδάσκαλε ου μέλει σοι ότι απολλύμεθα.  The storm was real; it was their apocalypse and in their moment of fear they called for help to their teacher.
Jesus over-powered the storm:
Jesus was and is someone who can change a situation with just a word.  He was asleep, or maybe (Pastor Steve Whitmer argues well) Jesus faked sleep there in the back of the boat as the storm overcame them.  And right as fear overwhelmed his friends confidence in their ability to cross the lake they called to their teacher for help.  And Jesus, God in flesh and blood, overwhelmed the storm. All it took was his word σιώπα, πεφίμωσο silence, muzzle-yourself and the storm was gone.

The storm seemed like the most powerful force in the world at the moment of greatest fear.  But it was clear--Jesus, the one there with them in the middle of the storm, had such power that even wind and wave obeyed him. 
Thanks be to God for working in our lives in times of storm and struggle.  Thanks for overpowering the storms when we doubt and fear.  AMEN.
Pax, John

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Reading Parables that Read Us Mark 4:26-34

When crowds came close enough to listen to His teachings Jesus spoke in parables (Mark 4:33-34). Jesus' Parables read us pointing out what God sees in us leaving questions for later pondering and invitations to later action.

Reading Mark 4:26-34 we'll discover 2 of our great teacher's parables about the Kingdom of God: one about someone who scattered seed and one focused on a mustard seed. Alone with just His twelve closest followers Jesus said it plainly, but when crowds came 2000 years ago it was time for parables. And these same pointed stories speak today testifying about God's kingdom coming among us.

Jesus compared the kingdom of God with someone scattering seed. He doesn't know exactly how it sprouts but trusts it will (Mark 4:26-27). In our age of hybrids and genetic trait selection there's still no guarantee every seed planted in the spring will sprout and produce a harvest. Instead the person who scatters seed, like a person of faith, counts on something else often something unseen to do the work.

People of faith count on God the Holy Spirit to act unseen like the soil supporting seed as it sprouts and grows (Mark 4:28-29) Jesus invited his hearers to imaging the God's kingdom as a mustard seed starting small (Mark 4:30-31) but growing exponentially from tiny seed into a bush (Mark 4:32) David Lose explores the nature of mustard plants growing like weeds in a very powerful way in this story.

Over the past 3 years I've placed a mustard seed in the hand of each seventh grader starting Confirmation. Midwestern Lutherans, like me, put emphasis on Confirmation ministry. It's a tradition that's stayed alive for 12-15 year-olds as the majority of parents in the past two generations have drifted away from churches of all stripes. Young people come immediately facing their parent's inconsistency. They wonder why it matters if they know about God and church if their parents worship so infrequently if ever. They wonder why parents expect them to be in church for 3 years but don't come themselves. These kids come ready for seed. Troubles come when we aren't planting the seed these kids need. They need the seeds of faith—the stories of Jesus love and a chance to be part of the church—the living breathing people of God.

When we plant the seeds of Jesus in what we say and do we will see God at work. It's time to be church—planting the seeds with faith God will act. AMEN.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Jesus Living Family Mark 3:20-35

Jesus living family is alive today. He named his family saying those who do God's will are his mother, brothers, and sisters (Mark 3:33-34). The church catholic today is a living household of faith, united together listening to God's Word and seeking out how best to do His will.  The Christian relationship as brothers and sisters in Christ is often underestimated—but believers learn here on earth and in the life to come that full breadth and depth of Christ's family is bigger than any human can know.

Human imagination can limit our visions of Jesus' family. His family is defined not by national or ethnic relationships, denominational or parental lineage. The boundaries of God's household are established not by DNA but by the gift of faith growing and nurtured by the Spirit leading believers to follow and serve God.


Early in Jesus' ministry crowds followed close to him seeking miracles and acts of great power (Mark 3:7-13). He had even designated close followers calling 12 men to walk with him as their teacher (Mark 3:14-19). The moment Jesus came home with this huge crowd his birth family reacted both to Jesus personally and to the crowd and the disciples. They treated Jesus like he'd gone mad (Mark 3:20-21). Jesus' mother and siblings needed a change of heart and mind about him. They knew one dimension of Jesus' being—this man who'd lived with them all his life—but now they were seeing the emergence of his full divinity. Jesus own mother underestimated his power.

The pharisees joined in accusing Jesus of having a daemon (Mark 3:22). Jesus didn't laugh off their words. Instead he turned to them with a question, “How can Satan Satan cast out?” πως δύναται σατανας σαταναν εκβάλλειν (Mark 3:23-24). Jesus was outside the lines the pharisees and his own family knew and understood—but the crowd was with him waiting for more. And Jesus spoke so boldly about who Satan is and what he does in response to this accusation. (Mark 3:25-30)

Jesus' family came near again. Many a believer, especially pastors, have similar stories to tell. A woman disowned by her pastor father after seeking to serve God as a pastor herself. A Roman Catholic family who turned away from their son when he sought ordination in an evangelical church. A Baptist family refused to communicate with their son when he entered a Catholic seminary. Even close human families will sometimes miss the calling and activity of God in the life of a beloved child or sibling.

Why should any other human family like Mary and Jesus' siblings be any different?

As Jesus taught the crowd and the disciples His own mother and sibling sent word that they were outside—and Jesus wouldn't leave the company of the crowd to go meet them (Mark 3:31-32). The family's relationship with Jesus was going to be forever different. The crowd recognized something inside of Jesus that even the ones closest to him hadn't seen. His words to the crowd sound harsh towards his family at first (Mark 3:33-34). But pay attention here.  Jesus had a mission and he couldn't turn back from it.  And taking up that mission He didn't disown Mary and the rest of the family. Here we see an opening not only for Jesus family but for all who trust in God to be His brother, sisters, and mother.

Pax, John

Monday, May 21, 2012

Like a Rushing Wind Acts 2:1-21

Jesus friends gathered all together for Pentecost and God broke in.
Acts 2:2 tells of a rushing wind from heaven. God the Holy Spirit arrived like a violent wind that filled the entire house where Jesus' friends gathered. Tongues of flame rose from their heads in Acts 2:3.

On the prairie in southern Minnesota we're no strangers to wind. In our near century old house some winter nights we hear and know the power of the wind. Some good neighbors have figured out how to harness wind to produce electricity. Generations ago wind powered pumps pulled water from deep wells to sustain homes, farms, and livestock.
There's raw power in wind and Acts says that's how the Holy Spirit arrived—like a violent rush of wind penetrating every corner of their domain in Acts 2:4 and every corner of our homes and world today. The believers will filled with the Holy Spirit and wonderful things happened: they spoke in tongues and underrstood each-other plainly like everyone in the room was speaking the same native language in Acts 2:5-11.
Wind can be dangerous too—terrible storms remind us of our fragility and dependence on God in the worst of times. And God—the true God who made heave and earth—is to be revered for His awesome power to both make and remake heaven and earth.
Acts 2 reaffirms the truth that God's on the loose, not domesticated to answer at our whim; rather God is free to reach in to our world and more personally into the lives of believers. Many looked on at this with wonder and ind doubt suggest in Acts 2:12 that they were just drunk. But Peter stood up and declared the wonder of what was happening in Acts 2:13. They weren't drunks; God was at work in them in new and wonderful ways Acts 2:14-16. Peter reminded all who were listening that day that God was making good on a promise made through Joel for the sake of those who would believe in the last days Acts 2:17-21.
Pax, John

Thursday, April 26, 2012

lead us shepherd John 10:11-18, 1 John 3:16-24

My big lesson this Easter Season has been to pay attention not to how resurrection happens but to who is rising and who is resurrecting.  This week I'd encourage anyone looking for resurrection hope to look for evidence of Jesus work as shepherd leading and guiding his body, the whole church on earth, through the struggles and pitfalls into his presence.

In John 10 Jesus speaks of others who would serve the sheep for a time who will run for fear of the wolf John 10:12.  Jesus won't run; rather he came to gather Israel's lost and then He came to gather even more.  When we hear Jesus speak of his mission not only to Israel but to others we see the full plan of salvation.  Jesus came to save and to reach into the world to save even more John 10:16.  The good news of Easter reminds us that Jesus is the Good Shepherd who won't run away for fear of death but will give all laying down even his own life John 10:17-18.

Let us follow the shepherd.  Let us step into the world in truth and action not just words 1 John 3:18-19.  We are blessed today to be witnesses of mercy not so much in what we say but in what we do showing the world the love that the shepherd has for all.

Peace.  John.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Palms and Passion

Jesus came into Jerusalem on a donkey. He came to the cheers of a crowd ready for a coronation. They waved palms and cried out "Hosanna. Hosanna. Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord." Hosanna. Somebody told me we need more hosannas.
Saying Hosanna and waving Palms is a powerful way to reinforce our faith in Jesus and even to connect with the hope and joy of the crowds who greeted him in Jerusalem. The Jewish people hoped for a great leader a savior Roman oppression who'd make everything right. Jesus, prophet and healer, fit the bill. 60 years ago most churches gathered the week before Easter to remember Palm Sunday and the hope.

Today we sing hosanna and we remembered the hope. But 60 years ago retelling Jesus' Cross was set aside for Good Friday. That was the day to remember and pray about the cross. Over the past 6 decades something has changed and the cross has moved right to the very center of our Palm Sunday. We still remember the procession and the adulation of the crowd; but we also come face to face with the cross.

Some people will rightly ask, “Why?” After all there's something wonderful about praising Jesus and remembering the Hosannas as he came into Jerusalem. Why would we want to hear about the passion on this day too? Why not wait until Friday? Freedom, true freedom, comes for us through the cross of Jesus Christ. St Bernard of Clairvaux said,

if we would have Christ for a frequent guest, to fill our hearts with faithful meditations on the mercy He showed in dying for us, and on His mighty power in rising again from the dead. To this David testified when he sang, ‘God spake once, and twice I have also heard the same; that power belongeth unto God; and that Thou, Lord, art merciful (Ps. 62.11f).
The cross is where everything starts over. Its the place where before we can start over we have to see ourselves—our pride and our sins put to death—with Jesus. Bernard wrote on,
And surely there is proof enough and to spare in that Christ died for our sins and rose again for our justification, and ascended into heaven that He might protect us from on high, and sent the Holy Spirit for our comfort. Hereafter He will come again for the consummation of our bliss. In His Death He displayed His mercy, in His Resurrection His power; both combine to manifest His glory.
We look at the cross today not just to be dower and down hearted. We look closely at the cross so that the joy of Easter might start to grow in us. We look at the cross knowing how the story ends and how God ripped that ending apart. It's real for all of us. And so too is the hope we have in Jesus.

Luther wrote of the Passion
We say without hesitation that he who contemplates God’s sufferings for a day, an hour, yes, only a quarter of an hour, does better than to fast a whole year, pray a psalm daily, yes, better than to hear a hundred masses. This meditation changes man’s being and, almost like baptism, gives him a new birth. Here the passion of Christ performs its natural and noble work, strangling the old Adam and banishing all joy, delight, and confidence which man could derive from other creatures, even as Christ was forsaken by all, even by God.Martin Luther, vol. 42, Luther's Works, Vol. 42 : Devotional Writings I, ed. Jaroslav Jan Pelikan, Hilton C. Oswald and Helmut T. Lehmann, Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1999, c1969)page 11
We look on not to drop into despair but to reach up to hope.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Lifted up for the world John 3:14-21

Jesus lifted up--to save

Jessu lifted up--on the cross--abandoned and abused, naked and derided.

Jesus lifted up--by the whole church--saving all who come to faith in Him.

Jesus lifted up--by sinners--both then and now.  2000 years ago sinners lifted Jesus up.  Today we sinners lift him up. His death on our hands and our new life in His hands.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

When God Overturns John 2:13-22

Jesus stepped into the temple and he didn't like what he saw (John 2:13-14). Rather than walking away he introduced himself.  He wove together cords into a whip to clear things up. He poured out the money changer's coins and tossed over their tables. He drove animals and animal sellers out of the temple court.(John 2:15).

Why? New life starts and Jesus turns things over: the temple, sin, death, and the work of the evil one: Jesus came to turn it all over.  Like a gardener with a spade or a roto-tiller Jesus turns everything. Overturning is key to a new beginning.  Jesus came not to leave us in sin but to turn us away from sin lifting us up out of ourselves. John 2:17 remembers Psalm 69:9 as a prophesy about a heart zealous for the temple.

Does this image of Jesus, strong and independent, shock you? Jesus was so passionate he drove people from the temple. He wanted worship on different terms: Jesus wants change in us and it begins with Him.  People in the temple wanted a miracle as evidence He had a right to speak and act boldly.  Jesus answered them crypticly, “Destroy this temple, and I will build it again in three days.” (John 2:18-19 NCV) Later on Jesus followers understood what he meant. He was talking about his own destruction and resurrection (John 2:20-22).

Jesus' strength:
We sinners think the world is about us.  Jesus teaches something different.  He wants things to change starting with worship.  More than ritual action He wants hearts.  Put away idols, lesser gods like money, power, toys, sex, and come worship with your whole being.

Many mistakenly view Jesus as weak, unable to make change happen: there are at least two views of Jesus as weak.
  • some believe Jesus is weak and zealously rush to help Him.  In confusion they presume Jesus can't act as Son of God without their help. Fyodor Dostoyevsky explored the logical end of such confusion in a novella called The Grand Inquisitor.  It's worth a read.
  • sinners who've grown comfortable assume Jesus is weak and blind loving and accepting all in apathy.  But meeting the real Jesus, who turns things over, challenges us to leave our sins behind.  The difference here is between a God who loves you too much to leave you in sin and a lesser god who tolerates you. A God who loves you will lead you to change.
Jesus, John 2 reveals, is bold, zealous, and full of compassion: this is Jesus true character. Jesus gave both love and forgiveness at a great cost accepting sinners.  He welcomes us not to continue in the way of destruction but in order for us to begin new lives. 

May God help us hold Jesus up high that the world may see both his passion to turn things over and his compassion for all. Pax, John

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Get behind me Satan Mark 8:31-38

Jesus predicted his death more than once in Mark.  Look at Mark 8:31, Mark 9:31, Mark 10:45 and in Mark 12:1-12 His prediction's tucked into a parable. 

The news of Jesus' looming death shocked Peter.  Christians 2000 years later are accustomed to Jesus cross.  Knowing that Jesus death leads to his resurrection.  We see this prediction differently than Peter did the first time he heard it.  Jesus' prediction sounded aweful to Peter.  He tried to stop his rabbi from saying such unsettling words.  Mark says Peter επιτιμαν αυτω warned him. And Jesus warned Peter instead ύπαγε οπίσω μου, σατανα go behind/following me Satan. 

Just who does Peter think he is anyway? 
Telling the Rabbi what to teach was a bold move, a move that presumed equality with the teacher.  Peter didn't want Jesus to die.  At first it's hard to blame Peter.  Why would you want your friend to suffer.  Truth is we don't want Jesus to die on the cross; we need him to die, to set us free from sin.  Who among Jesus followers then or now wants to see Jesus crucified?  But be honest who among Jesus followers needs a savior.  Jesus had a mission to die and to rise and we, like Peter, are to follow our Lord always, even to the cross, and through it into our death and into new life in Jesus. 

Who does Jesus think Peter is?
Peter believed he was a devoted follower.  He believed Jesus was the Christ--but he didn't then understand what being Messiah meant.  Jesus was talking about the cross as part of God's plan for Him.  Jesus was boldly inviting Peter and others to take up their own crosses Mark 8:38.  He was inviting the crowd and us to true live Mark 8:39.  This is God's plan for our old lives to end for us too.  To Jesus--Peter was one of many who he would save through his cross and resurrection.  He was one of many living stones out of which Christ's body, the church, would be built.
Pax, John

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

a lonely place Mark 1:9-15

Mark tells the story of Jesus baptism noting a heavenly voices approval,  "You are my son, the beloved; with you I am well pleased." Mark 1:9-10. 
Jesus' story takes an instant twist--from baptism to temptation.
Καὶ ευθὺς τὸ πνευμα αυτὸν εκβάλλει εις τὴν έρημον
And immedieatly the spirit tossed him out into the deserted/lonely place:
  The word ἔρημον/έρημος deserted/lonely sticks out in Mark's account of Jesus temptation. Many use words like desert and wilderness to describe this place. Reading Mark this year the loneliness comes clear.  The Spirit drove Jesus into a lonely place and the temptations and the tempter came for him.  Lonely places don't just exist in the wild or the desert; desolation exists as much in our minds and hearts as in any place.  Even in great cities and in the midst of "good" families there are lonely places of isolation and temptation. 
  It's in the lonely places where who we are, who the tempter is, and who God is can come clear.  Mark say nothing particuar about how Satan tempted Jesus; he says it happened.  Any adult human has temptations they've faced when alone; and Jesus, fully human, faced temptations too.  Each of us is unique and the Devil knows it and that's exactly why he chooses temptations for each of us one by one.  Satan seeks to destroy us all, but he doesn't always work to destroy us en masse, rather he picks at us one by one searching for us when we are isolated using temptations as a wedge to force us away from God and our neighbors.
  In lonely places we find both faith and doubt.  It's in moments alone when who we are before God, our sin and strengths can come clear.  A lonely moment is the moment to turn towards temptation or towards God to help you.  Faith is confidence in God's presence when we are tempted into sin and when we have no evidence, besides hope, that God is real (see Hebrews 11:1).  Faith turns us towards God's presence even when see desolation and loneliness.  Even as we face the Devil and doubt alone faith is God's gift to remind us that we are not alone; that God is with us.
May God Sustain us with faith and hope and love even in the lonely places of our lives
Pax, John