Thursday, December 19, 2013

When Angels Start Talking Matthew 1:18-24

Angels and dreams have a big part in the Christmas story: for both Joseph and Mary God's messengers brought change into their lives. The angel in Joseph's dream was God's representative bridging the space between humanity and our creator. Artist conceive of Angels as tiny children or great warriors. I think the image of the Warrior seems most faithful to scripture; but the Angels shape and size are not as significant as who they speak for and what they have to say.

Angels came in the months leading up to Christmas as the first messengers of transformation. When God's plans begin to unfold our lives take new shape. Angels come to announce the new beginning and the promise of a fresh start and resurrection. In our day it's the Word we call scripture and the dreams God gives to us of a better day when we live for God and God's glory that move us ahead.

It's in the moment when God talks when things start happening. It's been that way from the beginning. When God breathed out the word light it came into being. God works just this way--speaking creation into life. When he spoke to Abraham he called him out one nation to become the father of a great nation. God works just this way giving people a promise and in that promise a new identity for future generations too. When God spoke to Moses he called out of bush and made promises of deliverance for a people in chains. God works just this way hearing the cries of the poor and hurting.
God's speaking through other beings is part of the Christmas story. It was an angel who spoke to Mary. It was angels speaking to shepherds keeping watch over their fields by night. It was angels who spoke about something coming that hadn't yet been seen. May the wonder Jesus the one whom the angels promised fill us with hope and joy this Christmas.
Peace and thanks for reading

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

What do you hear and see? Mattew 11:2-11

John, the forerunner of God's kingdom, sat in prison. He sent his followers out to ask Jesus, are you the one? (Matthew 11:2-3) Imagine John waiting in prison. He may have looked out of place but he didn't act like he was out of place. He wasn't used to confinement. He likely seemed limited and even vulnerable to his captors. The crowds knew him as strong, untamed, and faithful to God--imagine that man in a cell. When the king brought him out of his cell John preached the same unvarnished message as before he was imprisoned: repent of your sin, the kingdom of heaven is coming near. Even in prison John was no mere reed blown in the wind (Matthew 11:7-9). Jesus echoing Malachi's words 5 centuries earlier said,

This is he of whom it is written,
“‘Behold, I send my messenger before your face,
who will prepare your way before you.’ Matthew 11:10 ESV
The king, Herod, liked to listen to him; but he wouldn't turn from his sin and change his lifestyle. And so it went for John up until his death confined but still faitful to his calling to prepare the way for the Lord.
John was the messenger prophets saw coming first(Malachi 3:1). And now he sat waiting for the one would come next. Jesus responded to John's question, "are you the one?" telling John's followers to report of what they saw and heard (Matthew 11:4-6). Jesus fulfilled the promises made by prophets like Isaiah envisions centuries before (Isaiah 35:5-6). He open blind eyes and unstopped deaf ears. He healed making broken people whole. This was the report that Jesus wanted to go back to John in prison. This is the news we as a church have to share this Christmas with the world. God has come and he has brought healing for this hurting world.
Are you the one? This is a great Christmas question to ask of everything you place high up in your life. Whatever it is you are passionate about, ask are you the one. You might ask it later this week as you sort through possible presents for your kids, a coworker who's name you drew for the gift exchange, your spouse, or your parents. Are you the one? Are you flashy video game or shiny trinket the one that might satisfy the deep soul needs of a person in my life? Are you semi-precious object the thing that will convey words of love to someone I can't say? Are you the one flashy tablet or computer that will satisfy the deep needs of a soul that yearns to be loved by God and the people nearby. Christmas is a great time to look at all the things we have and give. The truth is no object no matter how cool or technically advanced or expensive can ever cut the mustard. They simply aren't enough.
What we need today is Jesus. What we need today is a God who is enough. Paul spoke to the Church in Corinth about God's grace being enough 2 Corinthians 12:9. Jesus is the one who meets our needs. Giving his love at Christmas is the one thing that we can give that will last and make a lasting difference in our lives.
Peace and thanks for reading, John
PS a prayer request. I am looking forward to a day in court as part of a divorce proceeding. Please pray for my 3 girls, their mom, and me in the days ahead.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Joseph's Christmas Story an Advent Conversation

Who was Joseph? He was Jesus' dad, but God the Father, was Jesus' Father. There's no way around it, the Christmas story's messy. Jesus, Mary, and Joseph's real life complications mirror many people's stories. And that's no accident. God comes at Christmas for the world. Joseph's part in the Christmas story shows God's work in the real world where sin, death, and evil are all at work.
Matthew's tells the Christmas story,

Now the birth of Jesus Christ took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit. And her husband Joseph, being a just man and unwilling to put her to shame, resolved to divorce her quietly. (Matthew 1:18-19 ESV)
The facts seemed very clear to Joseph. He was engaged to Mary. He counted on her faithfulness. He learned she was pregnant. Joseph knew one thing for certain, the child growing inside Mary wasn't his. His plan was simple--end this relationship with Mary and get on with his life. What do you think of Joseph at this point in the story?
Think about it: Joseph's trust in Mary just evaporated. He took Mary's faithfulness for granted. But something happened. The evidence was clear for everybody to see. Joseph lost trust--an essential part of any lasting relationship. Some argue Joseph, in his day, had reason to seek Mary's life. She dishonored him; but he sought to quietly walk away.
How can a person who's broken trust become trustworthy again?
Remember Joseph's plan was to quietly end his commitment to Mary. But somebody had a different plan for Joseph's life. Matthew tells the story this way,
But after he had considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.” (Matthew 1:20-21 NIV)
Digging deeper There's no question, Joseph had a change of heart. His attitude and actions towards Mary and the child growing inside her change after meeting the angel. The facts of the situation hadn't changed: but his attitude did. Mary was still pregnant, they weren't yet married, he wasn't this babies father, and people were likely still talking behind their backs about what had happened. But Joseph saw things differently. He stopped looking for a way out of his promise to Mary stepping forward instead to help her raise this child. How would you explain Joseph's change of heart to somebody who knows about Christmas trees and Santa Claus but has never heard the whole Christmas story?
A visit from an angel changed Joseph's attitude. And God keeps speaking today through His Word read in scripture, sung about in psalm, hymns, and spiritual songs, heard from friends and family who share God Word with us. God's Word changes how we see things. At a funeral we see a dead body; but faith in God's Word helps us see new life for believers who die. The circumstances haven't changed on this earth; but a heart of faith sees something different. How does God change hearts today?
How important is Joseph's change of heart to the whole Christmas story?
Jesus finds us in the middle of our lives and dreams with both broken and healed parts of our souls. Looking at Joseph's part in the Christmas story leaves no question, our attitude towards our circumstances makes a huge difference. What would it take to change your perspective to see people you dislike as someone God very much cares about? Thanks for reading and sharing your thoughts. John

Saturday, November 30, 2013

2 things to know first Matthew 24:36-44

Jesus spoke of the end times with two distinct lines of thought:

  1. only the Father knows the hour of the end Matthew 24:36
  2. the end will come like thief catching people unexpectedly Matthew 22:42-44
Any faithful conversation about the end of times will include the unresolved tension between these 2 equally valid teachings of our Lord. 2 millennia later Jesus' Words remain held in tension by believers. These 2 teachings both remain equally valid and equally essential to Christian faith and life. In short you can't have one without the other if you take Jesus' Word seriously.
Over the past 2000 years some have loudly insisted they knew the hour when the end was coming. Almost universally those who "know" the hour have insisted it is near by, almost at hand. Some have even gone so far done the road of error and confusion that they have published dates and timelines announcing the end. They have convinced others of their error; and those who are confused by them believe with them that this one interpretation of the signs and times is right.
For 20 centuries of Christian history this same confusion has existed and it still exists today. People believe they can crack the code hidden deep in prophecy and know the day. They will say that Jesus spoke of signs and the end coming quick. They will rightly say that our Lord Jesus called people to be prepared. And some will read the signs and believe they can see the end. But if they will be honest for even a second with Jesus they will say they can't know for certain. Unless they have access to the inner council of God the Father that the angels and the only begotten Son of the Father don't have they are just guessing. And they are at best only sharing their guesses and confusion with others.
The centuries are full of examples of teachers who believed they had decoded God's Word and read all the signs so that they knew that the hour was at hand. And Jesus Word remains true and good. The Father knows and we don't. Even as teachers come and go announcing that a particular economic or geo-political development is a sign Jesus Word remains good and true: only the Father knows.
Anytime you meet someone who wishes to speak of the end of times bring them back from their speculations about current events and their interpretation prophecy to the solid Word of Jesus Christ.
No one knows when that day or time will be, not the angels in heaven, not even the Son. Only the Father knows Mt 24:36 NCV
Anytime you meet someone who insists they know bring them back out of their speculation to the solid Word. Instead of preparing for a particular day Jesus is inviting us to live everyday as a day at the end of time.
"“So always be ready, because you don’t know the day your Lord will come. Remember this: If the owner of the house knew what time of night a thief was coming, the owner would watch and not let the thief break in. So you also must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at a time you don’t expect him." (Matthew 24:42-44, NCV)
The Kingdom of Heaven is coming. When Jesus walked on earth he said that the Kingdom of Heaven drew near to those who heard him 2000 years ago. The truth is his kingdom comes close when we live at the Father's direction. The kingdom comes when we place the love of God and the love of our neighbors above self love.
Maybe we forget what we are asking God to do When we pray, "thy kingdom come, thy will be done..." We are asking to be part of the Kingdom coming not far away but here in our church, homes, and work. When we pray we asking for Our Father to hear us. That means we are stepping into a relationship of trust in the Father that God wants to share with us from here until the end of time.
Today I give thanks that God the Father is near, and that all things and all time are in His care,
Peace and thanks for reading, John

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

God the Father of Christmas: Part 1 of an Advent Conversation

God the Father and Christmas? Most people can name 3 people in the Christmas story. Jesus, Mary, and Joseph. But there was a fourth individual who was part of the story long before Joseph and Mary: God the Father. Think back to the first chapter's of Genesis. God made the world and after finishing making people God said the creation—but especially people were more than good—they were very good. Women and men had been made in God's own image and likeness. 

But the story twists. A snake enticed Eve and Adam. They ignored God's directions and ate food God had forbidden them to even touch. Soon after Adam's and Eve's son Cain killed their other boy Abel. The creation that was very good changed: sin, death, and evil are present in our lives even though the Father hadn't planned the world to work that way.
Talk it over: How do people experience sin, death, and evil in our world today?

DIGGING DEEPER: The Father's reaching for us. Christmas is part God the Father's plan to rewrite the human story sending his Son straight into our world. God the Father eliminated any distance between us and Him. Jesus was God's son—his direct and personal way back into our our lives.

The prophet Malachi spoke on God's behalf to his people. God understood their questions and sent Jesus as the answer.
Malachi wrote: The Lord said, “I have loved you.”
But you ask, “How have you loved us?
Malachi 1:2a NCV

Talk it over: In what ways do experience God's love?
Why might some people think God is distant and doesn't love them?

Malachi wrote: The Lord All-Powerful says, “A child honors his father, and a servant honors his master. I am a father, so why don’t you honor me? I am a master, so why don’t you respect me? You priests do not respect me.
But you ask, ‘How have we shown you disrespect?
Malachi 1:6-7 NCV
Talk it over: In what ways do people disrespect God?

Malachi Wrote: You have tired the Lord with your words.
You ask, “How have we tired him?”
You did it by saying,
The Lord thinks anyone who does evil is good, and he is pleased with them.”
Or you asked, “Where is the God who is fair?

The Lord All-Powerful says, “I will send my messenger, who will prepare the way for me. Suddenly, the Lord you are looking for will come to his Temple; the messenger of the agreement, whom you want, will come.
Malachi 2:17-3:1 NCV.
Talk it over: What does God's “messenger” have to do with Christmas?

Thursday, November 21, 2013

3 Advent Conversations

A writing project waits on this pastors to do list.
It's a fun project: write 3 conversation sheets for young people and mentors. These are more than sheets of questions. The goal: start 3 significant conversations about God's coming to earth in the person we call Jesus. One mentor asked to have all this available with time to think things through in advance. So over the next 7 days my goal is to create a starting point for 3 Advent Conversations.

  1. God the Father's plan for us at Christmas
  2. Why God's plan meant a turned over life for Joseph
  3. Mary's whole self participation in God's plan
Please check back in and let me know what you think.
thanks, John

Monday, November 11, 2013

fearless in Christ Luke 21:5-29?

Jesus and his friends stood at the heart of the temple Luke 21. Someone, maybe one of His friends, marveled at the size of the blocks and the wall of the great temple Luke 21:5. And Jesus said plainly—not one stone will be left on another. Every stone will be thrown down Luke 21:6-. Wow the temple, the very center of their faith and national life would be destroyed.
Jesus friend wanted to know what signs they would have of the coming destruction Luke 21:7. But that wasn't Jesus only challenging prediction. He spoke of liars who would come claiming to be the Messiah warning his friend do not be fooled. Luke 21:8. He spoke of riots and wars between nations Luke 21:9-10. He warned of famine and trial before synagogues and governors Luke 21:11-12. And this Jesus says will give his followers a chance to tell the world of him Luke 21:13.
Many people run from such struggles in fear—but Jesus told his friends to step forward knowing that in Christ they would have the right words to share Luke 21:14-15. And here is the promise. Everyone on earth might hate Jesus followers. But they can't really harm a believer Luke 21:16-18. Because in faith a believer will life on Luke 21:19.
Be honest. Will anything or anybody in life besides Christ and those who are found last?

  • a house—one terrible storm or fire could wipe that out
  • k2
  • a relationship—one dread disease or trust breaking act could end it
  • a place in a church building—as hard as believers might try even their building used for worship aren't guaranteed to last.
The Lord Jesus spoke of the end of all things as a coming reality. It was part of his basic teaching and it is an essential part of Christian faith. Jesus followers know they we will be in Christ in all circumstances and His promise is a source of joy. No matter what comes even suffering, grief, and death believers have a forever place in Christ Jesus. Christian faith is no escape hatch from suffering and pain and death. Faith is trust that God walks with believers faithful in every circumstance. When all things pass away the eternal God, and those who are found in him, will remain.
Peace to you and thanks for reading, John

Monday, October 28, 2013

A Sinner's Salvation Luke 19:1-10

Zacchaeus is well known among Sunday School Kids; but his story is for grown ups too.
Kids often sing of Zacchaeus as a wee little man. Small children relate to him easily. He heard Jesus was coming through Jericho. Unable to see over the crowd he ran ahead climbing a tree to catch a glimpse of the Rabbi (Luke 19:1-4). My youngest, now 4, often needs a lift up to see. Sometimes its riding up high on shoulders that she can catch what's happening around her.
Kid's can relate to Zacchaeus every time they step on stool to reach the sink or help stir in the kitchen. Every person who can remember being little and riding high on mom or dad's shoulders can connect back with this short man who just wanted to see Jesus when all he could see was the backs of the crowd in front of him.
Jesus called out to Zacchaeus perched in a tree. "Come down because I am coming to your house." Luke 19:5 Jesus kept his word. And the kingdom of God came close to Zacchaeus that day. This is where the story stops for most Sunday School Kids; and for many grown ups too. Man know sanitized versions of scripture. They know God loves and has compassion searching for the lost. This is all true. But the Bible's complicated stories of the lost who are brought back are often overlooked. Maybe the details are too dark or hit too close to home for us to face.
How do you imagine Zacchaeus About 13 years ago I read the Zacchaeus story with middle school kids. They all knew the song about the wee little man; but they didn't know the back story about his defrauding and extortion. In conversation they imagined making a movie about Zacchaeus. Who would they cast in the lead roll. One of the boys suggested Joe Pesci, a short actor famous for playing violent volatile characters who wielded baseball bats and guns. Now that's a hard edged Zacchaeus.
What matters for us today is knowing what Zacchaeus did in that day when he met Jesus. The day Jesus came to Zacchaeus' home was the day he let go of his past. It was in that day when he promised to make matters right with those he defrauded Luke 19:6-8. It was in that day that he both repented and believed. Salvation came for him that day, just as it still does for those who repent and believe Luke 19:9-10.
At All Saints this year imagine Zacchaeus as a saint in God's kingdom. A man guilty of crimes against his own people brought back into the fold. His story focusses us back on Jesus and the gift of new life that comes close to each one who believes. There's not need to climb up in the tree--just leave the old behind and come to Jesus, the miracle working God/man who came searching out those someone lost like Zacchaeus.
For all the saints redeemed by faith in the God of grace and mercy we give thanks. AMEN
Peace and thanks for reading, John.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

God heard his prayer Luke 18:9-14?

Jesus valued humility.
-not false humility-but honest to God humility. Jesus told a parable of two men going to pray Luke 18:9-10. One man prayed thanking God he wasn't like that other man. After all that other man was a known sinner Luke 19:11-12. And this known sinner couldn't even hold his eyes up to heaven as he cried out for mercy Luke 19:13-14.
So which prayer was heard?
The prayer of the sinner who called out to God for mercy. Jesus reveals God's heart for the whole world. The prayer God hears comes from the one who calls out in faith for mercy. This man had no works and no pride to bring--he only had faith in God and he counted only on God's mercy.
I don't consider myself good or holy on my own. I believe God alone is holy (Revelation 15:4) and good (Luke 18:19). I believe Heaven has no regard for fake humility or pious seeming actions done just for show--Jesus is clear those who for the sake of appearances
give alms Matthew 6:1-4
pray Matthew 6:5-8
fast Matthew 6:16-18
have already gotten their rewards in the attention they were seeking. Jesus is after something different than just the apprearance of holiness. Jesus tells his followers not to be concerned with what others see but to worry only and solely about what God sees--the heart. Jesus is incredibly consistent here. This is the same God/Man who tells us to store up for ourselves treasures in heaven that can never be stolen away or destroyed Matthew 6:19-21.
So what prayers will God hear from you?
Peace to you and thanks for reading, John

Monday, October 14, 2013

Prayers of Hope Luke 18:1-8?

Jesus taught his friends to pray through example and parable.
One prayer parable stands out: the story of a praying widow who needed an unjust judge to hear her case (Luke 18:1-3). Jesus wove a great story. A tenacious woman kept coming back to an unjust judge. She needed justice and wouldn't stop asking for it. The judge didn't care and ignored her time and again. And she kept coming back for justice. Finally, because she had not given up, the judge relented and heard her case (Luke 18:4-5). A hurting widow who wouldn't stop fighting for justice--Jesus presents her as our model for prayer and faithfulness (Luke 18.6-8).

Jesus understands a hurting person's need: Much like a desperate widow, praying people have only one place to turn. The living God is the final judge and in all cases is the only one who matters. After every other avenue has been exhausted there's hope for those who pray for justice. This woman was asking for the right thing to happen. She wasn't asking for evil to be done to her opponent. She was seeking justice. Likewise in our prayer we must only seek God's will. We must only seek what is just in the sight of God.
We as people choose many avenues as try on our own to make thing right ranging from medicine to law, counseling to silence. And after everything else has been exhausted prayer is the hope that remains. Some might wonder why we don't pray first in all situations. Jesus says we should call to God day and night Luke 18:6-7. There's something about human nature that comes out here. We don't always turn to God first; but there's a promise here too that God is faithful ready to hear our cries for His will to be done. There is a promise that God is searching to find those who are full of faith seeking for His will to be done.
What do you think?
Thanks for reading, John

Monday, October 7, 2013

who do you turn to in trouble Luke 17:11-19?

Reading Luke 17 this fall focusses me in on a simple truth: faith in Jesus saves.
Luke tells how Jesus spoke of a seed of faith being more than enough (Luke 17:5-6). Next Luke told of ten men with leprosy who saw Jesus and believed he could help. They called from a distance Luke 17:11-12--Ἰησου̂ ἐπιστάτα ἐλέησον ἡμα̂ς Jesus master, be merciful to us Luke 17:13. Jesus sent them on to a priest and the sores dissipated on the way Luke 17:14. One man recognized the cure and came back falling at Jesus feet in thanks Luke 17:15-16. Jesus asked about the other 9 (Luke 17:17) and turned to the man who came back--a Samaritain--saying, Your faith has made you well (Luke 17:18-19).

10 hurting men called to Jesus in faith. They believed he could help and he made them whole. Jesus was their savior. He was the one they called on for help. Human actions in times of trouble demonstrate who and what people cling to as their saviors. In short who people call to for help reveals their faith. The center of the Christian faith is confidence in God as savior in all situations.
Turning towards other saviors One podcasting pastor, Mark Driscoll, points out the functional saviors people turn to in troubled times. Driscoll points to many--ranging from money and food to substances and relationships. Others point to politics and power and wealth as functional saviors. These are all lesser gods people turn to when trouble hits.
Functional saviors are often short cuts and diversions that deliver for a time--trouble comes when either the functional savior hurts or fails to save. That's when the truth of faith is revealed. Faith isn't to be placed in anything or anybody less than God. Faith only holds when the one trusted is worthy of trust. Faith in God alone is what saves because God alone is worthy of trust.
Thanks for reading, John

Thursday, October 3, 2013

a little seed Luke 17:5-10?

Jesus friends asked him to, "Increase our faith."
Jesus said faith big as a mustard seed was all they needed (Luke 17:5). An observant Bible student noted the story behind Jesus' mustard seed promise. Jesus' friends were struggling. He asked them to forgive someone 8 times in 1 day. This was too hard (Luke 17:4). Anyone who's ever been betrayed knows the struggle to forgive. Jesus friends felt a need to grumble--this call to forgive is hard; it's truly impossible without God. Forgiveness means surrendering your anger and whatever you hold over another. Still their Lord spoke boldly--all they needed was the faith of a little seed.
A tiny seed, that's enough; that's it. A mustard seed is enough to forgive, to go to heaven, to live in this broken world. Still for 2000 years Christians want to be more faithful. Many have a felt need to do more to trust God. Scripture is clear saving faith is trusting in Christ--the living Son of God: it was the same 500, 1000, 1500, and 2000 years ago.
A great story of saving faith comes from the cross. 3 men were crucified. Jesus was in the middle. One harassed Jesus (Luke 23:39-41). But the other was saved by faith. His trust in Jesus opened the way to paradise (Luke 23:42-43). Trust in God is enough.(John 20:30-31). Like the ancient prophet said to the nation of Israel,

Look at the proud!
Their spirit is not right in them,
but the righteous live by their faith (Habakkuk 2:4 NRSV)
We strive for ways to be more righteous and honorable. We strive to be all the more deserving of God's grace and love. And all Jesus asks of us is the faith of a little seed--God will provide the rest.
Peace and thank for reading, John

Thursday, September 26, 2013

if they don't listen Luke 16:19-31?

Jesus told a powerful story of rich man who went into eternal torment. Meanwhile the poor man he'd stepped over week after week suffering next to his front door went into the arms of Abraham Luke 16:19-23. The rich man called ought across a chasm from his suffering for help him--but no one could reach across the divide Luke 16:24-26. He called for Abraham to send him back to at least tell his brothers. But Abraham replied that people have already been sent and even if someone rose from the dead they wouldn't listen (Luke 16:27-31).
Not listening to God isn't a new problem--but what's the root of the problem: is it our ears or our hearts?
Adam and Eve had this problem (Genesis 2:16-17, Genesis 3:1-24). The first sons, Cain and Able, had this problem (Genesis 4).
The issue isn't a hearing problem rather it's a heart problem. Moses tried to convince the hard hearted Pharaoh that God wanted the children of Israel to leave Egypt (Exodus 4:21, Exodus 7-14). People in Jesus day heard but didn't listen either. In our day we have hard hearts and a God who sent the law, prophets and His own Son that we might have faith and live. So what will it take to set us back to right with God when we become so hardened to the truth of God's love and mercy.
What will it take to reach the hard hearted who no longer believes in his own need of repentance:

  • argument
  • prayer
  • a miracle
  • a combination of all three?
What do you think? What will God do to reach the hard hearted? Peace, John

Monday, September 16, 2013

Did Jesus justify mismanagement in Luke 16:1-13?

Any who think Jesus gives clear simple step-by-step guidance for Christians living ought to read this parable in Luke 16:1-13. This is no 5 step Christian living plan; it's a parable inviting deep reflection about money, values, and relationships.
Jesus' story sounds realistic--a money manager mismanaged the bosses affairs (Luke 16:1). As soon as the books are opened by the boss the fiscal dysfunction will be clear (Luke 16:2). In a moment of panic the mismanaging manager hatched a plan: use the remaining time with access to the books to make friends fast (Luke 16:3). If the plan worked begging and ditch digging wouldn't be needed to keep body and soul together (Luke 16:4). The mismanager cut a debt to the boss of 100 jugs of oil down to 50. 100 barrels of wheat becomes 80 (Luke 16:5-7). With the old bosses debtors now in his debt the mismanager quickly crafted a silver parachute.

So what's the point. On the outside this seems like a terrible story to teach repenting sinners to live as children of the light. But Jesus wants his followers to key in on a what this man did. He used what he had to make friends fast (Luke 16:8-9). Even the boss who was coming to fire acknowledged how this shrewd dealing spared trouble for the mismanager.
The mismanager might argue there was no malicious intent in the mismanagement--but that's not the point and wouldn't satisfy any bosses demands to fairly reconcile accounts. Likewise we might argue to God that we didn't intend to hurt anyone by our actions--rather Jesus encourages us to think again about how we act in this broken world (Luke 163:8-9). How do we use the gifts God's given? Are we faithful or dishonest? What will we do as the wiggle room disappears (Luke 16:10) all around us?
Honest to God Jesus talks about money as a way post to something bigger--to the true riches (Luke 16:11). He invites us to be faithful to heaven first in what we use and in how we serve (Luke 16:12) because only in heaven do we actually possess anything--only in heaven do we have our true master who deserves our true and complete devotion.
Let me know what you think, Did Jesus justify mismanagment?
Peace to you, and thanks for reading, John

Monday, September 9, 2013

God's heart revealed in parables Luke 15:1-10

Jesus demonstrated God's audacious love for the lost when ate with sinners Luke 15:1-2. His actions goaded self-righteous Pharisees. Jesus responded to their grumbling with 3 parables (now heard in Luke 15:3-32) each revealing God's heartfelt love for the lost.

  • a shepherd went after 1 lost sheep leaving 99 behind (Luke 15:3-7)
  • a widow searched for a missing coin and rejoiced after finding it (Luke 15:8-10)
  • a father stood by waiting for his son to come home and held a feast when he came home(Luke 15:11-32)
Jesus' parables reveal God's heart for those lost in this world. In all 3 stories there is rejoicing in Heaven as the lost are restored back to God.

Who am I in these stories? I see myself in two places this year--
1) I am a sinner saved by grace through faith (Ephesians 2:8-9). I am one of the lost God has saved by grace. It doesn't matter if I am one who God searched out (Luke 15:1-10) or if I am one who came home to God's open arms (Luke 15:11-32). What matters is the joy in heaven at the restoration of the lost.

As a member of the church--as a pastor called to share the good news--I read these words thinking of the times I've judged someone to lost for even God's love. Reading these stories reminds me of God's will to both search out the lost and welcome back those who return in repentance.

2) I am a Pharisee annoyed by Jesus fellowship with sinners. Jesus love for the broken extend the Kingdom way beyond the self-righteous. In all my attempts at piety I find this story challenging--I have no special place with God or in God's heart. No God's heart is so great that it encompasses the lost and forsaken as well as the proud. I need no special place--God's heart already includes a space for me claimed not by my works but by my faith.

A wise teacher gave salient advice for reading the gospels. Whenever Jesus was in conflict with the Pharisees substitute the name Lutheran in their place (it works whatever your denomination or group might be) just substitute your beloved factions name in their place. It's easy to cheer when Jesus digs hard into somebody else--but the moment when he's really giving it to you is often the moment when you are exposed again to God's grace in your life.

Peace, and thanks for reading, John

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

following Jesus = cross carrying Luke 14:25-33

Following Jesus leads inevitably cross carrying--maybe that's why Jesus offers no promise of easy street or pain free living. Instead Jesus says whoever won't carry the cross isn't fit to be his follower (Luke 14:27). We don't like these kinds of words and often ignore them even when the come from God. We want God to embrace us as we are--but Jesus wants us to pick up our crosses and follow him (Luke 9:23) Jesus didn't have a theology of glory or a gospel of prosperity. He promised a cross for his friends and knew one was coming for himself. Jesus made no bait and switch sales pitch to entice the huge crowd who came to hear him (Luke 14:25). Instead our Lord spoke the plain truth--there will be costs paid and sacrifices made for the sake of the kingdom of God (Luke 14:26). Jesus invites us to follow with eyes wide open to the very real cross carrying that comes included when we walk with him as his friend and followers.

So what will you do about with the cross as Jesus follower?
In one sense Jesus disciples can do nothing about the cross--it's just an inevitable outcome of walking with Jesus. But how we act, knowing that the cross is coming and especially when we are carrying its weight in our lives, is our choice, as Jesus' followers. Jesus embraced the cross on which he would be lifted up for the sake of the whole world. He embraced it as the father's will (Luke 22:42). Embracing your own cross as part of the Fathers will is part of following Jesus. Jesus told two mini parables to illustrate the point, one of building without thinking through the cost (Luke 14:28-30) and one of going to war without considering the opponent who comes to fight(Luke 14:31-33). These stories intensified his point: his followers will make sacrifices and they have advance warning.

Many of heroes in the faith--who serve as models of how to carry the cross--stand out because of the joy they shared with the people around them as they gave up everything for the sake of the kingdom. Corrie ten Boom and Dietrich Bonheoffer are two in the last 100 years who literally gave up everything--even family--for the sake of God's kingdom and his righteousness. In our age when family and children become idols Jesus' radical message of surrender sounds even more shocking--but the truth is plain to see. Following Christ means cross carrying and through the cross comes rising in Jesus to new life.
Peace and thanks for reading, John

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Honor in the Kingdom Luke 14:1,7-14

Jesus has a different standard for first and last than this world does. He explained the difference by speaking about a wedding feast in Luke 14:7-11. Jesus gave a direction for his followers--don't seek the most honored seat--rather take the lowest. And Jesus wasn't just talking about a wedding feast. He was challenging human nature. It has been argued well that our nature drives us towards the first place desiring the highest and the best for our selves. If we by nature are selfish Jesus is teaching us to go against our natures in order that we might really live.

Jesus is giving us a new standard as Christians. The greatest among us, in Jesus' eyes, are those who serve. He said no less in Matthew 20:26 and Matthew 23:11. Some of Christ's followers over the centuries have caught onto this key theme in Jesus' teaching. Others have sought power, position, and human honor while disguised in religious dress. All the while Jesus Word has been boldly pointing in a different direction. He has been teaching and proclaiming his view of the world in which great people serve the poor. Jesus invites us to see His different valuation of people and the world. One of the greatest explanations of this kind of reversal of the great being the servants comes from Martin Luther King Jr in a sermon called, The Drum Major Instinct.

Sadly human society naturally runs opposite of Jesus' vision. Our Lord wasn't naïve enough to think otherwise. He taught how the Kingdom of Heaven has a better order. And that means we are invited today to live differently. We are invited today to live like his kingdom matters and like those around us in need matter. Imagine throwing a banquet--who would you invite if you were following Jesus direction in Luke 14:12-14. Jesus has offered us all a way to be great--as servants.
Peace, and thanks for reading. John

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

don't just smile politely Jesus came to set you on fire Luke 12:49-56

Its tempting to read the Bible and do anything but listen. When Jesus says,

I came to bring fire to the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled!
it's a good idea to pay attention and not just smile politely to Jesus. The Bible isn't a book we read--the Bible is God's Word: it reads us. It's tempting to just blow right past Jesus assuming we already know what he says. Listen: His words are revolutionary and unsettling. If you think you know what Jesus says listen again,
I came to bring fire to the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled! I have a baptism with which to be baptized, and what stress I am under until it is completed! Do you think that I have come to bring peace to the earth? No, I tell you, but rather division! (Luke 12:49-51 NRSV)
Many people think Jesus is just an all loving guy--and that's true Jesus is all loving. But he loves us so much he wants all people to live on fire. He's not setting us on fire to destroy us--rather Jesus wants us to burn with a fire that purifies, refines, and enlightens. Jesus is the light of the world. He is the one who casts out all darkness. His death on the cross is evidence of his loves for the world. His cross and open grave are the spark that burns into a fire of transform us and our families. Jesus means it when He says,
From now on five in one household will be divided,
three against two and two against three; they will be divided:
father against son and son against father,
mother against daughter and daughter against mother,
mother-in-law against her daughter-in-law
and daughter-in-law against mother-in-law.(Luke 12:52-53)
Reading these words it's clear we make a huge mistake confusing Jesus' love for all with God accepting everything we do. Jesus came to ignite people. Who is Jesus to say these kinds things? Every person will answer this question:
  • some deny that he exists—they've answered the question Jesus to them is a nobody
  • some hem and haw at this question—they've heard something about Jesus from somebody somewhere in their past but they don't know that much about Jesus themselves
  • some can tell facts and share some of his stories and values—they are getting to know him
As believers we are becoming more familiar with Jesus. We are getting to know Jesus as our savior and our friend. We know Jesus as somebody alive and active in our lives. Jesus is more than just information and stories and values. Jesus is the person behind the stories who wants us to live on fire with him and for him. He is the one individual in the universe who came not only to teach about love but to love so completely and totally that he could embrace the whole of humanity willing to die for our sin.
Peace and thanks for reading. May God help you burn bright. John

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Immortal Treasure

Jesus always cuts to the quick in conversation; we can beat around the bush all we want be he knows our hearts before we open our mouths. There are no secrets or lies God doesn't see through immediately. There are no ill conceived plans or unforeseen consequences for God. As we listen to Jesus talk about money and treasure and all the things people strive for in this life (Luke 12:29) we hear a wonderful call to freedom in Christ.

Instead, strive for his kingdom, and these things will be given to you as well. “Do not be afraid, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom. Sell your possessions, and give alms. Make purses for yourselves that do not wear out, an unfailing treasure in heaven, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. Luke 12:31-34 (NRSV)
Where your treasure is:
God has a way of seeing the world as it is--and God often see things opposite of how we see them. No sin is unseen to God--and no good deed is unnoticed. No injustice unnoted and no attempt to make things right goes unnoticed either. The ancient prophet Isaiah spoke on God's behalf plainly,
learn to do good;
seek justice,
correct oppression;
bring justice to the fatherless,
plead the widow's cause.
“Come now, let us reason together, says the Lord:
though your sins are like scarlet,
they shall be as white as snow;
though they are red like crimson,
they shall become like wool. Isaiah 1:17-18 ESV
God the maker of all things sees us all as sinners--sinners who could be redeemed. It is through the law that we see the crimson red of our sin us mortals who could be lost in sin--and Jesus sees the immortal you worth saving at the cost of his own life.

Who treasures you
One of the greatest and most wonderful parts of the Christian faith and life is knowing both our sin and our value to God our creator. Our value is seen in the cross of Jesus Christ. Gerard Manley Hopkins wrote at the end of the poem, That Nature is a Heraclitean Fire and of the comfort of the Resurrection,
I am all at once what Christ is, ' since he was what I am, and
This Jack, joke, poor potsherd, ' patch, matchwood, immortal diamond,
Is immortal diamond.
There is one in the universe who sees each sinner not as waste but as a creation of eternal value. There is one, God almighty, who's mercy revealed in the Cross tells us plainly that we were originally made as creatures of eternal worth. We were made with immortal souls by an immortal God. We were redeemed at the cost of Christ's own life. And the great gift to us in the middle of life is the promise of simple faith in Jesus Christ. The writer of Hebrews understood so very well this gift when he wrote of faith simply,
Faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see. (Hebrews 11:1)
For the gift of faith that clings to God's love and mercy, I give thanks.
Peace and thanks for reading, John

Monday, July 29, 2013

if Jesus called you a fool Luke 12:13-21

We sinners want God to validate our actions and feelings.
Jesus, Son of the Living God, loves us enough to call us fools.
The story goes a little something like this. A man asked Jesus to settle an in-family probate dispute Luke 12:13. Too many people have been in fights over a piece of property. We can all get the gist of his request. We humans love earthly things and foolishly strive for happiness in things. We get tangled up fighting for our fair share, our piece of the pie. And Jesus knew it and said plainly to be on guard against the love of things Luke 12:15.

Making his point clear Jesus told a story. A farmer prospered so much he had to build bigger barns to hold his harvest, his wealth. I don't think Jesus saw any trouble yet (Luke 12:16-18). Then man said to his soul to eat, drink and be merry (Luke 12:19). And that decision was foolish. Jesus called it out. He saying plainly there's no peace for souls in comfort and possessions (Luke 12:20-21).
Hang on now Jesus, do you really mean that, a Christian farmer in prosperous times living in a prosperous place might say, "I've got big bins, what about it? You know I will use that money to do good by my family, my neighbors, and my church." And I don't think Jesus would argue with him.
The issue in Jesus' story isn't a man's success, rather it was telling his soul that he should find peace in his things and his prosperity. God loves us enough to name our folly. Jesus, the one who died to save us, loves us enough to tell us that no amount of money or accumulated things will satisfy our souls. The moment when we place our trust in things our our life's aim on the accumulation of things is the moment when a loving God will call us fools.
May God point out our folly too. AMEN

Peace and thanks for reading, John

Monday, July 15, 2013

How are you experiencing Christ's Presence? Luke 10:38-42?

Luke tells a story.
Jesus was passing through and Martha welcomed him into her home (Luke 10:38).
Her sister Mary sat to listen to the Rabbi (Luke 10:39)
Martha grumbled about the work she had to do while Mary sat (Luke 10:40)
And Jesus said Mary had chosen the better by sitting with him (Luke 10:41-42)

By faith we know that we are always in Jesus presence.
So we can talk freely today about how we experience his presence, his being, with us.

Jesus is just as present with us--in the Word, in the Sacraments, in his Body the Church as he was present for Mary and Martha. The reality of his presence is often hidden--but that hidden dimension doesn't make his presence any less real. Maybe some will deny Jesus is present when he says he is, but that's their issue to deal with.

Those who believe in the incarnation see contemporary dimensions in this story and not just a past historic moment when Jesus presence was reality. Jesus is always with us when we gather in his name (Matthew 18:20) when we eat the bread and drink the wine of the Lord's Supper (1 Corinthians 11:23-24). Jesus is there when we serve those in need (Matthew 25:31-46). Maybe this story about these sisters who bicker a little isn't about being like either sister; maybe it's about the blessing in seeking Christ in worship and serving in Christ's name.

What do you think?

Thanks for reading and thanks for commenting.
Peace to you and yours, John.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

God's Tough Word Amos 7:7-17

Read Amos and there's no doubt: here is a word of law from a holy God. This prophet spoke to someone in particular: Amaziah (Amos 7:14-17). Amos words to this religious leader 2800 years ago still ring clear. John Holbert observes wisely,

Amos is tough; Amos is blunt; Amos says things that no one wished to hear 2800 years ago, things no one much wishes to hear today either.
Amos thought of himself as a cattleman (Amos 7:14-15). He was no priest or professional holy man but he had a vision of plumb line he'd seen God hold. He was no priest but he named the standard held by God for Israel--in particular Israel's religious leaders (Amos 7:7-9). It was clear God wanted something different from those who claimed to represent him.

Luther, so critical of ecclesial abuses in his day, saw something familiar in Amos' prophetic word,
This account is well worth noting. In it one can see what that ungodliness is and what it thinks of the Word of God, how it despises everything that is of God in order to keep its own things safe. Here the wicked priest Amaziah mocks and despises the pious prophet Amos, a contemptible, lowly shepherd. So he urges the king not to believe the prophecy of Amos. He says that it is a lie since Amos indeed speaks against the king and against the kingdom which they were very sure God had instituted. This is how the wicked blind and mislead each other with their wickedness, Luther, M. Vol. 18: Luther's works, vol. 18 : Minor Prophets I: Hosea-Malachi (J. J. Pelikan, H. C. Oswald & H. T. Lehmann, Ed.). Luther's Works (18:176). Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House.
Amos calls to modern religious leaders too. He gives warning: serve God and not earthly power. When we serve earthly power rather than God we bring trouble upon ourselves (Amos 7:17). Amos is not unique among God's prophets calling religious leaders and powerful people back to God. There is something dangerous in assuming God's approval--no matter what. We know God loves and forgive and we even search scripture for words of comfort and acceptance. But reading Amos we hear God's judgment particularly of Israel's religious and royal establishment. Here is our warning: religion and politics aren't the same. God wants us first to seek after the Kingdom of Heaven.
Peace and thanks for reading, John

Monday, July 1, 2013

Unsung Heroine 2nd Kings 5:1-14

She shows us how to have compassion even for our enemies.

You might have heard this story from 2nd Kings about Elisha and Naaman before. I know I've heard it before too. And as I read this story again this week a new person jumped out at me as indispensable to the story who I didn't remember standing out before.

She stands out, an unsung heroine who shows how to do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with our God (Micah 6:8). Before focusing in on the unsung heroine it is probably good to call to mind the two people who usually catch our focus as we tell this story.

The first is Elisha. He was chosen by God as prophet. He was the one who God chose to speak on behalf of heaven after Elijah. Many believe Elijah was the greatest prophet Israel knew between the days of Moses and John the Baptist. Just think what it would be like to be if you were Elisha. He was a humble man of faith. He looked at what Elijah had done. And now he was called to step in. Talk about a weight as responsibility landing on his shoulders. Elijah had been a good teacher but now with him gone Elisha had huge shoes to fill; and he knew it. He asked one thing of Elijah right before he was carried up into heaven in a chariot. Elisha asked that he might have a double portion of Elijah's spirit. It sounds to me as if Elisha was asking for a double portion of God's power to be poured out for him from what Elijah had received.

The second person who stands out in this story is a war hero of a powerful neighboring nation. His name is well known and likely feared: Naaman. He's was living with, what was in his day, an incurable and deadly disease: leprosy. Naaman might be compared today with the head of the joint chiefs of staff. He was that powerful of a man. He was trusted by the king of Aram and he was sick and he was going to die. Just imagine someone in our day with an inoperable tumor that doesn't respond to any known form of chemo therapy. There was no hope for Naaman. But someone in his own household knew exactly who to turn to for help.

The next person in the story who stands out is a true hero for us. She was a slave girl taken from her family in Israel into Aram, into Syria. We don't know how she eventually ended up in Naaman's home. We can guess that she was kidnapped, mistreated, and humiliated before she was sold off at auction by her kidnappers.

Israel was governed by a weak king. Small parties from neighboring nations would sneak over the border and capture a few people to take home to sell as slaves. This same kind of human trafficking continues in our own time. Young women and girls are captured today to be used and abused. They are treated as someone less than they were made to be when God the Father created them in His very image and likeness.

Consider this young woman, a daughter of Israel: kidnapped, auctioned, and purchased to serve as Naaman's wife's hand maid. She was the personal servant of this mighty general's wife;. She'd likely never have her own family or ever see her parents and siblings again. Maybe you think she should have rejoiced that Naaman was sick. Maybe you think she should have offered prayers of thanks for the illness that threatened her master's life. Maybe you think that way yourself about those who have done you wrong.

But this girl, who's name we don't even know, remembered a miracle working prophet in Israel. She turned to Naaman's wife with this precious news. Even after she'd been through so much she still had compassion and remembered this man of God, this Elisha who could do great things because God was with him.

Bill Hybels notes (starting about 20:38) in a sermon called Washed Clean delivered on June 28, 2009 that she could have played a victim card in our time as an excuse for getting even or not caring. She could have been bitter at this man Namaan. Maybe you think she should have quietly rejoiced at his misfortune. Think about it for just a minute.

She'd been kidnapped by the people this man commanded. She'd been forced to serve in his home—there's a good chance she'd been abused after her capture in unspeakable ways—maybe even by this man Naaman. And still she turned to her mistress and spoke of healing and hope for him.

May we be as bold as this heroine of the faith. May we share the good news with those in need; even our enemies as boldly as she did. Peace and thanks for reading. John

Monday, June 17, 2013

understated incarnation 1 Kings 19:1-15, Luke 8:26-39

When Jesus walked on earth God's kingdom came with even if it didn't appear so. Most people saw a man as they looked at Jesus; but those who needed him most, the hurting and the lost, knew there was something more to Jesus.

Luke says when Jesus traveled through the country of the Gerasenes a naked daemon possessed man came towards Him.

What business do you have messing with me? You’re Jesus, Son of the High God, but don’t give me a hard time!” (The man said this because Jesus had started to order the unclean spirit out of him.) Luke 8:28 The Message
A man who most needed Jesus met him and knew who he was. He was the Son of God most High. Maybe to others he looked ordinary; but the hurting man knew Jesus as the one who came to bring healing. Maybe instead of expecting God to come with legions of angels we should look and see when He's come incarnate into our world. Dietrich Bonhoeffer observed,
When God's Son took on flesh, he truly and bodily took on, out of pure grace, our being, our nature, ourselves. Dietrich Bonhoeffer Life Together page 24
Believers often experience God working in smaller ways than expected. Perhaps this is really God's nature. When we need God the most we see him come--and when we are sure of ourselves; when we mistakenly believe we don't need a savior we don't see him moving in our lives. The Good News is that God is always present--incarnate in our world. When the prophet Elijah met God it wasn't in the rock splitting wind, the earthquake, or consuming fire; rather God came in still calm 1 Kings 19:12.

The incarnation conceals Jesus' power and glory. He comes unexpected today in the church, His body, serving mutually with those in need. In an interview Father Greg Boyle reflects about how God moves through gang bangers he's worked with in Homeboy Industries. Boyle reflects on the mutuality of God moving and changing lives his and the gang members seeking to start over. God works in and through us. He comes in the care and concern of others. God comes in the still small voice, often surprising us by working quietly in our lives.
Peace, and thanks for reading. John.

Monday, June 10, 2013

Finding mercy and forgiveness Luke 7:36-8:3

Jesus is open to hurting sinners looking for a fresh start and renewed identity as a child of God. Others might not be open to those in need of mercy, but Jesus is open.

In Jesus the hurting meet mercy. Luke writes of a woman, a known sinner, who sought out Jesus Luke 7:37. She found the teacher at dinner and knelt down. Her tears flowed bathing his feet Luke 7:38. The man hosting the dinner was smug. He though to himself, if Jesus knew who she was, Luke 7:39. It's dangerous to sit with secret thoughts and judgments--it's risky because our inner monologues are fully revealed to God. Jesus responded to the man's thoughts with a question of his own about forgiveness Luke 7:41-42.

As Simon sat smug the woman worshiped Jesus bathing his feet with her tears and anointing them with oil. She, Jesus said, was forgiven Luke 7:48. The others at the table doubted but Jesus gave her a blessing of peace Luke 7:49-50.

A wise teacher, Gerhard Forde, taught that God could do the most for those who needed the most help. Those who sit smug, with no need of a savior don't receive as much from God as this forgiven woman. She knew what she'd done and what others thought of her. And through forgiveness Jesus reclaimed her as God's beloved daughter. Those who stay apart from God remaining in sin don't know the forgiveness and new life that is waiting for them. Those who return like this hurting woman will be likewise blessed as they turn from their old life and walk into a new life in Christ.
Peace and thanks for reading, John

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Death Defeating 1 Kings 17:8-24 Luke 7:11-17

Broken people in need of divine intervention have the greatest opportunity to see God move. Why? because God can do more when you can do the least yourself. Those who need little or nothing from God won't see His full power displayed. But those who are broken can see God's glory unfold in their lives.

2 single moms knew God's life giving power in tough times 1 Kings 17:8-24 Luke 7:11-17. Both widows hard circumstances were getting worse. Both moms lost sons way before their time. Death always shocks us. A child's death shakes our core. We assume the world follows a natural order. These 2 moms lives didn't go as assumed.

Don't be tempted to blame these women for their circumstances. Maybe you think, if they just had a little more "faith" or a little more "holiness" they wouldn't have suffered. Don't even go there. The faithfulness of these moms wasn't the issue. One opened her home to God's prophet sharing the last of her worldly goods with him 1 Kings 17:8-16. The other met Jesus as her son's body was on the way to the cemetery Luke 7:11-17.

Maybe you've been stuck between a rock and a hard place. Maybe you are in a fix right now today. Where ever the place of need is God can act. Maybe you look back with amazement at a moment when you thought things were too broken even for God make things better. Does this sound at all like you or maybe where you've been?

  • exasperated
  • at the end of your rope
  • sick and tired of being sick and tired
  • hitting rock bottom
The church is called to be light for the world. We are called to carry the promises of God into lives of pain and hurt. Jesus never said we should just wait for the hurting to come in the doors of the church. Faith holds on to the promises of God made known in Jesus Christ as we reach out together. It's as the church, as the communion of saints, that we remember together who God is in the hard times and the good times. It's through our shared life as sisters and brothers that we hear the promise of God's love again and share it. Its a gift to share the Word in faith reminding one another of God's goodness. It's a great time to be church meeting people who've been kicked hard in life with the promise of God's love. It's a good time to speak of the second chances God gives even in the face of death.

These two hurting moms watched as their sons were raised from dead. They watched as breath came back and blood flowed again. On the way to Jesus rising were other resurrections, other times when God exercised dominion over death. The Bible's high point is always Jesus resurrection; but God's death defying power broke in at other times in people's lives even before Jesus rose. These moments revealed who God was, is, and will be.

Thanks be to God for the moments when His death defying power breaks in reordering our world and our lives. AMEN.
Peace to you and thanks for reading, John

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Only say the word and I will be healed Luke 7:1-10

We are not worthy of God's life transforming action. Faith trusts God can change our circumstances because of who Jesus is and what He's promised.

Luke wrote of a powerful man who trusted Jesus ability. His slave was dying so he sent to Jesus for help Luke 7:1-2.

Jesus had just preached to a great crowd on the plain (Luke 6:17-49). On His way Jewish elders came looking for Jesus on behalf of this Roman Centurion. He was an occupier who treated them well. The centurion asked them to seek Jesus' help. The local elders spoke to Jesus. They believed the centurion deserved God's help. They listed good things he'd done showing selfless love ἀγαπᾳ agapa for them as a people. He even built a synagogue Luke 7:3-5.

Do we believe like this? Do we think Jesus only acts because we are worthy? The elders made this case to Jesus. Do we believe our works make us righteous enough for God to act on our behalf? Or do we have faith to trust that God will acts in our lifetimes to reveal his glory in our world.

The centurion sent emissaries to Jesus. They came with a simple message of faith.

Lord, do not trouble yourself, for I am not worthy to have you come under my roof;  therefore I did not presume to come to you. But only speak the word, and let my servant be healed. Luke 7:6b-7a NRSV.
This is faith in God's power. This is faith in Jesus as God who has ability to heal the whole world. Faith is not presumptuous or self-seeking. Faith is confidence in Jesus and what He will do to transform the world. Weekly Roman Catholics repeat this word in their liturgy. Weekly they hear this simple promise of faith. And Jesus praised this faith--this confidence in what God can do Luke 7:8-9. Faith in Christ is the starting point or miracles and the starting point of hope for the broken. Faith in Jesus was the starting point for the Centurion who's servant was healed Luke 7:10.

Monday, May 20, 2013

Supernatural is natural for God John 16:12-15?

Jesus spoke about what He shared with the Father and the Holy Spirit in John 16. He spoke with inside knowledge of God's very being. We humans use words like person and personality, identity and community attempting to clarify all the details about how one God could reveal God's very self in three distinct ways. The best explanation I know of is a children's bookthat compared the mystery of God being 3 in 1 to an apple's skin, flesh, and seed as 3 distinct parts of one apple.

For Jesus being one with the Father and the Spirit is normal and natural, but for us this is a mystery. Jesus spoke of the things his friends couldn't yet βαστάζειν bear John 16:12. In faith we know God is one acting in the universe as three. We live with ambiguity about how or where one person of God starts and another stops. This is Jesus' true nature but for us this is a mystery.

Jesus didn't offer a solution to the mystery. It's not a logic puzzle we can solve. Instead He made a promise that the Spirit will ἀναγγελει declare it to you John 16:13-14. The Spirit won't explain away mystery; the Spirit will declare God's work in our lives as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The mystery isn't done and gone; but the experience of God working in our lives grows. The Spirit will emphasize God's work as three distinct persons with one common will and one common goal. An old teacher wisely points to the communal nature of God starting with the Holy Spirit.

“The Holy Spirit is always communal. Why? Because God is communal. Being-in-communion. The Spirit joins father and Son. The Spirit joins us to God.” Pat Keifert Talking About Our Faith p62
We look for explanations, for the point where one starts and ends. And God isn't worried about that at all. Rather God is at work seeking the redemption of what He's made.
Pax, and thanks for reading.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Jesus promised the Spirit John 14:8-17, 25-27?

Jesus is, by nature, supernatural. Time, space, even death don't limit him. When he says he'll be with his followers it's a promise He'll keep.

Jesus' friends experienced God's presence daily. Still they had so many questions. They heard Jesus speak and saw him heal. They were witnesses of God's power and still they wondered even as they watched Jesus. Philip request to Jesus, "Show us the Father" reveals the depth of the mystery and their struggle to understand. Jesus response was direct,

Jesus said to him, “Have I been with you all this time, Philip, and you still do not know me? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? John 14:9 NRSV
Jesus' point is clear. His followers had already seen the Father through his work. And those who believe today likewise see Jesus through the work of Holy Spirit. It just comes naturally for a Triune God to work this way. We humans might call God's work supernatural. But for Jesus being one with the Father and Holy Spirit is just his natural way of being. We Humans wonder how God can act supernaturally in our world; but the supernatural is part of the everyday for God.

When you get closer to Jesus you'll come closer God the Father. When you come closer to the Spirit you'll come closer to Jesus. We have so many questions about how or why the Holy Spirit acts in our lives. The thing to remember is who it all starts with. It all starts with God. For us God's nature and activity are shrouded in mystery that makes a little sense through the eyse of faith. Jesus didn't see mystery in God's work through the Holy Spirit. For Jesus, and for believers, by faith, it just makes sense. By faith we know God is at work through the Holy Spirit. By faith we understand the Spirit doesn't come from world (John 14:17). By faith we understand the the Spirit comes directly from the Father and Son. We understand by faith the Spirit is our forever advocate who we can turn to in any struggle to find support and hope (John 14:16).

Thursday, May 9, 2013

continually blessing God Luke 24:44-53

Jesus left His friends and was carried up into Heaven. And His friends went away together. The gathered in worship in the temple to bless God. We can live like they did. We can live blessing and praising God. We today are invited to be with him at all times--just as his friends were 2000 years ago Luke 24:50-51. Truth is any part of our day can be lived in and for Christ's glory. I don't think that we should confuse our work or time with family as worship--but our work and time with family can be for God's glory. Adn through prayer any moment can be a moment of connection with Jesus

Faith in Jesus in no small way a recognition of Jesus presense. Jesus is already always present--with us. His invitation is to live like His presence matters. We are invited to live in every moment with Jesus as his representatives. Some say we are asked to be Jesus with flesh on for the people of our world day

Jesus friends weren't alone as He left to return to His Father. He left them together as the church. And the Holy Spirit would soon come to kindle the fire of faith in them into a light that saves. May we live as they did--carrying Christ's light in our being for the world (2 Cor 4:5-6). Peace and thanks for reading, John.

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Jesus' kind of peace John 14:23-29

Jesus offers his followers a peace the world can't give John 14:27.
His promised peace makes people whole, castes out fears, and calms troubled hearts. Jesus is offering שָׁלוֹם shalom. Martin Luther wrote "...the Hebrew word for ‘peace’ means nothing else than well-being." Martin Luther, vol. 24, Luther's Works, Vol. 24 : Sermons on the Gospel of St. John: Chapters 14-16, ed. Jaroslav Jan Pelikan, Hilton C. Oswald and Helmut T. Lehmann, Luther's Works, John 14:27 (Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1999, c1961). This word heard in over 200 places in the Hebrew Scriptures like Isaiah 57:19 is a word of hope for all people in a broken world.

Corrie ten Boom detailed her experience of this kind of peace in her book Don't Wrestle, Just Nestle She writes of the peace she knew in God's presense prison and in concentration camps from walking close to God.

Often we had to go too early roll call, which started at 3:30 AM. Betsie and I would walk through the camp, and there were three of us present. Betsie said something, I said something, and the Lord said something. I can't tell you how but both Betsie and I understood clearly what He said. These walks were a bit of heaven in the midst of hell. Everything around us was blanck and dark, but in us there was a light that belonged to eternity.
Jesus is offering peace and wholeness for those who obey him. Jesus calls us to obey him as we hope for peace. Jesus calls to us: obey his commands. Serve (John 13:15) and love (John 14:34-35) as he does and He says peace will come. When I sin I chose to walk away from His commands. In my rebellion against God I head away from the wholeness/peace שָׁלוֹם shalom only He can give.

I'm a sinner--that means I have and sadly will again disobey God's commands. I have and will deny God's transcendent presence with me and those who my sins hurt. I have and fear I will walk away from His peace.  Jesus' command to obey sounds harsh command to my ears. I'd choose a softer word like follow. But Jesus didn't. He said obey meaning surrendering judgement and will to God. Obey means follow and trust His commands even if they don't make sense. Obeying for me, like my dog, means walking close with God in the path He's chosen. Once on the path or restored again to the path we find Christ's peace and wholeness.

In Jesus' day the Romans enforced their own kind of peace on the Mediterranean world. The Pax Romana was a military peace lasting nearly 200 years. Rome's peace came when the Roman Army beat down and defeated all other powers. This veneer of peace was enforced through fear and swift military intervention. One might imagine people tired of battle between Roman factions viewed the peace as a repreive. But others, on the Empire's edges, like Judea, fought hard against Roman occupation and oppression.

Jesus promised His followers wholeness not just the absence of open conflict. He promises a peace based not on fear of annihilation but on following in the way that leads to everlasting life. His offer of peace builds on relationship that starts with him coming to us and stepping into our lives (Mark 1:16-20) and inviting us to follow--to obey and to enter into peace and wholeness.
Pax, John

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Can you love like He did? John 13:31-35?

Jesus came on purpose--to die and rise.
On the way to His cross and resurrection Jesus taught, healed, and called others to follow in his ways. The center of following Jesus is a very straight-forward sounding command: love αγαπάω agapao one another. It sounds simple--but for a sinner like me--loving like Jesus, giving the very core of your being away, involves a change of character that begins with repentence and the ammendment of life. Selfish ways end in order that Christ like way begin.

Jesus called his followers to a self giving kind of love (John 13:34). Jesus' words echo backwards to Leviticus 19:18. His words looked forward too for the church. He showed his followers how to serve others the same evening He took of his cloak, wrapped himself in a towel and knelt down like a servant to wash his disciple's feet (John 13:3-17). Jesus was then and is now turning the world's order of greatest and least completely over. The greatest of all in Jesus' mind are the servants not the served.

Loving like Jesus means serving and honoring those around us--not just seeking for our own good. Serving like Jesus means humility. Loving like Jesus involves sacrifice of the self for the sake of an other person's good. Jesus' words here make the most sense to those who know the power of the cross and resurrection. Jesus' cross is the ultimate example of αγαπάω agapao self giving love.

Jesus' resurrection is the ultimate outcome of God's self-giving love. God's self-giving love is the basis of new hope and new life. It's agape love that can overcome hate and destruction. Its agape love that always sees the child of God even in our enemies. It's agape love that holds onto hope for all God's children no matter how far gone they might appear.

The cross deserves central place in our consideration of how to live out Jesus' call to love one another as he has loved us. These words call us into to lose ourselves and live on in Christ.
thanks for reading, Pax, John

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Which comes first belonging to Jesus or believing in Jesus John 10:22-30?

Which comes first belonging to Jesus or believing in Jesus?
It's a chicken or egg kind of question. I can't figure it out myself—and I don't know if I should be able to either. Maybe its the kind of question that's best to come back to later because it isn't the main question we should be asking. Maybe it's time to hear Jesus' words of promise in John 10:27 again. This is Jesus himself speaking to and knowing his sheep. And his sheep, Jesus says, will recognize his voice.
Many generations of young people have been encouraged to study and prepare for tests about the faith. And as these generations have studied and learned the facts have slowly at first and now very rapidly left the church it's become clear that the point of faith has been lost.  Faith is being in the flock Jesus spoke about in John 10:27-30.
Faith is more than facts—its trust, confidence in God to save: Theologian Diana Butler Bass tells of her 13 year old daughter wondering about her place in the church. The girl was in a confirmation class which would end with an exam. Her daughter wondered what would happen if she failed the test. Would that mean she wouldn't get confirmed—and more importantly would that mean she didn't have a place in the church. Her theologian mom was upset—passing a test isn't the point of the Christian faith—trusting in God is.
For generations American Evangelicals have battled between Arminian and Calvinist positions. Arminians insisting that humans act first choosing to believe and Calvinists insisting that God acts first selecting those who would come to faith. And maybe in this debate many have simply missed the mystery of how faith works and the wonder of Christ coming to save.
Faith is confidence in Christ. It is trust in the shepherd who is trustworthy before we ever trust in him. In the end maybe following and believe come together as David Lose suggests. Maybe this is the true organic nature of Christian faith. We aren't the only ones involved--Christ is the one leading and calling us to follow. For the Good Shepherd I give thanks today.
Pax, John

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

When mourning turns into dancing? John 21:1-19 Psalm 30?

My one wish for all people is joy in the Lord. Such joy starts with faith--simple confidence in God. Joyfilled believers are living witnesses to God's power to make all things new.
A joyful believer dying of cancer can share hope while dying. God given faith makes it possible. Believers see past suffering and death. Believers don't skip suffering and death--rather in faith Christians their place with God today and for always. Faith is confidence--it is knowing that God's hands are open to receive in the end and that God is with them right now. God given faith gives all the soil needed for joy and hope to sprout and grow.
Christians are free, by faith, to face terror and worry with joy. When hell seems to have broken open on earth believers like Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Corrie Ten Boom, and others reveal joy in Christ--even in places as awful as concentration camps. The very nature of faith--of knowing God is with you in all things--makes joy and hope possible.
Please don't be confused: Joy isn't happiness or an absence of trouble. Joy is living with God in all circumstances. Psalm 30 asks God:

What profit is there in my death, if I go down to the pit?
Will the dust praise you? Will it tell of your faithfulness? Psalm 30:9-10 ESV
Jesus' friend Peter may have wondered about Jesus love and concern for him. Think what'd he'd done. The story's clear. Peter promised Jesus he'd go with even to prison and death (Matthew 26:31-35; Mark 14:27—31; Luke 22:31—34; John 13:36—38). Just hours later, Peter denied knowing Jesus (Matthew 26:69-75; Mark 14:66—72; Luke 22:54—62; John 18:15—18, John18:25—27).
Peter went away and wept bitterly. To put it simply he mourned.

After the resurrection Peter met Jesus again. He had a moment of reckoning coming after Jesus' resurrection. It was a moment when Peter's life was turned from mourning to joy. Jesus came to Peter, who was out fishing. Peter didn't recognize Jesus on shore (John 21:4). Jesus called out to the men in the boat (John 21:5). They hadn't caught anything yet. Jesus said to throw the nets in one more time. Now the nets were nearly bursting. Peter knew it was Jesus recreating the miracle from the first time they'd met--only bigger this time (Matthew 4.18—22; Mark 1.16—20; Luke 5:1-11). Peter jumped in and swam ashore. (John 21:5-7).
On shore Jesus shared breakfast with His friends. Then He took a moment with Peter (John 21:15-19). He lead Peter through mourning into joy asking αγαπας με agapas me: do you love me with a sacrificial life giving love? Peter answered Jesus question saying φιλω σε philo se: I love you brother. Peter didn't answer Jesus question. So Jesus asked again: αγαπας με agapas me: do you love me with a sacrificial life giving love? Peter answered φιλω σε philo se: I love you brother. Peter's guilt and mourning were exposed. Peter hadn't kept his promise to Jesus--and Jesus knew the grief in Peter's heart. Now Jesus asked him a new question: φιλεις μεphiles me: do you love me brother And Now Peter could say yes. Peter knew his shame and mourned it. Jesus met Peter in his grief and reclaimed his as a brother. Peter could tell Jesus φιλω σεphilo se: I love you brother. Jesus changed his mourning to joy.

Peter's denial didn't disqualify him from serving God--Jesus' restored making him worthy. Yes Peter had denied Jesus. Yes every saint turned sinner has a past that involves denying God's transcendent presence in our lives--not much different than Peter denying Jesus is it? The key is Jesus didn't leave Peter.  And He doesn't want us to stay stuck mourning our past. Peter's mourning would turn into joy spreading the gospel. He lived out the words of Psalm 30:8.
For his anger is but for a moment, and his favor is for a lifetime.
Weeping may tarry for the night, but joy comes with the morning. Psalm 30:8 ESV
All saints have pasts--and that's where the Good News breaks in. People of faith, it's wrongly assumed, have no troubles or would be disqualified from serving God if they did have troubles. Such assumptions are equally dangerous and wrong. Every believer struggles. We live with knowledge of how we've let God down. We live with depression, fear, guilt, sin, shame, diseases, and temptations too they are all real--but for the God who raises us to new life our pasts and our struggles are never disqualifying. We like Peter live with the consequences of broken promises and unfulfilled dreams but God doesn't want to leave us in mourning. The God of hope who meets us in the middle of suffering and restores us to new life. The Apostle Paul wrote:
We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies. For we who live are always being given over to death for Jesus' sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh. So death is at work in us, but life in you. 2 Corinthians 4:8-12 ESV
Faith helps us see God's presence with us. Knowing God's presence, even just for a second in dark times, gives us hope and joy in the midst of very real struggles.
thanks be to God for every glimpse of the resurrection and the new life. AMEN
Pax, John

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Who says God can't? John 20:19-31?

Resurrection is the moment when God makes new life happen. Jesus, risen from the dead, is evidence that new life can and does break in to our world. Jesus, Paul said, is the first fruits of new life and death is the final enemy for him to defeat(1st Corinthians 15:20-26). The victory is there for us to see in Christ's scarred hands. Jesus, the one with scars open for his his friends to see, comes bringing life in his very being John 20:27.
Sure that may have happened 2000 years ago for Jesus, But what does resurrection mean for a sinner like me? It's one thing to talk about Jesus God's Son rising from the dead--but what about all of us broken people who deal with the consequences of our own sins and the sins of others in disease, death, and broken relationships. We face sin, death and the devil on a day to day basis. What does resurrection mean to us?
We might argue that it simply can't be so--we might be tempted to say there was and is no resurrection. Even Jesus' friends struggled to understand. They weren't ready to believe(John 20:23-26, Luke 24:11-12). It's easy to blame Thomas as the one who knew Jesus so well but still doubted--but others, the truth is nobody except God, David Lose argues, expects resurrection to happen. This is the moment when we see faith most clearly as a gift from God.
"Dead men don't rise." We say pointing to urns and cemeteries as proof. But Christ is proof and our faith is the evidence that somehow someway sustains us (Hebrews 11:1-2). It's faith that allows us to see that some day all things will be made new. Where there's sin the God of resurrection brings an attack of conscience, repentance, and amendment of life--and that cycle starts the beginning of new life in the here and now for an individual and a family. Where God brings faith there's no doubt that hope and joy will flow through the believer into all circumstances--and that cycle brings new life even in the face of sickness and immanent death.
Death is the final enemy--and Jesus rising is the evidence that God can defeat death. And for Jesus risen presence and work in my life today I give thanks.
Pax, John

Saturday, March 30, 2013

Know the Resurrection? Luke 24:1-12?

Christians know double joy in celebrating Resurrection Day.

  1. is the joy of knowing that Jesus has died, been buried, and risen forever conquering sin, death, and the devil.
  2. is the simple joy of knowing Jesus is the resurrection. He said as much just before he called into a tomb and Lazarus who had been dead long enough for his body to begin decaying came of alive (John 11:25).
Jesus is the resurrection. Sure He is the boy from the manger; but today we meet him in lives in our time. He's the man who cast out daemons 2000 years ago and walks with us today as we face temptation and evil in our time. Jesus was the one who called his first followers to love others as much we love ourselves. Today through his Word he is still offering us this life changing invitation. Jesus is the healer who made broken people whole in Israel 2000 years ago and he's the one we pray to today in trust and confidence that in Him we find a way past past death.
Jesus is the Resurrection. 2000 years ago hurting people reached out to touch him knowing that he would and could bring healing into their lives. Today He's the one who is now and forever bringing hope and joy in all circumstances of life.
Jesus friends had first hand experience of death's power. They'd watched him suffer and die. They very personally walked in grief until Jesus rose. This story of new life breaking in is surprisingly sweet to tell over and over again. The details in the 4 Gospels unlock different dimensions of the story.
In Luke Women came the tomb with spices. We presume they came to honor Jesus on last time--but they didn't find His body. Instead 2 men in dazzling white greeted them with a question that rings sweetly in our ears today, Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here but has risen. Jesus, the death defying God/man was then and is now alive. Jesus, the live giver, is the resurrection. Jesus' open tomb and risen body is the evidence. He is life that overcomes death and gives us hope in which we rejoice today. No matter the circumstances--Jesus death defying life always renews us and gives us more reason to hope.
Easter Blessings, John