Tuesday, December 23, 2014

God's timing Jeremiah 31:31-34

About 7 years ago I was blessed with a very patient group of folks willing to read through the whole book of Jeremiah. We wanted to learn what a real honest to goodness prophet sounded and acted like. Jeremiah fits the bill of an honest to God prophet.
What I learned most from reading Jeremiah was

  1. his persistence
  2. his sense of God's plan even in the middle of terrible trials
Peace and thanks for reading

A Christmas Metaphor

The reality of what happened at Christmas is so outrageous—on the outside—we claim today that God infinite and forever has come and lived among us. He is now one of us but he hasn't lost any of his glory—that's the meaning of Christmas. The grace and truth of Christmas is more than Jesus looking like a person—the God of Glory has come and lived with us. He's more than just a hologram, a phantom or a magicians illusion. This was God in flesh. This is God with us, our Emmanuel.

Now I want you to imagine it this way.
Imagine a die hard fan of a purple clad football team deciding he needed to become one with the fans of another team famous for wearing cheese heads. Maybe you imagine that die hard Viking fan might put a green and gold Packers jersey over his beloved purple one—but maybe that wouldn't be enough. That would be like a young man who lost a bet with a relative and had to wear a packer jersey to school on Monday. But later when asked about it he said he was extra careful to make sure that packers jersey didn't actually touch his skin.

Now there are some of you here who's weeks don't rise and fall on the success of either team. And that's ok, but just for the sake of conversation let's imagine just how deeply Jesus stepped into our humanity. He became one of us.

It's one thing for a true hard core sports fan to put on the jersey of the team that gives his favorite team fits. But Jesus did more than just put on a different jersey. Jesus, God from the beginning of all time, came to earth as a human being. He did more than make cosmetic changes to his facade. He stepped into our lives. He did more than just live next us. He moved in as one of us.

Just think about a true died in the wool Viking fan. He's got purple everything every where. He could say he'd been near to Packer fans if he'd gone to Lambeau field dressed in blaze orange. But he'd only been near them if he sat silent and hadn't cheered for either team during a game. But Jesus did more than just come close to us. He became one of us.

Jesus moved into the the neighborhood. He had flesh and bones and hair and teeth. He knew temptation first hand and he became intimately acquainted with grief and loss. Jesus entered fully and totally into our story. He became one of us.

Maybe you think that if a Viking fan bought a place in DePere or Ashwabenon a few blocks from Lambeau field that would be enough. But Jesus did more than just move next to us. Imagine that same Viking fan shopping for groceries every week at the Copps store half a mile down Lombardi Avenue from the stadium. Jesus did more than live next to us and engage in commerce near us. He came born of a human mother. He became one of us in every way possible.

Imagine that Viking fan now with season tickets ten rows up from the field on the 45 yard line at Lambeau. Imagine him week after week putting forest green paint all over his torso and a bright gold G painted on his front to form the first letter in GO PACK GO. Jesus did even more than that.

The Gospel of John explains the mystery this way, the Word became flesh and he set up his dwelling, literally pitched his tent among us (John 1:.14) Where ever you might live Jesus is capable of stepping in. Whatever your joys and sorrows might be he's with you. He's one of us faithful all the way to the end.
Peace, and thanks for reading. John

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

What belongs to God?

When Jesus said, give to God what's God's and to Caesar what's Caesar's he invited his friend to full lives in 2 worlds. The story behind this maxim reveals Jesus' ability as a teacher and gives us an invitation to imagine God's place in our lives as Christ's followers today. Matthew, Luke, and Mark (even the Gospel of Thomas) all tell this same maxim (Matthew 22:15-22, Mark 12:13-17, Luke 20:20-26, Thomas 100).

Matthew says the Pharisees, hoping to trap him, came forward with a simple sounding question ... about taxes. The pharisees buttered Jesus up and then posed this concrete sounding question. “Are we to pay imperial taxes or not?”(Matthew 22:17) On the outside this question looks boring and mundane. Nobody likes taxes. But Jesus' gives guidance in his answer that matters to somebody building a new and better life based on Jesus' life, death, and rising. What Jesus says about giving to God what belongs to God and giving Caesar what's Caesar's (Matthew 22:21) opens up a whole lot of space to imagine how we live, work, and serve today as permanent citizens of heaven and people living full lives on earth today.

The Pharisees were hoping for a yes or no response. If Jesus said yes pay the tax he'd find trouble with the crowd tired of paying Roman taxes. If he replied no he would face wrath from Herod and imperial authorities. But Jesus gave no simple yes or no reply. Instead he asked for a coin and then asked seemingly innocent questions. “Who's image is on it?” “Who's title is on it?” The pharisees gave an honest answer—Caesars. Now Jesus replied—give Caesar what belongs to him and God what belongs to God.

Christian imagination is given space here to run. What does it mean to give back to God what's God? What does it mean to give back to the world and it's powers? Jesus offers no pat answer. He didn't give out forms to file every April. Instead he invites us to live with the very same questions that he asked 2000 years ago.

  • What is God's?
  • What belongs to this world?

Jesus gives guidance—but there's no clear accounting system differentiating God's things from the things of this world. How we live that under his guidance isn't set in stone. And that's where faith and imagination, trusting in the guidance of the one who has given us everything, takes shape in our lives.
Peace and thanks for reading,

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

living in the Father's vineyard Isaiah 5:1-7, Matthew 21:33-46

God the Father wants the best for his daughters and sons. He does not want what we want or think best; rather God desires to give the best. God's been calling his people to the best way of living. It started with the law and prophets. Isaiah spoke this call and it continued in the words of Jesus. This is a word of law that pulls away a whole lot scar tissue and lays open a hurt soul. It's this opening that can bring the rest that comes from Good News.

Both Isaiah and Jesus explained the relationship between the Father who loves so much and people who turn away with vineyard stories. Why not? Vineyards made sense, people planted and worked in them. They enjoyed the grapes and wine made from grapes. Two parables about vineyards define God's love for his people through the image of a vineyard that had lost God's protection.

Isaiah told of a friend who planted grapevines on a hillside with rich soil Isaiah 5:1. He did everything right hoping good grapes would come Isaiah 5:2-3. Instead the harvest came and there were only bad ones Isaiah 5:4. Isaiah's parable gets me thinking: What should be done with the bad grapes. The response frightens me. All the protection God provided could be taken away Isaiah 5:5-6. Isaiah wasn't speaking about a vineyard. These blunt words from God were for Israel and Judah. He came looking for justice -- but he didn't find it.

Jesus spoke of a vineyard too. It was rented out Matthew 21:33-34. When time came the land owner sent servants to collect his share of the produce. The tenants beat some and killed others Matthew 21:35-36. And last of all the landlord sent his son. The tenants, some commentators think, were scheming to take over the land by squatters rights. After all the landlord's heir was dead. They must have assumed they would now have control.

Jesus left the story unconcluded. He asked the chief priests and the elders of the people what they thought would happen. They responded the renters would be put to death and the land rented again Matthew 21:40-41. That wasn't Jesus answer. And this is the real twist. We don't know what the landlord did. But we do know what God the Father did when His Son was rejected. He raised him up on the 3rd day.
Peace, and thanks for reading.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Forgiveness Matthew 18:21-35

Forgiveness matters to Jesus. And it will invariably matter to anyone who follows in Jesus' steps—if you don't believe that's true just listen close to what Jesus said to his friend and close follower Peter. When Peter asked, “How many times should I forgive a brother who sins against me? Isn't 7 going to be enough?”

I think Peter picked 7 because it seemed to him, like it does to me, that 7 was an outrageous number of times to forgive somebody. Forgive somebody—yeah seven times is enough. Even for Jesus 7 times would have been enough, Peter likely thought. But Jesus said no.

For Jesus forgiveness can happen 7 times sure. But it can also happen 77 times or 70 times 7 times. Jesus' math seems so strange to our earthbound ears—why because forgiveness costs us something—but we way to often miss what forgiveness gives us in return. Forgiveness in truth changes who we are—and forgiving like Jesus says 77 times or 70 times 7 will always sound so over the top. But it's that over the top life transforming gift of forgiveness that opens us up towards the new future that God has in store.

Forgiveness matters to God the God of Easter Morning; just listen close to Jesus' story in Matthew 18:23-35. This man was forgiven so much by his king. But then that same man couldn't or wouldn't forgive someone who owed him so much less. The king was upset—he heard that this forgiven man wouldn't let this small matter go. And the king had this forgiven man locked up until he could make right a debt that he'd never be able to pay back. There's power in this story. We've been forgiven a great deal by God. Don't ever think other wise—and it's with that reality in mind as forgiven people given a fresh start that Jesus invites us to forgive others who have hurt us.

It's clear listening to Jesus that forgiveness matters to the God who loves us enough to die for us. Forgiveness was one of the words on Jesus lips as he died on the cross. Make no mistake real forgiveness isn't the resumption of an old broken way of being. Ask anyone who has lost a loved one because of anyone else's terrible choice if they will ever forget the person they've lost. No they won't and God isn't asking them to either. Forgetting isn't forgiveness. Instead forgiveness is opening up the door towards the future. Forget forgetting—forgiveness is opening up the door to the future that God has in store for all his people. Forgiveness is opening up the door so that even those who do wrong to others—which in simple truth is everybody here and everybody alive today—can rediscover who they were meant to be at the start of all times—people made in the image and likeness of God.
Peace and thanks for reading. John

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Cross Carrying Matthew 16:21-28 Romans 12:9-21

Jesus has a way of reversing, what to a human, seems logical and natural. Humans might think of power as the answer to the world's problems -- but Jesus sees the cross. When Peter heard Jesus speak of his suffering and death he was stunned. He replied back, never Lord Matthew 16:22. It broke Peter's heart to think Jesus would die (as David Lose wisely observes). Jesus wasn't fooling around--this was the mind of God at work Matthew 16:23. An instrument of humiliation and torture that lead to death was God's very answer to evil and death. Pushing the point Jesus invited his friends to pick up their crosses and follow him Matthew 16:24.

Jesus laid out his plan: lose your life in order to find it Matthew 16:25. His followers must have been confused. Their teacher and friend was reordering everything they knew. Truth is Jesus had a plan more beautiful than we can imagine. It's a plan to find who you really are not in terms of this world -- but in the next Matthew 16:26.

Jesus earliest followers, like Paul, picked up the thought. When Paul invited the early church to genuine love he was casting a vision of living like and for Jesus in this world Romans 12:9. Jesus followers can live today like heaven is for real. We can act towards those who would be our enemies with love and compassion. We can live today knowing that evil can be overcome by good Romans 12:21. God's plan is a total reversal. He invites believers to live in the light of God's kingdom. Even as believers deal with those do harm today there is still freedom to live close to Jesus and in the light of his love. Believers are blessed to know the love of God that changes them and that allows them to regard all people--even those who do them harm--as people with God given dignity. It's through this Christ like love that kingdom of heaven comes closest to the people of this world.

Have no doubt. Jesus still invited his friends to pick their crosses up and follow him.
the question I find myself asking today is not if Jesus followers will pick up the cross but when?
Peace and thanks for reading, John

Monday, July 28, 2014

open hands Matthew 14:13-21

Reading the first half of Matthew 14 I find two stories, one I dread and one I love. Up first is John the Baptist's beheading. And next comes a great unplanned banquet for 5000. It strikes me most how this meal that revealed Jesus' power came at the end of an absolutely awful day. Jesus heard the terrible news. His co-worker in the kingdom, his cousin, the man we call John the Baptist, was dead. His head was chopped off at King Herod's order at the end of a great palace banquet Matthew 14:1-12.

Matthew says Jesus went off to solitary place. I assume he went away to grieve and pray alone. And a huge crowd came on foot seeking him out Matthew 14:13. When Jesus saw other hurting people searching for healing he came ashore. Matthew says compassion moved Jesus to come back and heal the hurting.

Jesus' followers came along with the crowd. A troubling "reality" dawned on the disciples. They were in a isolated place. The crowd was huge, hungry, and they needed to be sent away soon. As a sometimes hardened cynic, my perception of "reality" limits me. Perceived "reality" limits me and maybe others from seeing all God could possibly do. Jesus heard the disciple's worries--but he didn't share their limits. He said there was no need for them to leave. He invited his friends to be part of a miracle with the words, "You give them something to eat." Matthew 14:16.

Jesus friend told him what little they had, just five loaves of bread and two fish. And Jesus said, "bring them here..." Jesus didn't see the situation like His friends did. He didn't see the same limits. They brought what little they had with open hands and a miracle began. Jesus invited the crowd to sit down. He blessed and broke the bread. He passed it to his friends to pass on to others. Everyone ate and they were all satisfied. Everyone in that huge crowd and it all started with five loves and two fish.
May we see the potential of what God can do and not just the limits of what we can do. AMEN
Peace, and thanks for reading. John

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

yoked in Matthew 11?

Jesus offers each individual person a promise of rest and peace. No matter what Jesus offers you rest for your soul in Matthew 11:28-29.

For 2000 years these words of promise have given peace to Jesus friends. Jesus invitation couldn't be simpler. He's speaking to every person who has too much to carry. If we're honest we could all talk about the burdens we have to carry. There are so many burdens people try to shoulder alone:

  • unrealistic religious systems
  • guilt and shame over the past
  • unanswered prayer or unhealed part of your life
  • grief over loss

When Jesus says to come and walk with him he used a very common everyday image that most everyone in Palestine 2000 years ago might understand: a yoke. It was the wood placed across an animal so it could pull. When Jesus says we should take on his yoke everybody knew what he meant. I am a city kid, a graduate of good old South High in Minneapolis. I don't know much about horses. But I have seen two horses yoked together that had amazing power.

When I was first a pastor a member of the church, a retired airline pilot, invited out the kids for wagon rides and slay rides. He had two great big old Belgian horses. I couldn't reach up to the top of their backs they were so big. When these two old horse, both a good 20 years old, were yoked together they had such amazing power. A wagon load of kids or a slay filled with two families was no trouble for these two beautiful animals to pull.

Jesus says, come along side of him and take his yoke on your shoulders. Jesus invitation isn't an invitation to drop everything and run away from the struggle. No he's offering you and me an invitation to enter the journey through our lives starting now with him sharing his yoke.. He says we should take his yoke on your shoulders. Jesus was telling the people a profound truth of a life of faith in a language everybody in his day understood. They all knew the power of two animals who shared a yoke walking side by side. Jesus doesn't say the load will disappear. Instead he spoke of sharing his yoke. Jesus didn't say every trouble will be gone if you just believe. He said come and learn from him. Jesus offers us a very vivid image of the Christian life walking side by side with someone who is gentle and humble in heart. We are meant to walk close to Jesus, shoulder to shoulder close, just like those two old Belgian horses who pulled together. Riding along people could hear their hoofs landing in rhythm with one another. Jesus invites us to that close of a walk with him. Come and learn his gentle and humble pace.
Peace and thanks for reading, John

Monday, June 16, 2014

what are humans Psalm 8

The Psalms brim with human attempts to define God. This book has been handed down from generations so long ago, in no small part, because it help us understand who God is, who we are, and what God is up to for real in this world broken by sin and death.   The Psalms often start out with a person speaking at the very end of human language. And other times they start out with the truth of human need and brokenness heard as someone calls out to God.

Psalm 8 starts out with awe,

1 O Lord, our Sovereign, how majestic is your name in all the earth!
You have set your glory above the heavens.
2 Out of the mouths of babes and infants you have founded a bulwark because of your foes,
to silence the enemy and the avenger.
It's one thing to consider the wonders of God. But it's completely different to think about that same God coming to die for you and me. We aren't perfect people or ever close to perfect.
For centuries we've look on and wondered why God cares about us. And here's the great mystery of our Faith. This great question shows up in the middle of Psalm 8.
3 When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers,the moon and the stars that you have established;
4 what are human beings that you are mindful of them, mortals that you care for them?
Over the past year I've spent more time in the book of Psalms than any other book. It's there, right about the center of any Bible—this book of 150 prayers and songs. Often when I sit with people in the Hospital who will be there for a while I encourage them to talk to God. If they are struggling to know how to start I point them to the Psalms. It's okay to borrow a language of prayer if you know that it will help you learn how to connect to God. It's okay to start with prayers trusted for generations when you have something big to say and you just don't know where to start.

The way I see it is there are 150 Psalms and not every one is going to fit you right now. Some Psalms are words of praise like Psalm 8 that we read today and others are Psalms of grief and lament like Psalm 88 that call out into darkness wondering out loud if God's real and even cares about our pain. 150 prayers and songs.

The Psalms are inspired and inspiring words. These are 150 prayers and songs written to God. And anytime you don't have a prayer language of your own to speak to God it's okay to turn to the Psalms and borrow somebody else's. These are soul level communication between one person—a human—seeking an encounter with another being who is so wonderfully different than any human being you or I have ever met on this planet.

Peace and thanks for reading, John

Thursday, June 5, 2014

living rivers John 7:37-39

Jesus made some huge promises to his followers.
Anyone who is thirsty could come to him and drink. (John 7:37)
Out of the hearts of believers would flow rivers of living water. (John 7:38)

Jesus used everyday images to explain God's activity in our world. And one of the images Jesus chose was water. Everybody in the world knows water. For people in Israel 2000 years ago fresh water was key to survival. For us today knowing Jesus, the source of living water is key to our thriving too.

Jesus talked about people coming and drinking deep from him. He was talking about finding refreshment for tired souls. Probably the biggest single joy Christians know is the peace and freedom that comes from walking with Jesus in all circumstances. As a Christian you walk with him as you hear stories and teachings. You drink in His word and His presence. Walking with Jesus doesn't make your life perfect or make you perfect—rather it means you are walking with the one who can give you peace for your soul.

Jesus says to drink deep and find peace for the deepest places in your soul. Drink deep of the cross. Drink deep of the forgiveness and new life bought for you at the cost of Jesus' death. Drink deep of hope that sets you free to live a new life. Drink deep of the living water and walk with Jesus day after day.

Jesus is making a way for the Holy Spirit to move on the inside. Each time we hear Jesus call us to love one another it's the Holy Spirt who translates that call into action. Each time we hear Jesus tell us to leave our idols behind so that God and our neighbors and our families can be first in our lives it's the Holy Spirt who does the heavy lifting inside of us. Each time you are confront by God in your selfishness or your self-deceit it's the Holy Spirit at work deep inside you.

Jesus echoes Isaiah invitation to hurting people

Ho, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters;
and you that have no money, come, buy and eat!
Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price.
2 Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread,
and your labor for that which does not satisfy?
Listen carefully to me, and eat what is good, and delight yourselves in rich food.
3 Incline your ear, and come to me; listen, so that you may live.
I will make with you an everlasting covenant, my steadfast, sure love for David.
Jesus says a river of living water flows from the heart of believers. Pay especial attention to the distinction that Jesus makes—He's talking about living water flowing from the heart of believers.

May the life giving Word of God flowing into your life and through your heart into the world.  May the Spirit move you into a life of joy and peace.  AMEN.
Peace and thanks for reading, John

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Home, yet? John 14:1-14?

Every Christian's story includes pain, grief, and death. The night before Jesus died he spoke words of comfort to his friends knowing pain would come soon for all of them. What Jesus said that night had such significance that it has been passed down from the apostles to us. These words hold a promises to us, we have a way home (John 14:1-4), a relationship with God the Father (John 14:5-8) and a promise of God's presence in all our days (John 14:9-14).

In Jesus we see our way to the future. In Jesus we see hope for the hour when we will be at home and at peace with God. Luther wisely wrote,

To be sure, this comfort did not help at the moment, nor was it effective until the appearance of the Holy Spirit. No, when Christ was gone, all was lost; they had no heart or courage, and not one of them could stand his ground against a frail maid. In that hour all Christ’s words and works fell by the wayside, and this comfort was entirely forgotten.
Thus Christ admonished and consoled His beloved disciples here as men who sorely needed consolation. But these words were recorded, not for their sakes, but for ours that we might also learn to apply this comfort to both present and future need. Luther's works, vol. 24 : Sermons on the Gospel of St. John: Chapters 14-16 page 10
Don't be mistaken: Jesus words didn't negate the terrors his friends would soon experience. But looking back, after the resurrection, they remembered a promise worth passing on to future believers. They remembered Jesus' promise to guide them and all his people living in dark days. Jesus' words in John 14 were passed on to us because of the power Jesus' friends saw in them after His resurrection. When times are dark we need to know that same power of God. When things are going from bad to even worse we need to know that God is at work. No wonder so many hurting people find sustenance in these words of Jesus about knowing the way home to the father. Luther wrote,
Every Christian, when baptized and dedicated to Christ, may and must accept and expect encounters with terror and anxiety, which will make his heart afraid and dejected, whether these feelings arise from one or from many enemies and adversaries. For a Christian has an exceedingly large number of enemies if he wants to remain loyal to his Lord. The world and the devil daily lie in wait to deprive him of life and limb. Furthermore, his own flesh, reason, and conscience plague him constantly. As a result, his heart trembles with fear. Luther's works, vol. 24: Sermons on the Gospel of St. John: Chapters 14-16 p 10
Jesus words promise a forever place. This promise is given to us as church together today. We are not meant to not view this world as home. No we are meant to trust in Jesus' person and his promise: he is going to, "prepare a place for you."
Peace, and thanks for reading,

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Identity in John 10:1-10?

if Jesus = Good Shepherd then his followers (aka Christians) = Sheep
Jesus is every Christians' shepherd. In a world full of dangers that promise shines bright. Jesus watches over and protects every believer in the midst of this world's dangers. Jesus guides his followers into abundant life that starts in relationship with him (John 10:10). This promises more than a way to safety. Relationship with Jesus means full life that doesn't end in death. Thieves may come to steal and destroy (John 10:1) and Jesus is the way through all that to abundant everlasting life.  Jesus promise remains even after the world has done the worst to you.  Jesus, the gatekeeper, watches over protecting his own. His simple promise rings out--those who know him follow his voice and find abundant and everlasting life with him (John 10:2-6, John 10:10).

Jesus gives His followers abundant life in a dangerous world. Jesus' promise isn't a guarantee of wealth or comfort on earth.  I don't think Jesus made any promise of earthly prosperity.  Rather Jesus spoke of life that didn't end in this world's struggle.  He promised abundant life knowing the cost he would pay for his sheep (John 10:9, John 10:17).  Jesus offers us an abundant life-giving forever relationship starting now. The world's dangers remain, and so does God's promise. We remain in the Good Shepherd's care forever: and forever started some time ago.  The world's dangers are not eliminated--instead Jesus plants hope in his people to see abundant eternal life with God. Hope takes root in the promises Jesus makes. He will shepherd his followers in all situations even, as Psalm 23:4 says, the valley of shadow and death. Jesus identity as shepherd is his promise and our hope.

Peace, and thanks for reading.

Monday, April 28, 2014

Surprised by Jesus Luke 24:13-35

Our Gospel this week is a story that's been told for 2000 years. It's a great old story. Sadly it's often forgotten in the middle of annual Easter celebrations.

Luke wrote how 2 of Jesus' friends, Cleopas and an un-named companion, met the resurrected Jesus but didn't know it was him. I laugh reading this story. Just think, they walked and talked with Jesus for a few miles but they didn't recognize him. The suspense is real. Jesus was just waiting to reveal himself to them. They couldn't even imagine that they were walking and talking with the one who they called Lord. It was too much to even hope for as one of his followers. And this is the mystery Jesus, still unrecognized, unraveled for them Luke 24:27.

This is a genuine Easter day kind of story, you can tell. Uncertainty swirls around everybody in authentic Easter stories, except Jesus. This story is full of all the elements of real Easter stories: doubt, fear, questions, amazement, prophecy fulfilled, and finally joy. I hear this story as a gift. Jesus rising overcomes all and any doubts; Jesus is alive. And no human being started the day expecting to meet him alive and well. And they recognized him finally in the breaking of the bread Luke 24:31-32.

Once he left these traveling companions spoke of how their hearts were on fire. Jesus' explanations moved them and reignited hope in them that God could still do wonderful things even after Jesus' death. Oh the joy to see him face to face. The joy to know that Jesus had come to, once and for all, overcome death. As you read or listen to Luke 24:13-35 I hope you smile along the way. There's joy in these two discovering that Jesus was there all along the way with them. The same joy can be found in our lives when we discover how God has been with us all the way through our lives too. The day Jesus rose was full of surprises, doubts, and joy that overcomes doubts. That morning Jesus' friends heard a report that Jesus was alive or at least that His body was missing from the tomb. And that news of resurrection and power met together with human disbelief that day just like in our day.

May every heart burn bright with the recognition that Jesus is alive and well and ready to transform our lives to reveal His glory to the world.
Peace, John.

Saturday, March 22, 2014

thoughts on John 4

We want God to come big and bold, But often times we meet God in the most mundane circumstances Luther wrote

If someone at that time had announced: “I know of a place in the world where God speaks and anyone can hear God there”; if I had gone there and seen and heard a poor pastor baptizing and preaching, and if I had been assured: “This is the place; here God is speaking through the voice of the preacher who brings God’s Word”—I would have said: “Well, I have been duped! I see only a pastor.” We should like to have God speak to us in His majesty. But I advise you not to run hither and yon for this. I suppose we could learn how people would run if God addressed them in His majesty. This is what happened on Mt. Sinai, where only the angels spoke and yet the mountain was wrapped in smoke and quaked. But you now have the Word of God in church, in books, in your home; and this is God’s Word as surely as if God Himself were speaking to you. Christ says: “You do not know the gift.” We recognize neither the Word nor the Person of Christ, but we take offense at His humble and weak humanity. When God wants to speak and deal with us, He does not avail Himself of an angel but of parents, of the pastor, or of my neighbor. This puzzles and blinds me so that I fail to recognize God, who is conversing with me through the person of the pastor or father. Luther, M. (1999, c1957). Vol. 22: Luther's works, vol. 22 : Sermons on the Gospel of St. John: Chapters 1-4 (J. J. Pelikan, H. C. Oswald & H. T. Lehmann, Ed.). Luther's Works (22:526). Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House.
the mystery of God meeting us in the ordinary should never be overlooked peace to all, John

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

No Shortcuts Matthew 4:1-11

Jesus came to die and rise before reigning as Lord of all. The devil invited Jesus to skip straight to reigning over creation. But Jesus wouldn't take the short cut--as a sinner saved by grace through faith in Jesus who died and rose--I for one am grateful that He didn't take the shortcuts the devil offered.

A quick reading of Matthew 4:1-11 introduces the two main characters. Jesus, the once and future king of the universe who came to earth. And the great accuser who comes at him with 3 tempting offers. Sounds a little like the ring announcer at a fight. "In this corner the once and future king of all creation who exists today as a weak mortal and in this corner the father of all lies the final enemy of all creation."

It is the fight for the ages. Jesus came humble. He put aside His power to live as a man. The Devil came ready with years of experience destroying what God had made good. The enemy could entice mortals--he'd done it countless times before. He never had any power to create--but he's repeatedly convinced creatures to destroy what God has made good. And as he looked at Jesus he saw an opening for temptation and destruction.

Some readers of scripture take this story as a simple moral example. It's easy to miss the point and give direction to other people to "Just be like Jesus when you face temptation." But that interpretation misses the whole cosmic battle that's taking place there in the wilderness right at the start of Jesus ministry.

I sometimes think the Devil understood from day one who Jesus was, is, and will be. That means the day Jesus came to earth the enemy knew clearly who Jesus was and who he was going to ultimately be for all time. I think that they both were looking at the end of all things the whole time. I think that both understood that at the end of all things Jesus will reign over all--even the devil understands that coming reality. And He invited Jesus to skip the pain of the cross and go right to final glory.

The temptation was right in front of Jesus. Right then Jesus, not at some future moment, right at that point in history the Devil invited Jesus to take full advantage of his power. Come on, Jesus if you are king just start to reign. Forget about everything else. If you are king just start to show it right now. But along the way to that final culmination of all time comes a question: If Jesus is king what does He plan to reign over?

  • Does He plan to reign over a creation that's been broken by the fall into sin and death?
  • Does He plan to reign over a creation that's been redeemed finally from the power of sin, death, and the devil?
Paul, quoting a hymn of first century believers eloquently wrote of Jesus real nature in Philipians 2:5-11. Jesus came to redeem the world through his own cross. This story of Jesus temptation in the wilderness is no moral tale. It is an epic even cosmic story in which sinners are redeemed because Jesus chose to offer his blood and his life to make all people right with the Father.
Peace and thanks for reading, John

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

loving enemies Matthew 5:38-48

"Love your enemies," Jesus said it, and He meant it.
He offers sinners nothing less than His love on the cross. And He invites His followers to walk in similar steps dealing with real people and real conflicts.
What on earth is Jesus speaking about. He was speaking about how God's word—His law and His Gospel—point His followers to live in this world. Jesus is naming the truth about people and about God. Following Jesus is no pie in the sky religion. He gives an invitation to trust God everyday in down to earth face to face challenges. Be honest: loving enemies isn't easy. Dealing with people who greet you with swear words and curses isn't easy. And Jesus words aren't just meant for us with people who are close-by. He's offering this direction to us in every dimension of our lives. This isn't easy; Jesus knows that and He says love your enemies and pray for them. He says that about people close by and about enemies and warring nations.

Maybe you want to say back to Jesus, "Really Jesus, even they deserve Christ like love?" Jesus invites His friends to new life beginning and ending in His cross. He invites those who greet you with anger and wrath to that very same new life. Jesus isn't calling His friends just to show kindness to the kind and pleasant, that's easy. He calls his disciples to love those they are in conflict with today and those they will be in conflict with in the future.

Jesus invitation to new life starts and ends with His cross. He comes to offer new life, period including in person to person relationships. When He says love your enemies He's not talking about warm fuzzy love. He's talking about love that can stand in storms and face evil for what it is. Jesus is calling us even to see those who do us harm as people with basic dignity. Here's really honest territory for believers. Jesus sees the dignity of all people. And He invites his friends to do the same.
Listen close to the Savior's words,

...love your enemies. Pray for those who hurt you. Matthew 5:44 NCV
Jesus invites his friends to live honest about everything--joy and pain, relationships and conflict. Following Jesus means freedom to be honest about who God is and who people are and what people do right and wrong. When Jesus calls you to love your enemies not just the loveable. He is calling us to love our neighbors when we look at them not as good and trustworthy but when even we see them as dishonorable. Even then Jesus says love them and pray for them.
Peace and thanks for reading, John

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Jesus knows Matthew 5:21-37

Jesus knows how we tick--especially inside. Jesus' preaching on a Galilean mountaintop in Matthew 5:21-37 reveals just how much he gets us. Listen close to His words. He's talking about "private" thoughts and naming them as sin Matthew 5:21-23, Matthew 5:27-28. He's talking about forgiveness. He's calling his people to step away from the altar to make peace with a neighbor before making an offering Matthew 5:24-26. He speaks about sin and breaking away from it Matthew 5:29-31. He speaks of divorce and vows Matthew 5:31-37.

Jesus boldly points to real sins, murder and adultery, that occur in thoughts as much as actions. He speaks to the harm caused by broken relationship. In short Jesus is showing clear that he knows us. He says there's no difference between the sins present "only" in the space between hearts and heads as in bodily actions.

Jesus leaves no doubt. Anyone who has lusted is guilty of adultery Matthew 5:27-28. Anyone who has raged against another, even without expressing such inner thoughts, is guilty of sin Matthew 5:21-23. There's no medieval quibbling about venial and mortal sin for Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount. Sin is sin. It breaks relationships and He calls us to repair broken relationships on our way to the altar. Our enraged or lustful thoughts break relationships. It's our thoughts that stop us from seeing our neighbors as equal creatures in God's eyes.

And here Jesus calls us out. He sees the very ones he'd die to save. And he calls out our sin. There's no space for hypocrisy here. All have sinned either through their bodies or in their minds. There's no fake holiness. Just conviction and direction to make right the relationships we've broken.
Peace, and thanks for reading. John

Monday, February 3, 2014

Salty and Bright Matthew 5:13-20

God shapes and reshapes identities: so when Jesus calls you salt and light he's announcing who you are in him Matthew 5:13-14. Maybe you say no to Jesus, "But I am not very salty or very bright." Remember who's calling you salt and light: the one who made the whole of everything says you are salt and light for the world.

It's possible to mistake Jesus' words for a coach's pep talk. Think of an encouraging half time speech from a great coach. You might know of a coach who calls out the best from within his players natural talents. Jesus is doing something different; He names a new identity and ability that comes from God himself. Salt and light aren't in anybody by nature. Salt and light aren't a byproduct of human efforts at being good. The new identity as salt and light changes believers for the sake of the world.

Luther wrote of preachers as salt and light standing bright for the whole world to see,

It is a hard job to be an apostle or a preacher and carry out this kind of office, yes, an impossible one, judging according to flesh and blood. But they must be people who do it gladly for the sake of God and the Lord Christ. He does not want to compel anyone or drive him with commandments. For the state of being a Christian is one that requires only willing hearts. Anyone who does not heartily want it had better leave it alone. But this is our consolation: When we are in trouble and the world and the devil are glaring at us and acting as cruelly as possible, then He says to us: “You are the salt of the earth.” When the Word shines into a man’s heart so that he can depend on it and lay uncontested claim to the title “God’s salt,” then let anyone who refuses to laugh be as angry and cruel as he pleases. With His single word I can be more defiant and boastful than they with all their power, swords, and guns. Luther's works, vol. 21p 54: The Sermon on the Mount. Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House.
Jesus' Sermon on the Mount had a bigger audience than the fisherman who would tell the Good News of his death and rising to the world, no, Matthew 5-7 is full of vision and possibility for all who believe.

Some see this sermon as a new law--a new standard for living--new rules to made and enforced most especially for others. Read Jesus' words close. Jesus is speaking of God making his followers salt and light even if they aren't salty or bright on their own.

This sermon reveals Jesus' vision. It's his plan to work through Word and Spirit. Jesus spoke of a present reality in which God is alive and at work. Jesus spoke of his people acting in this world on their redeemer's behalf. Jesus spoke of a world in which the spiritually hungry, the peacemakers and the mourners would see God move to meet the deepest hungers of their souls. In short, Jesus shared his vision. He tells what he's doing for his followers moving and reordering this world from the bottom up .

Right after Jesus shared this vision Matthew tells how He called to all who could hear him, close friends and onlookers in the great crowd, that they had new identities: You are salt Matthew 5:13 and you are light Matthew 5:.14. Jesus assigned these new identity to all who heard him that day: you are salt and light. Let that sink in for a minute. You are salt and light for the sake of the world.
Peace, and thanks for reading. John.

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Close to Heaven Matthew 4:12-23

When Jesus walked the earth he preached to the people telling them to turn their lives around. He had good reason, God's Kingdom was coming close Matthew 4:17. Somehow I overlap thoughts of God's coming Kingdom with an imaginary picture of heaven. Maybe you imagine God's kingdom as a heavenly place too--you know, filled with

  • puffy clouds to float on
  • angels--who look like chubby babies in flossy diapers
  • harps to strum
  • heavenly choirs praising God
  • you can add to this list
When Jesus said God's kingdom was coming close He stood on earth and spoke to people who daily knew sin, death, and evil. Jesus spoke of a Kingdom that was coming close to people on this earth. This is Good News for hurting people: the King of the Universe's dominion is coming close to us.

Some might say God can't come if things aren't perfect--but Jesus would likely disagree. He called for people to turn away from sin--the kingdom is coming. Even failed preparations won't prevent Jesus' coming. Past sins and shames don't stop him; turn away from the old sins and come to the light. Matthew says Jesus coming fulfilled the promise of an ancient prophet. He pointed to Isaiah wh o spoke on God's behalf when he said light would come for people in darkness Isaiah 9:1-2, Matthew 4:16-17. And He meant it. God's light is meant for those in darkness.

How close is God's Kingdom? If God's coming Kingdom isn't best envisioned as a far way heaven how can it be imagined. In all 4 Gospels Jesus, and the Kingdom of God that came as he came, were close enough to be sensed with eyes, ears, tongues, noses, and skin. This was no head trip--it was a flesh and blood experience of God coming in the middle of every detail of life. When Jesus called two fisherman Simon and Andrew to come and catch people like they'd caught fish He was inviting them to join in as the Kingdom came close by Matthew 4:19-20. Two other fishmen, Zebedee's boys James and John came along too.
That's how it started--so now comes our invitation to go fishing and come close to heaven.
Peace and thanks for reading, John

Thursday, January 9, 2014

like wet clay Matthew 3:13-17

Christmas reminded me this year that Jesus, the Light of the world, shows bright in the darkness. And now this week in Matthew 3 we hear how Jesus ministry of healing, teaching, dying, and rising began. Remember Jesus ministry brought light to everyone he met. Some embraced him, some fought him openly, some hid not wanting to let the light into the painful dark places of their souls.

At that time Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan River and wanted John to baptize him. 14 But John tried to stop him, saying, “Why do you come to me to be baptized? I need to be baptized by you!”
15 Jesus answered, “Let it be this way for now. We should do all things that are God’s will.” So John agreed to baptize Jesus. Matthew 3:13-15 (NCV)
John the Baptist was a great man who knew he had a part of God's plan. He knew wasn't the be all and the end all of God's plan. No believer is. Instead we are the vessels that God shapes and molds to carry his light into the world. Remember he's the potter and we're the clay (See Isaiah 64:8). Jesus had a plan to come and John the Baptist's soft heart was like clay in the Father's hands. He offered everything that Jesus light might be shared with the world.
16 As soon as Jesus was baptized, he came up out of the water. Then heaven opened, and he saw God’s Spirit coming down on him like a dove. 17 And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, whom I love, and I am very pleased with him.” Matthew 3:16-17 (NCV)
Jesus pleased God before His ministry had even begun. And I believe that God desires to find great joy in each one of his sons and daughters.

When you hear God's voice do you hear words like Jesus did? If you don't there's good chance that heart is hard. There's a good chance that you need to remember what it means to live wet from baptism. Living wet from baptism doesn't remove your past. Your history is there—but it does mean that your history—either what you've done or what others have done to you—dictates your future in Christ Jesus. Remember we serve a great and creative God. He's the Father who made you and he is the one who seeks to remake you.

Now if you think that you're to hard of a lump for God to work with you I want you to remember your baptism. In Baptism we, like Jesus, come to the water. We like Jesus come to hear God's Word announce who we are and why we matter to our Father in heaven. And if your heart is hard—like a lump of solid dried out clay today is a wonderful day to remember who made you and who has redeemed you.

When a potter has a lump of dried out clay he doesn't have to throw it out. Instead he starts to get it wet. As the edges start to soften he'll start working water inside the clay little by little. A skilled potter pokes small holes into a dry lump as it starts to soften to let even more water in. God does that with each of us and our hearts. He comes to us day after day. He works on us sometimes with great fever and other times slowly bit by bit as the Word and Holy Spirit works first at the edges of our hardened hearts and hardened consciences. And slowly God's Word and Spirit penetrate to the very core of who we are that we can hear again who made us and how much joy he finds in each of us. AMEN.
Peace, and thanks for reading. John