Thursday, December 21, 2017

The look in her eyes? Luke 1:26-28

An angel came to Mary with words of greeting. Hey Mary blessed/favored by God. The Lord God is with you.

I wonder what the look was in Mary's eyes. Luke says she was silent—but he says she was pondering perplexed by this heavenly messengers words.

We know there's a whole lot that we communicate with out words. And I wonder what Mary's face said to the angel that day as he spoke these words of heavenly messenger.
++Did her face show surprise or maybe fear?
Did the look in her eyes reveal confusion or wonder.
Maybe her face revealed a questions like “Who me?”

Mary didn't utter a word after that initial greeting and the angel continued talking to her—don't be afraid. The messenger called her favored and spoke of God's glory breaking into the world in a baby who she would carry into the world in own her body.

The angel spoke of a plan—hidden for all time—that was about to be revealed. A secret the world has long waited to have made known was about to become reality.

Mary's response to the angel was simple: how?

Maybe you can relate to this question. How God?
We people look at our inadequacies and failures and how seems like a really great question to be asking. Trusting God isn't easy—it means seeing beyond what we think is reasonable or probable to the far horizon of God's limitless possibilities.

The angel came to Mary becuase God was on the move. We need the plan of God to be realized—we don't just need to hear words about love—we need to experience God's love and all the way that great love transforms our lives. And the angel's words for Mary was all about hope breaking in.

Jesus doesn't come because we have it all together—he comes because we have broken places and spaces in our beings. Faith sees past today to the promises of God. For Mary that meant looking beyond her circumstance and the impossibility of her becoming a mother and accepting this word of promise.
Peace and thanks for reading, John

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Looking for a savior? John 1

I'm Reading the gospel of John this year with a group at a local assisted living. Right at the start this man John the Baptist stood out. He came calling people to get ready because the savior is coming. But the people, much like us, have certain expectations of what the savior will look like and act like.

John came announcing a promise on God's behalf. And people thought he was the savior. He kept telling everyone that someone even greater is coming. And many people, hungry for a message of hope, ran to John. People started asking him if he was the one God had sent. And John said plainly no. One greater is still to come.

People today are looking for someone or something to make things right. We have this desire to find a savior. Fact is we people run to many different less than God saviors rather than trust in God. Some have wisely called them functional saviors. We run to so many other maybe could be saviors rather than let God come for us.

If you think about it you can name some of the less than Jesus saviors you've turned to over the years. We turn to functional saviors when fear is real and worry seems to overwhelm us. Think about what you run to when time is tough. We look for a magic bullet to make everything better for us. Money, relationships, alcohol, drugs, we can all name the less than God saviors we've turned to—and I think everyone has a list. History is full of leaders nations have turned to like Messiahs. We look for someone or something to make everything better. But nobody and nothing less than God can save us.

We can learn a lot from our friends and family in recovery—about naming the less than God saviors we've turned to—and we can also learn from them about the power of God to transform our lives once that functional savior we thought would help us inevitably fails.

John came announcing light. He came to announce Good News. Jesus comes for us when we need him to the most. He comes to give rest for our souls and to teach us again what it means to be loved by the one who made everything.

The truth is I want God to come—but I want God to come on my terms.
I want to domesticate God—telling God where to go and what to do.
And here comes John telling me and everyone that the light of the world is coming to illuminate everything and everyone.

Somehow hearing John's words about Jesus being greater than him makes sense. All the other saviors we can turn to just don't work. And John the Baptist has this great promise to share. He isn't the savior but he has great news. Jesus is coming and the promise isn't dependent on our problems all being solved. Jesus is coming to bring us healing and new life.
Peace and thanks for reading, John

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Thanks for tomorrow Luke 17:11-19

So thanksgiving's coming soon. And I've heard people talk about thanksgiving as a duty—as a sort of civic responsibility. Giving thanks often starts with remembering—looking back at a day, week, month, a year, a lifetime with gratitude towards God for all the good that's come. But sometimes looking back isn't going to provide much reason for gratitude.

In the gospel of Luke there's a story about 10 men; the gospel writer called them lepers. These men were considered contagious. They were feared, even thought of as dangerous. They had to stand back at a distance from their neighbors calling out in warning announcing they were coming. They had to yell “unclean, unclean” as a warning for others to stay away, far away (Leviticus 13:45).

When I hear people talk about thanksgiving as a duty and then I think of these ten hurting people it doesn't seem so easy to be thankful. These men wouldn't have been welcome to join the rest of the community in the thank offering. The were forbidden to go up to the temple or to sit at anyone's table. No one would invite them to join the congregation to give thanks. It's easy to tell someone they have to give thanks; but it's whole lot greater blessing to come alongside of a hurting soul and walk with them in their pain.

Jesus crossed paths with these 10 men. They called out in faith to him, “Jesus, Lord, have mercy on us” Jesus heard the deepest prayer of these hurting people. He called to them to go show themselves to the priest. And along the way—walking in trust that they would be healed—they were made clean.

Faith looks not at things that are—but trusts in the ability of God to transform. Faith in God means there is nothing in our situation in our stories that is beyond redemption. See there are some years thanksgiving is easy. Some times it's easy to look back at the recent past with thanks for the blessings of the past. Maybe your family is healthy—that cancer scare is fading away, the business is going good, you've reconciled restoring a broken relationship. Those days it's easy to look at the blessings right in front of you today and look ahead with joy and say thanks. It's easy to see reasons for gratitude when everything is going great and you've feel like everything has fallen into place and everything is just coming up roses.

But I think of these ten men—they weren't welcome in town. They couldn't gather with family and friends. They had to stay by themselves on the outside far enough away that they couldn't even look in on the celebrations.

Jesus travels, like our own, bring us into contact with all kinds people in every kind of circumstance. You will meet some in their most desperate moments and you will encounter some in their time of greatest joy. And here's where the good news of Jesus meets us—right here in this world. These ten men knew they needed help and in Jesus they saw hope for a different kind of future. In Jesus they saw the possibility of a future beyond their disease and isolation. Faith is about seeing God's unfulfilled promises and still trusting that God's at work.

All these 10 men had was faith. And in the end that was all they needed. Amen.
Peace and thanks for reading,

Thursday, September 14, 2017

forgive another time Matthew 18

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Divine Dreams in Genesis 37

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Divine Intervention?

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

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

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

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

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

Peace and thanks for reading, John

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Sleeping on a Stone Genesis 28:10-19

The night Jacob heard a promise form God was the same night he laid down on the open ground with a stone for a pillow. He was exhausted after running from his twin brother. He was headed towards relatives far away.

This story started long before this night in the desert. Jacob had a brother, Esau. They were sons of Isaac and Rebekah, the grandsons of Abraham and Sarah who heard the promise of God. God promised to build a great nation through their family. They were going to have descendants more numerous than the stars and the sands on the sea shore.

These two boys had parents who played favorites. Jacob the younger boy was his mother's favorite, and Esau the older was his father's pride and joy. When the were grown their mother Rebekah heard their old father, Isaac, plan to bless Esau after he served him a meal of roasted game.

Following his mother's advice Jacob tricked their poorly sited father, Issac so he could get the blessing. Jacob pretended to be Esau—he prepared a meal of roasted meat just like father loved to eat. Jacob covered his arms with the skins of animals so his father would think that it wasn't him but Esau serving the meal. Jacob was blessed. And Esau came home with food ready to serve and received no blessing. Esau burned with anger.

Esau wanted to kill him. So Jacob ran leaving behind the promise land. Desperation drove him into the wilderness and beyond to seek out his mother and father's old relatives.

And now with a blessing he'd gotten through cheating Jacob lay on the ground that night with a rock for a pillow. As he slept Jacob had this vision of angels ascending and descending a ladder from heaven. Over the years I've heard a song about people climbing Jacob's ladder—but that's not the vision Jacob had that night. He had a vision of messengers from God coming from heaven and going back. He had a vision of God reaching out with messengers into our world.

And the vision grew bolder. Now the God of his grandfather Abraham and his father Isaac stood beside him speaking the promise that his children and grandchildren and many generations to come would inherit the land promised to Abraham and Sarah.

And with vision in mind he headed away from the promised land with a word from God.

Know that I am with you and will keep you wherever you go, and will bring you back to this land; for I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you. Genesis 28:15 NRSV
May everyone who seeks refuge hear God's word of compassion in our world today.
Peace and thanks for reading, John

Thursday, July 13, 2017

"Biblical" Family Values in Genesis 25

Many people like to point back to a simpler time in history when there were fewer problems—but the longer I live the more certain I am we have always needed a savior. There has never been a time when humans have been beyond temptation.

If you don’t believe that’s true just pick up a bible and read the story of the family God chose as the start of a great nation. Genesis traces a promise of God—to build a great nation through the family of Abraham, Sarah and the descendants of their son Isaac. This family was far from perfect. The first book of scripture is full of tension and strife between the closest of relatives. Sin was a problem then and sin is a problem today. And the solution to sin—as much as we wish we didn’t need any help—has always been God.

Any time someone uses the phrase “Biblical family values” people should wonder if they’ve ever read the very first book of the Bible. Yes God fulfilled the promise to start a great nation—but the people chosen to be part of that promise had issues with greed, envy, and pride. In short they were very little different from any of us who are alive today.

See our story picks up when Isaac married Rebekah and these two hoped for a child—but no child came. So Isaac prayed to the God of his father and the prayer was answered.

Rebekah was pregnant—but it wasn't an easy pregnancy. Two babies jostled inside of her. “Why me?” she cried.
So she went to inquire of the LORD.
the LORD said to her,
“Two nations are in your womb,
and two peoples from within you will be separated;
one people will be stronger than the other,
and the older will serve the younger.”
Genesis 25:22b-23 NIV
She gave birth to two very different boys Esau and Jacob. The first baby was hairy with a ruddy complexion so they named him Esau meaning hairy and rough. And the second boy was born grabbing at his brothers heal—so they called him Jacob which means heal or worse cheater or trickster. These two boys were different from day one. And trouble came not because they were each unique people—trouble came because these two parents each picked a favorite son.

Any parent of multiples can tell you all the ways their children are different. Yes children who were born together aren't the same. Every person is made as a unique individual with gifts and abilities given them by God. These two boys were different from day one and not just in appearance.

Esau loved to hunt and go out with his father. Jacob liked to stay close to the tents and his mother. The trouble for this family came when these two parents chose favorites.
Isaac chose Esau—the first born—the one who would get a double share of the families resources..
Rebekah chose Jacob the younger son who should always had second place to Esau.

Remember, there's a condition in us humans called sin—and hard as we might try to deny it –the reality springs up. Ugh—come on don't these two parents know what they are doing. These two boys grew up in the same household but they were favored each by a different parent.

So imagine the moment when these two are grown and Esau comes in from hunting—and he'd been skunked. Who knows how long Esau had been out—and he was famished. And Jacob was home cooking a meal—red stew. Just imagine how good a meal of bread and red lentil stew or chili would look—if you are really hungry.

And Jacob—who's name literally means heal grabber—some even say twister or cheater—turns to his brother Esau the hunter who's name means hairy or rough and says I'll give you food in exchange for your birthright.

And Esau says sure. What good is that birthright anyway if I am dead. Jacob had done it. He'd flipped the order. Here it is, our problem with sin played out in the family that had received the promises of God. One brother taking from another.

And Jesus came to spread a message of hope into such a world that won't always receive the Good News. He came with life – and we often turn away. And the good news comes into this complicated world—into real families. It comes not because everything is easy or neat in our live but because the cold hard truth is we need God's love and mercy.

Jesus didn't come because people have it all together – he came to live and die that sinners like us might be set free. Our trouble with sin requires more than just good advice—the savior comes that we might die with him to our selves—and he sends us out to spread a message of love like a farmer throwing seed out into the world.
Peace, and thanks for reading.

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Hope for Ishmael Genesis 21

I'm looking at story in Genesis 21:8-21 that makes me squirm. The story of Abraham, Hagar and Ishmael. There's so much meaning to this story for us in our world today because of who is included in this promises of God in this story.

Abraham was a man who trusted in a promise from God and headed towards a new home with his wife Sara. They were going to be the ancestors of a great nation. And after decades of waiting for a child Abraham chose a short-cut—have a child with another woman—a slave named Hagar.

The slave woman, Hagar, gave birth to a boy named Ishmael. Later on Abraham and his wife Sara had a child too, called Isaac. Sara's jealously reared up. She insisted Abraham get rid of that woman and her son. Abraham was distressed.
But God said to Abraham, “Do not be distressed because of the boy and because of your slave woman ... I will make a nation of him also, because he is your offspring.” Genesis 21:12-13 NRSV
Try to imagine this moment from the perspective of Abraham and Hagar. Abraham heard a promise from God and believed. He trusted that his boy Ishmael and his mother would be okay.

But when I try to imagine Hagar's point of view there's such fear and desperation. Old Abraham sent them away with a few provisions—but soon they were alone in the desert without water, food, or shelter besides the shade of a bush. It must have been awful. Hagar left the boy under one bush and went to huddle safe from the scorching sun in the shade of a bush just a bows shot—maybe 100 yards away. And there in desperation she cried out.
“Do not let me look on the death of the child.” And as she sat opposite him, she lifted up her voice and wept. 17 And God heard the voice of the boy; and the angel of God called to Hagar from heaven. Genesis 21:16-17 NRSV
God spoke to Hagar's fear and opened her eyes to see a well full of water. They would not die alone.

God knows the troubles of every person. Here that we see the start of two great peoples who both claim to be descendants of Abraham—both the son's of Isaac and the son's of Ishmael call Abraham father.

So what does this mean to us today? We live in a word where Arab Christians claim to be descendants of Ishmael. We live in a world where Muslim's point back to Abraham and Ishmael as their ancestors too. And Christians and Jews point back to Abraham and Isaac as their ancestors in faith. And in this world full of division and hate here is a word of promise from God for both of Abraham's sons.

I think about this world today—with war in more places than I can count, fear of terrorism becoming part of everyday life in Europe and North America—and then I hear this promise from God for Ishmael that is just as valid as the promise for Isaac.
Peace and thanks for reading, John

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Don't Look Up--Look Around for Signs of the kingdom

Imagine the days right after Jesus rose from the dead. His friends, with eyes still sore from tears and grief met him again and they knew he was alive.
Jesus' body still had marks from the nails and the sword, but that didn't matter. He was alive. And now his friends got together around him. It was joy – joy beyond compare.

Luke writes in Acts, when they had all come together
Jesus friends likely never wanted this moment to end. They thought this was the moment when the kingdom of God would come. Jesus was alive—and now they asked him plainly,
Lord, is this the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel? Acts 1:6
They were looking in that moment to their immediate future; and what they expected was news of the kingdom breaking in right then and there. Jesus response wasn't exactly what they expected to hear.
It is not for you to know the times or periods that the Father has set by his own authority.
Rather than telling his followers a date and time when Jesus would begin his reign as a king here on earth Jesus made a promise for his followers.
But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth. Acts 1:8
This promise has stood as a source of hope for 2000 years, for the first believers, for all who have faith in Jesus in our time, and for all who will have faith in the years to come.

While the disciples listened to Jesus he rose up towards heaven. As he was going up and the friends of Jesus gazed up into the sky and two men in dazzling white robes showed up. They asked the disciples,
Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking up toward heaven?
These men in dazzling white (angels?) spoke of a mystery.
This Jesus, who has been taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven I here a word here for people today.
Stop looking up
Start looking around you
Stop looking for the signs of the kingdom in the sky—start looking for the places where the kingdom is already and not yet here.
Stop looking up
Start looking around you.

There's an obsession among American evangelicals with the end of time. But Jesus has said there's something we don't know. That means there's a part of the story God's redemptive plan that we don't know. And that includes the end.

Many over the past 2000 years have pretended they have some hidden inner knowledge gleaned from their interpretations of times and signs. But Jesus was bold and his answer is plain for anyone willing to listen and hear what he actually has to say.
It is not for you to know the times or periods that the Father has set by his own authority.
Lord is this the time? Many ask—and they look for answers. They scour ancient prophets looking for clues to a puzzle that Jesus says plainly can't be solved because it's not for us to know.
Peace and thanks for reading,

Monday, May 15, 2017

Jesus promised to send an advocate John 14:15-21

Jesus made a promise to his friends the night before he died (John 14:16). Jesus would ask the Father to send an advocate – the Spirit – to be with them forever.

Jesus' promise gave hope to the people who made up the church 2000 years ago. And the same promise gives hope today and for days to come. Jesus assures all believers God's Spirit abides in them in good seasons and out.

There are times when this promise just rings true and it's easy to believe. But there are other times—times when it's hard to believe. And in that day it matters all the more who made and keeps the promise. Jesus made the promise—the Spirit will come not from us but from God to dwell with us. This is good news. Even if we lose every earthly belonging we still have reason to hope. Even if our faith falters—God remains faithful.

Many tyrants have tried to squelch the Christians faith. But the promise Jesus made remains—we have an advocate. We have the Spirit who comes to bring us life. And the life we have in the Spirit only begins in this world. AMEN
Peace, and thanks for reading. John

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

treasured in the ashes Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21

Jesus' words often catch me. Especially when His words so clean and clear.

For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. Matthew 6:21
In these words about heart and treasure Jesus invites you and me to be brave and vulnerable. He knows that you and I are made from dust. He knows that you and I wrestle with sin. And he invites us into a full and honest--a treasured relationship with God who knows who we are and who knows what matters above all else.

What is less than your greatest treasure? Someday it will all just be dust again. Everything you work for today: the car, the boat, the house, the meal at a great restaurant, the great diploma, all the honors you can accumulate, someday it will just be dust.
Even you—your body will someday just be dust again.

A few years ago I was at a presentation that used a great question to help get people thinking and talking about what really matters.
If you had to leave your home in five minutes and never return what would you take?
Imagine you have just five minutes.
Most people don't get this much warning before a tornado hits or a fire consumes their house.

But I've talked to people who've been through hurricanes who left home with just a few minutes warning before they hit the road never sure if they would ever return again to see the house they'd called home for decades.

Jesus invited his first followers to see their greatest treasure. It's not something that can be stolen or lost in a fire. Your true treasure can't be destroyed by moth, rust, or decay.
Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal; 20 but store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust consumes and where thieves do not break in and steal. 21 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.
Every day we believers are invited to live awake and alert to our greatest treasures—and as Christian I believe we have two great treasures
  1. We are invited to live awake and alert to our neighbors.
  2. We are invited to live awake and alert to the constant loving presence of God the Father who made us, who is the same God who redeems us through the cross of Jesus Christ, and who breaths life, hope, and faith into us today through the work of the Holy Spirit.
May the peace of Christ dwell in year heart. AMEN
Peace and thanks for reading, John

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Present in a moment of glory Matthew 17:1-9

Matthew tells a story of a day when God's voice boomed out on a mountain top.

This is my Son, the Beloved; with him I am well pleased Matthew 17:5
It was a moment Jesus chose to share with just a few close friends Peter, James, and John.

Matthew says he took these 3 up the mountain. And there on the mountain top he changed. Jesus shined. He was dazzling and bright. The change happened fast. In a flash Jesus glory was so bright for these three to see.

And now just as fast two great figures from the past of Israel stepped in. Moses the one who shared the Law of God with the people—and Elijah the greatest of the prophets were there speaking with him.

It all happened so fast. It was all so glorious. And Peter—the disciple just anybody can relate to—wanted to do something. He said boldly,
Lord, it is good for us to be here; if you wish, I will make three dwellings here, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah. Matthew 17:4
Maybe Peter wanted to prove to Jesus just how much he loves him. Maybe he wanted to show Jesus just what he could do for him. Many a believer can relate. We want to prove our worth—to earn God's love and mercy.

And Peter looked to do something. Surely, he must have thought, Jesus must need him, Peter, to do something. “O Lord it's a good thing we're here.” I can sure relate to Peter's thinking. I can think of all the times when I forget that God really has got it all together and that he doesn't need me to do anything. I can so relate.

Peter was looking for something. And he thought fast. “Tent's” Peter piped up. "I can build a build tents for all 3 of you up here.” And right as Peter was still speaking a bright cloud full of light gathered over them. This was no dark storm cloud gathering overhead—but a cloud of light was over them. And they heard a voice from the cloud that just left Peter speechless.
This is my Son, the Beloved; with him I am well pleased; listen to him! Matthew 17:5
Peter, James and John fell to the ground as they heard this voice. Fear grabbed onto them.

And Jesus came right next to them and touched them. Imagine him reaching down and touching their shoulders saying simply,
Get up and do not be afraid. Mattew 17:7
Part of faith is hearing this simple direction again and again. Get up and don't be afraid. There are so many times when we fall or lose hope. There are times too when fear can grab us. And Jesus words give us direction.
Get up and don't be afraid.
The promise that Jesus is God is such good news. We can put down all the extra things we try to do for God and just let Jesus be God with us and for us.
Peace, and thanks for reading, John

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Unseen Hope 1 Corinthians 2:1-12

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

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

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

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

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

Peace and thanks for reading, John

Monday, January 2, 2017

Someone greater has come Matthew 3:13-17

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

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

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

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

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

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