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.