July 26, 2017 – The Legacies We Leave – 1 Kings 2:1-4

legacyWhen David’s time to die drew near, he charged his son Solomon, saying:  “I am about to go the way of all the earth. Be strong, be courageous, and keep the charge of the Lord your God, walking in his ways and keeping his statutes, his commandments, his ordinances, and his testimonies, as it is written in the law of Moses, so that you may prosper in all that you do and wherever you turn.  Then the Lord will establish his word that he spoke concerning me: ‘If your heirs take heed to their way, to walk before me in faithfulness with all their heart and with all their soul, there shall not fail you a successor on the throne of Israel.’ 1 Kings 2:1-4 (NRSV)

In many ways, King David is one of the best Scriptural examples of what not to do, especially in regard to family life. Solomon was the second son of David and Bathsheba- the son born after their first son, who had been conceived in adultery, had died. (2 Samuel 11-12)

David’s family life could have been featured on the Jerry Springer show. His domestic drama is a rather sordid tale of polygamy (which unfortunately was culturally acceptable in his time) as well as of adultery, murder, incest, betrayal and tragic death. (2 Samuel 13-14)  There hasn’t been a soap opera written with more tragedy and pathos than can be found in the life of King David.

Nathan the prophet had even warned David that the sword would never depart from his house, and that he would face public shame for the murder of Uriah and his adultery with Bathsheba. (2 Samuel 12:10-12)

Still, David held on. All through his trials and triumphs and disappointments, his heart stayed open to God in spite of his failings. As it came close to David’s time to die, he couldn’t tell Solomon that he had followed God perfectly all his life, but David could tell him (because he had to learn the hard way) that following God’s way is the best way.

Some of us as parents and grandparents, like David, have a bit of the Springer style drama in our families that we have brought on ourselves through our own mistakes or poor judgment. We might feel hypocritical teaching our children healthy, Scripturally based habits such as regular prayer, worship and Bible study if we didn’t culture those disciplines in our youth.  We might feel hypocritical teaching and helping to enforce healthy Scriptural boundaries, such as saving sex for marriage, or staying married to one spouse for life, if we didn’t honor those boundaries ourselves.

At times all of us are examples of what NOT to do, especially if we have learned the hard way. Others might learn from those examples of what NOT to do much more quickly and thoroughly – and comparatively drama-free – if they have a candid witness to the potential fallout.  Candor and honesty (especially with children or grandchildren) can be difficult for those of us with checkered pasts, but authenticity goes a long way in reinforcing the message.

The good news is that God’s grace is stronger than our failings and shortcomings. Because of grace, every day is a new opportunity to embrace God’s forgiveness and try again. David understood this concept.  Even though we still have to live with some of the consequences of our actions, there is healing, redemption and forgiveness in Christ.  That is a message we should be happy to pass on.

 

July 25, 2017- “You’re Not the Boss of Me!,” Mark 10:42-45

not boss

So Jesus called them and said to them, “You know that among the Gentiles those whom they recognize as their rulers lord it over them, and their great ones are tyrants over them. But it is not so among you; but whoever wishes to become great among you must be your servant,  and whoever wishes to be first among you must be slave of all.  For the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many.” Mark 10:42-45 (NRSV)

As someone who has a grandchild who is soon to be a kindergartner, it is fun to observe how black and white her sense of justice and fairness can be. It’s either all or nothing to a five year old, and it can be a challenge to show her how to negotiate solutions with others and to learn to meet in the middle.

She does understand the chain of command very well though. She knows that only certain adults have the authority to set her boundaries and to set standards for her behavior. One of her favorite expressions when another child tries to tell her what to do is, “You’re not the boss of me!”  She knows that other children don’t have authority over her, and she doesn’t abide bullies for long.  Good for her.  Being a bully toward others only garners very short term, if any, results.

Jesus was trying to explain true leadership to His disciples. Being a good leader has nothing to do with wielding power over others.  It has everything to do with serving others, encouraging others, and being the good example for others.

Good leadership involves sacrifice. How can a leader expect others to meet their potentials if he or she is not willing to live out the example?  Who really wants to work longer hours, or go above and beyond the minimum requirements for a boss who cuts out early to play golf, who is rude and condescending, or who simply dictates from afar?

Good leadership involves empathy. If we know what is involved in sacrifice and serving, then we should have compassion and empathy for those around us as they strive to live out their vocations.  Jesus was as human as we are.  When his friends were hurting, He grieved.  When His friend Lazarus died, He wept.

Good leadership involves working together with others. We should be willing to help and to model best practices. Sometimes the best solutions for everyone require us to brainstorm and find the best compromise.

Good leadership calls for mutual respect, and to regard the needs of others before our own needs.

How are we being good leaders- by being good servants- today?

July 24, 2017- Fools Are Everywhere, Talk Is Cheap, but God Has the Power- Proverbs 14:7, 1 Corinthians 4:20, 2 Corinthians 4:6-8

ship of foolsLeave the presence of a fool, for there you do not find words of knowledge. Proverbs 14:7 (NRSV)

For the kingdom of God depends not on talk but on power.- 1 Corinthians 4:20 (NRSV)

For it is the God who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.

But we have this treasure in clay jars, so that it may be made clear that this extraordinary power belongs to God and does not come from us.- 2 Corinthians 4:6-8 (NRSV)

Anyone who follows any kind of TV drama, or even who watches the news, will learn that talk is cheap. It’s easy to learn how to talk a good game.  Politicians attempt to color themselves as the best thing out there since sliced bread.  Athletes put on the swagger- and the smack talk- before key sports events.  However, in the end, only actions and results stand the test of time.

We live in an era of instant information and instant gratification, but how much “information” is really just foolish babbling? How do we know what information is edifying (things we need to know) and what information we should just let pass by?

Much of what we know to be good science and history are backed up in Scripture, even though Scripture was never intended to be a science or a history textbook. Many things science once thought to be “fact” have later been proven to be completely wrong- based on erroneous assumptions or conclusions drawn before all of the evidence was considered.  We now know the world is round, not flat.  We know that germs cause disease, not “miasmas” or “bad air.” We are slowly discovering that the archeological record backs up many of the events portrayed in the Bible.  Humans don’t always do the greatest job figuring out things, or getting to the truth.

Pontius Pilate remarked, when Jesus was brought to him for judgment, “What is truth?-“(John 18:38) as if truth were something that is arbitrary and subjective as we humans can be.  Many times we can be fools.  Many times we just go with society’s flow, or go dancing around to whatever tune sounds good today.  We aren’t always noted for the words of knowledge that leave our lips, or come forth from our pens or keyboards.

The apostle Paul was very aware that God’s kingdom is built on God’s power- not on the power of weak and fallible humans, but real power. Power that transforms and makes things-and people-new.  Even in spite of our fragility and weakness, God finds a way to shine through us.

Are we living in and trusting in God’s power today? Even when we seem to be sailing on a ship of fools, and the words and so called wisdom of the prevailing culture tell us to do otherwise?

 

 

July 21- The End of Entropy, Romans 8:18-21, Revelation 21:4-6

restorationI consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory about to be revealed to us.  For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the children of God; for the creation was subjected to futility, not of its own will but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and will obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. Romans 8:18-21 (NRSV)

Entropy is a term most commonly used in physics to describe the process of energy draining out of a system. It can also be defined as: a :  the degradation of the matter and energy in the universe to an ultimate state of inert uniformity or, b :  a process of degradation or running down or a trend to disorder (from Merriam-Webster Dictionary online.) Ashes to ashes, dust to dust.  Nothing in the physical world is permanent.

Entropy is what the apostle Paul is talking about here. No matter how we build up things in the world, they eventually decay and go back to the dust they came from. We need only look in the mirror for awhile to realize that youth is fleeting and that nothing of this earth lasts forever. We need only look around this world to see how all creation cries out for renewal, for restoration, and for peace.

Jesus breaks that chain of decay.

“He will wipe every tear from their eyes. Death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more, for the first things have passed away.”

And the one who was seated on the throne said, “See, I am making all things new.” Also he said, “Write this, for these words are trustworthy and true.” Then he said to me, “It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. To the thirsty I will give water as a gift from the spring of the water of life. – Revelation 21:4-6 (NRSV)

Jesus is making all things new, starting with our hearts and minds as we follow Him. We are walking in both worlds for a time, the earthly kingdom which is crying out for redemption and restoration, and through Christ, in the heavenly kingdom that is perfect and complete.

Are we living in the hope of restoration and redemption today? Do we believe Jesus when He says, “I make all things new?”

July 20, 2017 – An Undivided Heart- Psalm 86:11

undivided

Teach me your way, O Lord, that I may walk in your truth; give me an undivided heart to revere your name. Psalm 86:11 (NRSV)

In this age of “everything’s happening 24/7”, and it’s all available to us in real time, since when do we have undivided anything?

We often pride ourselves on multitasking. How many things can we accomplish at the same time? Is it really a good thing to constantly have several activities going on at once?  Where is the rest?  Where is the balance?

While it is good to be productive and to be good stewards of time and resources, too much “busy” can cause us to become divided and distracted to the point that we no longer commit our whole selves to what we are doing or participating in.

God has a different strategy for us. God longs for us to have a heart completely focused on and rooted in Him.

The psalmist’s words here are powerful. “Teach me YOUR way, Lord.” This means God’s way, not MY way.  This is remarkably similar to that difficult petition in the Lord’s Prayer where we pray, “Thy will be done.” Most of us have learned through life experiences that God’s way ends up being so much better than “MY way” in the end.

That I may walk in YOUR truth.” Contrary to common wisdom, truth is not relative, and truth is not dependent upon a person’s opinion or perspective.  God’s truth is constant, fixed and always the same no matter how we feel and no matter how society and social mores change.  Sometimes that makes it awkward to be a Jesus follower, when God’s truth clashes with the world’s opinions.  But it’s God’s truth that matters, not the world’s opinion.

Give me an undivided heart.”  May this be our prayer as Jesus followers, that as we follow Him we have an undivided heart, focused on Him first and foremost.

 

July 19, 2017 – Do Not Fear, or Be Afraid- Isaiah 44:6-8, Matthew 10-28

have-no-fear-god-is-near-quote-1.jpg

Thus says the Lord, the King of Israel, and his Redeemer, the Lord of hosts: I am the first and I am the last; besides Me there is no god. Who is like Me? Let them proclaim it, let them declare and set it forth before Me. Who has announced from of old the things to come?  Let them tell us what is yet to be. Do not fear, or be afraid; have I not told you from of old and declared it? You are My witnesses! Is there any god besides Me? There is no other rock; I know not one. Isaiah 44:6-8 (NRSV)

Fear is a word that can be taken in a few different ways in Scripture, but the only “fear” that we are told to hold onto is “fear of the Lord.”  The phrase “fear of the Lord” appears 134 times in the NRSV translation of the Bible, so it is an important theme.  However, the English translation, “fear of the Lord” can more accurately and completely be taken as meaning, “an obedient reverence and awe of the Lord.”

God doesn’t want us to be afraid of people or afraid of what people think they can do to us. As much power as some individuals may hold- even up to the power of physical life and death- all power ultimately comes from God.

Jesus tells us-

Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul; rather fear Him who can destroy both soul and body in hell. Matthew 10:28 (NRSV)

The fear of hell never brought salvation to anyone, and that’s not what Jesus is emphasizing here.  He is underscoring the point that there is a limit to what power other people and earthly circumstances actually have over us.  Life in the physical body is only for a limited time.  The worst thing any human or any condition can do to us is to extinguish the life of our bodies.   That is eventually going to happen anyway. Bodies are temporary.  But our souls live on, and they belong to God.

So God’s the one we need to be concerned with. Not with the fear of other people’s wrath, or the pursuit of stuff, or the fear of scarcity, or the fear of pain, or the fear of anything else.

God isn’t a big fan of people being bullies, or of people living to be trendy, or of people striving to “have it all.” God is a big fan of people living according to His love- bringing mercy and kindness to others, standing up to injustice, and being His hands and feet here on earth.  It’s His opinion of us that matters, because it is life with Him that will last.

What are we afraid of? What (or who) is holding us back?

July 18, 2017- Seize the Hope- Hebrews 6:17-20, Matthew 27:50-52

hope jesusIn the same way, when God desired to show even more clearly to the heirs of the promise the unchangeable character of his purpose, he guaranteed it by an oath, so that through two unchangeable things, in which it is impossible that God would prove false, we who have taken refuge might be strongly encouraged to seize the hope set before us. We have this hope, a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul, a hope that enters the inner shrine behind the curtain, where Jesus, a forerunner on our behalf, has entered, having become a high priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek. Hebrews 6:17-20 (NRSV)

Carpe Diem. This Latin phrase means, “Seize the day.”  While making the most of every day is a worthy goal, as Jesus followers we are also encouraged to seize the hope.

The writer of Hebrews (who was addressing believers from the Jewish community) refers to Jesus as our high priest, an intermediary on our behalf who makes God available to us. Through Him the boundary that separates us from God is broken. We are “unholy” because we are all tainted by sin, but because of Jesus intervening on our behalf, we can enter the Holy of Holies and enter into the presence of God.

Then Jesus cried again with a loud voice and breathed his last. At that moment the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. The earth shook, and the rocks were split. The tombs also were opened, and many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised. Matthew 27:50-52 (NRSV)

Because of Jesus we can seize the hope. The curtain in the temple separated the Holy of Holies (the place where the Presence of God would come to earth) from the common person.  Only the high priest was ever allowed to go behind the curtain, and then only at certain times to offer sacrifices and prayers.  When the curtain was torn, the Spirit of God was set loose.  Because of Jesus there is no barrier. There is no holding back the Spirit of God. There is nothing holding us back from embracing and receiving the Spirit of God.  We have the hope that can only be found in Jesus- not just for eternal life but for life lived to the fullest, life surrendered to God and dedicated to His purpose for us.

Because of Jesus we can seize the hope- and run with it, and spread it around. Hope in action speaks words of comfort and performs acts of mercy.  The things that would hold us back from living as God’s people are no longer there.

How can we seize- and share- the hope today?