March 19, 2018- Show Me Jesus- Psalm 4, John 12:20-25

show me Jesus

Answer me when I call to you, my righteous God. Give me relief from my distress; have mercy on me and hear my prayer.

How long will you people turn my glory into shame? How long will you love delusions and seek false gods?  Know that the Lord has set apart his faithful servant for himself; the Lord hears when I call to him.

Tremble and do not sin; when you are on your beds, search your hearts and be silent. Offer the sacrifices of the righteous and trust in the Lord.

 Many, Lord, are asking, “Who will bring us prosperity?” Let the light of your face shine on us. Fill my heart with joy when their grain and new wine abound.

 In peace I will lie down and sleep, for you alone, Lord, make me dwell in safety. Psalm 4 (NIV)


Now there were some Greeks among those who went up to worship at the festival.  They came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, with a request. “Sir,” they said, “we would like to see Jesus.”  Philip went to tell Andrew; Andrew and Philip in turn told Jesus.

Jesus replied, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified.  Very truly I tell you, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds.  Anyone who loves their life will lose it, while anyone who hates their life in this world will keep it for eternal life. John 12:20-25 (NIV)

The human condition is such that we have all experienced the “dark night of the soul.” People who live with anxiety especially know the fear that seemingly comes from nowhere and grips one in the middle of the night. Panic attacks and night terrors are not logical, nor are they pleasant, but in the midst of them we can cry out to God and cling to Him, knowing that He does hear our prayers and He does have mercy on us. The Good Shepherd we learn of in Psalm 23 truly does walk with us through the valleys, even through the valley of the shadow of death.  Even though we can at times be terrified, (with rational explanation or not) Jesus is with us, in us, and through us, even in our terror.  He has defeated the things that terrify us.  Death no longer has power over us- let alone the lesser things that vex us. See 1 Corinthians 15:54-57.

There is a prayer (St. Patrick’s Breastplate) attributed to St. Patrick in which he affirms:

Christ be with me, Christ within me, Christ behind me, Christ before me, Christ beside me, Christ to win me, Christ to comfort and restore me. Christ beneath me, Christ above me, Christ in quiet, Christ in danger, Christ in hearts of all that love me, Christ in mouth of friend and stranger.

The Greeks in the passage from John 12 came to Philip and asked to see Jesus. Jesus may have surprised them in what He told them- that to gain your life you have to be willing to lose it.

Some of the most miserable people on earth are also some of the most materially wealthy. There is a saying that “money buys one the misery one likes the best.” Many of us would like to test that theory!  The reality is that we are made in God’s image- God Who is a gracious and generous God.  When we give of our time, talents and resources from the overflow of a grateful and loving heart, we fulfill the purpose God made us for- to be His hands and feet here on earth.

It’s not always easy to surrender our lives to serving God. It means we have to sacrifice, just as a farmer or gardener has to sacrifice to sow seeds, tend and weed them, and harvest the crops when they mature.  Nothing worthwhile is easy, but we remember that Jesus came and lived on earth, died on the Cross and rose from the grave so that we may have abundant life, (John 10:10) not just in the world to come, but now too.

It may sound simplistic to say that if you want to see Jesus you have to be willing to be Jesus.  For the hedonistic Greeks it meant they had to espouse a lifestyle of sacrifice and sharing instead of one of opulence and being served by others. We are not Jesus of course, but as His people we are called to be His hands and feet here on earth. Martin Luther actually said we are called to be “Little Christs” here on earth.  We know that He is before us, beside us, within us, and that He has already conquered sin, death and anything that can cause us fear.  He is with us to bring us peace, love and joy- to spread around now and in the world to come.


March 17, 2018 The Importance of a Name- Proverbs 22:1-2, Exodus 20:7,16, Ephesians 4:29


A good name is more desirable than great riches; to be esteemed is better than silver or gold. Rich and poor have this in common: The Lord is the Maker of them all. Proverbs 22:1-2 (NIV)

“You shall not misuse the name of the Lord your God, for the Lord will not hold anyone guiltless who misuses his name. Exodus 20:7 (NIV) (The Second Commandment)

“You shall not give false testimony against your neighbor. Exodus 20:16 (NIV) (The Eighth Commandment)

The #MeToo movement has brought the ugly reality of sexual misconduct and abuse that has been ignored or overlooked in our workplaces and in the greater culture to the awareness of the public eye.   It is true that it is sometimes difficult to define what constitutes sexual harassment or misconduct because cultural mores change over time, and the definition of what may or may not be abusive can be quite subjective. What one person may consider to be harmless flirting or joking might be highly offensive to another. While it is difficult but ultimately necessary that when misconduct and abuse do occur that those painful truths are exposed and dealt with, sometimes people aren’t entirely truthful.

False accusations are nothing new.  Sometimes people accuse others of misconduct out of revenge, or for their own financial or political gain.  Some people simply thrive on others’ pity and want to elicit the same sympathy and care that real victims receive. Other times consensual acts are taken out of their contexts when a relationship sours or a promise is not kept.  Unfortunately for all of us there are consequences when we go outside the boundaries God has set for our behavior and conduct.

There is a reason why God takes His own name and reputation so seriously.  It is in His name that all creation exists.  It is in His name alone that we can exist and function and be provided for.  He gives us the gift of calling on His name for provision, for life and salvation.

The writer of Proverbs (likely King Solomon) teaches us that in life with other people reputation matters.  A good name is everything as we go about our lives in the world. Who is going to trust someone with a bad reputation?  A good reputation is something to maintain and protect.

The Second and Eighth Commandments deal with the concepts of name and reputation- the Second with God’s name, and the Eighth with the name and reputation of our neighbors.

We can destroy the reputations of others with our words.  It is imperative that we keep our speech regarding others truthful.  This doesn’t mean that legitimate abuse or misconduct should be kept silent- on the contrary, it should be exposed, if only to prevent the same abuse from happening to others.  We should be very aware of how our words affect the names and reputations of God, others, and ourselves.

Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen. Ephesians 4:29 (NIV)



The New Covenant, Forgive and Forget- Jeremiah 31:31-34, Psalm 103:11-12, 1 John 1:9, Ephesians 4:31-32


“The days are coming,” declares the Lord, “when I will make a new covenant with the people of Israel and with the people of Judah.  It will not be like the covenant I made with their ancestors when I took them by the hand to lead them out of Egypt, because they broke my covenant, though I was a husband to them, declares the Lord.  “This is the covenant I will make with the people of Israel after that time,” declares the Lord.                  

“I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people.  No longer will they teach their neighbor, or say to one another, ‘Know the Lord,’ because they will all know me, from the least of them to the greatest,” declares the Lord. “For I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more.” Jeremiah 31:31-34 (NIV)

Forgiveness is almost always a process for us. There is something in human nature that compels us to hang on to our hurt and resentment when someone else doesn’t keep up his or her end of a bargain with us. When people break their covenants with us or they simply don’t live up to the expectations we have for them, we tend to want to hang on to the offense.

Over time, and with the help of the Holy Spirit, we can come to a place of forgiving others, but forgiveness doesn’t come naturally for us. It is something we struggle with and have to work at doing.

Forgetting the offenses others commit against us is quite another level beyond just forgiving. We forget things we want to remember such as, “Where are my car keys?,” or, “What is that password?,” but we seldom forget the kid in fourth grade who stuck gum in our hair or upended us in the trash can.

God promises to forget our sins.  Not just forgive them… but… still keep that incident in mind for future reference, but completely forget them.  Wipe them away as if they had never happened.

For as the heavens are high above the earth, so great is his steadfast love toward those who fear him; as far as the east is from the west, so far he removes our transgressions from us. Psalm 103:11-12 (NRSV)

If we confess our sins, he who is faithful and just will forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness. 1 John 1:9 (NRSV)

Because God has forgiven us we have the ability- and the obligation- to forgive others. We might not be able to forget the way that God forgets our sins, but we can always rely on the Holy Spirit for what we need to surrender our hurt and our anger at others to God and forgive them, not because we are so fantastic, but because God has already forgiven us.

Put away from you all bitterness and wrath and anger and wrangling and slander, together with all malice, and be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ has forgiven you.  Ephesians 4:31-32 (NRSV)

March 14, 2018 Spreading the Light- Mercy vs. Judgment John 8:12-20, James 2:12-14


When Jesus spoke again to the people, he said, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”

 The Pharisees challenged him, “Here you are, appearing as your own witness; your testimony is not valid.”

Jesus answered, “Even if I testify on my own behalf, my testimony is valid, for I know where I came from and where I am going. But you have no idea where I come from or where I am going. You judge by human standards; I pass judgment on no one.  But if I do judge, my decisions are true, because I am not alone. I stand with the Father, who sent me. In your own Law it is written that the testimony of two witnesses is true. I am one who testifies for myself; my other witness is the Father, who sent me.”

Then they asked him, “Where is your father?”

“You do not know me or my Father,” Jesus replied. “If you knew me, you would know my Father also.” He spoke these words while teaching in the temple courts near the place where the offerings were put. Yet no one seized him, because his hour had not yet come. John 8:12-20 (NIV)

The writer of the Gospel of John speaks of Jesus being the light (light of the world, light of life, etc.) in thirteen specific references. The concept of Jesus being the light obviously was a point the Holy Spirit wanted the writer of John to get across.

The Pharisees did not want to acknowledge who Jesus was because they were not able to see Him as He is. They were looking for a mighty warrior who would restore the physical kingdom of Israel. They were thinking in terms of an earthly king.  Their vision was limited.

Sometimes we get caught up in what we think we want to see in Jesus that we lose sight of the real Jesus.  Sometimes we get so preoccupied with our own fears and our own darkness that we don’t- or can’t- look up and see the real light.  We all experience those dark nights of the soul where God seems far away.

Even though we struggle and often we have a hard time with the challenge between doubt and faith, at our Baptism we are marked with the Cross of Christ forever. We belong to God even when our feelings or our behavior might indicate otherwise. We are called and made able- not by our own will, but by God’s will- to not only see the light of Christ but to reflect and radiate that light.

Do our lives testify to the light and to the reality of Jesus? Do others see His light shining in and through us?

We can get so mired down in the laws God gives us for our own good that we see them as chains that bind us, or as hammers to hit others over the head with, instead of boundaries given out of love and designed to protect us.

Jesus challenged the Pharisees at numerous points where they used the Law as a hammer, to bring down judgment on others rather than to use the Law to bring people to repentance and to show us our constant need for Jesus.

Do we look at other people and say, “At least I don’t do that sin!” It’s tempting to do when we see what we perceive to be truly scandalous behavior, but sins of the heart and sins committed in the dark outside the public eye are still grieving to God.  We are all guilty under the Law.

It is better for us to look at ourselves and say, “God, have mercy on me, a sinner, of whom I am chief?” (to borrow from the apostle Paul-1 Timothy 1:15 .)

The Holy Spirit is always there for us to call upon- in those dark times when we can’t see, in those times that we struggle with doubt, and in those times that we forget that mercy triumphs over judgment.

Speak and act as those who are going to be judged by the law that gives freedom, because judgment without mercy will be shown to anyone who has not been merciful. Mercy triumphs over judgment. James 2:12-14 (NIV)

Lord, may we be vessels of your light and comfort to those around us, and may we remember that it is only by your grace that we are forgiven and made your own.



March 13, 2018 Falling and Standing…and Snakes- Numbers 21:4-9, John 3:13-15, 1 Corinthians 10:6-13

moses bronze serpent.jpg

They traveled from Mount Hor along the route to the Red Sea to go around Edom. But the people grew impatient on the way; they spoke against God and against Moses, and said, “Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? There is no bread! There is no water! And we detest this miserable food!”

Then the Lord sent venomous snakes among them; they bit the people and many Israelites died. The people came to Moses and said, “We sinned when we spoke against the Lord and against you. Pray that the Lord will take the snakes away from us.” So Moses prayed for the people.

The Lord said to Moses, “Make a snake and put it up on a pole; anyone who is bitten can look at it and live.” So Moses made a bronze snake and put it up on a pole. Then when anyone was bitten by a snake and looked at the bronze snake, they lived. Numbers 21:4-9 (NIV)

No one has ever gone into heaven except the one who came from heaven—the Son of Man. Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, that everyone who believes may have eternal life in him.” John 3:13-15 (NIV)

Now these things occurred as examples to keep us from setting our hearts on evil things as they did. Do not be idolaters, as some of them were; as it is written: “The people sat down to eat and drink and got up to indulge in revelry.”  We should not commit sexual immorality, as some of them did—and in one day twenty-three thousand of them died. We should not test Christ, as some of them did—and were killed by snakes. And do not grumble, as some of them did—and were killed by the destroying angel.

These things happened to them as examples and were written down as warnings for us, on whom the culmination of the ages has come. So, if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall! No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it. 1 Corinthians 10:6-13 (NIV)

Temptation and snakes are themes that run throughout the Bible. The serpent tempted Eve, and we know how that story goes.  Humankind has a sort of uneasy relationship with the reptilian world, but a sort of love-hate relationship with temptation.  We know we shouldn’t give in to certain things…but we do, whether it is something as trivial as scarfing down that hot fudge sundae we know we really don’t need, or constantly whining and complaining and being surly and unkind, or even something devastating  such as succumbing to desire for someone other than our spouse, or murdering someone. Even worse, we don’t actually have to do the deed to sin. We just have to want to do it in our minds and hearts, and that is sin. God sees our hearts and knows our motives no matter what our outward behavior might suggest.  All of us are guilty and law-breakers according to God’s Law.

Temptation is everywhere and no one is immune. All sins are disobedience to God. The only differences are that some sins are more tempting than others, and some sins have deeper temporal consequences depending on the damage that gets done to others and in the greater society.  What may be a temptation for one person is not a temptation at all for someone else, but we are all tempted and vulnerable to various and sundry forms of sin.  The Ten Commandments (Exodus 20:1-17) are an excellent place for us to start to examine our hearts and see our sins revealed to us and put out in the open.

Temptation and sin are written into the human condition, snakes or no snakes. The apostle Paul makes it clear that we cannot live according to God’s will in our own power.  If we think we can live perfectly, upholding all Ten Commandments, all the time, we will fall flat on our faces.  We do fall flat on our faces, all the time.

We can only be made whole and healed of our sinful nature by looking to Jesus and confessing our sins. As the Israelites were bitten by the snakes- the bites that maimed and killed them were the consequences of their sins- God tells Moses to set up a bronze serpent.  Symbolically he is hanging up what has been made sin for them- so they may see their sins and have faith in God to look up, to confess their sins, and be healed of them. It was a free gift of mercy, a vision of Jesus.  It was God making a way for His people to be forgiven and healed of sin by faith even though they had earned the consequence of death by sinning against Him.

Jesus has been lifted up upon the Cross for us to look up to Him, to ask His forgiveness and be healed, to be forgiven, and to be made new. We look up knowing that He is our source of life.

Do we believe that Jesus has taken on our sins, no matter how bad we might think they are?

Do we believe He gives us what we need to resist temptation and live in a way that honors Him?

Do we trust that He purifies our hearts and motives and that He will make us more like Him?

Do we believe that on Calvary He became our sin, and in doing so, He put sin and death to death forever?

We can only stand and be justified (made good) before God because of Jesus. We can’t make ourselves good no matter how hard we try. Apart from Him we fall. The good news is that no matter how many times we fall, or how many times we overestimate our own abilities, because of Jesus we stand.  Because He was lifted up, because He put our sin to death, we stand in Him.

March 7, 2018- The Courts of the Lord and Trusting God- Psalm 84

god's courts

How lovely is your dwelling place, Lord Almighty!  My soul yearns, even faints, for the courts of the Lord; my heart and my flesh cry out for the living God. Even the sparrow has found a home, and the swallow a nest for herself, where she may have her young—a place near your altar, Lord Almighty, my King and my God. Blessed are those who dwell in your house; they are ever praising you.

Blessed are those whose strength is in you, whose hearts are set on pilgrimage. As they pass through the Valley of Baka, they make it a place of springs; the autumn rains also cover it with pools. They go from strength to strength, till each appears before God in Zion.

Hear my prayer, Lord God Almighty; listen to me, God of Jacob.  Look on our shield, O God; look with favor on your anointed one.

Better is one day in your courts than a thousand elsewhere; I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God than dwell in the tents of the wicked. For the Lord God is a sun and shield; the Lord bestows favor and honor; no good thing does he withhold from those whose walk is blameless.

 Lord Almighty, blessed is the one who trusts in you. Psalm 84 (NIV)

Trust is central to the human experience. Psychologist Erik Erickson explains this in his theory of child development. In Erikson’s first psychosocial stage, which he names as trust vs. mistrust, and lasts from birth until the age of around eighteen months, children learn to trust (or to mistrust) the world around them.  Children should be able to trust that their parents or caretakers are going to keep them fed, clean and secure.  According to Erikson, children who do not receive appropriate care in that early stage will continually struggle with mistrusting the world around them.  There is research that supports children who do not grow up learning to trust parents and caregivers are prone to trust issues and anxiety for the rest of their lives.

Most people experience varying degrees of mistrust. Sometimes it truly isn’t safe to trust the environment around us, and a healthy sense of trepidation is necessary. Even in a place of relative security, people who live with chronic (and sometimes unwarranted) anxiety for whatever reason, whether it be from traumatic childhoods, from chemical imbalances in their brains, or from experiences later in life, have a very difficult time with trust.  It’s hard to trust God when people have let you down- or when your own brain chemistry plays tricks on you.

Faith in God is a gift to us from the Holy Spirit. We are not able to come to faith save for God’s intervention.  In our Baptism we are named and claimed as God’s own.  He gives us the comfort of knowing that even though we can’t always trust the world around us, or even trust ourselves, God is always faithful and worthy of our trust.

The Kingdom of God is everywhere God is- which is everywhere! In a sense we are already present in God’s courts, when we gather with our family and friends, when we pray, when we experience God’s presence in Holy Communion.  We can take joy in those moments now, as well as we look forward to the day when we will be living completely and fully in God’s Kingdom forever.

March 6, 2018- Housecleaning- 2 Chronicles 29:1-11, 30-31, 35-36, Matthew 12:43-45


Hezekiah began to reign when he was twenty-five years old; he reigned twenty-nine years in Jerusalem. His mother’s name was Abijah daughter of Zechariah.  He did what was right in the sight of the Lord, just as his ancestor David had done.

In the first year of his reign, in the first month, he opened the doors of the house of the Lord and repaired them.  He brought in the priests and the Levites and assembled them in the square on the east.  He said to them, “Listen to me, Levites! Sanctify yourselves, and sanctify the house of the Lord, the God of your ancestors, and carry out the filth from the holy place. For our ancestors have been unfaithful and have done what was evil in the sight of the Lord our God; they have forsaken him, and have turned away their faces from the dwelling of the Lord, and turned their backs. They also shut the doors of the vestibule and put out the lamps, and have not offered incense or made burnt offerings in the holy place to the God of Israel.  Therefore the wrath of the Lord came upon Judah and Jerusalem, and he has made them an object of horror, of astonishment, and of hissing, as you see with your own eyes. Our fathers have fallen by the sword and our sons and our daughters and our wives are in captivity for this.  Now it is in my heart to make a covenant with the Lord, the God of Israel, so that his fierce anger may turn away from us.  My sons, do not now be negligent, for the Lord has chosen you to stand in his presence to minister to him, and to be his ministers and make offerings to him.”

King Hezekiah and the officials commanded the Levites to sing praises to the Lord with the words of David and of the seer Asaph. They sang praises with gladness, and they bowed down and worshiped.

Then Hezekiah said, “You have now consecrated yourselves to the Lord; come near, bring sacrifices and thank offerings to the house of the Lord.” The assembly brought sacrifices and thank offerings; and all who were of a willing heart brought burnt offerings.

Besides the great number of burnt offerings there was the fat of the offerings of well-being, and there were the drink offerings for the burnt offerings. Thus the service of the house of the Lord was restored. And Hezekiah and all the people rejoiced because of what God had done for the people; for the thing had come about suddenly. 2 Chronicles 29:1-11, 30-31, 35-36 (NIV)

(Jesus said): When the unclean spirit has gone out of a person, it wanders through waterless regions looking for a resting place, but it finds none. Then it says, ‘I will return to my house from which I came.’ When it comes, it finds it empty, swept, and put in order. Then it goes and brings along seven other spirits more evil than itself, and they enter and live there; and the last state of that person is worse than the first. So will it be also with this evil generation.” Matthew 12:43:45 (NIV)

Housecleaning is a necessary evil for most of us. Most people do not enjoy the process of cleaning, especially when it entails scrubbing grungy, dirty, sticky things that are caked with grease and grime, and throwing away useless clutter and trash.  Cleaning is work. Most people do enjoy being in clean and wholesome surroundings even though we might not like the process of getting to that clean state.

Hezekiah was one of the “good Kings” of Judah. He listened to God’s call to clean up his kingdom- to get rid of the idolatry, to clean up the temple and get rid of all the nasty practices and filth that the kings before him had tolerated and in some cases encouraged.  Hezekiah was also entrusted- and empowered- by God to restore the practice of regular worship to the kingdom of Judah.

There are some important things that we learn about spiritual housecleaning in these passages. The first thing that we learn is that spiritual housecleaning- becoming more like Jesus- or sanctification– is something God wants for us, and He is the one who empowers us and calls us to do it.

The first thing that the priests do in the passage from 2 Chronicles is to carry out the filth. Before we can get our space back to a clean and wholesome environment, we have to take out the trash.  To clean the kitchen one must scrape the dishes, wash the dishes, clean the counters, sweep and mop the floor, and throw away the scraps.  We don’t prepare a fresh meal amidst the trash and leftovers of the last meal. Otherwise fresh food might get contaminated by something that was spoiled.

When we clean up the kitchen, we don’t clean it up to just look at it and enjoy its cleanliness. We clean up the kitchen so that we can prepare healthy and tasty meals, and so that we can serve and nourish our families and friends. We have to clean up often too, because no sooner than we clean things up, they get dirty again.  It’s part of life.  Cleanliness requires maintenance.

God wanted the people of Judah to clean up their act- not just to look pretty- but so that they would be free to serve Him and each other. God gives them- and us- the ability to come close to and serve Him. It is a joy and a privilege to serve God, rather than a duty or a burden.

This is why Jesus tells us that while repenting (turning away from sinful thoughts and actions) and cleaning up our act is good and necessary, once we have repented and gotten ourselves clean, it is also necessary for us to embrace the purpose God intends for us. Otherwise, given human nature, we will fall back into our old bad habits, and worse. Becoming more like Jesus is a journey, and it is a process.  As God’s church, during the season of Lent we engage in repentance- a good spiritual spring cleaning as it were.  We don’t repent and ask Jesus to “clean us up” to look pretty.  We do this intentionally so that we can more fully embrace and engage ourselves in following Jesus and being God’s people.

Many of us probably heard the expression, “Idle hands are the Devil’s workshop,” from our mothers and/or grandmothers. If we don’t occupy ourselves with good and wholesome things, we will find not-so-wholesome things with which to occupy ourselves. Children are great examples of this principle.  When children are not occupied with a purposeful task, the odds are that they will find their ways into mischief.  We are all subject to finding mischief!

Service is the spiritual discipline of doing good things in the world by serving others.  We begin our spiritual housecleaning by asking the Holy Spirit to clear our minds and hearts of the crud- bringing ourselves to Jesus in repentance. We continue our sanctification (letting Jesus conform our hearts and minds to His will) by letting God show us how we can serve Him and others by keeping our minds and bodies occupied with good and wholesome thoughts and deeds.

God gives us His great and free gift of salvation in Jesus. He gives us the gifts of repentance and forgiveness. He also gives us the heart to serve others and to live according to His purpose for us. How can we serve God today?