March 27, 2019- Who is the Greatest? Mark 9:33-50

suffer-the-children.jpg

And they (Jesus and His disciples) came to Capernaum. And when he was in the house he asked them, “What were you discussing on the way?” But they kept silent, for on the way they had argued with one another about who was the greatest. And he sat down and called the twelve. And he said to them, “If anyone would be first, he must be last of all and servant of all.” And he took a child and put him in the midst of them, and taking him in his arms, he said to them, “Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me, and whoever receives me, receives not me but him who sent me.”

 John said to him, “Teacher, we saw someone casting out demons in your name, and we tried to stop him, because he was not following us.”  But Jesus said, “Do not stop him, for no one who does a mighty work in my name will be able soon afterward to speak evil of me. For the one who is not against us is for us. For truly, I say to you, whoever gives you a cup of water to drink because you belong to Christ will by no means lose his reward.

 “Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him if a great millstone were hung around his neck and he were thrown into the sea. And if your hand causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life crippled than with two hands to go to hell, to the unquenchable fire. And if your foot causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life lame than with two feet to be thrown into hell.  And if your eye causes you to sin, tear it out. It is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than with two eyes to be thrown into hell, ‘where their worm does not die and the fire is not quenched.’  For everyone will be salted with fire. Salt is good, but if the salt has lost its saltiness, how will you make it salty again? Have salt in yourselves, and be at peace with one another.” Mark 9:33-50 (ESV)

So who is the greatest? It’s a very human question. If we were to answer that question from our own perspective, would we look to historical “greats” such as Abraham Lincoln, or Winston Churchill or Mahatma Gandhi?  We like to categorize people and things- the top 40 pop songs, the 10 greatest visual artists, the 5 top movies of the season.  It seems silly that the disciples argued over who was the greatest among them, but we do the same thing to each other all the time.  We speculate over who has the most prestige, the most money, the best car, etc. and so on.

Jesus has different categories than we do. Who is greatest in the kingdom of God?  The helpless child, the one who quietly and humbly serves, the person suffering from dementia who doesn’t remember who he is, or the mentally challenged person whose only real ability is to smile- these are normally people considered among the “least.”  Yet in Jesus’ economy, these are the greatest, the ones to be considered first.

Jesus takes educating children in the faith (catechesis) very seriously.  As parents, grandparents and concerned people of God, we should care about our children’s Christian education.  Public schools are not permitted to teach anything regarding Christian faith.  Kids will NOT hear the Word of God or be taught about Jesus in public school.  If our children are going to know Jesus they need to learn about Him at home from parents and grandparents.  If children aren’t learning about Jesus from parents and grandparents then we as the church need to offer a safe place for kids to come to learn with solid resources.  Kids’ Worship, VBS, Day Camp, Scouts and Catechism all are ministries designed to bring the Word of God to our children. (Romans 10:17- So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.)

Jesus uses some very harsh language to describe the plight of those who mislead or mistreat children or who take advantage of people who are ignorant about Him. He also uses harsh language to remind us just how ugly our sin is, and to underscore how it separates us from Him.

He does not mean for us to literally put our eyes out or cut our limbs off, but to avoid those things that lead us to sin. The wages of sin is death, death that manifests itself in so many ways.  Therefore we should work together with other Christians and we should strive to help each other live in a way that is pleasing to God.

We are not able to live perfectly without sin. We live with one foot in an imperfect world and the other in the kingdom of God. Jesus has made us perfect in God’s sight- by faith.  By faith we respond by sharing the Good News with our children.

 

April 23, 2018- Gentle Jesus, May We Be Like You- 1 Peter 5:1-5, Romans 10:17, Matthew 23:11-12

Type = ArtScans RGB : Gamma = 1.882

To the elders among you, I appeal as a fellow elder and a witness of Christ’s sufferings who also will share in the glory to be revealed:  Be shepherds of God’s flock that is under your care, watching over them—not because you must, but because you are willing, as God wants you to be; not pursuing dishonest gain, but eager to serve; not lording it over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock.   And when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the crown of glory that will never fade away.

In the same way, you who are younger, submit yourselves to your elders. All of you, clothe yourselves with humility toward one another, because,

“God opposes the proud but shows favor to the humble.” 1 Peter 5:1-5 (NIV)

The apostle Peter is displaying Jesus’ example of self sacrifice and serving others in the community. He teaches humility, living by example, and sacrificing one’s time and treasure for others. His example points us to Jesus.

Not every person or organization who claims to be part of Christ’s church truly represents Him. The Gospel is good news, but not easy news.  Anyone who teaches a theology of anything other than a theology of the Cross – one in which we are urged to pick up our own crosses and follow Jesus- is not teaching right theology. The Bible always brings us back to the foot of the Cross, and to the heart of Jesus.  If we truly follow Jesus we will sacrifice and we will suffer.  We will not lead others to worship us, but we will lead others to worship Jesus. We are called to strive to be more like Him and to serve as humble examples for others.

It is especially important for adults to look after the young and vulnerable around us. There is a horrible scourge of drugs and crime that are rampant in our community. Too many young people are left adrift to their own devices, without access to solid mentors and advisors, let alone access to any sort of Christian education.  As we know, Bible teaching is not permitted in public schools, so teachers’ hands may be tied as far as answering questions about Jesus or sharing the Bible with them.  It is important for us to shepherd children and teens in the ways and places where we are able. The Holy Spirit can open doors to essential conversations about Jesus when we take the time to care for kids.  This is a life and death endeavor.  Faith does come by the Holy Spirit, yes, but through hearing the Gospel. (Romans 10:17) God put us here so that others may hear– not just with their ears, but through the acts of sacrifice, mercy and love that God gives us the grace to do.

Children and teens don’t need “holier than thou” adults- they need “Jesus’ servant heart in me” adults.  They need adults who they can confide in, adults who will listen, adults who will take the time and spend the resources to care for them- physically, emotionally and spiritually.

(Jesus said) :The greatest among you will be your servant. For those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted. Matthew 23:11-12 (NIV)

As Jesus reached out to those who were struggling and hurting, He was gentle. He comforted those who were fragile and depleted.  Though He is perfectly within His right to step down with an iron boot on sinful and broken humanity, as the prophet Isaiah foretold, Jesus comes to us- and especially to the marginalized and poor- with comfort and healing.

“Here is my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen one in whom I delight; I will put my Spirit on him, and he will bring justice to the nations.  He will not shout or cry out, or raise his voice in the streets. A bruised reed he will not break, and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out. In faithfulness he will bring forth justice; he will not falter or be discouraged till he establishes justice on earth.  In his teaching the islands will put their hope.” Isaiah 42:1-4 (NIV)

We are called to follow the example of Jesus, the Suffering Servant. The hurting, the hopeless and the wounded of this world will be able to see Jesus through us, as we bind their wounds (visible and invisible) and do what we can do to meet their needs.

Gentle Jesus, help us to be gentle with the hurting and weak as You are. Help us to be caring toward others, and help us keep from breaking those around us who are bruised reeds.

December 1, 2017- Faith Fulfilled, John the Baptist and Joy in the Morning- Luke 1:1-25, Psalm 30:5

zechariah

In the days of King Herod of Judea, there was a priest named Zechariah, who belonged to the priestly order of Abijah. His wife was a descendant of Aaron, and her name was Elizabeth.  Both of them were righteous before God, living blamelessly according to all the commandments and regulations of the Lord. But they had no children, because Elizabeth was barren, and both were getting on in years.

Once when he was serving as priest before God and his section was on duty, he was chosen by lot, according to the custom of the priesthood, to enter the sanctuary of the Lord and offer incense. Now at the time of the incense offering, the whole assembly of the people was praying outside.  Then there appeared to him an angel of the Lord, standing at the right side of the altar of incense. When Zechariah saw him, he was terrified; and fear overwhelmed him.  But the angel said to him, “Do not be afraid, Zechariah, for your prayer has been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you will name him John. You will have joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth, for he will be great in the sight of the Lord. He must never drink wine or strong drink; even before his birth he will be filled with the Holy Spirit.  He will turn many of the people of Israel to the Lord their God. With the spirit and power of Elijah he will go before him, to turn the hearts of parents to their children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the righteous, to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.” Zechariah said to the angel, “How will I know that this is so? For I am an old man, and my wife is getting on in years.”  

 The angel replied, “I am Gabriel. I stand in the presence of God, and I have been sent to speak to you and to bring you this good news.  But now, because you did not believe my words, which will be fulfilled in their time, you will become mute, unable to speak, until the day these things occur.”

 Meanwhile the people were waiting for Zechariah, and wondered at his delay in the sanctuary. When he did come out, he could not speak to them, and they realized that he had seen a vision in the sanctuary. He kept motioning to them and remained unable to speak. When his time of service was ended, he went to his home.

After those days his wife Elizabeth conceived, and for five months she remained in seclusion. She said, “This is what the Lord has done for me when he looked favorably on me and took away the disgrace I have endured among my people.” Luke 1:1-25 (NRSV)

Infertility is not just a modern issue. In Biblical times children (specifically sons) were viewed as gifts from God.  If a woman was not blessed with children those around her wondered what was wrong with her.  She was viewed as “defective,” and her husband was considered to be “cursed.” Zechariah and Elizabeth both wondered what they had done that was so wrong that God withheld children from them.  They had come to that place in life where they had probably accepted that they would never be parents.

Yet they still prayed, even when what they were seeing didn’t coincide with what they believed and hoped for.

Faith is not the absence of doubt, nor is it denying reality. Faith is trust in God that He has made a way, even if that way doesn’t fall in line with our expectations. God has the infinite ability to exceed our expectations and to answer our prayers in ways that we can’t envision.

For Zechariah (who had his doubt issues!) and Elizabeth the waiting and disappointment ended when God gave them the joy of a son in their advanced age, a son who God had very special plans for, who He chose to reserve for a couple who would cherish him and raise him in a home that honors God.

It seems a bit confusing that John the Baptist was a very austere man- set aside from the time of his conception to follow the Nazirite vow, (Numbers 6:1-21) a man who lived frugally, by himself, yet Jesus, his cousin who followed, enjoyed eating and drinking and celebrating.

John was a man who paved the way- a man who pled with us to get rid of all the things that aren’t necessary, to open our hearts and minds to receive God With Us. It is said he was the last of the Old Testament prophets and the first of the New Testament disciples.  He walked that long, lonely path of waiting and anticipating the “not yet.”

Many of us who walk similar paths of waiting and praying- those of us who are anticipating a breakthrough in our lives, whether it be an improvement in health, healing of relationships, financial worries, often have a hard time holding on to faith. We endure loss, suffering and pain of myriad kinds in this lifetime.  Whether we are aware of it or not, God does hear our prayers.  He does walk with us.  He does weep and mourn with us.  And He holds the promise of joy in the morning.

Our lives carry stories of tragedy redeemed. We live stories like the story of Ruth, who had lost everything and whose life looked hopeless, until she discovered Boaz, who married her and redeemed her. (Ruth 4)

Zechariah and Elizabeth had their joy in the morning. Infertility wasn’t the end of their story. Many of us are still in our lost and mourning and suffering part of the journey, wandering in the wilderness.  In this world we are waiting, anticipating, and almost consigning ourselves to the fact that the status quo will prevail.  God says differently. In the season of Advent we learn there is a Savior coming to us.  We can endure the waiting, the doubt, the suffering, because God With Us has promised healing, redemption and hope.  There will be joy in the morning.

For his anger is but for a moment; his favor is for a lifetime. Weeping may linger for the night, but joy comes with the morning. Psalm 30:5 (NRSV)

 

 

September 19, 2017- The I AM God- Exodus 20:1-6, Genesis 1:1, John 1:1-5

in the beginning

I AM, the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery; you shall have no other gods before Me.

You shall not make for yourself an idol, whether in the form of anything that is in heaven above, or that is on the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth.

You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I the Lord your God am a jealous God, punishing children for the iniquity of parents, to the third and the fourth generation of those who reject Me, but showing steadfast love to the thousandth generation of those who love Me and keep My commandments. Exodus 20:1-6 (NRSV)

The Ten Commandments are about healthy relationships and safe boundaries. The purpose of the Law is to maintain harmony and order and keep our lives productive and safe.  It is God’s will for us to have a right relationship with Him and with those in the world around us.  The first three Commandments have to do with our relationship and our boundaries with God.  The final seven have to do with our relationships and boundaries with others- rules for harmonious society.

Genesis 1:1 introduces us to not only our journey in Scripture, but to the Source of everything: In the beginning, God. John 1:1-5 expands upon that beginning, letting us know that Jesus is the Eternal Life and Light and Hope.

In the First Commandment as in Genesis 1:1, and in the introduction to the Gospel of John, we are reminded Who God is. This revelation about the being and nature of God is important for us to bear in mind.  He is not a material object.  He is not someone or something we can dismiss or ignore.  We may choose not to believe in God, but God is real and active as He has been and will be throughout all of time. He is the One from Whom all creation springs forth.

Because God is God, He commands certain respect and exclusivities from us.

Idolatry is not confined to golden calves or various venerated man-made icons. We can worship at the altar of money, or status, or attention, or pleasure.  We can set up mortal people as idols, especially ourselves.

There are some that claim that the ultimate idolatry- the sin of the Garden if you will- is the condition of pride. Instead of surrendering the petition of the Lord’s Prayer, “thy will be done,” in our own weakness and arrogance we insist that, “my will be done.”  It’s the rebellion of man that is old as time, and that we struggle with daily as long as we have breath and walk this earth.  Pride is the sin of Eve believing the serpent when he tempts her with, “If you eat of it… you will be like God.” (Genesis 3:4-5)  We all know how that one turned out.

For our own good, God set a boundary around worship. In the First Commandment, He says to us, “Worship Me only, because I made you, I am your Creator, and I have only good for you in My heart.”  When we worship God and put Him first, our lives reflect His sovereignty.  The Law shows us the way to run toward Jesus and the Gospel- so that His light and love in the Holy Spirit are free to flow in and through us.

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.

 

June 14, 2017- An Unlikely Teacher- Luke 2:47-52

Jesus at the Temple

And all who heard him (Jesus) were amazed at his understanding and his answers. When his parents saw him they were astonished; and his mother said to him, “Child, why have you treated us like this? Look, your father and I have been searching for you in great anxiety.” He said to them, “Why were you searching for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” But they did not understand what he said to them. Then he went down with them and came to Nazareth, and was obedient to them. His mother treasured all these things in her heart.

And Jesus increased in wisdom and in years, and in divine and human favor.  Luke 2:47-52 (NRSV)

Our children are not really our own. In reality, God entrusts us with His children. We have a responsibility to our (God’s…) children to keep them safe, to provide for their bodily health and shelter, to see that they receive a quality education, and to provide a good moral and spiritual example.  Most parents would be terrified beyond belief should their twelve year old be missing for three days, and justifiably so.

Even though our children are not divine, (they might like us to think so at times) they are also not their parents.  Our children will do things that scare us, disappoint us, and even amaze us- but in the end they are the people God created them to be.  We may not understand God’s purpose for our children any better than we understand His purpose for us at times, but God always has a purpose for every one of His children, whether we agree with Him or not.

It is a balancing act for parents, knowing when to assert authority and set strong boundaries, and when to stand back and listen and let our children go. Since we are responsible for keeping our children safe and from harm’s way sometimes we err on the side of being too closed minded and overprotective.  Sometimes we fail to give their thoughts and ambitions the respect they deserve- and in doing so we may hold them back from being the people God created them to be.

Jesus was God when He was on this earth and was only twelve years old, teaching in the temple. Jesus knew His purpose and followed His Father’s desire for Him to be in the temple teaching, which shows remarkable wisdom for a twelve year old boy.   Even though we know Jesus displayed such wisdom even at such a young age, how many of us would be willing to take instructions from a preteen boy?

Do we overlook wisdom because we can’t see past the source?

It’s easy to forget that God doesn’t place the same parameters on wisdom and heroism that our society does. God’s wisdom can come from the very young, the very old, the developmentally disabled, or those who society looks down upon- anyone.  God’s choices aren’t always the obvious ones.

If we were to see with God’s eyes, how would He open our hearts to listen to and follow His wisdom?

If we were to love with God’s heart, how would our view of others and the world around us change?

March 22, 2017- Bring the Children- Luke 18:16-17

 

jesus_w_children_600But Jesus called for them and said, “Let the little children come to Me, and do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the Kingdom of God belongs. Truly I tell you, whoever does not receive the Kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it.” Luke 18:16-17 (NRSV)

Children are bold and trusting by nature, until they spend some time out in the real world where hurts and betrayals happen. Parents and caregivers constantly give cautions to trusting young children because young children haven’t learned the difference between when it’s OK to trust, and when it’s dangerous to trust.

As part of the process of living and growing up most children end up with a healthy dose of cynicism and reticence toward the world before reaching adulthood. We become too distrustful and jaded for our own good.  In many ways that distrust and cynicism is warranted, as the world isn’t always a very safe place and life can be hard at times.  Friends and family fall short of their promises.  Disappointments and hurts happen.  There are many instances in which it is downright dangerous to trust others.

As we come of age we lose that childlike innocence and we pick up all kinds of inhibitions and doubts- even if they come from legitimate efforts to stay safe- that make it harder for us to simply trust.

Jesus says that we need to come to Him with that childlike innocence and hard-wired trust that only children have. He welcomes us to Him in perfect love and safety.

That’s not easy to do. Especially for adults with jaded and cynical minds and the emotional and spiritual scars that come along with living life.

This is why the Holy Spirit intervenes on our behalf to help us surrender the things that would keep us away from God and bring us to Jesus- the Way, the Truth and the Life. He wants us to surrender our burdens, our fears, our pain, our sins- everything.

(Jesus said): “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Matthew 11:28 (NRSV)

We can trust Jesus with everything we are- without reservations, without fear, and without limits. And we have the Holy Spirit always available to help us do that.