April 13, 2020 He is Risen! So What Does This Mean? Matthew 28:16-20, 1 Corinthians 2:1-5

upper room

Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. And when they saw him they worshiped him, but some doubted. And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” Matthew 28:16-20 (ESV)

And I, (the apostle Paul) when I came to you, brothers, did not come proclaiming to you the testimony of God with lofty speech or wisdom. For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. And I was with you in weakness and in fear and much trembling,and my speech and my message were not in plausible words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power,so that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God. 1 Corinthians 2:1-5 (ESV)

Jesus gives His disciples the Great Commission and tells them to go out, to baptize, to teach, and to preach. It sounds so easy, but going out to teach and preach proves to be life changing for the disciples, and not necessarily in a good way. All but one of the original twelve disciples died as martyrs- the exception being the disciple John who lived out his life in exile on the island of Patmos, where he wrote Revelation, the final book of the Bible.

The reality of the risen Jesus was not lost on the disciples. Since Jesus is raised from the dead, since His promise to us is sure, then where is the fear of death?

The apostle Paul realized that teaching about Jesus wasn’t necessarily based on flowery words and deep theology.  Paul aspired to know nothing but Christ crucified, and to let the Holy Spirit speak through his words.  The phrase, “Just give me Jesus,” comes to mind. Apart from Him, nothing else on heaven or earth matters.

In these trying times it can be challenging to know nothing but Christ crucified- when there is so much uncertainty and so many urgent things clamoring for our attention. Yet only in Him do we find comfort and peace, and courage. Since we know that death is not the end, in Christ we have the confidence to be bold.  We have the confidence to speak the truth, to love, to sacrifice, because He is risen.  Death holds no power over Him, and death is not the end for us.

Our faith cannot rest in the wisdom of fallible humans- humans who once believed the world was flat, humans whose best science and technology is flawed and often ill-informed.

Our faith must be in the risen Christ, the first fruits of they who sleep.

He is Risen!  He is Risen, indeed.  Lord Jesus, give us the gift of faith so that we will never wander far from You.

 

 

January 18, 2018 – Courage, Conversion and Salvation- Acts 4:8-12, Psalm 118:22-24, Romans 8:26-27

cornerstone

 

Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said to them: “Rulers and elders of the people! If we are being called to account today for an act of kindness shown to a man who was lame and are being asked how he was healed, then know this, you and all the people of Israel: It is by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified but whom God raised from the dead, that this man stands before you healed.  Jesus is:

“‘the stone you builders rejected,  which has become the cornerstone.’

Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to mankind by which we must be saved.” Acts 4:8-12 (NIV)

The stone the builders rejected has become the cornerstone; The Lord has done this, and it is marvelous in our eyes. The Lord has done it this very day; Let us rejoice today and be glad. Psalm 118:22-24 (NIV)

Imagine the courage it would take to do what Peter did- to stand up to the authorities and defend his faith.

What would we do in Peter’s position? This was the same guy who had denied Jesus three times before the cock crowed (Matthew 26:75.)  Yet after Jesus’ resurrection and ascension Peter had been filled with the Holy Spirit.  He had supernatural courage that only God could give him to speak boldly even when such speech could cost him his freedom or even his life.

Sometimes we wonder if the Holy Spirit is still at work today. Where is that courage we need when we aren’t feeling it, or when we know we should speak up for what is right, but we don’t?

“In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans. And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for God’s people in accordance with the will of God.” Romans 8:26-27 (NIV)

We can be confident that God the Holy Spirit will fill in the gaps. He is strong where we are weak.  That is how Peter, who betrayed Jesus three times, became a bold and stalwart witness for Him.

The Holy Spirit still intervenes for us today. He brings us back to the One Who has become the cornerstone. He gives us the courage to stand when we no longer have- or never did have- the power to stand on our own.  He brings us back from a place of denial and cowardice into a place of defending our faith.

Different Christian traditions have differing views on soteriology (the “how” of salvation) but we can all agree on the Who of salvation.  Whether we believe that salvation is a one-time lightning bolt event, whether we believe we choose God, or that He chooses us, or whether we believe salvation is a gradual and life-long process, the Who of salvation is not in question. It all comes back to the Cornerstone the builders rejected, the Suffering Servant (Isaiah 53:1-5) who Isaiah spoke of so long ago.

Perhaps we can agree that the Holy Spirit has endless means of grace at His disposal. After all, Saul the Pharisee- who became the apostle Paul- was knocked off his high horse on the Damascus Road. That was a pretty dramatic conversion event.  Some of us have experienced dramatic conversion events as well.  Others of us have gently grown into faith over the years through a series of small epiphanies and discoveries about God.  God does speak to each of us differently, and we are called to respond.  We can trust that when we are asked to attest to the reality and the power of God in Christ, the Holy Spirit will lead us and give us the words we need when we don’t have our own.

November 6, 2017- Simple Faith in a Greater God- 1 John 4:4-5 (NRSV) Joshua 1:9 (NRSV)

god wins

Little children, you are from God, and have conquered them; for the one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world.  They are from the world; therefore what they say is from the world, and the world listens to them. 1 John 4:4-5 (NRSV)

 Thankfully, God is so often the champion of the underdog. We see evil in so many places and in so many experiences in this world that it’s easy to get discouraged.  Terrorism, random violence, not so random violence, drug addiction, poverty, natural disaster and disease are regular features in the news.

We wonder why. We ask God why these things go on in the world and why they don’t stop.  We wonder if evil really will win out.

So how can we believe in a greater God when we are so powerless in a world filled with heartbreak and evil and sin?

If this life in this temporary world was the only and final reality, then perhaps there would be cause for despair.

But we have a greater hope, not just for the end of days (or the end of our own personal days) but for now and always.

I hereby command you: “Be strong and courageous; do not be frightened or dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.” Joshua 1:9 (NRSV)

 How can we keep on going on when we are afraid, depleted, discouraged, in pain, or just plain overwhelmed? How do we keep our faith and sanity when we see and experience the insanity that is so pervasive in our world?

God is with us. Have courage.

June 7, 2017 Courage Has Its Rewards, and Selfishness Has Its Consequences – 1 Samuel 25:35-42

Abigail

Then David received from her hand what she had brought him; he said to her, “Go up to your house in peace; see, I have heeded your voice, and I have granted your petition.”

Abigail came to Nabal; he was holding a feast in his house, like the feast of a king. Nabal’s heart was merry within him, for he was very drunk; so she told him nothing at all until the morning light.  In the morning, when the wine had gone out of Nabal, his wife told him these things, and his heart died within him; he became like a stone.  About ten days later the Lord struck Nabal, and he died.

When David heard that Nabal was dead, he said, “Blessed be the Lord who has judged the case of Nabal’s insult to me, and has kept back his servant from evil; the Lord has returned the evildoing of Nabal upon his own head.” Then David sent and wooed Abigail, to make her his wife.  When David’s servants came to Abigail at Carmel, they said to her, “David has sent us to you to take you to him as his wife.” She rose and bowed down, with her face to the ground, and said, “Your servant is a slave to wash the feet of the servants of my lord.” Abigail got up hurriedly and rode away on a donkey; her five maids attended her. She went after the messengers of David and became his wife. 1 Samuel 25:35-42 (NRSV)

On one level this narrative is a cautionary tale regarding natural law, or of “what goes around comes around.” It is human nature to find it rewarding to see someone reap the natural consequences of his or her actions (or of his or her failure to act.)  It is a bit more humbling to realize that as much as we would want to always be an Abigail or a David in this story, we are also Nabals.  Save by the grace of God, we could all be considered selfish, short-sighted and possibly even drunken fools, just as deserving to be struck down as Nabal was.

There is peace to be found in having the courage to do the right thing.  Not only did Abigail avert the sure wrath of David and his men by making provision for them, but she also got God’s attention.  God responded to her dilemma and rewarded her faithfulness by improving her situation.  As cruel as it may sound, Abigail and her household likely had great peace when Nabal dropped dead.  No more drunken ravings.  No more offending all the neighbors and putting up with loud parties in the middle of the night and slogging through the inevitable clean up in the morning.  No more having to cover for someone too drunk to think rationally.  Those who have lived with alcoholics or those addicted to other drugs know what it is to always be walking on eggshells, not knowing what will trigger the next drunken, destructive rage.  Living with someone who is not in their right mind for whatever reason is a stressful and soul killing way to live.

It is true that the reward for being courageous is not always readily apparent, and the consequences for foolishness are not always so swift or obvious. Sometimes we do not see our reward while we live on this earth, even though in Christ we can be confident that He is storing our treasures in heaven.  We live under God’s grace, and He knows that we fail and don’t always succeed at doing the right thing.  He gives us many chances to repent (to turn around and go the opposite direction) when we are headed the wrong way.  If we were left to the harsh reality of natural law apart from the grace of God, none of us would be able to stand on our own merit.

The wisdom to be found here is in listening to the voice of God, and in appreciating (and extending) the grace and mercy of God. Do we heed the warnings of others like David did when Abigail approached him and apologized for her husband’s surliness and inhospitality?  Do we extend grace even in situations in which it would be justifiable to lash out?

June 5, 2017 – Everyday Courage- 1 Samuel 25:14-18

abigail-intervenesBut one of the young men told Abigail, Nabal’s wife, “David sent messengers out of the wilderness to salute our master; and he shouted insults at them. Yet the men were very good to us, and we suffered no harm, and we never missed anything when we were in the fields, as long as we were with them; they were a wall to us both by night and by day, all the while we were with them keeping the sheep. Now therefore know this and consider what you should do; for evil has been decided against our master and against all his house; he is so ill-natured that no one can speak to him.”

Then Abigail hurried and took two hundred loaves, two skins of wine, five sheep ready dressed, five measures of parched grain, one hundred clusters of raisins, and two hundred cakes of figs. She loaded them on donkeys,  and said to her young men, “Go on ahead of me; I am coming after you.” But she did not tell her husband Nabal. 1 Samuel 25:14-19 (NRSV)

The name “Nabal” means “fool.” As we all know, sometimes foolish people are put in positions of authority.  Sometimes others (and sometimes we do too) make bad decisions that put many people’s livelihood or safety at risk. Then we can be brought to a decision of our own.  Do we just go along with the fool in charge for the sake of our own stability or to preserve our own skin, or do we do the right thing even though it might put our own livelihood or safety at risk?

nabal the fool

Courage has been defined as, “feeling the fear, but doing the right thing anyway.” Being courageous is not the same thing as being fearless.  Knowing the risk and the possible consequences that can result from taking action requires even more courage.  There can be very real dangers involved in “doing the right thing anyway.”  Radical courage can cost us our possessions, our wealth and even our earthly lives.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer was a Lutheran pastor in Germany during WWII who opposed Nazi control of the churches, and actively worked to help Jews escape from Germany.  He was imprisoned for his vocal opposition to the Nazi regime, and died in a concentration camp.  Bonhoeffer carried on his message and his work for justice even though his courage in doing so ultimately cost him his life.  God may only call a few of us to the extraordinary courage of a Dietrich Bonhoeffer, but He calls all of us to everyday courage.

dietrich bonhoeffer

We may not be put in a place where we have to stand up to Hitler, but there are everyday places where we have to stand and just do what’s right even when we are afraid. We all have to deal with everyday jerks who treat others unfairly.   Sometimes like Abigail we have to just do the right thing and not worry about the jerk who would whine and cry about it, the jerk who would try to forbid it, or the jerk who could possibly cause us harm in retaliation.

While Abigail was ultimately rewarded for her courage, she took a great risk. In her day, her husband could have had her tortured or killed or sold into slavery, had he been sober enough to realize that she had defied him.

Abigail still made the right decision for her family and her household when her husband would or could not do the right thing. That put her in an awkward position, just as sometimes we get put in awkward positions when we try to do the right thing.  Do we look the other way when we know there is domestic violence or drug abuse going on in a friend or family member’s home?  Do we fail to intervene and perhaps avert a tragedy because we are afraid?  Do we look the other way when we know others are lonely or hungry or in need of a friend?

Everyday courage for us may mean a series of little things that add up to big things. Everyday courage may mean taking a moment to compliment someone, or to help out in a little way- holding a door, carrying a package, or maybe writing a note of encouragement to someone who is struggling.

Abigail could have ignored the needs of David and his men. After all, in her day women were supposed to be subservient to their husbands even when their husbands were fools.  But she took the high road of courage and did the right thing.

God created us to be courageous. Our purpose is to bring about His kingdom here on earth.  Even though many times we are afraid, God equips us for the purpose He created us for.

April 10, 2017- Monday of Holy Week – James 5:16

vulnerable

We need to make ourselves  vulnerable.  We need to admit that we are weak and fully dependent upon God.  We need the prayers and intercession of others.  We need restoring for our souls.

“Confess to one another therefore your faults (your slips, your false steps, your offenses, your sins) and pray [also] for one another, that you may be healed and restored [to a spiritual tone of mind and heart].  The earnest (heartfelt, continued) prayer of a righteous man makes tremendous power available [dynamic in its working].” James 5:16 (AMP)

Traditionally Holy Week has been a time of prayer, contemplation and reflection.  As we reflect upon Jesus’ journey from the Triumphal Entry on Palm Sunday to His Passion on Good Friday, we are called to examine ourselves as well.

The apostle Peter (who was anything but a wallflower) thought that he could hang tough with Jesus when the time came, but his reaction was very different when he was thrown into the time of trial.

“Peter said to him, ‘Though all become deserters because of you, I will never desert you.”’ Jesus said to him, ‘Truly I tell you, this very night, before the cock crows, you will deny me three times.’ Peter said to him, ‘Even though I must die with you, I will not deny you.’ And so said all the disciples.” Matthew 26:33-35 (NRSV)

Who could blame the apostle Peter for acting as any scared human being would?  Sometimes we speak with crocodile mouths, only to discover we have canary patoots.  We can be cowards.  Sometimes the only way we can muddle through trials is by the power of the Holy Spirit, and even then we struggle.  We only pray to have as willing a heart as Peter. Our intentions are good, though our flesh is weak.

If we were to enumerate our faults, sins, false moves, bad judgment, poor decisions, and so on, one by one, it would take us years.  We are inherently flawed. It is part of the human condition.

It’s important for us to see the apostles and other heavy hitter characters in the Bible for who they are- simple, human people who GOD used for big purposes.  Apart from meeting up with Jesus on the shores of the Sea of Galilee, the apostle Peter would simply have been an obscure fisherman like so many other fishermen of his day, and his name would be lost to history forever.

That’s why I have a little bit of cognitive dissonance with putting “saints” on a pedestal.  We should examine the lives of the people who are part of the Biblical narrative.  We should thank God for their record and their witness, but to see the players in the Biblical story as serene figures on stained glass windows misses the point.  They were flesh and blood human beings.  They made mistakes.

Saints in stained-glass

The aesthetic of stained glass windows is lovely, but we miss the point if this is the only way we see the “saints.”

The calling to the Christian life is a bold calling.  It is a calling that requires us to be open and vulnerable if we are to allow the power of the Holy Spirit to transform us- not only through our own prayers but through the intercessory prayers of others.

The Christian community is important- it is the Church Militant here on earth.  Although the military reference is rather un-PC, we are called to fight, not with weapons but with healing actions and gentle words.  We are the ground forces here on earth who live out the Kingdom of God here and now.

We should see the apostle Peter as he was- a tough, barely educated, coarse, fisherman who worked with his hands.   It’s easy for us to relate to a guy like that.  He wasn’t someone with pretty clothes and a halo on a window when he was living and acting down here on earth.  He did some things right.  He made some pretty drastic mistakes.  He was human.  What made him and his witness special and gave him purpose was God working in and through him.

This Holy Week we pray for our friends and fellow Christians that we would look to Jesus for our courage- because we don’t have any reason to be courageous apart from Him.  We pray the Holy Spirit would open our hearts and make us vulnerable- not so anyone can take advantage of us- (we have all been there and done that too many times)- but so Jesus can give us a new heart and new strength, that He would transform us and invite us into His story.

“A new heart I will give you, and a new spirit I will put within you; and I will remove from your body the heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh.”  Ezekiel 36:36 (NRSV)