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

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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.

November 24, 2017 – Christ, the King! Colossians 2:6-19, Matthew 20:25-28

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As you therefore have received Christ Jesus the Lord, continue to live your lives in him, rooted and built up in him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving.

See to it that no one takes you captive through philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the universe, and not according to Christ.  For in him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily, and you have come to fullness in him, who is the head of every ruler and authority.

 In him also you were circumcised with a spiritual circumcision  by putting off the body of the flesh in the circumcision of Christ; when you were buried with him in baptism, you were also raised with him through faith in the power of God, who raised him from the dead. And when you were dead in trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made you alive together with him, when he forgave us all our trespasses, erasing the record that stood against us with its legal demands. He set this aside, nailing it to the cross. He disarmed the rulers and authorities and made a public example of them, triumphing over them in it.

Therefore do not let anyone condemn you in matters of food and drink or of observing festivals, new moons, or sabbaths. These are only a shadow of what is to come, but the substance belongs to Christ. Do not let anyone disqualify you, insisting on self-abasement and worship of angels, dwelling on visions, puffed up without cause by a human way of thinking, and not holding fast to the head, from whom the whole body, nourished and held together by its ligaments and sinews, grows with a growth that is from God. Colossians 2:6-19 (NRSV)

Speaking of kings seems like a very old fashioned thing to do.  The United States declared independence from the British monarchy 241 years ago.  Admittedly, King George III was a rather tyrannical monarch, and history has proven over and over that one man having absolute power will lead to absolute corruption.  Human monarchies typically are not terribly effective forms of government.  Dictatorships are even worse.  Why should One Guy be in charge of everything?

In Scripture we learn that even the “good kings” like David, Solomon and Hezekiah had tragic faults. The “bad kings” were Really Bad. So why would we want to call Jesus “King?”

The answer is that Jesus simply is (that simple little word again) the King.  He was not made- He is One with the Father Who made us. Unlike human beings who want to think they have some kind of divine calling to rule over other humans, Jesus is the divine ruler.  No debate, and no proving ground was ever necessary.

Yet Jesus took the ultimate proving ground. While He could rule over humanity with an iron fist- and be within His right- Jesus took the route of sacrifice and ultimate love.  He entered into the world of humanity and took on the entire human experience, including poverty, suffering and an unspeakable death.

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As we think about Jesus the conquering King, we also remember He comes to us in humility and compassion. We represent Him and follow Him when we reflect His example- when we remain humble, when we sacrifice of ourselves for the good of others.

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But Jesus called them to him and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones are tyrants over them. It will not be so among you; but whoever wishes to be great among you must be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you must be your slave; just as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many.” Matthew 20:25-28 (NRSV)

 

June 20, 2017- A Closer Look at the “Beautiful Attitudes” of Poverty of Spirit, Mourning and Meekness- Matthew 5:3-5

“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”

 “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.”

 “Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.” – Matthew 5:3-5 (NRSV)

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“Poverty of spirit” can also be described as that place in which we come to the end of ourselves, where we realize how powerless we are to change events, and we are reminded that the world doesn’t revolve around us.  When we can’t make good things happen, or we aren’t able to reverse a loss, we naturally get discouraged.  It’s hard to accept that ultimately we are NOT in charge.  When we come to that place where we understand we are mortal, fallible and we can’t fix it all, we realize that God is our Source, and that our “forever home” is God’s Kingdom.  When we are put in the place of not being able to be self-reliant, we see how we are meant to be God-reliant, and that God provides for us.

Mourning is a place where everyone has been, from minor mourning, say mourning the loss of one’s youth, or mourning a small disappointment such as cancelled dinner plans, to major mourning such as losing a spouse or a parent.  There are floods of emotions and processes to be worked through that surface in mourning- as author Elizabeth Kubler-Ross discussed in her book On Death and Dying. There is denial, anger, bargaining, depression and finally acceptance all wrapped up – and sometimes all going on at the same time- as one mourns.

God is especially close to the hearts of those who mourn. Mourning reveals our heart and requires us to strip away the habits and the assorted fronts we hide behind.  Mourning forces us to feel.  It acts like sandpaper cleaning off the hardness of our hearts and revealing the purity and tenderness that God desires in us.  As we surrender our mourning to God, He enters in, weeping with us as Jesus wept with Lazarus’ friends at the news of Lazarus’ death.  In mourning our hearts are opened to God’s comfort and peace. He gives us the hope and assurance that there is life beyond the heartache and trouble of this world.

Meekness is not to be confused with weakness. Jesus’ brand of meekness is not being a doormat or a milquetoast, but it is about being respectful and nurturing toward others.  Meekness requires that we put aside the desires for me, me, me and look at how we can serve the greater good of others and the community.

Meekness brings us to a place of humility and deference to others. It asks of us to be aware of our own limitations and to put the needs and desires of others above our own.

All three of these beautiful attitudes share a common thread. They bring us closer to the heart of Jesus.  They help us respond to God’s grace and mercy that has been freely given to us.

January 26, 2017 – Humility and The Source of Everything- James 4:10, Colossians 3:12

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Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you.  James 4:10 (NRSV) 

It is difficult for people who tend to be independent to admit that we are not able to do it all, and that self reliance is a myth.

It’s good that God finds ways to get through to even the most stubborn of us even though it isn’t always easy.  But God knows we are weak. He holds us up in His strength and gives us worth and dignity.

As God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience. Colossians 3:12 (NRSV)

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When we put God first, we give Him the chance to set our priorities right- so that we put God and others ahead of ourselves.

God made us to be His heart and hands in the world.  Humility invites the Creator to give us, His creation, greater purpose and vision than we would have if we follow the illusion that we are somehow in charge.

December 6, 2016- They Will Call Him Emmanuel, God With Us – Matthew 1:22-23, Isaiah 53:3-5

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All this took place to fulfill what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet:

“Look, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall name him Emmanuel,” which means, “God is with us.” – Matthew 1:22-23

The reality of Jesus- God the I AM, coming to earth to live as a human being, along and with human beings is difficult enough to wrap our heads around.

Imagine what it would be like to be Mary.  She was a teenage girl, likely only thirteen or fourteen, when God’s angel came to her and told her that she was going to be Jesus’ earthly mother.

Teen pregnancy is difficult enough today, but imagine coming to your parents with her announcement:  “Hey everyone, I’m pregnant.  But don’t worry, it’s God’s Son.  I’m still a virgin. I’ve never been touched by a man.”

How many parents would fall for that line?  Better yet, how many fiancés would believe it?

Mary was telling the truth, but even so, there would have been stigma and shame.  No doubt the community would be casting aspersions upon her family, and wondering if Joseph was being taken advantage of.  People snicker.  People talk.  People say not so nice things about other people’s morality, even if they don’t know the whole truth.

He was despised and rejected by others;
    a man of suffering and acquainted with infirmity;
and as one from whom others hide their faces
    he was despised, and we held him of no account.

Surely he has borne our infirmities
    and carried our diseases;
yet we accounted him stricken,
    struck down by God, and afflicted.

But he was wounded for our transgressions,
    crushed for our iniquities;
upon him was the punishment that made us whole,
    and by his bruises we are healed. – Isaiah 53:3-5 (NRSV)

Yet the messy and lowly manger is how God entered this complicated and often insensitive world of humanity- born under what some might consider questionable lineage, raised in the home of a modest tradesman.  He was not born into a house of royalty or nobility, but in a stable surrounded by farm animals.

When we think about God’s possibilities and how he enters our lives, do we put limitations on how we think God should enter in?  Or do we seek him in the lowly and unlikely places?