January 16, 2018- Jesus Loves His Children- Luke 18:15-17, 1 Peter 5:7, Matthew 11:29-30

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People were also bringing babies to Jesus for him to place his hands on them. When the disciples saw this, they rebuked them. But Jesus called the children to him and said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. Truly I tell you, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.” Luke 18:15-17

Innocence and trust are not valuable commodities in today’s culture. Being vulnerable is dangerous- because in this world, unguarded vulnerability will be rewarded with exploitation and broken trust.

Almost daily we hear of children being neglected and abused by the very people they should be able to trust.  Children themselves can be very cruel to other children, causing their bullied peers to close off and shut down. The world can be an unsafe place for a trusting soul or a tender, innocent one. We learn- far too early- to go on defense so we can avoid being hurt.

As children become adults we become jaded and cynical. We get rougher around the edges and thicker skinned in response to all the disappointments and stresses and heartaches we necessarily endure.

Some days we wake up and discover that the color and the wonder is gone from our lives. We don’t get excited about it being time for cartoons, or ecstatic that the weather is right to go out and run through the sprinkler. We get to the point where we are more worried about how crazy we would appear to the neighbors should we decide to run through the sprinkler. We stop seeing the beauty in the fire of the sunset, and we don’t stop to marvel at the majesty of a rainbow.  We’re more worried about the next mortgage payment or that the car is due for an oil change.  In the busyness of life we miss the real meaning of life- we miss celebrations, joy, wonder and delight.

Jesus wants us to respond in wonder and delight to His kingdom. He wants us to be open to wonder, and vulnerable to grace.  He wants us to be excited about flowers blooming and to revel in the smell of puppy breath.  He wants us to sing as though no one is listening, and dance like no one is watching.

Most importantly He calls us to love as though our hearts have never been broken.

Children haven’t learned to put conditions upon love- conditions like, “if you love me back,” or “if you stay thin,” or “if you don’t get sick.” Children love without motive or guile.  That’s the way Jesus wants us to love Him and to love one another- that all-encompassing, innocent child-like love that is a “just because” love.

Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you. 1 Peter 5:7 (NIV)

Surrendering our cynicism is a choice- it is one of those burdens we carry to which Jesus responds, “Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.  For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” Matthew 11:29-30 (NIV)

We are supposed to be responsible people. We can’t ignore the mortgage or vehicle maintenance or all those mundane tasks.  It is necessary to do things that aren’t always rewarding or fun or joyful.

However, we also can’t get to a place where our worry and busyness steal our joy.  We have to make the choice for joy.  We have to be open and vulnerable to the call of the Holy Spirit.

Jesus invites us to love, to dance, to sing and to open our hearts and minds and ears and eyes.

Are we willing to join Him?

December 26, 2017- He Brings a Sword- Matthew 10:34, 37-39, Acts 7:57-60, Ephesians 2:10, Philippians 2:16-18

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(Jesus said:) “Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword…

Anyone who loves their father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves their son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. Whoever does not take up their cross and follow me is not worthy of me.  Whoever finds their life will lose it, and whoever loses their life for my sake will find it.” Matthew 10:34, 37-39 (NIV)

When the members of the Sanhedrin heard this, they were furious and gnashed their teeth at him.  But Stephen, full of the Holy Spirit, looked up to heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. “Look,” he said, “I see heaven open and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.”

 At this they covered their ears and, yelling at the top of their voices, they all rushed at him, dragged him out of the city and began to stone him. Meanwhile, the witnesses laid their coats at the feet of a young man named Saul.

While they were stoning him, Stephen prayed, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” Then he fell on his knees and cried out, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” When he had said this, he fell asleep. Acts 7:57-60 (NIV)

Ironically, the Prince of Peace did not come to live among us to bring us flowers and kittens and warm fuzzies, as much as we may have wish He did. He brought a sword. He meant business.

Sometimes being a Jesus follower can seem to be a bit of a buzz kill. We just celebrated the wonder of Christmas and the awe of being in the presence of the Babe in the manger. However, Jesus came here among us not only to redeem us from sin, but also to reveal the truth and to show us how God meant for us to live.  He came here not only to heal the sick and comfort the broken hearted, but also to upset the money changers’ tables, and to challenge the hypocrisy and corruption of the status quo. For those in power, Jesus was a threat to their power, and so were Jesus’ followers. Ultimately, for Jesus to redeem us from our sins, He had to sacrifice Himself and die.

We as Jesus’ followers share in His suffering and sacrifice as well. He has a mission and a purpose for each of us that He has determined in advance for us to accomplish. Our missions in this life will sometimes be joyful and sometimes heart wrenching and tragic.

For we are what he has made us, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand to be our way of life. Ephesians 2:10 (NRSV)

This is part of the good news of God-with-us, as difficult as it can be at times. God has created us to be where we are needed, to be the instruments through which His kingdom is built and maintained and grown. The young man named Saul from the Acts 7 passage, who stood by watching as Stephen the martyr gave his life defending his faith in Jesus, was to become the apostle Paul.  Saul thought he was doing God a favor by getting rid of Jesus followers- only to be set straight on the Damascus road, redeemed by divine intervention, and made into one of the most influential Jesus followers of all. God has ways of naming, claiming and redeeming His own, not to mention, at times, a very catty sense of humor.  As the prophet Jonah found out, if God asks you to do something- it was what He made you for, and you will end up doing it.  It’s far more pleasant to do God’s work the easy way and not have to find out about the hard way, but we humans are stubborn.

Our faith in Jesus may make us unpopular or controversial. We may upset the status quo.  We may cause conflict and strife even within our own families, for standing for what is right.  Even today in some places, standing for Jesus can lead to persecution- including starvation, imprisonment and even execution.

It is by your holding fast to the word of life that I can boast on the day of Christ that I did not run in vain or labor in vain.  But even if I am being poured out as a libation over the sacrifice and the offering of your faith, I am glad and rejoice with all of you— and in the same way you also must be glad and rejoice with me. Philippians 2:16-18 (NRSV)

We are all called in some way to give of ourselves for the sake of the kingdom of God- some in living lives of generosity and sacrifice, and some even to give their lives, like the martyr Stephen.

The wonder of the manger and the tender heart of Mary are part of the same story of our redemption as Jesus’ sorrow of the garden, His bitter crucifixion, and His miraculous resurrection. As we look into that makeshift cradle, we are also looking at the cross- and we are drawn into the story we were created to participate in.

 

December 15, 2017- Sow in Tears, Reap in Joy – Psalm 126

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When the Lord restored the fortunes of Zion,we were like those who dream. Then our mouth was filled with laughter, and our tongue with shouts of joy; then it was said among the nations,  “The Lord has done great things for them.”

 The Lord has done great things for us, and we rejoiced.

Restore our fortunes, O Lord, like the watercourses in the Negeb. May those who sow in tears reap with shouts of joy.  Those who go out weeping, bearing the seed for sowing, shall come home with shouts of joy, carrying their sheaves. – Psalm 126 (NRSV)

Not long after my maternal grandfather died, my mother and I went through the necessary task of going through his possessions. Mom donated most of his clothing and household items to St. Vincent DePaul and other charities, but she kept some things. It was especially difficult looking through all the things my grandmother had sewn and embroidered for him.

I had the privilege in all these things of finding my grandmother’s Bible. She had died suddenly fifteen years before my grandfather, and her death was a great sorrow for him. It seemed as if he was a broken man after my grandmother passed. They were a very close and loving couple and her absence was a sore grief to him.

In the front of her Bible I found a letter she had written to my grandfather. At the beginning of the letter she had written out Psalm 126, as this particular Psalm was an encouragement to them.  Knowing that she had such a powerful faith in God and His provision has been a deep encouragement for me as well.

There were so many circumstances in both of their lives in which I am sure they had to sow in tears. I know that my grandfather lived in sorrow for the fifteen years after my grandmother’s death. It’s part of the human condition.  Yet my grandparents still joined in that hope that God will take our sowing in tears and turn it in to reaping in joy.

Our world is definitely a place in which there is a great deal of sowing in tears. Every day we see sorrowful things on the news, all over the Internet, and all around us- poverty of material things, poverty of spirit, violence, natural disasters, drug addiction, political strife, and the list goes on.

The Psalmist speaks of the joy to come, the joy that we can anticipate, but don’t experience fully here in the world of not-yet.

As we anticipate celebrating the birth of Jesus, we are painfully aware of the tearful sowing and toil that we endure in this world. But we are encouraged by knowing that sowing in tears will be followed by reaping in joy.

June 2, 2017-1 Samuel 16:10-13 God’s Chosen, God’s Heroes

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Jesse made seven of his sons pass before Samuel, and Samuel said to Jesse, “The Lord has not chosen any of these.”  Samuel said to Jesse, “Are all your sons here?” And he said, “There remains yet the youngest, but he is keeping the sheep.” And Samuel said to Jesse, “Send and bring him; for we will not sit down until he comes here.”  He sent and brought him in. Now he was ruddy, and had beautiful eyes, and was handsome. The Lord said, “Rise and anoint him; for this is the one.”  Then Samuel took the horn of oil, and anointed him in the presence of his brothers; and the spirit of the Lord came mightily upon David from that day forward. Samuel then set out and went to Ramah. 1 Samuel 16:10-13 (NRSV)

God’s choices are not necessarily our choices. Why would God choose the shepherd boy when He could have set any man as king over Israel?  It is true that David had a heart for God, and God sees beyond a person’s appearance or status.  The point could be argued that God created David in just the right time and place and circumstance for His purpose.

God puts us in just the right place and circumstances for His purpose also, although sometimes that’s not easy for us to see. It is especially hard to see God’s place and purpose for us when we are in the places we don’t want to be, such as in places of trial or hardship or mourning.

Sometimes our heroism is hidden, and only God sees it.  As Jesus taught:

“So whenever you give alms, do not sound a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, so that they may be praised by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward.  But when you give alms, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your alms may be done in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.” Matthew 6:2-4 (NRSV)

The reason why God chose David for such a lofty purpose-David, the man who would be king, the earthly forefather of Jesus, was because of his heart for God.  David had a heart surrendered to God.  David wasn’t about being the one with the highest status or the person that other men would think highly of.  He valued God more than the world and all its distractions and riches.

God sees and knows our every sacrifice, our every tear, our every joy.  He invites us to share in the heroics of HIS story, every day.

JOY

January 23, 2017- The Pursuit of Wisdom, James 3:17

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But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, without a trace of partiality or hypocrisy. James 3:17 (NRSV)

The interesting thing about the pursuit of knowledge (opposed to the pursuit of wisdom) is that pursuit of knowledge often places an undue emphasis on being correct.  Pursuing the correct technique or procedure or even the correct theology can become so paramount that the heart and purpose of the endeavor is lost.

Life becomes a hollow endeavor when our dealings with ourselves and others are cold, calculating, unforgiving and lacking mercy and love.  When we are more worried about appearing squeaky clean at all times, or whether or not we are in all the right activities with all the right people at all the right times, than we are about whether or not we know and spread the joy of the love of God, then maybe we are doing it wrong.

Is it more wise to put emphasis on being correct, or to seek gentleness, forgiveness and peace?

There is a subtle difference between knowledge- as in knowing facts, and wisdom, which is the art of applying knowledge to live life more fully.

God grants wisdom to all who ask for it.  (James 1:15)  It is always a good time to ask.