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.

May 15, 2017 –Unlikely Meetings- Luke 24:13-16

Friends-WalkingNow on that same day two of them were going to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem, and talking with each other about all these things that had happened.  While they were talking and discussing, Jesus himself came near and went with them, but their eyes were kept from recognizing him. Luke 24:13-16 (NRSV)

One of the downfalls of having an introverted personality is that it takes a conscious effort to meet new friends and sometimes it is a stretch to stay in touch with family and friends we already know. An introvert’s circle is necessarily small, and usually much deeper than it is broad.  We tend to have very close relationships with a very few people.

While social interactions can be draining for introverts (especially when we take it overboard) it is still necessary to keep an open mind and open heart and be willing to connect with others- to be the hands and feet of Jesus- even if only in small ways.  We shouldn’t be so absorbed in the cares of the moment that we miss those “angels unawares,” or we miss that calling to BE an angel unaware.

Introverts and extroverts alike can have blinders on when we interact with others. Do we really want to know how someone is doing when we ask that, or is it just a pleasantry or polite conversation?  Are we willing to take the time to walk with that person into a dark place or to give them a shoulder to lean on in their grief/anger/frustration?

Are we really willing to see Jesus in that person who we casually ask, “How are you?,” and the answer is not, “Fine?”

Sometimes we are just like the apostles who couldn’t see Jesus right in front of them- a lot of the time. We are busy, we are distracted, and sometimes we are simply in our own worlds.

This isn’t to say that contemplative solitary time is a bad thing (and even extroverts need that from time to time) but that when we walk with others we are also walking with Jesus- whether we recognize it or not.

How can we walk without blinders on today?

May 9-2017 -The Road to Emmaus – Do You Know Who You’re Walking With?- Luke 24:28-35

 

last supperAs they came near the village to which they were going, he walked ahead as if he were going on. But they urged him strongly, saying, “Stay with us, because it is almost evening and the day is now nearly over.” So he went in to stay with them.  When he was at the table with them, he took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them.  Then their eyes were opened, and they recognized him; and he vanished from their sight. They said to each other, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he was talking to us on the road, while he was opening the scriptures to us?”   That same hour they got up and returned to Jerusalem; and they found the eleven and their companions gathered together.  They were saying, “The Lord has risen indeed, and he has appeared to Simon!”  Then they told what had happened on the road, and how he had been made known to them in the breaking of the bread. -Luke 24:28-35 (NRSV)

 

One of the most intriguing things about Jesus’ followers after Jesus had been raised from the dead is that they didn’t recognize Him right away. On the Emmaus road people who had seen and known Jesus walked and even talked about theological things with Him, but they didn’t realize who He was until they sat down to eat with him.

In most human cultures (first century Palestine being among them) the act of sharing a meal is considered a sacred thing. Sharing a common meal is all about hospitality, friendship and intimacy. It is no coincidence that Jesus came to people with a profound depth when He was sharing food.

He was revealed in the breaking of the bread.

Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty. John 6:35 (NRSV)

How often in our own lives do we take the time to actually share a meal with our family or friends? Schedules being what they are most days, it is difficult to share even one meal with at least one other person.  Eating on the fly or in the car alone is common for most people these days, and at times those impromptu meals are a necessity, but sharing a meal with others is about more than food.

Over the common dinner table we learn about each other’s lives. We stop and reflect and share, and sometimes, if even for a moment, we experience the presence of God more clearly and deeply.

Maybe every now and then we need to stop and break bread with the ones we walk with. We might be surprised at who is sharing the journey with us.

 

 

 

March 27, 2017- Covered by the Blood- Ephesians 2:13-16

coveredbyblood

But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ.  For he is our peace; in his flesh he has made both groups into one and has broken down the dividing wall, that is, the hostility between us.  He has abolished the law with its commandments and ordinances, that he might create in himself one new humanity in place of the two, thus making peace, and might reconcile both groups to God in one body through the cross, thus putting to death that hostility through it.  Ephesians 2:13-16 (NRSV)

The idea of blood sacrifice is rather noxious and offensive to modern sensibilities.  We shy away from any notion that our meat comes from a slaughterhouse or even the realization that a living creature has to die so we can have leather shoes, or steaks, or fish.  Not that we should all become vegan (though some are called to do so) but we should be aware that everything has a cost, and that we are to be good stewards of God’s creation.

Last night one of my dogs had a run-in with a raccoon.  Raccoons can inflict serious damage on dogs (and the dog involved did incur a few minor scrapes and scratches) but in the end, the 20# raccoon didn’t make it in a fight with an 80# Catahoula Leopard Dog.  This particular dog breed is used in Texas and Louisiana as a “hog dog”- meaning they are bred to track down and flush out wild boar.  Some hunters also use them to flush out raccoons, (as well as for protection and tracking) as these dogs are agile and can climb trees.

It’s not a pleasant sight to encounter a bloody creature that was alive just minutes before- and that died in the jaws of an otherwise friendly family dog.  It’s not a thrilling activity to clean all the blood and gore off of the friendly family dog either.

Brutus

Blood sacrifice- or killing in general- is not pretty.  It is gory.  It has a smell.  It is costly.  It is painful to watch.

Yet our salvation was bought with the costliest sacrifice of all- not the blood of a woodland creature who wandered too close to a house in the city, but the blood of the Lord of Life Himself.

It is easy for us to look at each other with skepticism and derision- or even outright hate- and we would be hypocrites if we claim that we always love our fellow human beings with the sacrificial love of Christ.  It’s NOT easy to see others with the eyes of Jesus, especially when they are not treating us the way we should be treated.  It is almost impossible for mere humans to love people who have done unspeakably vile and horrible things.

Yet being covered by the blood of Jesus came at an immeasurable cost.  He didn’t look at how lovable or how good we might be, or at how terrible and evil we might be.  He simply laid down His life to save ours.  He covered us in His blood, so that our sin and shame and failure would no longer be visible to God.

He has made forgiveness and renewal and eternal life possible where it was once impossible. All because we are covered by His blood.

February 22, 2017- Treasure and the Heart – Matthew 6:19-21

treasures

(Jesus said:)“Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal; but store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust consumes and where thieves do not break in and steal.  For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” Matthew 6:19-21 (NRSV)

The love of money is said to be the root of all kinds of evil (1 Timothy 6:10.)  Yet money and material possessions are in and of themselves good gifts of God, and in and of themselves they are morally neutral.  How we regard and use them is what renders their use as being good or evil.

What exactly would we define as a treasure?  Our bank accounts, our homes, our cars, our jewelry, phones, or heirlooms?  Those things are good and useful and are wonderful gifts of God, but are they the things that really matter and really last?  After all we are born with no material possessions, and there are no material possessions that can go with us along for the ride when we die.

Jesus is asking us to look at the true treasures of life- the love of God, our families and friends, and the joy of doing the good things that God created us to do.  Those are treasures that money can’t buy and that last forever, beyond the circles of this world, into eternity in Heaven.

 

 

 

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

54040-humility

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)

humility

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.

January 4, 2017- Create In Me a Clean Heart – Psalm 51:10-12, 2 Samuel 12:1-8

 

 

spring-cleaning

Create in me a clean heart, O God,
    and put a new and right spirit within me.
Do not cast me away from your presence,
    and do not take your holy spirit from me.
Restore to me the joy of your salvation,
    and sustain in me a willing spirit.
  Psalm 51:10-12 (NRSV)

The only thing I like about cleaning is when it’s done.  But living in this fallen world, we get dirty.  Physically, emotionally and spiritually dirty.  Dirt happens.

Psalm 51 was the Psalm David wrote after he was caught in adultery with Bathsheba.  Even though David was God’s choice to be King of Israel, he got dirty. He got caught up in sin. At times in his life, David messed up big time.  Just like us.

Sometimes we don’t see our sin and dirtiness, until other people point it out.  Nathan the prophet had to point it out to David that God knew exactly what he had done:

“…and the Lord sent Nathan to David. He came to him, and said to him, “There were two men in a certain city, the one rich and the other poor. The rich man had very many flocks and herds; but the poor man had nothing but one little ewe lamb, which he had bought. He brought it up, and it grew up with him and with his children; it used to eat of his meager fare, and drink from his cup, and lie in his bosom, and it was like a daughter to him. Now there came a traveler to the rich man, and he was loath to take one of his own flock or herd to prepare for the wayfarer who had come to him, but he took the poor man’s lamb, and prepared that for the guest who had come to him.” Then David’s anger was greatly kindled against the man. He said to Nathan, “As the Lord lives, the man who has done this deserves to die;  he shall restore the lamb fourfold, because he did this thing, and because he had no pity.” 

Nathan said to David, “You are the man! Thus says the Lord, the God of Israel: I anointed you king over Israel, and I rescued you from the hand of Saul; I gave you your master’s house, and your master’s wives into your bosom, and gave you the house of Israel and of Judah; and if that had been too little, I would have added as much more.-2 Samuel 12:1-8 (NRSV)

We still have to deal with the earthly consequences of our actions though. In David’s case his sin did not leave him unscathed. He had to endure the death of his first child with Bathsheba (2 Samuel 12:14) and the ongoing infighting in his family (“the sword will never depart from your house” – 2 Samuel 12:10.)  Like David, we too live in the world of “here now, but not yet.”

The good news is that no matter how dirty we are or how bad our sins may seem, God makes us clean again, and again, and again.

Couldn’t we all use a heart cleaning today?

 

December 30, 2016- Trust – Proverbs 3:5-6

Trust in the Lord with all your heart
    and lean not on your own understanding;
in all your ways submit to him,
    and he will make your paths straight.  Proverbs 3:5-6 (NRSV)

Trust vs. mistrust.  In the study of psychology, the conflict between having trust in the world around us and failing to have trust is the first of Erik Erikson’s stages of psychosocial development.  As developing human beings we have to be able to relate to and function in the world of other humans, so trust is important.

The very first issue that human beings are faced with as infants is a question that is central to our physical survival.  Is someone going to be forthcoming with providing meals for the child? Is the child going to have appropriate warmth and clothing and shelter?

Who can we trust?  Is mother going to provide me food and warmth?  Is father going to protect and nurture me?

In most instances, to the best of our ability, human parents affirm and reinforce a child’s trust in them.  Unfortunately a child’s trust is not always best placed in his or her parents’ ability to care for them and keep them safe.

Many adults have issues with trusting others and building good relationships with people because their trust was betrayed early on. Most of us suffer the lasting effects of broken trust if not from our parents, then from others in our lives who have not been kind to us or faithful in their dealings with us.

Sometimes our struggle with mistrust enters into our relationship with God, especially when we don’t understand what He’s up to.

We have all been burnt before. If you can’t trust Mom and Dad, or your spouse, or your best friend, then it’s kind of difficult to trust anyone, including God.

Yet God tells us: trust Me, not in your own understanding.  Have faith that He is in control and has our lives in His hands.