January 4, 2019 The Light of the World, He Brings a Sword, Depart in Peace

jesus sword

Arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you.
For behold, darkness shall cover the earth, and thick darkness the peoples; but the Lord will arise upon you, and his glory will be seen upon you.

And nations shall come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your rising.

Lift up your eyes all around, and see; they all gather together, they come to you; your sons shall come from afar, and your daughters shall be carried on the hip. Isaiah 60:1-4 (ESV)

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And at the end of eight days, when he was circumcised, he was called Jesus, the name given by the angel before he was conceived in the womb.

And when the time came for their purification according to the Law of Moses, they brought him up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord (as it is written in the Law of the Lord, “Every male who first opens the womb shall be called holy to the Lord”) and to offer a sacrifice according to what is said in the Law of the Lord, “a pair of turtledoves, or two young pigeons.” Now there was a man in Jerusalem, whose name was Simeon, and this man was righteous and devout, waiting for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him. And it had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Christ.  And he came in the Spirit into the temple, and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to do for him according to the custom of the Law,  he took him up in his arms and blessed God and said:

 “Lord, now you are letting your servant depart in peace, according to your word; for my eyes have seen your salvation that you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and for glory to your people Israel.”

 And his father and his mother marveled at what was said about him.  And Simeon blessed them and said to Mary his mother, “Behold, this child is appointed for the fall and rising of many in Israel, and for a sign that is opposed (and a sword will pierce through your own soul also), so that thoughts from many hearts may be revealed.”

And there was a prophetess, Anna, the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was advanced in years, having lived with her husband seven years from when she was a virgin, and then as a widow until she was eighty-four. She did not depart from the temple, worshiping with fasting and prayer night and day. And coming up at that very hour she began to give thanks to God and to speak of him to all who were waiting for the redemption of Jerusalem.  Luke 2:22-35 (ESV)

Isaiah. Luke. Simeon and Anna.  The Bible is filled with the accounts of those who point us to Jesus.  Isaiah is given the revelation- the glorious vision of Jesus – seven hundred years before His incarnation. Isaiah sees the glory of the Lord and the Light of the world revealed.  Simeon and Anna were blessed with seeing Jesus in the flesh, as a baby brought to be named and brought in to the community of faith.

It’s good news that those of us who are living in this dark world have the Light of the World here with us.

Jesus Himself was named and set apart for God, one with God the Father always and beyond time. He was made incarnate by the Holy Spirit within the Virgin Mary, fully God and fully man, but He was still named and circumcised in accordance with the Mosaic covenant. Jesus had to fulfill the Law in our place.  We are born dead in trespasses and sins, and we cannot save ourselves. (Ephesians 2:1-10)

In our Baptism we are named and claimed as God’s people. We are brought into the life of Christ.  We share in His suffering and His death as well as His resurrection.

Jesus did not come to bring us happy feelies and Care Bears and flowers. He comes into this world bearing a sword, (Matthew 10:34-39) which inevitably brings upheaval and conflict in its wake.  Some of the most bitter and lethal conflicts in this world have been fought against the spreading of the Gospel, between those who have been brought to faith in Christ and those who would oppose Him. Jesus’ coming and the renewal and life that He brings have always been challenged by the world.

Simeon told Mary that a sword would pierce her soul too. Her baby boy would grow to be a man who would be crucified to placate our petulant sinners’ demand for blood at the hand of Pontius Pilate, and left to die in cruel ignominy. She will lament at the foot of the Cross as her Savior and ours gives His life and His blood is poured out for her salvation as well as ours.

Light and truth illuminate their surroundings without prejudice. Beauty is made evident when the light shines on it, but so is ugliness.  When everything is brought into the light, we cannot hide.

Jesus brings us into His light- exposing the good, the bad, and the ugly. As we are given the gift of repentance, we confess our sin and shame as we are exposed to His light. He forgives us. He gives us a heart of flesh that desires God instead of a hard heart of stone.  He makes us reflect His goodness and light and takes away the sin and death that are our inheritance from the Fall. He saves us from death and the grave.

Jesus does not promise us an easy or a painless life on this earth, but He does promise us eternal life beyond this world. He does walk with us as we are promised in the beautifully comforting words of the 23rd Psalm. He carries us because we are challenged with many trials we simply cannot bear.  He gives us His peace.  We can pray the nunc dimittis, and go forward in God’s peace along with Simeon:

“Lord, now you are letting your servant depart in peace, according to your word; for my eyes have seen your salvation that you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and for glory to your people Israel.”

 

 

October 30, 2018 The Gospel of the Reformation- Jeremiah 31:31-34, Hebrews 11:8-12, Galatians 3:7-9

God provides the lamb

“Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah, not like the covenant that I made with their fathers on the day when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, my covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, declares the Lord. For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the Lord: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people.  And no longer shall each one teach his neighbor and each his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, declares the Lord. For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.” Jeremiah 31:31-34 (ESV)

By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to go out to a place that he was to receive as an inheritance. And he went out, not knowing where he was going. By faith he went to live in the land of promise, as in a foreign land, living in tents with Isaac and Jacob, heirs with him of the same promise.  For he was looking forward to the city that has foundations, whose designer and builder is God. By faith Sarah herself received power to conceive, even when she was past the age, since she considered him faithful who had promised. Therefore from one man, and him as good as dead, were born descendants as many as the stars of heaven and as many as the innumerable grains of sand by the seashore. Hebrews 11:8-12 (ESV)

Know then that it is those of faith who are the sons of Abraham. And the Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel beforehand to Abraham, saying, “In you shall all the nations be blessed.” So then, those who are of faith are blessed along with Abraham, the man of faith. Galatians 3:7-9 (ESV)

The message of the Reformation is the rediscovery of the Gospel. The Good News of God’s Word was finally printed in native languages so that people could read and discover what Scripture really says. The lies and deceptions that were going on in the name of God, such as the sales of relics and indulgences and other profiteering and vice throughout the church were exposed. Even with the reforms of the 16th century and beyond, the church is still a collection of sinners, and reformation is an ongoing process.

In the pages of Scripture- foretold by the prophets and made real in the person of Jesus, God’s people are no longer bound by the curse of the garden, or enslaved by the futility of law-keeping as a way to assuage the wrath of God and “earn” salvation. We learn that by faith in Jesus the Law that was handed down to Moses is fulfilled. In Christ we are brought back into the unilateral covenant God made with Abraham. Abraham was not a sinless man by any stretch but he was saved and justified by the gift of faith in God.

God gave Abraham a promise, that through Isaac, the child of promise, that he would have countless descendants. It was not a gift with a condition attached.  There was no quid pro quo.  God’s promise to Abraham was unilateral, unconditional, from the top down.  God provided Abraham’s faith, even the faith Abraham needed to sacrifice Isaac, his only son. (See Genesis 22:1-18) God also provided the lamb for the sacrifice, sparing Isaac.

God provides the Lamb for us as well. Not because we earn or deserve it, but completely by grace.

Because Jesus became the sacrifice that covers our sins, we are set free of the impossible task of earning God’s love or of buying brownie points to heaven. By faith in Jesus we become the offspring promised to Abraham.

Grace alone, Faith alone, Christ alone. It’s that easy and that complicated.  We are named and claimed in our baptism, covered and made clean in the Blood of Christ.

This is the simple Gospel of the Reformation: We who are born dead in trespasses and sins, by faith, by the grace of Christ alone have been and are being made right with God. Saved. Redeemed. Loved. Forever. Descendents of Abraham and children of God, marked with the Cross of Christ forever in our Baptism.  Nothing earned, nothing deserved.  All because of Jesus!

 

May 11, 2018 – The Perfect Man- Psalm 1

jesus psalm1Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers; but his delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law he meditates day and night.

He is like a tree planted by streams of water that yields its fruit in its season, and its leaf does not wither. In all that he does, he prospers. The wicked are not so, but are like chaff that the wind drives away.

Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment, nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous; for the Lord knows the way of the righteous, but the way of the wicked will perish. Psalm 1 (ESV)

The Psalms are prayers and songs- some of praise and worship, and others of supplication and mourning. Still others, such as Psalm 22, are prophetic and speak of the humanity as well as particular details of the passion of Christ. All of the Psalms point us to Jesus in one way or another.

Psalm 1 is a description of Jesus- the person who lives perfectly according to God’s Law. We, of course, cannot do that.

Even though we are not capable of living as Jesus lived, we can still look to His example as the Author and Perfecter of our faith. (Hebrews 12:1-2)

Because we belong to Jesus, we are not counted among the wicked in the judgment. Because Jesus was that man who delighted in God’s law and lived perfectly sin-free in our place; the God-man who died as a perfect sacrifice for our sins, we are judged as though we lived with HIS perfection instead of our own wickedness and sins.

Thanks be to God that when the judgment comes we who believe in Him and trust Him for the forgiveness of our sins will be judged on the merits of Jesus and considered to be His saints.

May 8, 2018 God’s Promise, Praise, and Abraham’s Offspring- Psalm 47, Genesis 12:2-3, John 8:54-59

abraham

Clap your hands, all peoples! Shout to God with loud songs of joy! For the Lord, the Most High, is to be feared, a great king over all the earth. He subdued peoples under us, and nations under our feet. He chose our heritage for us, the pride of Jacob whom he loves. Selah

God has gone up with a shout, the Lord with the sound of a trumpet. Sing praises to God, sing praises! Sing praises to our King, sing praises! For God is the King of all the earth; sing praises with a psalm!

God reigns over the nations; God sits on his holy throne. The princes of the peoples gather as the people of the God of Abraham. For the shields of the earth belong to God; he is highly exalted! – Psalm 47 (ESV)

Praise is not an optional thing for people of God- it should be an automatic response to the grace and love of God.   When we think about the wonder and majesty of God, how can we keep from singing?

(God says to Abraham):And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” Genesis 12:2-3 (ESV)

When the Psalmist speaks of our heritage, he is not just talking about the tribes of Israel or the direct genetic descendants of Abraham.  He speaks of all the families of the earth- meaning all nations, people groups and tribes, receiving blessing through the promise God gave to Abraham.

Jesus answered (the Pharisees), “If I glorify myself, my glory is nothing. It is my Father who glorifies me, of whom you say, ‘He is our God.’ But you have not known him. I know him. If I were to say that I do not know him, I would be a liar like you, but I do know him and I keep his word.  Your father Abraham rejoiced that he would see my day. He saw it and was glad. So the Jews said to him, “You are not yet fifty years old, and have you seen Abraham?” Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I AM.” So they picked up stones to throw at him, but Jesus hid himself and went out of the temple. John 8:54-59 (ESV)

Jesus scandalized the Pharisees when He informed them, before Abraham was, I AM. Yet Jesus Himself is also a descendant of Abraham.

We see Psalm 47 not only as a Psalm of praise, but also as a vision of the Ascension of Jesus. Jesus- God I AM- long before Abraham was, came down to earth to live as one of us. Jesus, God I AM, was given to die on the Cross and become the perfect sacrifice for our sins, giving Himself as a free gift for all those who would hear and have faith. Jesus, God I AM, defeated death. He is both with us, and has gone to live in glory in heaven.  We will ultimately join him there.  All the more reason for songs and praise!

Jesus is who He says He is- God I AM, on whose Word the world was created. He created humanity perfect, but we fell into the sin of pride and made ourselves imperfect, wanting to be our own gods. He did not abandon us messed up humans who disobeyed Him.  Instead, He gave Himself to break the curse of sin we brought upon ourselves, the sin that began in the Garden. (Genesis 3:1-7) He keeps the promise He made to Abraham- that all the nations and tribes of the earth are blessed- and redeemed- through Abraham’s offspring.

February 14, 2018 – Ash Wednesday-Remember God NOW- Ecclesiastes 12:6-7, Matthew 12:43-45

ashwednesday_event

Remember him—before the silver cord is severed, and the golden bowl is broken; before the pitcher is shattered at the spring, and the wheel broken at the well, and the dust returns to the ground it came from, and the spirit returns to God who gave it. Ecclesiastes 12:6-7 (NIV)

Today Lent begins. Traditionally Lent is a season of examination, repentance, sacrifice, and getting our priorities straight. If we accept the challenge, Lent can be a time of great spiritual growth for us. This Lent begins a journey- a journey with Jesus to the Cross.

It is interesting that Solomon, the Teacher, implores us to remember God NOW. Surrendering to God and getting closer to Him is not something to be checked off the bucket list at the last minute, but something to do NOW, before the bucket list comes into play.

Ash Wednesday is an opportunity for us to reflect not only on our mortality and our sins and all the ways we fall short of God’s expectations for us, but it is also a time to reflect on how we “do life.” Yes, we should confess and repent (repent means: to turn away from) of our sins.  As we reflect upon our sins and repent, we should also be mindful that turning from sin and those things that fail to glorify God has another essential component.

When we give up something harmful, what beneficial, God-honoring thing do we take up?  There is a great deal of truth to Grandma’s old saying, “Idle hands are the devil’s workshop.”  If we aren’t intentionally pursuing the things that God intends for us, we will occupy ourselves with any old thing, and given human nature, many of those idle things do not bring glory to God.

Jesus put it this way: “When a defiling evil spirit is expelled from someone, it drifts along through the desert looking for an oasis, some unsuspecting soul it can bedevil. When it doesn’t find anyone, it says, ‘I’ll go back to my old haunt.’ On return it finds the person spotlessly clean, but vacant. It then runs out and rounds up seven other spirits more evil than itself and they all move in, whooping it up. That person ends up far worse off than if he’d never gotten cleaned up in the first place.

“That’s what this generation is like: You may think you have cleaned out the junk from your lives and gotten ready for God, but you weren’t hospitable to my kingdom message, and now all the devils are moving back in.” Matthew 12:43-45 (MSG)

There’s no sense in cleaning house and cleaning up our lives unless we surrender our lives to God to put them to good use. The discipline of surrender is simply inviting Jesus to clean us up, and then inviting Him to move on in.  He’s the one at work here, not us. Grace, love, and joy happen when we let go and let Him in. He actively brings about God’s kingdom through us here on earth.

How are we responding to the grace of God NOW? Are we honestly praying the most difficult petition of the Lord’s Prayer- “Thy will be done?”  Are we listening to the Holy Spirit when He responds?

There is nothing wrong with the tradition of “giving something up for Lent.” Sacrifice is a beneficial discipline for Jesus followers.  Yet along with giving up harmful things, and/or getting rid of the clutter, we are called to take up our own cross and live surrendered and sacrificially as we follow Jesus.  We are called to live the God-life NOW, not as something to check off our bucket list, but as something to embrace NOW, because our time here is fleeting and not at all guaranteed.

Life on this earth is a limited time offer. We are called to get out there- NOW- and live it in response to God Who has given it to us.

 

 

February 9, 2018 God is Not Silent- Psalm 50:1-6, James 2:12-14

new jerusalem

The Mighty One, God, the Lord, speaks and summons the earth from the rising of the sun to where it sets. 

From Zion, perfect in beauty, God shines forth. Our God comes and will not be silent; a fire devours before him, and around him a tempest rages. He summons the heavens above, and the earth, that he may judge his people:

“Gather to me this consecrated people, who made a covenant with me by sacrifice.”

And the heavens proclaim his righteousness, for he is a God of justice. Psalm 50:1-6 (NIV)

God will not be silent. Why do we think He is silent at times?  Do we lose sight of Him in the darkness of all the evil that threatens to prevail in this world?  Does His voice get drowned out in the vapid soundbites and machinery of modern life?

Judgment is always a squirmy topic, especially if we examine our hearts fully and truthfully. Even though we fall short and fail regularly, God’s judgment is always in our favor. For Jesus’ sake He has mercy on us and forgives us and redeems us. That isn’t to say that His judgment is always fair.  In the name of fairness we are all law-breakers and have earned the penalty of eternal death.

Our hearts cry out when we see the injustice of this world. Things happen that should not be allowed to happen- war, famine, death, decay, sorrow, loss- the list is long.  It’s easy to get angry and become disillusioned and wonder where God is in all of it.

Jesus came to earth as the one perfect sacrifice for all, but He also came to show us how to live, and to empower us to be His instruments here on earth.

If we aren’t hearing God, is it because our voices are silent? Do we affirm the goodness of God with our speech and conduct?

If we aren’t seeing God, is it because we aren’t reflecting Him in our actions?

Speak and act as those who are going to be judged by the law that gives freedom, because judgment without mercy will be shown to anyone who has not been merciful. Mercy triumphs over judgment. James 2:12-14 (NIV)

Jesus is the New Covenant. We as Jesus followers are the consecrated people He lives in and through. There is a popular “new age” saying out there that states one should “Be the change you want to see.” We should strive to follow Jesus’ example. We should want to live in a way that makes God known in the world.

Mercy and judgment may seem to be mutually exclusive. However, by God’s mercy in Christ we are not judged according to what we have earned, but we are given grace instead.

Are we merciful and gracious to others? Are we becoming the change we want to see?

God is speaking. Are we listening?

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

Jesus sword

 

(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.