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.

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?

August 28, 2017 – Ebenezer, The Lord, Our Help – Judges 21:25, 1 Samuel 7:3-13

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In those days there was no king in Israel; all the people did what was right in their own eyes. – Judges 21:25 (NRSV)

Then Samuel said to all the house of Israel, “If you are returning to the Lord with all your heart, then put away the foreign gods and the Astartes from among you. Direct your heart to the Lord, and serve him only, and he will deliver you out of the hand of the Philistines.”  So Israel put away the Baals and the Astartes, and they served the Lord only.

Then Samuel said, “Gather all Israel at Mizpah, and I will pray to the Lord for you.”  So they gathered at Mizpah, and drew water and poured it out before the Lord. They fasted that day, and said, “We have sinned against the Lord.” And Samuel judged the people of Israel at Mizpah.

When the Philistines heard that the people of Israel had gathered at Mizpah, the lords of the Philistines went up against Israel. And when the people of Israel heard of it they were afraid of the Philistines. The people of Israel said to Samuel, “Do not cease to cry out to the Lord our God for us, and pray that he may save us from the hand of the Philistines.”  So Samuel took a sucking lamb and offered it as a whole burnt offering to the Lord; Samuel cried out to the Lord for Israel, and the Lord answered him. As Samuel was offering up the burnt offering, the Philistines drew near to attack Israel; but the Lord thundered with a mighty voice that day against the Philistines and threw them into confusion; and they were routed before Israel. And the men of Israel went out of Mizpah and pursued the Philistines, and struck them down as far as beyond Beth-car.

Then Samuel took a stone and set it up between Mizpah and Jeshanah, and named it Ebenezer; for he said, “Thus far the Lord has helped us.” So the Philistines were subdued and did not again enter the territory of Israel; the hand of the Lord was against the Philistines all the days of Samuel.  1 Samuel 7:3-13 (NRSV)

 

Today’s reading takes us back to the end of the time of the Judges. At that time, even though God had put judges in place to govern the people, they responded to the judges’ instructions and warnings by getting their freak on with foreign gods, and by doing whatever they felt like. There was no king, and people did what they wanted to (Judges 21:25.)

We can take a cue from the Fall (Genesis 3) that when human beings decide to just do whatever they feel like (especially when it comes to things God specifically has forbidden) that it is going to turn out bad.  It did turn out bad for Israel in the time of the Judges.

Samuel was in a special position. He was the last of the Old Testament Judges, and the one who would anoint the first two kings of Israel- Saul (who made a mess of it) and David, the unlikely shepherd boy who became the first great king of Israel.

Samuel starts out by reminding the people of what they should already know, and where their first priority belongs. False gods are exactly that- false. They can’t do anything for us other than separate us from the One True God.  This is important for us to remember too even though our idols aren’t golden calves or fertility gods.  Anything that we set up as first priority in our lives- the thing we turn our hearts toward- becomes our god.  In today’s society we tend to worship at the altar of ourselves, and that never ends well.

Samuel also intercedes on behalf of the people. Sometimes we can’t face our challenges alone.  Sometimes we are threatened and afraid, like the Israelites were terrified of the Philistines. We derive strength and courage in the prayers and support of other believers.  Samuel, as the leader of the people, also offers a sacrifice, which is a foreshadowing of the sacrifice that Jesus has made for us.  We don’t go around sacrificing lambs today because in Christ there is no more blood sacrifice, but there is still an element of sacrifice when we intercede for others.  We give of ourselves and we make ourselves vulnerable when we genuinely act on behalf of others.  When we come together in God’s strength we often find the impossible becomes possible.

Intercessory prayer- praying for and with others- connects us to God in a powerful way. Not only does God hear our prayers, but we respond to God and others when we pray for and with others.

It’s also important for us to remind each other of our place in God’s story and of our heritage. The word “Ebenezer(not to be confused with Ebenezer Scrooge from the classic story A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens) means, “The Lord, Our Help.”

The memorial stone that Samuel set up was not meant to become an idol, but to remind people when they saw the stone that our help- our very existence and being- comes from the Lord. When we view sacred art or the beauty in nature we are reminded of God and how He is in, with and through His creation.

We can always look to our Ebenezer, God, Our Help, and set our hearts on Him.