August 30, 2018- Pray for Wisdom and Repentance, and Trust God

 

apostle jamesCount it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.

If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him. But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind. For that person must not suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord; he is a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways. James 1:2-8 (ESV)

Sometimes the Book of James gets a bad rap because it challenges us to put the rubber to the road. James is so passionate about the actions that are the result of faith because he’s talking to early Christians who are going through all kinds of trials and persecution.

While at first glance it may seem he is emphasizing the importance of our behavior and our works, James really is telling us that our faith, which is a gift of God, is what gives us the ability to overcome and grow from trials.  We trust that God will get us through, that God will give us the wisdom and the strength to endure.

Godly wisdom that comes from the Holy Spirit is available to us for the asking. There is precedent for believers to ask God for wisdom.  Solomon’s prayer before ascending his father David’s throne was a prayer for wisdom- wisdom rather than wealth or long life or earthly power- and God granted it to him.

In that night God appeared to Solomon, and said to him, “Ask what I shall give you.” And Solomon said to God, “You have shown great and steadfast love to David my father, and have made me king in his place. O Lord God, let your word to David my father be now fulfilled, for you have made me king over a people as numerous as the dust of the earth. Give me now wisdom and knowledge to go out and come in before this people, for who can govern this people of yours, which is so great?” God answered Solomon, “Because this was in your heart, and you have not asked for possessions, wealth, honor, or the life of those who hate you, and have not even asked for long life, but have asked for wisdom and knowledge for yourself that you may govern my people over whom I have made you king, wisdom and knowledge are granted to you. I will also give you riches, possessions, and honor, such as none of the kings had who were before you, and none after you shall have the like.” So Solomon came from the high place at Gibeon, from before the tent of meeting, to Jerusalem. And he reigned over Israel. 2 Chronicles 1:7-13 (ESV)

The challenge of applying the wisdom God grants us is found in the paradox we all live  under. The brokenness and imperfection of this world is due to the effects of the Fall. In this world we still live under the curse of the garden.  Our suffering and our failures are magnified by the result of sin, both the collective sins of humanity and the individual sins we commit often without even realizing it.

Solomon may have been the wisest man who ever lived save for Jesus, but Solomon didn’t always apply the wisdom he was given.  In Solomon’s later years he fell into the worship of his foreign wives’ idols, which led to the division and disruption of the kingdom of Israel after his death.

Jesus has broken the curse of the garden.  Jesus walks with us through the valleys of shadow. He knows the way through them. We share in His death in this world, but we also will share in His resurrection.  We can trust Him for the wisdom and strength we need in this life, just as His earthly brother, the apostle James, teaches us.

 

 

April 2, 2018 – “Silly” Women, Hush Money, and Faith in the Risen Christ- Matthew 28:1-15

Cross

Now after the Sabbath, toward the dawn of the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to see the tomb.  And behold, there was a great earthquake, for an angel of the Lord descended from heaven and came and rolled back the stone and sat on it.  His appearance was like lightning, and his clothing white as snow. And for fear of him the guards trembled and became like dead men.  But the angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid, for I know that you seek Jesus who was crucified. He is not here, for he has risen, as he said. Come, see the place where he lay. Then go quickly and tell his disciples that he has risen from the dead, and behold, he is going before you to Galilee; there you will see him. See, I have told you.”  So they departed quickly from the tomb with fear and great joy, and ran to tell his disciples. And behold, Jesus met them and said, “Greetings!” And they came up and took hold of his feet and worshiped him. Then Jesus said to them, “Do not be afraid; go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee, and there they will see me.”

 While they were going, behold, some of the guard went into the city and told the chief priests all that had taken place.  And when they had assembled with the elders and taken counsel, they gave a sufficient sum of money to the soldiers and said, “Tell people, ‘His disciples came by night and stole him away while we were asleep.’  And if this comes to the governor’s ears, we will satisfy him and keep you out of trouble.”  So they took the money and did as they were directed. And this story has been spread among the Jews to this day. Matthew 28:1-15 (ESV)

Mary Magdalene and the “other” Mary encountered the angel at the empty tomb. So did the guards. The women were afraid. The guards were afraid. Both the women and the guards encountered the angel, but both groups had very different responses to the message from the angel.

The angel spoke directly to the women, who were shown the place where Jesus lay, and who followed the angel’s instructions to go and tell the disciples that Jesus wasn’t there, and that He had risen from the dead. Along the way Jesus met the women, and told them to tell the disciples to go to Galilee to meet Him.

The angel didn’t speak directly to the guards.   The guards responded differently than the women.  Out of their fear they trembled and became as dead men.

The women were afraid, but they still believed the angel and they followed his directions in spite of their fear. They followed the instruction to go and tell the disciples.  They met Jesus along the way.

The guards went back to Jesus’ adversaries, who paid them for their silence. The chief priests’ bribes to the guards attest to the veracity of the appearance of the angel and to the women’s story. Who pays hush money to silence a lie?

Jesus said that no one can come to Him unless that person is drawn to Jesus by God the Father (John 8:43-48). This is a hard reality and part of the paradox we have to wrestle with if we take Scripture at what it says.  Yes we must believe and have faith, but even faith is a gift of God that does not come from ourselves, but from God alone. (Ephesians 2:8-10)  Apart from the Holy Spirit we are not able of our own power to come to faith or believe God.

The first and chief article is this: Jesus Christ, our God and Lord, died for our sins and was raised again for our justification (Romans 3:24-25). He alone is the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world (John 1:29), and God has laid on Him the iniquity of us all (Isaiah 53:6). All have sinned and are justified freely, without their own works and merits, by His grace, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, in His blood (Romans 3:23-25). This is necessary to believe. This cannot be otherwise acquired or grasped by any work, law, or merit. Therefore, it is clear and certain that this faith alone justifies us…Nothing of this article can be yielded or surrendered, even though heaven and earth and everything else falls (Mark 13:31) – Martin Luther, from the Smalcald Articles

When we hear the message of the empty tomb, do we have doubts about the reality of the risen Christ? Are we like Thomas who had to see where the nails pierced Jesus and where the spear entered His side? Are we afraid to go and tell because we know that some people simply will not believe no matter what we say?

Certainly there were people at the time of the Resurrection who thought these women were nuttier than fruitcakes. The witness of a woman was not taken terribly seriously in Jesus’ time.

It goes with the pattern that God establishes throughout Scripture that He would choose the least likely, the weaker vessels, the ones considered to be less to see His risen Son first. God who chose the stone the builders rejected to be the cornerstone (Psalm 118:22) and who uses silly things and weak people to counter the wisdom of the wise (1 Corinthians 1:18-31) is in control here.

The Good News of Jesus Christ, who died to save us from our sins, and who rose to bring us into eternal life is silliness and fairytales to people who just live for this world. Thankfully this world is not the end for those who are in Christ. We have been included in real life, God-life. Through the water of baptism we are marked with the Cross of Christ forever. We are forgiven, set free, and made whole in Christ.  Because He has risen, we live!

March 29, 2018- Life, Wisdom and Salvation (Maundy Thursday) Mark 14:22-25, 1 Corinthians 1:18-25

last supper 2

 

While they were eating, Jesus took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to his disciples, saying, “Take it; this is my body.”

 Then he took a cup, and when he had given thanks, he gave it to them, and they all drank from it.

 “This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many,” he said to them.  “Truly I tell you, I will not drink again from the fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new in the kingdom of God.” Mark 14:22-25 (NIV)

For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.  For it is written:

“I will destroy the wisdom of the wise;     the intelligence of the intelligent I will frustrate.” (Isaiah 29:14)

Where is the wise person? Where is the teacher of the law? Where is the philosopher of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not know him, God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe. Jews demand signs and Greeks look for wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength. 1 Corinthians 1:18-25 (NIV)

Several years ago there was a scandal involving a United States president and the meaning of the word “is.” In the English language, few words have a more definitive meaning than the word “is.” It is a concrete word.  It is not abstract, and Jesus intends for us who follow Him to believe He is who He says He is.

Definition of:  IS

  • present tense third-person singular of be (this is the link to the Merriam Webster Dictionary definition)

Jesus tells us that the bread of the Last Supper (or the real First Communion) is His Body. Not that it might be, or it represents, but it is. He makes the same claim for the wine that was poured at the Last Supper, that it is His Blood. It sounds absolutely insane to the rational mind. On the surface it even sounds as if Jesus is proposing cannibalism. He is not proposing cannibalism, but a radical inclusion for us. In this meal where we eat His Body, His body becomes part of us. We receive His life in His Blood. It may sound like insanity, but coming to the altar to eat and drink the Body and Blood of the risen Christ is truly wisdom.

Jesus’ Body, broken and given for us as He died in our place. Jesus’ Blood, shed to cover and wipe away our sins. These realities are foolishness for the rational mind, but they are life and salvation for those who have been named and claimed by God in Christ.

The apostle Paul reminds us that our life is centered on Jesus- Jesus crucified, poured out from the Cross, for the redemption and salvation of all.

January 5, 2018 Epiphany- God Runs the Show- Micah 5:2, Matthew 2:1-4, 7-12, Luke 3:16

wise men

“But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are small among the clans of Judah, out of you will come for me one who will be ruler over Israel, whose origins are from of old, from ancient times.” Micah 5:2 (NIV)

After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem and asked, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.”

When King Herod heard this he was disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him.  When he had called together all the people’s chief priests and teachers of the law, he asked them where the Messiah was to be born…

Then Herod called the Magi secretly and found out from them the exact time the star had appeared. He sent them to Bethlehem and said, “Go and search carefully for the child. As soon as you find him, report to me, so that I too may go and worship him.”

After they had heard the king, they went on their way, and the star they had seen when it rose went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was. When they saw the star, they were overjoyed.  On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh.  And having been warned in a dream not to go back to Herod, they returned to their country by another route. Matthew 2:1-4, 7-12 (NIV)

Few things drive people to drastic action more than threats to their authority and power. Herod, as we learn later in Matthew’s Gospel (Matthew 2:13-18), had no desire to come and worship the King of Kings.  Herod attempted to eliminate who he perceived as a threat to his reign while He was still vulnerable and easily dispensed with.

How do we deal with perceived threats to our authority or to our egos? It’s human nature to get defensive.  Nobody wants to be upstaged by the new talent at work or one upped by someone younger or less experienced than we are.  Nobody wants their power taken away.  We all naturally defend what we believe to be ours.  Some of us go even further and just take anything we can take by force.

The struggle over authority is as old as time. Pride, the serpent’s temptation in the Garden, convinces us that we are worthy of a position that God never intended for us. Humans will do incredibly inhumane acts in the pursuit of power.

Did Herod realize that his authority wasn’t really his authority at all, but only what God allowed him to have?

One of the most liberating and refreshing epiphanies we can have (the word epiphany means “to shine light on, to reveal”) is to discover for ourselves that God is in control. God decides who plays what role at what time.  It is God who determines the course of His world.  We may not understand how and why- and we might not agree with who He works through and when He does things, but God is the director of this dance.

Herod’s will was for Jesus to die an infant, before He could teach and preach and heal and live as an example for this world. Instead, God made a way to preserve the infant Jesus and keep Him safe until Herod was no more. (Matthew 2:19-23)

The Magi had the right attitude toward the pursuit of wisdom and power and strength. Theirs was one of humility and wonder. They truly did want to worship and adore this great King.

John the Baptist had the right attitude toward the authority and power of Jesus.

“John answered them all, “I baptize you with water. But one who is more powerful than I will come, the straps of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.” Luke 3:16 (NIV)

 

January 2, 2018 – The Pursuit of Wisdom- Proverbs 9:9-12, Matthew 6:33, Job 28:24-28

christians-prayers

 

Give instruction to the wise, and they will become wiser still; teach the righteous and they will gain in learning. The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and the knowledge of the Holy One is insight. For by me your days will be multiplied, and years will be added to your life.  If you are wise, you are wise for yourself; if you scoff, you alone will bear it. Proverbs 9:9-12 (NRSV)

The phrase “fear of the Lord” is sort of an awkward translation into English.  When we use the word “fear,” it has a few different connotations.  “Fear of the Lord” correctly translated is fear defined as a reverent respect and awe. Jesus uses the parallel of a healthy father and son relationship, one of respect, dependency and love.

The story of the Fall, and of human nature and sin, is one of humanity getting too big for its britches in a figurative way. When we blindly trust in our own knowledge or ability and fail to acknowledge God, we are being unwise.  We are given many examples in Scripture of what not to do – the temptation in the Garden (Genesis 3 ) , the Tower of Babel (Genesis 11), and the lawlessness that prevailed in the days of the Judges (Judges 21:25) all tell us of the consequences of separating ourselves from God and not having a respect or reverence for Him.

All of the above are also examples of trusting in human logic instead of going to the Source of wisdom. We all do it, too. The good news is there is a better way, and God is patient with us, like a wise father guiding his children.

Solomon was said to be the wisest man who ever lived. God offered him any gift that he would want, and he asked for wisdom (1 Kings 3:3-14). God not only granted him wisdom, but also prosperity and long life.  When our first passion is seeking God and His kingdom, His plan for our life comes to life.

(Jesus said): But strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Matthew 6:33 (NRSV)

If we choose to find wisdom today, we still need to ask God and look to Him to find it. We will still find wisdom and the King of Kings present in the most unlikely and humble places- from the manger in Bethlehem to the needy, the lonely, the misunderstood, and the forgotten who are everywhere in the world today. We find wisdom when we seek God in the pages of Scripture. God reveals His wisdom to us in our times of meditation and prayer.

For he looks to the ends of the earth, and sees everything under the heavens. When he gave to the wind its weight, and apportioned out the waters by measure; when he made a decree for the rain, and a way for the thunderbolt; then he saw it and declared it; he established it, and searched it out.  And he said to humankind, ‘Truly, the fear of the Lord, that is wisdom; and to depart from evil is understanding.’” Job 28:24-28 (NRSV)

July 28, 2017 – The Gift of Wisdom, (Ask, Search and Knock) – 1 Kings 3:5-12, Luke 11:9-10

do-you-want-to-ask-anything-631x330

At Gibeon the Lord appeared to Solomon in a dream by night; and God said, “Ask what I should give you.”  And Solomon said, “You have shown great and steadfast love to your servant my father David, because he walked before you in faithfulness, in righteousness, and in uprightness of heart toward you; and you have kept for him this great and steadfast love, and have given him a son to sit on his throne today. And now, O Lord my God, you have made your servant king in place of my father David, although I am only a little child; I do not know how to go out or come in.  And your servant is in the midst of the people whom you have chosen, a great people, so numerous they cannot be numbered or counted.  Give your servant therefore an understanding mind to govern your people, able to discern between good and evil; for who can govern this, your great people?”

It pleased the Lord that Solomon had asked this. God said to him, “Because you have asked this, and have not asked for yourself long life or riches, or for the life of your enemies, but have asked for yourself understanding to discern what is right, I now do according to your word. Indeed I give you a wise and discerning mind; no one like you has been before you and no one like you shall arise after you. 1 Kings 3:5-12 (NRSV)

(Jesus said): “So I say to you, Ask, and it will be given you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you.  For everyone who asks receives, and everyone who searches finds, and for everyone who knocks, the door will be opened. Luke 11:9-10 (NRSV)

King Solomon was considered to be the wisest human being who ever lived. Yet his greatest act of wisdom was in his request to God when he became king of Israel.  He asked for understanding and discernment. He did not ask for the things that human nature normally craves.

If God told us He would give us anything we asked for, most of us would automatically think of a few things. Wealth, the heads of our enemies, prestige, an attractive appearance, power, longevity, etc. come to mind almost as knee jerk reactions. The more altruistic and gentle of us might ask for family harmony or world peace, or even for knowledge, but how many of us would go straight to asking for understanding and discernment?

Knowledge is not the same thing as wisdom. Knowledge is a component of wisdom, but knowledge without understanding and discernment is simply a set of memorized facts.

God hears and answers our prayers- especially those that underscore His will for us. When we admit our inadequacy and ignorance (as Solomon did) and ask for God to supply us with understanding and discernment, He gives those things to us, generously.

The most difficult petition in the Lord’s Prayer is, “Thy will be done.”  It is human nature to think that what we believe and know is best, but many times we do not have the wisdom to step back and consider every side of a situation.  It is more difficult, albeit much more wise, to put our pride and illusions of superiority aside and ask, search and knock on God’s door.  He will answer our questions and supply our needs far more abundantly and completely than we can dream of doing on our own.

 

June 14, 2017- An Unlikely Teacher- Luke 2:47-52

Jesus at the Temple

And all who heard him (Jesus) were amazed at his understanding and his answers. When his parents saw him they were astonished; and his mother said to him, “Child, why have you treated us like this? Look, your father and I have been searching for you in great anxiety.” He said to them, “Why were you searching for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” But they did not understand what he said to them. Then he went down with them and came to Nazareth, and was obedient to them. His mother treasured all these things in her heart.

And Jesus increased in wisdom and in years, and in divine and human favor.  Luke 2:47-52 (NRSV)

Our children are not really our own. In reality, God entrusts us with His children. We have a responsibility to our (God’s…) children to keep them safe, to provide for their bodily health and shelter, to see that they receive a quality education, and to provide a good moral and spiritual example.  Most parents would be terrified beyond belief should their twelve year old be missing for three days, and justifiably so.

Even though our children are not divine, (they might like us to think so at times) they are also not their parents.  Our children will do things that scare us, disappoint us, and even amaze us- but in the end they are the people God created them to be.  We may not understand God’s purpose for our children any better than we understand His purpose for us at times, but God always has a purpose for every one of His children, whether we agree with Him or not.

It is a balancing act for parents, knowing when to assert authority and set strong boundaries, and when to stand back and listen and let our children go. Since we are responsible for keeping our children safe and from harm’s way sometimes we err on the side of being too closed minded and overprotective.  Sometimes we fail to give their thoughts and ambitions the respect they deserve- and in doing so we may hold them back from being the people God created them to be.

Jesus was God when He was on this earth and was only twelve years old, teaching in the temple. Jesus knew His purpose and followed His Father’s desire for Him to be in the temple teaching, which shows remarkable wisdom for a twelve year old boy.   Even though we know Jesus displayed such wisdom even at such a young age, how many of us would be willing to take instructions from a preteen boy?

Do we overlook wisdom because we can’t see past the source?

It’s easy to forget that God doesn’t place the same parameters on wisdom and heroism that our society does. God’s wisdom can come from the very young, the very old, the developmentally disabled, or those who society looks down upon- anyone.  God’s choices aren’t always the obvious ones.

If we were to see with God’s eyes, how would He open our hearts to listen to and follow His wisdom?

If we were to love with God’s heart, how would our view of others and the world around us change?