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

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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

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“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

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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

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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?

June 13, 2017 – Jesus Takes a Side Trip- Luke 2:41-46

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Now every year his parents went to Jerusalem for the festival of the Passover.  And when he was twelve years old, they went up as usual for the festival. When the festival was ended and they started to return, the boy Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem, but his parents did not know it. Assuming that he was in the group of travelers, they went a day’s journey. Then they started to look for him among their relatives and friends. When they did not find him, they returned to Jerusalem to search for him. After three days they found him in the temple, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions.  Luke 2:41-46 (NRSV)

At one time or another, every parent has known the sheer terror of not being able to find a child. Whether it is only for a split second or for much longer, it is one of the worst feelings a parent can have.  The six o’clock news scenes run through our heads, and then our imaginations turn to the “film at eleven” horror stories. The only thing we can think of is finding the child and getting him or her returned home safe. It would be hard to imagine the experience of losing track of God’s kid- for three whole days!

One has to wonder about Jesus’ earthly parents at times. Sometimes we don’t give them enough credit for having the awe-inspiring task of parenting the only Son of God.  It’s daunting enough to be a parent to “normal” kids, let alone those parents of kids with special needs, or kids who are outside the “normal” box in other ways.  It’s a wonder that God entrusts us with children at all.

Yet even though they lose track of Him, Jesus ends up showing His earthly parents His foundation. They find Him in the temple, in His true Father’s house, sharing and seeking wisdom.

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Many times our temporarily missing children are winding their ways into mischief and distraction, and/or they inadvertently stumble into trouble, but there are times in which our children can lead us to greater wisdom as well. In Mary and Joseph’s case, it was the search for their son that led them back to the Father’s house.

Do we have an open mind and heart to seeking Jesus and His wisdom? While obedience and conformity can be the safe route, sometimes we lose sight of Jesus along the beaten path.  Sometimes we need to wake up and take that side trip to really look for Jesus in the places where He will be found more deeply and profoundly.  Where is He leading us?  What wisdom will we find along His way?

January 25, 2017, The Spirit of Truth, John 16:13

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When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth; for he will not speak on his own, but will speak whatever he hears, and he will declare to you the things that are to come.  John 16:13 (NRSV)

I read a saying the other day that said, “Feed your faith and your fear will starve.”  That’s an encouragement for me.  It is easy to get mired down in fear and in the concerns of this world.  It takes intention, prayer and surrender to God’s perfect will to find peace and rest in Him.

It is better to find solace in the inspired word of God and seek the Holy Spirit in the stillness than to stay mired in worry.

The Holy Spirit is everywhere, but especially in the quiet, away from the noise of our troubled minds and busy schedules.  God has our times and lives in His hands.