Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Welcome to 40, What Do I Lack?

So today I turn 40, so if anyone wants to call me old go right ahead. I have been asked over the last couple of weeks questions like "what do you need" or "what do you want" for my birthday (To the side you can see a picture of some commemorative gifts for turning 40, just like Star Wars). In all actuality I don't really know what I want and I don't really need anything. When I was growing up I did not have everything that I wanted but I did have everything that I needed.

We are in the middle of a sermon series about Questions Jesus Asks and Sunday I preached on Jesus' question toward the end of the gospel according to Luke: Did you lack anything? In a sense Jesus is asking "did I not give you everything that you needed while I was with you?" He asks the disciples this question just before he is arrested. Here is the scripture:

Luke 22:35-43 (NRSV)
35 He said to them, “When I sent you out without a purse, bag, or sandals, did you lack anything?” They said, “No, not a thing.” 36 He said to them, “But now, the one who has a purse must take it, and likewise a bag. And the one who has no sword must sell his cloak and buy one. 37 For I tell you, this scripture must be fulfilled in me, ‘And he was counted among the lawless’; and indeed what is written about me is being fulfilled.” 38 They said, “Lord, look, here are two swords.” He replied, “It is enough.” 39   He came out and went, as was his custom, to the Mount of Olives; and the disciples followed him. 40 When he reached the place, he said to them, “Pray that you may not come into the time of trial.” 41 Then he withdrew from them about a stone’s throw, knelt down, and prayed, 42 “Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me; yet, not my will but yours be done.” 

At the end of Jesus' earthly ministry in human form with his disciples he asks them this question so is a question of reflection. What encourages me about this scripture is not that Jesus asks the question but that the disciples answer: "no not a thing." The disciples gave up their livelihood, lacked money, had very few material possessions relied on the hospitality others and yet they stood firm that they lacked nothing. They didn't lack anything because they had Jesus and they were with Jesus. Jesus is all they needed. Jesus has asked them to give up those worldly, material things so that they can travel light and rely on Him.

In our current culture there is so much going on around us and we race to get the next new gadget, such as the iPhone X that you can get shortly for the small price tag of $1000, that we sometimes lose focus on what is really important. The disciples may have messed up (a lot) but they did get it. They understood after their ministry with Jesus that they did not lack anything because they had Jesus and they got to spread his message and his message of love, grace, mercy, and hospitality. What an amazing gift that is for each of us.

Grace & Peace

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

The Power of Witness

Often when I am reading scripture I find that as time goes on my understanding of certain passages change. I preached on the ninth chapter of John (the whole chapter) on Sunday when Jesus heals the blind man. I looked back at different times over the last five years where I have taken notes on this passage and saw that my feelings about what is important in the text has changed. In one instance I wrote that the entire passage was about sin. In my preaching class, I preached about how it was mainly about sin. In another instance, I gave a youth message that focused on sight vs. blindness. And just last year I preached that the main focus was on Jesus leaving the man to witness. And Sunday I focused the sermon around Jesus calling us to witness AND about Jesus being ever present.

For me, this text is not just about one thing but has been and is about all of these things at one time or another. It speaks to the power of scripture that we can see it differently depending on where we are in our lives. Right now at this time, I am focused on trying to be a better witness for Christ and that begins with knowing that Jesus is ever present in my life. As such, I see that reflection of where I would see myself in this passage for today.

So why does what is important change? In this case, I think it is because I bring my experience and reason into the text. Where I am in my life and my life experiences influences what is important to the text for me at the time. I also learn as I go along and I am better able to understand the text. Can you think of how your understanding of a text has changed or taken on a different meaning over time?

John 9 is a text that is rich with information. It's about sin, sight vs. blindness, witnessing, Jesus being present, people not "seeing" Jesus, people seeing Jesus, and the works of God. The man is healed of his blindness and then must explain and defend what happened to the townspeople, his parents, and the pharisees. He must explain and defend who is responsible for his receiving sight. As he witnesses, his confidence for who Jesus is increases. He first refers to Jesus as a man, then a prophet, and then the Son of God. He needed to believe so Jesus took a step back and allowed him to defend Jesus and what had happened to him and because of this his confidence and his believe of who Jesus is grows. I love in verse 9:26 when he says "I have told you already and you would not listen, why do you want to hear it again?" His confidence grows as Jesus allows him to witness to the mighty act of God.

We can learn a lot from this story and from the blind man's witness. Think about this for today: Sometimes when we get sent somewhere by God we wait for God to do what God sent us there to do in the first place. We are called to witness the mighty acts of God and his Word whenever we have the chance, just like the formerly blind man.

Grace & Peace

Monday, August 14, 2017

The Church's One Foundation

Our family has started a nightly routine where all of us journal for a few minutes each day. Kathy, Carson, and I write and Courtney draws pictures, and then we all talk about our day and how we felt about the day. I was reading scripture and came across this passage from 1 Corinthians 3:

"For we are God's servants, working together; you are God's building. According to the grace of God given to me, like a skilled master builder I laid a foundation, and someone else is building on it. Each builder must choose with care how to build on it. For no one can lay any other than the one that has been laid; that foundation is Jesus Christ."

Carson was confused by what this verse meant so I explained it through the story of the three little pigs and how the pig who built his house out of brick is the one whose house survived because it has a strong foundation. This verse reminds me of a hymn about the nature of the church: The Church's One Foundation. The hymn starts with this line: "The church's one foundation is Jesus Christ her Lord; she (the church) is his new creation by water and the Word."

When we talk about our own faith and our own church we must begin with a foundation of Jesus Christ. If we do not begin with that then we have already lost. We can serve, we can work together to build the church but if we don't have a foundation of Jesus Christ then we will not succeed and we will not prevail. Christ's church was created centuries ago and as generations have come along people build upon that foundation. Sometimes aspects have to be rebuilt and sometimes thinks have to be re-invisioned but the foundation must stay the same. Christ must be at the center of all the church does, period. We must choose how to build and we must do it carefully with a mindset to be Christlike. A mindset that takes into account the life, the ministry, the death, and the resurrection of Christ. We must be of the same mind as Christ and be willing to learn, to teach, and to sacrifice for others at various times. If we don't then our church is going to be left blown away by signs of trouble.

This weekend there were signs of trouble in our country as events unfolded in Charlottesville, Virginia. You can call it want you want: white nationalist or white supremacist or racist but what is unmistakeable is that it sought to minimize others who are not like those who were protesting. Call it what is is, it's evil and just a reminder that hate and evil exist in our world. And sadly I am reminded of that each and every day.

So how do we move forward? It's about knowing and speaking what is right and what is wrong and what happened in Charlottesville was wrong. But we do know that storms come and will continue to come. If you don't believe me then believe Jesus. At the end of his sermon on the mount in Matthew 7:24-28 Jesus says these words:

"Everyone who hears these words of mine and acts on them will be like a wise man who built his house on rock. The rain fell, the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house but it did not fall because it had been founded on rock. And everyone who hears these words of mine and does not act on them will be like a foolish man who built his house on sand. The rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell-and great was the fall."

Jesus never said living out the gospel would be easy. And sometimes it isn't easy. I rewrote my sermon this weekend to speak about what happened in Virginia because even by not saying something we say something and something needed to be said. There were people who lost their lives because they wanted to peacefully protest something that was wrong. They stood against people who sought to divide. You see, Jesus knew storms would come and would continue to come. And He knows there are those who will take heed of his words and listen and there are those who won't. When storms come we better have and better be prepared to stand on a strong foundation and listen to Jesus words. Our foundation must be built on nothing less than the gospel of Jesus Christ. A gospel of love and acceptance. Not a gospel of anger, hatred, and intolerance.

Spend some time in scripture today. In particular spend some time reading the stories of Jesus and his gospel of love and acceptance. And I pray that you (that all of us) will be more like Christ today than yesterday and everyday moving forward.

Grace & Peace