Thursday, November 30, 2017

Some People Test the Jesus in Me

I saw a shirt this summer that said: Some People Test the Jesus in Me. I thought it was hilarious and showed it to Kathy and her response was something like-you can't wear that. I thought to myself that not only could I wear it but I could wear it at church and there was a good sermon message in that statement. So Kathy made me the shirt and I preached about that statement a couple of weeks ago. Here are some thoughts from that message.

Some people irritate each of us in certain ways. Some people who are punctual get frustrated when others don't respect other peoples time. People who are hard workers get frustrated with those who do the bare minimum just to get by. Others get frustrated when someone spends 1/3 of the time on a seminary paper and gets a better grade. All of these examples apply to me from time to time. We all have that person who tests are patience and gets on our nerves more than others. That person who does things differently that makes us shake our head, roll our eyes, grit our teeth, or clench our fists. When people frustrate me it tests my ability to be nice.

Well what if someone tested Jesus? How would He respond? There's a story in Matthew 15:21-28 where Jesus is tested:

From there Jesus went to the regions of Tyre and Sidon. A canaanite woman from those territories came out and shouted, "Show we mercy, Son of David. My daughter is suffering terribly from demon possession." But he didn't respond to her at all. His disciples came and urged him, "Send her away; she keeps shouting out after us." Jesus replied, "I've been sent only to the lost sheep, the people of Israel. But she knelt before him and said, "Lord, help me." He replied, "It is not good to take the children's bread and toss it to the dogs." She said, "Yes, Lord. But even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall off their masters' table. Jesus answered, "Woman, you have great faith. It will be just as you wish." And right then her daughter was healed.

Jesus does not seem to respond in a way I typically view Jesus. First, he ignores her cries for help. Second, he says his message is only for the Lost sheep of Israel. Third, he uses a metaphor and tells her that food for the children should not be thrown to the dogs. The women is marginalized and Jesus doesn't seem to have time for her, is dismissive, and insults her. So what do I do with this? At first glance Jesus' response is troubling and brings up troubling questions. Was Jesus having a bad day? Was Jesus being rude? Was Jesus simply in a hurry to get to where he was planning on going? Or was Jesus testing the woman's faith?

But further thinking, study, and discussion allows this text to help my understanding of Jesus and strengthen my faith. First, it shows me the humanity of Jesus. I think if someone was shouting at me I would at first ignore them and then probably try and walk away as fast as I could without even hearing them. I would probably respond in a similar way to how Jesus responds here. Second, this text helps me because Jesus responds in a way that I would not expect and today Jesus does not always come through in the way that we expect. Honest reflection and questions help to strengthen us as disciples of Christ. Perhaps this was a reminder in Jesus' ministry about the gospel message being for everyone. Maybe a reminder to the disciples (who wanted to send the woman away). Or maybe a reminder to Jesus himself about his own gospel.

We all have people who test us and who try our patience. It's going to happen. It's not important that others test us but it is important how we ultimately respond. Ultimately, Jesus responded with grace, mercy, and compassion. How will you respond when people "test" you?

Grace & Peace

Thursday, November 9, 2017

Jesus Took Naps. Be Like Jesus!!

I saw a shirt online that said: Jesus Takes Naps. Be Like Jesus. I thought to myself: Wow, I want to be like Jesus and I like to take naps too. What are the odds? I often take naps on Sunday afternoons after preaching simply to refresh my body. But what exactly does napping have to do with Jesus? I would venture to say that when we are asked what we can do to be like Jesus that very few people would say that the way to be like Jesus is to take naps. We know about Jesus retreating to places for solitude and talking about the importance of Sabbath but specifically about Jesus napping? Well naturally I had to research this idea. At the bottom of the shirt I saw there was a bible verse-Mark 4:38

But Jesus was in the rear of the boat, sleeping on a pillow. They woke him up and said, "Teacher, don't you care that we're drowning?"

This verse is in the middle of the story where Jesus calms the storm. But why is Jesus napping? Shouldn't Jesus be more concerned with what is going on? It's helpful to look at the context of what is going on here. Jesus has spent the day explaining that parables are about God's kingdom. Among the parables he has shared are the parable about the lamp (about everything that is hidden must be revealed), the parable of the sower (scattering seeds so that some will take root), and the parable of the mustard seed (the smallest seed becomes the biggest plant). So to this point Jesus has had a long day. And now, him and the disciples are going to get into a boat and head to the other side of the lake where Jesus will speak to the Gentiles. So I think it is safe to say that Jesus has earned a nap not only for what he has done but also for what he will do later in the day.

So we get to the point where Jesus is in the boat napping while a storm rages. And you have the disciples wake him up asking if he "cares that we're drowning?" So Jesus gets up and says:

"Silence! Be Still!" The wind settled down and there was great calm. Jesus asked them, "Why are you frightened? Don't you have faith yet?"

Hmmm. The disciples are anxious and are worried about "drowning" and Jesus simply calms the storm. Then he asks about their faith. Perhaps this drowning is not only about drowning in the boat but also about the disciples drowning spiritually. They are "drowning" because they don't have the necessary faith...yet. Often we have storms in our lives, in our communities, in our nation, and in our world. As humans I believe there is a tendency to become anxious much like the disciples. But we must have faith. A faith that allow us to be calm in the midst of life's storms. Something that is sometimes quite difficult today with everything going on around us. Just this last weekend we had another mass shooting, this time in a small church in Sutherland Springs, Texas. And then two days later TCU was on lockdown due to an armed person on campus. Both of these events gave me anxiety because I serve two small churches in Texas and I attend TCU. But even in times like these, faithful discipleship requires us to be like Jesus. Jesus calming the storm reminds me that we should strive to be calm in stressful and anxious situations. The fears and anxieties we have need not consume us. They need not paralyze us. There are things to be fearful and anxious about. We can very easily exist in a state of constant anxiety or we can have faith and be aware that Jesus is with us in that boat. We can remember that Jesus is able to calm the storm and if we put our faith in Jesus we can  have peace in anxious situations because Jesus gives us that peace. So we can be like Jesus by being calm.

When anxiety and fear come your way how will you respond? Will you respond with anxiety like the disciples? Or will you respond with the calm of Jesus?

Grace & Peace

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